scan of 2006 syllabus
Map of the German Empire of 1871-1918,
showing predominance of Prussia (beige)

UCSB Hist 133c, L02:
Germany: 3 Empires, 4 Republics
lecture on Jan. 11, 2006 (L01, L03)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
uploaded Jan. 12, 2006, updated 1/19/06

What is a "State"?
Holy Roman Empire
The 1848 Revolution
Bismarck's "Second Reich," 1871-1918

Introduction (back to top)

Guiding question: What is Germany (Deutschland)?

This lecture gives an overview of the broad arc of "German" history, from the time we might first speak of a German state in the early middle ages, until a consolidated modern state emerged in the late 1800s. My main purpose is to show that over history there have been many ways of defining the state we now call "Germany." Various peripheral territories come and go over time, depending on the domains of the dynastic leaders in control, and on the language/culture of the peoples (majorities) living in different regions.


  • What is a state? 2 principles
  • 1st and 2nd Reichs: 800-1806, 1871-1918
  • 1st and 2nd Republics: 1848-49, 1919-33
  • 3rd Reich: 1933-45
  • 3rd & 4th republics: 1949-1990: BRD/FRG & DDR/GDR

[note: since the digital projector wasn't working, I did not show the images until Friday's lecture.

1. What is a "state"? An Empire?(back to top)

  • Definition provided by Max Weber (1864-1920), a famous German sociologist, in a lecture in Munich in 1918 [published in: Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1919; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965; Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004)]:
    "Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that "territory" is one of the characteristics of the state."
  • A state can be based on monarchy (dynasty), or populace
  • Monarchic state
    • "L'etat, c'est moi"--"The state, that's me"
      • characterization of the absolutist state of the 17th century
      • attributed to Louis XIV of France (although on his deathbed he reportedly said 'I am going, but the State shall always remain.") (see Wikipedia Louis XIV page)
    • Examples:
      • named after main representatives: Carolingians (Charlemagne), Ottonans
      • House of Bourbon (Navarre, France 1555-1792)
      • named after castle/location: House of Wittelsbach (Bavaria 1180-1918)
      • Habsburg/Habichtsburg (Austria, dukes 985, Holy Roman 1438-1806)
      • Hohenzollern (Brandenburg 1415; Prussia 1525 duchy, 1701 kingdom)
        Wiki Hohenzollern page, Prussia page
    • An Empire: collection of kingdoms, "principalities," etc.
      • Emperor, German "Kaiser" (Caesar, Czar)
      • Can be inherited, or elected, as was the Holy Roman emperor (by elector-princes)
  • State based on populace
    • People control the government
    • Have a body of common laws
      • constitution (basic law): the guidelines for making laws
    • Elect representatives
    • Republic vs. democracy (for the people / by the people)
      (see citizens for constitutional government discussion)
    • Federal (German Bund), federation, confederation--of semi-autonomous parts

2. The Holy Roman Empire (back to top)

  • Holy Roman Empire (ca. 1200: of the German Nation)
    • 800 (or 962) -1806
    • starts with Charlemagne (b. 771; ruled 800-814)
    • "German" part ruled by Otto 1 (b. 936; ruled 962-973)
    • name first appears around 1200 (Friedrich Barbarossa, 1122-1190)
    • 9th century emperor elected by 5 tribes: the Franks, Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians and Thuringians
    • 1356 bull established 7 electors: Count Palatine of the Rhine, King of Bohemia, Count Palatine of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg, and Archbishops of Köln, Mainz, and Trier.
      1600s: Duke of Bavaria became 8th elector

How did "Germany" get from the defunct Holy Roman Empire to the 1871 Wilhelmine Kaiserreich?

  • Important Point: haphazard, contingent way that central European pricipalities became "Germany"
    map of central Europe before 1806
    map of central Europe prior to 1806: conglomerate of 236 states, emperor is elected
    map German states ca. 1815
    1815-1830: consolidation to 30 states after Congress of Vienna
  • The Customs Union (Zollverein), completed in 1834, enabled economic development.
    This cartoon lampoons the small sovereign principalities:cartoon on German customs prior to Zollverein

Germany's 1848 Revolution (back to top)

  • Uprisings in Paris, Berlin, Vienna
  • Pre-parliament convened in Frankfurt
  • Offers constitutional monarchy to Frederick Wilhelm IV (King of Prussia, 1940-1857/61)
  • Refuses "Never must a scrap of paper come between me and my people"
  • 1849 Democrats driven out (for example Carl Schurz, became Civil War general in US, etc.)
    • 1849: Gagern crying cartoon

      1849: sweeping out democrats
      Democrats being swept out of the German lands after the failure of the 1848 revolutions.
      (Compare to the 1928 DDP election poster, where right-wing rabble is being scraped off the continent by a black-red-gold shield - L5)

      Friedrich Wilhelm IV doesn't accept the crown offered by the Frankfurt Parliament. The cartoon shows the allegorical Germania reprimanding the democratic leader Heinrich von Gagern: "What are you whimpering about, you little jack in the box?" to which he replies: "I've carved your little one a crown and he doesn't want it!"

Bismarck's "Second Reich" (1871-1918) (back to top)

  • Imperial Germany, 1871-1918 (German "Kaiserreich"; Wilhelmine Germany)
    • Founded by Bismarck and William I (House of Hohenzollern, Prussian king)
    • Bismarck united Germany in 3 wars: 1864 Denmark, 1866 Austria, 1870-71 France
    • Ended with capitulation after "Great War" (WWI)
      Nov. 9, 1918: Kaiser abdicated, republic proclaimed
  • Bismarck unites German states "from above" (after the 1848 democrats failed to do it "from below")
  • Large, medium, small "solutions" to the "German question"
    • Grossdeutschland: federal state (can accommodate greater diversity: non-German, Hungarian part of Habsburg empire)
    • Kleindeutschland: centralized state
    • Bismarck chooses "smallest" without Austria or Hungarian part of Habsburg empire
  • this prefigures the debate after 1945: W. Germany="federal" republic; smaller E. Germany=centralized state
  • The process by which Germany unified during the 19th century is often referred to as Germany's "Special Path" (as compared to Britain or France, where bourgeois revolutions "from below" constituted the nation-states. That will be the subject of the next lecture.

Summary (back to top)

What is "Germany"?

  • dynastic states:
    • Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (with elected Kaiser; 1806=House of Habsburg)
    • Kaiserreich (emperor's empire) 1871; created by Bismarck; ruled by House of Hohenzollern
    • Third Reich (created by Hitler), 1938
    • British historian Robert Wilde summarizes the "3 Reichs" on's European history site
  • constitutional states (republics):
    • 1848 National Convention
    • 1918 Weimar Republic (constitution written in that city)
    • 1949: Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD)
    • 1949: German Democratic Republic (GDR); Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Jan. 16, 2005, updated: see header
lecture 1: Introduction; lecture 3: Germany's "Special Path"
back to top, Hist 133c homepage