The aftermath of the First Battle of the Marne was a long-held stalemate between the German Army and the Allies in dug-in trench warfare. Further German attempts to break through deeper into France failed at the two battles of Ypres (1st/2nd) with huge casualties. German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn decided to break away from the Schlieffen Plan and instead focus on a war of attrition against France. Falkenhayn targeted the ancient city of Verdun because it had been one of the last cities to hold out against the German Army in 1870, and Falkenhayn knew that as a matter of national pride the French would do anything to ensure that it was not taken. He expected that with proper tactics, French losses would be greater than those of the Germans and that continued French commitment of troops to Verdun would "bleed the French Army white" and then allow the German army to take France easily. In 1916, the Battle of Verdun began, with the French positions under constant shelling and poison gas attack and taking large casualties under the assault of overwhelmingly large German forces. However, Falkenhayn's prediction of a greater ratio of French killed proved to be wrong. Falkenhayn was replaced by Erich Ludendorff, and with no success in sight, the German Army pulled out of Verdun in December 1916 and the battle ended.
While the Russian Army faltered and the German and Austro-Hungarian armies thereafter steadily advanced eastward. The Germans benefited from political instability in Russia and its population's desire to end the war. In 1917 the German government allowed Russia's communist Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to travel through Germany from Switzerland into Russia. Germany believed that if Lenin could create further political unrest, Russia would no longer be able to continue its war with Germany, allowing the German Army to focus on the Western Front.
In March 1917, the Tsar was ousted from the Russian throne, and in November a Bolshevik government came to power under the leadership of Lenin. Facing political opposition to the Bolsheviks, he decided to end Russia's campaign against Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria in order to redirect Bolshevik energy to eliminating internal dissent. In 1918, by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Bolshevik government gave Germany and the Ottoman Empire enormous territorial and economic concessions in exchange for an end to war on the Eastern Front. All of the modern-day Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were given over to the German occupation authority Ober Ost, along with Belarus and Ukraine. Thus Germany had at last achieved its long-wanted dominance of "Mitteleuropa" (Central Europe) and could now focus fully on defeating the Allies on the Western Front. In practice, however, the forces needed to garrison and secure the new territories were a drain on the German war effort.
Germany quickly lost almost all its colonies. However, in German East Africa, an impressive guerrilla campaign was waged by the colonial army leader there, General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. Using Germans and native Askaris, Lettow-Vorbeck launched multiple guerrilla raids against British forces in Kenya and Rhodesia. He also invaded Portuguese Mozambique to gain his forces supplies and to pick up more Askari recruits. His force was still active at war's end.
Defeating Russia in 1917 enabled Germany to transfer hundreds of thousands of combat troops from the east to the Western Front, giving it a numerical advantage over the Allies. By retraining the soldiers in new stormtrooper tactics, the Germans expected to unfreeze the battlefield and win a decisive victory before the army of the United States, which had now entered the war on the side of Britain and France, arrived in strength. However, the repeated German offensives in the autumn of 1917 and the spring of 1918 all failed, as the Allies fell back and regrouped and the Germans lacked the reserves needed to consolidate their gains. Meanwhile soldiers had become radicalised by the Russian Revolution and were less willing to continue fighting. The war effort sparked civil unrest in Germany, while the troops, who had been constantly in the field without relief, grew exhausted and lost all hope of victory. In the summer of 1918, with the Americans arriving at the rate of 10,000 a day and the German reserves spent, it was only a matter of time before multiple Allied offensives destroyed the German army.
The concept of "total war", meant that supplies had to be redirected towards the armed forces and, with German commerce being stopped by the Allied naval blockade, German civilians were forced to live in increasingly meagre conditions. First food prices were controlled, then rationing was introduced. During the war about 750,000 German civilians died from malnutrition.
Towards the end of the war conditions deteriorated rapidly on the home front, with severe food shortages reported in all urban areas. The causes included the transfer of many farmers and food workers into the military, combined with the overburdened railway system, shortages of coal, and the British blockade. The winter of 1916–1917 was known as the "turnip winter", because the people had to survive on a vegetable more commonly reserved for livestock, as a substitute for potatoes and meat, which were increasingly scarce. Thousands of soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry, who grumbled that the farmers were keeping the food for themselves. Even the army had to cut the soldiers' rations. The morale of both civilians and soldiers continued to sink.
Revolt and demise
Many Germans wanted an end to the war and increasing numbers began to associate with the political left, such as the Social Democratic Party and the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party, which demanded an end to the war. The entry of the U.S. into the war in April 1917 changed the long-run balance of power in favour of the Allies.
The end of October 1918, in Kiel, in northern Germany, saw the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. Units of the German Navy refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war which they saw as good as lost, initiating the uprising. On 3 November, the revolt spread to other cities and states of the country, in many of which workers' and soldiers' councils were established. Meanwhile, Hindenburg and the senior generals lost confidence in the Kaiser and his government.
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- Harper's magazine, Volume 63. Pp. 593. The term "Reich" does not specifically connote an empire, as has been commonly assumed by English-speaking people, but the term "Kaiserreich" literally denotes an empire – particularly a hereditary empire led by a literal emperor, although "Reich" has been used in German to denote the Roman Empire because it has a weak hereditary tradition. In the case of the German Empire, the official name in German was Deutsches Reich, which is properly translated as "German Realm", because the head of state in the constitution of the German Empire was officially a "presidency" of a confederation of German states led by the King of Prussia, who would assume "the title of German Emperor" as referring to the German people, but was not emperor of Germany as in an emperor of a state.
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- The Slavic speakers included Polish, Masurian, Kashubian, Sorbian and Czech were located in the east; Polish mainly in the Prussian provinces of Posen, West Prussia and Silesia (Upper Silesia). Small islands also existed in Recklinghausen (Westphalia) with 13.8% of the population and in the Kreis of Kalau (Brandenburg) (5.5%) and in parts of East Prussia and Pomerania. Czech was spoken predominantly in the south of the Silesia, Masurian in the south of East Prussia, Kashubian in the north of West Prussia and Sorbian in the Lusatian regions of Prussia (Brandenburg and Silesia) and the Kingdom of Saxony.
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- Matthew Jefferies, Imperial Culture in Germany, 1871–1918 (2003).
- Kurtz, Harold (1970) 56
- Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Emperor and Exile, 1900–1941 (1996) ch 9–13
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- Austria's Werner Abelshauser, German History and Global Enterprise: BASF: The History of a Company (2004) covers 1865 to 2000;
- Truth or conjecture?: German civilian war losses in the East, page 366, Stanisław Schimitzek Zachodnia Agencia Prasowa, 1966
- To the Threshold of Power, 1922/33: Origins and Dynamics of the Fascist and Nationalist Socialist Dictatorships, page 151-152
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- Immanuel Geiss "Tzw. polski pas graniczny 1914-1918". Warszawa 1964
- The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke, Timothy Snyder; "On the annexations and ethnic cleansing, see Geiss, Der Polnische Grenzstreifen"
- Absolute Destruction: Military Culture And The Practices Of War In Imperial Germany, Isabel V. Hull, page 233, Cornell University Press, 2005
- Edwin Hoyt, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck and Germany's East African Empire (1981)
- Holger H. Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria–Hungary 1914–1918 (1996)
- Rod Paschall, The defeat of imperial Germany, 1917–1918 (1994)
- Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918 (2004) p. 141–42
- A. J. Ryder, The German Revolution of 1918: A Study of German Socialism in War and Revolt (2008)
- Robert GL Waite, Vanguard of Nazism, WW Norton publisher
- "A New Surge of Growth". Library of Congress.
- Jürgen Kocka, "German History before Hitler: The Debate about the German 'Sonderweg.'" Journal of Contemporary History, Jan 1988, Vol. 23#1, pp 3–16 in JSTOR
- Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte: Vom Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges bis zur Gründung der Beiden Deutschen Staaten 1914–1949 (2003) is the fourth volume of his monumental history of German society. None of the series has yet been translated into English. A partial summary appears in Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 1871–1918 (1997)
- Helmut Walser Smith, "When the Sonderweg Debate Left Us," German Studies Review, May 2008, Vol. 31#2 pp 225–240
- List of German monarchs
- Kingdom of Germany
- German Army (German Empire)
- Imperial German Navy
- German General Staff
- House of Hohenzollern
- Gardes du Corps (Prussia)
|Elsass-Lothringen||France||The partly German-speaking départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin (Alsace region) and Moselle (northeastern part of the Lorraine region)|
The Eupen und Malmédy area
(intentionally spelled with é only then)
|Belgium||Eupen and Malmedy, two towns, and the municipalities of Amel, Büllingen, Burg-Reuland, Bütgenbach, Kelmis, Lontzen, Raeren, Waimes and St. Vith, part of the province of Liège, on the German border|
|Nordschleswig||Denmark||South Jutland County (excluding towns of Taps, Hejle and Vejstrup), and the towns of Hviding, Roager and Spandet|
|Hultschiner Ländchen||Czech Republic||Hlučín Region, on the border to Poland in Silesia, from which most of Germans were deported following WWII.|
Central and eastern Pommern, Schlesien, Ostbrandenburg, Ermland, Masuren, Westpreußen, Southern Ostpreußen
Also Posen (Wartheland).
|Poland||the northern and western parts of the country, including Pomerania, Silesia, Lubusz Land, Warmia and Masuria, from all of which Germans were deported following WWII.|
|Northern Ostpreußen with Königsberg||Russia||Kaliningrad Oblast exclave on the Baltic, from which Germans were deported following WWII.|
|Memelland with Memel (city)||Lithuania||Klaipėda Region, including the Baltic coastal city of Klaipėda, from which Germans were deported following WWII.|
|Wylerberg||Netherlands||Duivelsberg, an uninhabited hill (as well as some nearby slivers of land) annexed by the Netherlands after WWII.|
In addition to present-day Germany, large parts of what comprised the German Empire now belong to several other modern European countries:
The historiographical concept of a German Sonderweg has had a turbulent history. Nineteenth century scholars who emphasized a separate German path to modernity saw it as a positive factor that differentiated Germany from the "western path" typified by Great Britain. They stressed the strong bureaucratic state, reforms initiated by Bismarck and other strong leaders, the Prussian service ethos, the high culture of philosophy and music, and Germany's pioneering of a social welfare state. In the 1950s, historians in West Germany argued that the Sonderweg lead Germany to the disaster of 1933–1945. The special circumstances of German historical structures and experiences, were interpreted as preconditions that, while not directly causing National Socialism, did hamper the development of a liberal democracy and facilitate the rise of fascism. The Sonderweg paradigm has provided the impetus for at least three strands of research in German historiography: the "long nineteenth century", the history of the bourgeoisie, and comparisons with the West. After 1990, increased attention to cultural dimensions and to comparative and relational history moved German historiography to different topics, with much less attention paid to the Sonderweg. While some historians have abandoned the Sonderweg thesis, they have not provided a generally accepted alternative interpretation.
Hans-Ulrich Wehler, a leader of the Bielefeld School of social history, places the origins of Germany's path to disaster in the 1860s–1870s, when economic modernization took place, but political modernization did not happen and the old Prussian rural elite remained in firm control of the army, diplomacy and the civil service. Traditional, aristocratic, premodern society battled an emerging capitalist, bourgeois, modernizing society. Recognizing the importance of modernizing forces in industry and the economy and in the cultural realm, Wehler argues that reactionary traditionalism dominated the political hierarchy of power in Germany, as well as social mentalities and in class relations (Klassenhabitus). The catastrophic German politics between 1914 and 1945 are interpreted in terms of a delayed modernization of its political structures. At the core of Wehler's interpretation is his treatment of "the middle class" and "revolution," each of which was instrumental in shaping the 20th century. Wehler's examination of Nazi rule is shaped by his concept of "charismatic domination," which focuses heavily on Adolf Hitler.
Many historians have emphasized the central importance of a German Sonderweg or "special path" (or "exceptionalism") as the root of Nazism and the German catastrophe in the 20th century. According to the historiography by Kocka (1988), the process of nation-building from above had very grievous long-term implications. In terms of parliamentary democracy, Parliament was kept weak, the parties were fragmented, and there was a high level of mutual distrust. The Nazis built on the illiberal, anti-pluralist elements of Weimar's political culture. The Junker elites (the large landowners in the east) and senior civil servants used their great power and influence well into the twentieth century to frustrate any movement toward democracy. They played an especially negative role in the crisis of 1930–1933. Bismarck's emphasis on military force amplified the voice of the officer corps, which combined advanced modernization of military technology with reactionary politics. The rising upper-middle-class elites, in the business, financial, and professional worlds, tended to accept the values of the old traditional elites. The German Empire was for Hans-Ulrich Wehler a strange mixture of highly successful capitalist industrialization and socio-economic modernization on the one hand, and of surviving pre-industrial institutions, power relations and traditional cultures on the other. Wehler argues that it produced a high degree of internal tension, which led on the one hand to the suppression of socialists, Catholics, and reformers, and on the other hand to a highly aggressive foreign policy. For these reasons Fritz Fischer and his students emphasized Germany’s primary guilt for causing World War I.
In the field of economics, the "Kaiserzeit" laid the foundation of Germany's status as one of the world's leading economic powers. The iron and coal industries of the Ruhr, the Saar and Upper Silesia especially contributed to that process. The first motorcar was built by Karl Benz in 1886. The enormous growth of industrial production and industrial potential also led to a rapid urbanisation of Germany, which turned the Germans into a nation of city dwellers. More than 5 million people left Germany for the United States during the 19th century.
The era of the German Empire is well remembered in Germany as one of great cultural and intellectual vigour. Thomas Mann published his novel Buddenbrooks in 1901. Theodor Mommsen received the Nobel prize for literature a year later for his Roman history. Painters like the groups Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke made a significant contribution to modern art. The AEG turbine building in Berlin by Peter Behrens from 1909 can be regarded as a milestone in classic modern architecture and an outstanding example of emerging functionalism. The social, economic, and scientific successes of this Gründerzeit, or founding epoch, have sometimes led the Wilhelmine era to be regarded as a golden age.
Under Bismarck, a united German state had finally been achieved, but it remained a Prussian-dominated state and did not include German Austria as Pan-German nationalists had desired. The influence of Prussian militarism, the Empire’s colonial efforts and its vigorous, competitive industrial prowess all gained it the dislike and envy of other nations. The German Empire enacted a number of progressive reforms, such as Europe's first social welfare system (still in place today) and freedom of press. There was also a modern system for electing the federal parliament, the Reichstag, in which every adult man had one vote. This enabled the Socialists and the Catholic Centre Party to play considerable roles in the empire's political life despite the continued hostility of Prussian aristocrats.
The defeat and aftermath of World War I and the penalties imposed by the Treaty of Versailles shaped the positive memory of the Empire, especially among Germans who distrusted and despised the Weimar Republic. Conservatives, liberals, socialists, nationalists, Catholics, and Protestants all had their own interpretations, which led to a fractious political and social climate in Germany in the aftermath of the empire's collapse.