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Germany - Before and During WWI

Discussion in 'Research' started by DameiThiessen, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. DameiThiessen

    DameiThiessen Minstrel

    I could use any information on Germany between the 1880s and 1915, as that is the time frame in which I'd like my main character to live.

    Any information on military procedures, government, lifestyle, or even seemingly mundane things like clothing and common sayings would be greatly appreciated.

    I can Google and Wiki historical info. But links to actual information on the way people lived and the ways their government affected their lives are what I'm really looking for. Thanks. :)
  2. Ivan

    Ivan Minstrel

    I think the Kulturkampf was over by this point, but it would be in the background as a recent event. This was basically an attack on Catholicism and a push toward secularization, although it ended up increasing the influence of Catholics politically.
    Kulturkampf - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    That's about all I know regarding domestic stuff, I can tell you all about their international strategies and alliance systems but it doesn't look like that will help much.
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Prior to the rise of National Socialism (and, to a lesser extent, even today), "Germany" was still a nation of federated states, many with considerable degrees of autonomy, and most still more inclined toward regional traditions than a national one. So you will probably want to check out the specific area(s) your story takes place in. Keep in mind especially that many of the people still living in the age you're using remembered a time before Germany was a nation: it was only united in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War.

    The overwhelmingly most powerful state was the Kingdom of Prussia… though it would be a mistake to think of Prussia as "unified" in any way other than under one crown: the western portions had been accumulated at an ever-increasing rate over the past three centuries through marriage, inheritance, occasionally conquest, and finally political pressures. These were the most "German" parts; the east, by comparison, more closely resembled its neighbors in Poland and Russia. (The original Prussians themselves were in fact a Baltic people, though they had long since come to be dominated by Germans.)

    However, the Kingdom of Bavaria was no mean second place, being larger than several independent European nations, or more populous, or both; it had its own army and postal system, among other institutions, until 1918, and some within it tried to secede from Germany following WWI. (A few would still like to.) Neither Bavaria nor the eastern half of Prussia was culturally aligned with the western regions (in large regions of Prussia, German wasn't even the majority language): Bavaria had far closer ties to Austria than to the rest of Germany.

    Saxony, Baden, Württemberg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Hesse and Oldenburg were far from inconsequential; there were about a dozen smaller constituent states, and some of the northern cities—Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck—were still "free" cities beholden to no one other than the kaiser. Catholics dominated the southern states (Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and some of the smaller ones), Protestants (mostly Lutheran) the northern ones… though this is a considerable oversimplification, particularly when it came to the common people themselves.

    Something that surprises many people is that, in terms of social security programs, Germany was actually regarded as the most advanced state of its time: Britain, France and eventually the rest of Europe emulated its programs, which included sickness and accident insurance, maternity benefits, and old-age pensions, among others. It also had universal male suffrage before nearly all other nations (France and Switzerland being the European exceptions: most of Europe didn't have it until some time during or after WWI). What many find even more surprising is that these were largely Bismarck's ideas: the old "Iron Chancellor" that had seen the country successfully united following three wars in 1864, 1866 and 1870 spent his last twenty years in office promoting industrial and commercial expansion, social reform, and above all peace—he'd already gotten everything he wanted that war could offer. (This included putting a final end to the centuries-long "pan-German" movement that wanted to see Germany and Austria united.) His resignation shortly after Wilhelm II took the throne removed what was probably the only restraining force on the new kaiser's perennially erratic ambitions.

    By the way, Wilhelm II wasn't supposed to succeed his grandfather Wilhelm I as kaiser, and technically didn't: however, his father, Frederick III, already had terminal cancer when he inherited in March 1888, and died in June. Which pretty much all of Europe considered a tragedy, and not just for the German royal family, since Frederick was widely noted for his liberal outlook… and young "Willy" wasn't.

    Something that is often forgotten is that it was also engaged in colonialism at the time, with several large colonies in Africa, numerous islands in the Pacific and a port in China, and up to the 1890s was considered by England to be friendly, often used as a counterweight against traditional rival France. Germany was also actively involved in commercial development in other countries, especially the Ottoman Empire. While these had little effect on the day-to-day affairs of the German population, they certainly had effects on its politics, and featured regularly in its newspapers.

    Germany was the world leader in chemistry and chemical manufacture—spurred initially by its synthetic dye industry and leading to dominance in such fields as pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals; it also held dominant positions electrical and rail engineering, motors, and many other technological fields; in most manufacturing categories it was surpassed only by the U.S. (usually) and the U.K. (increasingly rarely). Roughly a third of all Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics went to Germans during the period you're looking at. Industry tended to be concentrated in just a few areas, however—most of them in the west, along the Rhine and Ruhr valleys; the remainder of the country remained heavily agrarian.

    Of course, Germany was also the nation with the strongest military tradition in Europe, a tradition heavily reinforced through its school system. The officer corps remained dominated by old Prussian nobility, however, relegating most other Germans to the lower ranks. After Wilhelm II took the throne, Germany engaged in a massive naval buildup, both to rival Britain and because Willy loved boats… this more than any other factor led to alienation between the two. (The buildup, that is, not Willy's love for boats.) Antisemitism was common, though no worse than anywhere else in Europe (and far better than most of it—France was the biggest offender here), and at least the laws explicitly recognized Jews as German citizens entitled to equal protection. Internal affairs were often conducted in a more heavy-handed fashion than much of Europe was comfortable with, though here in particular you'll see wide variation between the individual regions.

    P.S. Yes, the kulturkampf was a thing of the 1870s.
    Sheilawisz likes this.

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