In 1871, Germany was unified for the first time ever (though the Holy Roman Empire was a basically German institution, it wasn'thadn't been for several centuries a true union of the myriad of small independent countries, but rather a loose confederation not unlike the constantly feuding and inbreeding residents of some backwards Louisiana swamp, and was formally dissolved in 1806). A lot bigger than modern Germany, it incorporated a large part of modern Poland, the conquered Alsace and Moselle areas of France, small slices of Lithuania and Denmark, and what is now the Kaliningrad exclave of the Russian Federation. All had German populations at a time, but in some places they were not a majority or "German in sentiment". Be very careful when you talk about this. It may spontaneously combust. Germans were kicked out of a lot of places after World War II, but in Germany and these places (Poland and the Czech Republic) it's considered polite not to mention this.
Imperial Germany (Das Deutsche Reich, or Deutsches Reich) was a constitutional monarchy with a rather limp constitution and a great deal of influence in the hands of generals, landowners, and industrialists (although it did look good when it stood next to some of its contemporaries, and much of the weakness of its parliament was by comparison to Britain and France's supreme legislatures). It had an elected Reichstag (Imperial Diet) with very limited influence, as it had the power to pass, amend or reject bills, but only the Chancellor could initiate them. The Chancellor, in turn, was appointed by the Emperor and was responsible only to him. It is notable for having introduced universal suffrage early on, however, and for Bismarck's creation of a an advanced (for the time) welfare state.
The German Empire consisted of 4 Kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg), 6 Grand Duchies, 5 Duchies, 7 Principalities, 3 Free Cities and 1 Imperial Territory (Alsace-Lorraine). Prussia was by far the most dominant state, as it made up 64% of the empire and the King of Prussia was also the German Emperor.
Germany became a major world power at this time, because of its booming economy and powerful army. It produced a lot of leading artists and scientists, and began to dabble in overseas colonialism and to build up a navy to rival Britain.
The most famous statesman of the time was Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck engineered the unification of Germany through a lot of extremely ruthless and deceptive tricks, but he was so good at it that you can't help but cheer for the guy (though that may be disputable). He spend his later years juggling a complex alliance system in an attempt to keep the peace in Europe. Historians are divided as to whether he could have kept it up, but Kaiser Wilhelm II booted him out, so we may never know. He also made the famous prediction that the next war in Europe would start over "some damned silly thing in the Balkans". He was right.
The other best-known characters of the period are, of course, the Kaisers. There were three. The first was Wilhelm I, a conservative old Prussian stalwart with magnificent whiskers who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. His reign was dominated, politically, by Bismarck. Then came Friedrich III,note They were using the Prussian numbering for 99 days. A man of vague liberal sympathies (he quite admired Britain; he even married Queen Victoria's eldest daughter) he was struck down by cancer of the larynx and is a favourite of Alternate History. Finally and notoriously, Wilhelm II. A notoriously temperamental man with some major childhood issues concerning his arm defect who veered between liberal and conservative, strident militarism and sympathy for socialism, and, during the war that came to define his reign, defeatism and dreams of victory.note Also, serious Mommy Issues involving his relationship with Britain and British culture: unlike his father, who had a healthy respect for Britain, Wilhelm was at once awestruck and envious, hating his mother but also wanting to be British...and then hating them again because he could never be British. It's suspected that this obsession with Britain informed his focus on building up the German Navy. He fell out with Bismarck and dismissed him, and the rest of his reign was a succession of brief and unmemorable chancellors with himself as the real centre of gravity until during the war he was rendered irrelevant by the generals.
It's sometimes called "the Second Reich", but that term was used by the Nazis as part of their warped view of history. "Bismarckreich", "Kaiserreich" and "German Empire" are the usual terms for the state (not "Deutsches Reich": this was the official name, but it was also the official name of Weimar Germany and Nazi Germany, as well as the short way to refer to the Holy Roman Empire, so its too unspecific.).
It all ended very badly.
Important note: never confuse Imperial Germany with the Nazis. People with any knowledge of German history (well, okay, nerds, but it's pretty much the same around here) scream and writhe when they hear this. And this wiki is full of nerds.
Imperial Germany has relatively few fans today, but it's generally agreed that they deserve some credit for not being the Nazis, and none other than Winston Churchill, writing in The Gathering Storm in 1948 concluded that Germany (and the world) would have been far better off keeping the Hohenzollerns under a true constitutional monarchy than the troubled republic of Weimar Germany, and a lot of facts seem to stand up for this. Wilhelm II, despite remaining a reactionary, intolerant, and somewhat bonkers gentleman till the end, strongly condemned the violent Nazi persecution of Jews (despite being viciously anti-Semitic himself), and he died in 1941 some months before the Holocaust even happened. Monarchism was strong in the Weimar Republic but today very few people support monarchism.
For several centuries, Germany had been splintered into many small states, most of which weren't really able to defend if the great powers (France, England, Sweden, Russia, Austria) decided to attack their country and use it as a battlefield. But now, as some historians stated, Germany had turned from a sponge (i.e. being soft and absorbing attacks) to a steel block. Its neighbors were pretty uncomfortable with that.
The Imperial flag of Black-White-Red is used as an alternative to their banned symbols by Neo-Nazis, but monarchists universally condemn this, and people who know anything about history point out that the Neo-Nazis are grasping on to a symbol they have only a minimal connection to in order to circumvent German hate-speech laws and try (and fail) to gain some measure of legitimacy.
See also Kaiserreich, which is about Imperial Germany as it is depicted in fiction.
Tropes displayed by Imperial Germany include:
Awesome Moment of Crowning: Founded in Versailles, the old palace of the French kings, just to rub it in, with much outrageous headgear and swords being waved in the air. See picture.
Bad Ass Moustache: A symbol of the era throughout Europe, but especially in Germany, where many people imitated Wilhelm II's rather magnificent example.
The Empire: The most common perception of it from the outside...and non-Germans inside it. Though it should be noted that the German Empire was just about the most homogeneous state in Europe: over 95% of its inhabitants spoke German as their first language. That's not even true of Germany today, though mostly due to immigration from Turkey and Kurdistan. Most of the Empire's security apparatus' loving concern fell on the left-wing parties, so the perception was strongest among Germans. Also, by far the largest minority in the German Empire, Poles, actually had it better (which is not to say they had it good) than the majority of Poles, living in the Russian Empire.
Even Evil Has Standards: Wilhelm II wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue, but he was thoroughly disgusted at Adolf Hitler's treatment of Germany's Jews and declared that Hitler's actions made him "ashamed to be a German!"
The Federation: Imperial Germany was a federal monarchy with the King of Prussia having power over all the other guys.
Yes, that's right. This nation may be one of the few countries in history to have been a representative of both the Federation and the Empire at the same time. Note that the man who invented the term "Federal Monarchy" actually thought of that system of government as functionally impossible and only a theoretical concept. It actually worked pretty well.
He Also Did: Somewhat randomly, Britain and the US chose Wilhelm I to settle a dispute about the sea border between Washington State (then the Washington Territory) and British Columbia in 1871, as a result of the "PigWar" twelve years earlier.
While the Allies undoubtedly exaggerated German atrocities in Belgium, Germany's callous reaction to these accusations only harmed their reputation. On one occasion, Wilhelm told representatives of still-neutral America that while he regretted Belgian suffering, the Belgians brought it upon themselves by resisting German occupation. They didn't try and refute Allied propaganda so much as Hand Wave it. Similarly, the Germans had exactly the same plans for the Allies had they won (see the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which hurt Russia far more than Versaiiles could ever hurt Germany), so the outrage was somewhat akin to a man who goes all-in at a poker game complaining when he loses all his money.
Hoist by His Own Petard: During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Wilhelm reportedly told his troops to behave towards the Chinese "like the Huns of old." Fourteen years later, this provided Germany's enemies a handy epithet and propaganda tool.
Leeroy Jenkins: Wilhelm II early in his reign. In the span of a few years (1900-1906) nearly went to war with the United States over Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, France over central African colonies and France and England over Morocco (twice!). Then the construction of Germany's High Seas Fleet. In fairness, he calmed down considerably afterwards.
Well, until the Daily Telegraph incident. And the Agadir Crisis. Okay, so how calm Wilhelm was tended to shift on a day to day, even moment by moment basis. In all likelihood he probably suffered from some form of manic depression.
Secret Police: A role pretty much filled by the Geheime Feldpolizei (abbreviated as the GFP, an organization formed by Bismarck in 1866 after an attempt on his life), which was involved with everything from military intelligence to the investigation, undermining and suppression of dissent both at home and in the occupied territories, without, of course, having the same infamous reputation as Hitler's Gestapo. Another organization that arguably filled this role was the intelligence agency Abteilung IIIb.
Spikes of Villainy: Maybe calling them villains is unfair, but if they didn't want to give that impression, they should have lost the spikes. (Ironically, the Pickelhaube went out of fashion because the new-fangled steel helmets - of a design on which most of today's military helmets are based - provided better protection.)
Too Dumb to Fool: Bismarck could play almost any other foreign or domestic statesman like a fiddle, but Wilhelm II was so stubbornly determined to have a hand in things that he proved almost immune to Bismarck's influence.
What Wilhelm refused to play along with was Bismarck intentionally provoking German socialists to revolt, and then militarily crushing them to eliminate their political influence in Germany. Hardly a case of "too dumb to fool." Maybe "too humane to puppet."
It is especially curious considering Wilhelm's attitudes towards Socialism had a complete Heel Face Turn in later years. Once when a major strike occurred he is reported to have said "I expect my soldiers to shoot at least five hundred."
What Could Have Been: Friedrich III was liberal and pro-British. If he had ruled Germany for more than 99 days, his country might have much more democratic and the First World War could have been avoided. For that matter, if Wilhelm II had not had a deformed arm or had otherwise not had so many Mommy Issues about his British mother, he might have turned out more like his dad. Or Germany was far too conservative for his reforms to be implemented and a clash between the major powers in Europe was inevitable.
Blaming Wilhelm's Mommy Issues for the difficult relationship with Britain is rather one-sided, given the fact that he was on pretty good terms with his granny Victoria. It's more that he had an unbalanced personality to begin with, wanted to show off to the British in general and also had to play the tough guy for domestic reasons (after all, he was half-British and therefore could hardly risk to appear as being soft on them).
Large parts of Western Austria were part of the colloquial "German Confederation" and Austria had been pushing for a Großdeutschland which would be ruled by the Habsburg imperial family (who Austrians believed had more "right" to rule Germany, as the successors to the Holy Roman Empire). This idea faced significant resistance by Germans and Austrian non-German populations like the Czechs and Slovenes who were against incorporating non-German regions into Germany. There was a brief discussion on whether the Habsburgs could unite a greater German state including German Austria if they simultaneously renounced its claim to the territories east of Hungary. This fell through after the introduction of a new centralized Austrian constitution for the entire Austrian Empire, thereby affirming the Austrian domination of its eastern territories. Had the Austrian Emperor relinquished his claim on those territories, Germany might have been unified under the Habsburg dynasty, creating a revived Holy Roman Empire.
And a rather strange one: if the rule of succession in Britain had been absolute primogeniture (as it has been since 2013) rather than male-preference primogeniture (as it was in 1901, and indeed had been from at least the 16th centurynote In theory, Britain had this rule as far back as the 12th century, but until the Tudors it had never been an issue as either the King had a son or had no children at all until 2013), Wilhelm II would have become King of the United Kingdom in August 1901 (Queen Vicky having died in January of that year and her eldest child, Wilhelm's mother Victoria, died that August). One rather wonders about the history of Europe since then if that had been the case... (Of course, no modern monarchy adopted absolute primogeniture until Sweden in 1980; there's some evidence that the medieval Kingdom of Navarre had this rule, but that was a very long time ago.)
Margot Benary-Isbert's Under A Changing Moon takes place during the unification.
In the 1978 sci-fi novel And Having Writ, the 1908 explosion in Tunguska, Siberia, is revealed to be the crashing of an alien spacecraft. The aliens pay visits to several major turn-of-the-century historical figures, including Kaiser Wilhelm II. They cure him of his withered arm, which lightens his bellicose personality and thereby prevents his leading Germany into war.
Imperial Germany is the setting of many of the works of Heinrich Mann (the elder brother of Thomas Mann), in which he paints a rather unflattering image of its burgeois society as hypocritical, conceited, and spinelessly servile to authority. See Professor Unrat and his most famous novel, The Subject (Der Untertan).
The Kaiserreich resorts to resurrecting the dead in a desperate attempt to win World War One in the novel By The Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War.
An idea that Bertolt Brecht treated for black comedy in his Ballad of the Dead Soldier.
Many people in Victorian and Edwardian England apparently lived in mortal fear of Imperial Germany's rising power, because at least three novels exist on the subject of an invasion of England by the German Kaiserreich. The Battle of Dorking, from 1871, deals with a British defeat and the dismemberment of the Empire, When William Came, written in 1913, deals with England under German occupation, and The Riddle of the Sands (1903) concerns two British yachtsmen who discover and thwart a German plan to launch a naval invasion force from the Frisian Islands. This latter work was made into a film in 1979 starring Michael York.
The subject matter of the absurdly over-the-top Alternate History Wank German book series Kaiserfront 1949 and its sequel series Kaiserfront 1953.
Robert Conroy has written two alternate history novels both dealing with an Imperial German invasion of the United States; the first, 1901, has the Germans invading via New York state after the Americans refused to give up the territories of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico acquired after the Spanish American War (this dispute actually arose in Real Life), with Theodore Roosevelt taking over after William McKinley's sudden death by heart attack. The other book, 1920: America's Great War, involves a German attack on the United States from occupied Mexico, six years after a successfully executed Schlieffen Plan swiftly defeated the Allies in World War One, with the intent of seizing large swaths of territory including California.
William Patrick's sadly obscure novel Blood Winter involves an American surgeon hired by British intelligence in 1917 to uncover a German biological warfare plot to infect the Allied armies with bubonic plague, arguably the logical extension of their Real Life attempts to win the war by having their agents covertly use vials of germ-filled liquid to kill off Allied horses, livestock and crops.
The 1916 satirical compilation of war propaganda cartoons Schmidt The Spy And His Messages To Berlin (by British cartoonist Alfred Leete) depicts the titular German spy making a series of humorously incorrect assertions about English life to be sent back to German intelligence. Unsurprisingly it was intended to make the Germans look like complete imbeciles utterly convinced of their impending victory; from his covert observances Schmidt draws such conclusions that sewer pipes being dug are trenches in preparation for a siege of London, that the city is under martial law because he mistakes a cinema doorman for a field marshal on guard duty, etc.
Harry Turtledove's "Curious Notions" (part of his Crosstime Traffic series), takes place in an Alternate History where the German Empire won World War One and continued its global territorial expansion unabated for decades before defeating the United States in a nuclear war in the 1950s.
The Kaiser also appeared in a 1993 commercial for Tab Clear soda, in which he drinks Tab while planning military strategy with his generals, pops out his monocle into his glass in amazement at the taste, swallows it, coughs it up thereby re-arranging the army men on the map so that divisions are instantly moved into battle, flees in embarrassment aboard an enormous bratwurst-shaped zeppelin, flies all the way to the boglands of Oregon, pricks the balloon accidentally with his Pickelhaube helmet, falls into the mud and thereafter makes a career as the original film-captured Bigfoot, paid by the government as a tourist attraction. Now everything is clear...
The Galactic Empire from Legendofthe Galactic Heroes bases itself on this, although how in doing so they managed to omit pickelhaubes from their uniforms absolutely beggars belief.
While not referred to by name, they are heavily implied to be the aggressive militaristic power seeking the treasure and advanced destructive weaponry of Laputa in Castle in the Sky. The pickelhaubes on the soldiers are a dead giveaway, as is the quantity of enormous war zeppelins (though Miyazaki's fondness for elaborate flying machines makes them considerably more advanced and complex than anything the Germans possessed in real life, with dozens of huge propellers, whole batteries of guns etc.)
The Mass Effect fanfic series Uplifted, which is set 47 years into the exile, is basically centered around this distinction. The Imperial Germans are by and large depicted as arrogant, reactionary, intolerant, and anti-Semitic, but still horrified when they discover the Final Solution. The Quarians intentions are less than pure however, as they intend to uplift Humanity and use them as foot soldiers to retake Rannoch. The Quarians decision to Uplift Humanity ultimately results in a Imperial Germany with interesting geopolitical results. Vietnam for example, becomes a war against a National Socialist uprising presumably led by people no longer welcome in the new German state.
The Kaiser appears in an animated commercial to hawk tasty "Luftwaffles".
The Kaiserreich is depicted as the antagonists in the 1985 film version of King Solomon's Mines, which updated the story to the African front of the First World War. Colonel Bockner, the primary German villain, is a character consisting of all the stereotypes of a German officer abundantly heaped together; a bald, moustachioed, cruel and arrogant blowhard whose most common utterance is screeching "ZER CHERMAN ARMY VILL NOT SHTAND FOR IT!!!!" and who is actually introduced listening to a gramophone blasting Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries while gnawing on fistfulls of bratwurst and berating Turkish slave trader Dogati for his lack of "culture."
In Nateand Hayes, their navy is depicted as seeking to establish coaling stations in Australasia with the aide of local slave labour culled by the murderous "blackbirder" Ben Pease. The archetype of the casually cruel and arrogant German officer is somewhat subverted by Admiral Count Von Rittenberg. He is portrayed as being highly squeamish with the violence and slave-trading that occurs throughout the film, and comes across as a man who feels forced to collaborate with the evil Pease out of grim necessity and out of a My Country, Right or Wrong attitude, determined to hold his own against what he perceives to be a mere pack of pirates in the form of Hayes' crew. Nevertheless, this character ambiguity does not prevent him from meeting a sticky end....
An armed skirmish erupts between the heroes of the film The Wind and the Lion and their troops (miraculously not resulting in a German-American war), as they are one of the foreign powers taking advantage of the crisis to seize Moroccan territory.
The 1971 film Zeppelin concerns their attempt to use the titular craft to steal the original Magna Carta from the British.
They attempted to utilize an elaborate disintegrating ray as a secret weapon in Biggles, Adventures in Time.
The protagonists must face off against their re-animated mecha zombies to steal a copy of the Kaiser's war plans in Sucker Punch.
The Kaiser is also taken prisoner at the end of Charlie Chaplin's short 1918 film "Shoulder Arms", having been portrayed by his brother Sydney.
Their soldiers are attacked with a knife from behind and scalped by Tristan in Legends Of The Fall, after they go to the rather elaborate lengths of setting up a machine gun just to kill Samuel when he is blinded by gas and trapped on the barbed wire.
Were the comical villains of the British sex-comedy "Up The Front"
Various silent First World War propaganda films portrayed them as melodramatic moustache-twiddling villains, such as in Hearts of the World and the now lost The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, starring Rupert Julian.
"Fraulein Doktor", the code name of the main character of the 1969 Italian film of the same name, is a spy for the Kaiser whose considerable achievements include arranging the U-boat attack that killed Lord Kitchener, and seducing then murdering a female French scientist so that she successfully steals her formula for a new poison gas that burns peoples' skin off horribly, and which conventional gas masks fail to guard against.
In the 1976 Shaw Brothers Hong Kong martial arts film "The Boxer Rebellion", their forces in China during the Rebellion (already infamous for their part in its brutal suppression in Real Life) receive something of a Historical Villain Upgrade, with the historical commander General Count Alfred Von Waldersee being portrayed as effectively the chief commander of the Allied European force to crush the Boxers, and determined to take the infamous words of the Kaiser's aforementioned "Hun speech" to their most literal logical extreme.
Those Wacky Nazis made several revisionist propaganda films about the period, mostly to glorify Otto Von Bismarck because of Hitler's obsession with being compared to him. Bismarck (1940) chronicles his triumphant rise and Die Entlassung (The Dismissal, 1941) his tragic fall. Also, the 1941 film Carl Peters attempts to create a heroic narrative of the titular man responsible for the creation of Germany's African colonies in the late 19th century, despite the fact that his brutality as a colonial administrator in German East Africa caused him to be known by a Swahili title that translates to "Man With Bloody Hands." Unsurprisingly, the film was the Nazis' attempt at claiming Peters as an ideological forbear.
¡Three Amigos! features a German running guns to the outlaw El Guapo in 1916 Mexico (a reference perhaps to Germany's courting the country's constantly changing governments in the hopes of persuading them to join with them in attacking the United States in Real Life.) He is a huge fan of the Amigos' films, but vengefully challenges Ned to a duel out of resentment at having discovered his impressive on-screen sharpshooting was merely special effects.
The Simpsons also featured a lone old man with a pickelhaube and Kaiser-esque moustache, the only member of Mr Burns' party at his attempt to marry Marge's mother, who screams "NEIN!!!!" and refuses to go "down in front" when Barney Gumble goes to sit on the groom's side.
Another Simpsons joke involves Imperial German World War One recreationists celebrating their graduation by throwing their pickelhaubes into the air, only to regret this when they fall with the points facing downwards.
Also appearing in The Simpsons was Baron Von Kissalot, whose nickname apparently comes from his enormous lips and who receives the taxi cab bill that Marge had sent to a lecherous Arty Ziff, as the contemptuous nickname she referred to him by caused some confusion with the Baron's name.
In The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "Ren's Retirement," Ren (who has gone prematurely senile after discovering that he is actually seventy in dog years) hallucinates fictitious experiences in World War I and spills his pureed food on Stimpy, strangling him when the moustache and pickelhaube-shaped blobs on Stimpy convince Ren that he is Kaiser Wilhelm II.
"YOU ONE-HORNED DEVIL, YOOUUUUU!!!!!!"
Jonny Quest villain Heinrich Von Froelich (from the episode "Shadow of the Condor") is a First World War German flying ace, and is the archtypical villainous Prussian officer, complete with monocle, moustache and general haughty demeanour.
Represented in the Jumanji cartoon by the pickelhaube-wearing big game hunter Herr Von Richter, complete with monocle and buffalo horn moustache, who is apparently Van Pelt's most hated rival and enters into a contest with him to see who can kill Alan Parrish first.
The British historical miniseries Fall Of Eagles deals to a great extent with Imperial Germany's rise and fall.
They are frequently prominent antagonists in The Adventuresof Young Indiana Jones. Indy twice has to take on the Schutztruppe (the military force of Germany's African colonies) while fighting in the African theatre of World War One; In "Phantom Train of Doom" he locks horns with legendary Schutztruppe commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, and fights them again in "Oganga: The Giver and Taker of Life." Indy must also contend with Manfred Von Richtofen, the Red Baron himself in "Attack of the Hawkmen."
One of the powers involved in outer space colonization in the RPG "Space 1889."
The RPG in development "Kaiser's Gate" involves a portal to another dimension that contains living dragons being opened by the 1908 Tunguska Event, and these dragons being utilized by the Kaiser's army as a secret "wunderwaffe".
The now discontinued "Baron Von Redberry" cereal, the mascot of which was the titular moustachioed Baron in his red biplane, who had an ongoing competition with rival British air ace Sir Grapefellow about whose breakfast cereal was superior.
Several individual songs by the satanic black death metal band Endstille, including "Vorwarts Sturmangriff II," "No Heaven Over Germany", "1914" and "Verfuhrer" (German for "seducer"). The cover for the album "Verfuhrer" is a French war propaganda cartoon depicting the Kaiser with his sleeves rolled up, wearing a bloody apron and wielding a blood-soaked machete.