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Die Gedanken sind frei

What is the German’s fatherland?
Is it Prussia, is it Swabia?
Is it where the grapes glow on the Rhine?
Is it where the gull moves on the Belt?
Oh no! oh no! oh no! oh no!
His fatherland must be greater!
The whole of Germany it shall be!
Oh God from Heaven see to it,
And give us true German bravery,
that we shall love it well and true!
That it shall be! That it shall be!
The whole Germany it shall be!

Des Deutschen Vaterland by Ernst Moritz Arndt, 1813

When Francis II abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in 1806 and fell back on his title of Francis I of the Empire of Austria (1804), the implied acceptance of the death of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, though dictated by Napoleon, was simply a recognition of reality. Napoleon, however, having shattered German unity legally, ironically went a good way toward re-establishing it politically by amalgamating the tiny imperial states into larger units. He also rewarded his German allies and relatives with title upgrades, in the process creating new kingdoms. Bavaria and Württemberg became kingdoms on January 1, 1806, Saxony followed on December 20, and Westphalia was created as a kingdom for Napoleon's youngest brother Jérôme in 1807. After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 recognized most of these (Westphalia being a notable exception) while restoring some of the larger earlier units such as Hanover (now also raised to a Kingdom). Prussia, which had been halved in size after its defeat in 1807, was awarded substantial territories in the Rhineland and Saxony, in recognition of the magnitude of her efforts against Napoleon - and of her army.note  After the Empire itself ceased, the run-up to the establishment of the Deutsches Reich may be considered the period of All the Little Germanies. (The first part, from 1815 to the March Revolution of 1848, is usually called the Biedermeier periodnote  in Germany).


The powerful nineteenth century impulse toward Nationalism spurred efforts to secure the establishment of a single German nation. But the exhaustion of Germans after a quarter century of war, the rivalry between the two great German powers, Catholic Austria and predominantly Protestant Prussia, and the efforts of the rulers of medium-sized German states to increase their own power, plus the unwillingness of Great Britain, Russia, and France to see the emergence of a powerful Central European empire dashed these hopes. Ministers who had few scruples about what methods to use to promote the interests of their sovereigns (such as the Anglo-Irish Castlereagh, the Russian Nesselrode, the wily Frenchman Talleyrand, the Prussian Hardenberg, and the influential Austrian Metternich) set up a European balance of power, which nonetheless did manage to preserve peace for four decades. Which means that until the The Crimean War there was no war that pitted one of the five great powers against another.


Instead of a national state the Germans got the fairly loose German Confederation (Deutscher Bund), which consisted of 42 states (38 monarchies and four free cities), or more correctly, states and parts of states, as e. g. big chunks of Prussia and Austria lay outside its borders. The Confederation's legislative debating forum, the Bundestag, unlike its modern namesake, was no more than a permanent conference of ambassadors. It soon enabled Metternich to institute repressive measures to protect the status quo in Germany and Europe and to combat revolutionary and nationalist movements. This was institutionalized in the Karlsbad decrees of 1819, which most notably involved a tightening of the screws in the censorship of newspapers, periodicals and books. This aspect of the Biedermeier period goes under the headline of "Restoration" (Restauration), and some of the smaller states took it to ludicrous extremes. For instance, in Electoral Hesse (Kurhessen, capital Kassel) it was even attempted for a time to restore the pre-1806 pigtails and to forbid state officials from wearing "seditious" mustaches.

The Romantic movement, which never really had a coherent political philosophy and which always had a huge interest in the past, indulged its nostalgic tendencies during the Biedermeier, often encouraged by monarchs who themselves felt that way, like Ludwig I of Bavaria and Frederick William IV of Prussia. The time of the Hohenstaufen was exalted as Germany's Golden Age, the exploration of traditional culture in the form of folk lore and folk music was encouraged as the proper expression of national sentiments, and religion took on the style, if not the substance, of Roman Catholicism, even among Protestants such as the painter Caspar David Friedrich (a particular embodiment of this impulse was the recommencement, with the warm approval of Frederick William IV, of construction on the Catholic cathedral of Köln, abandoned in the sixteenth century). However, at the same time the German states did make significant progress in other fields, notably in science, education, and industry. On the economic front, Prussia took the lead in replacing the outmoded forms (guilds, privileged enterprises etc.) with capitalist free enterprise and the removal of inner-Prussian and inner-German customs barriers. By 1854 most of the territories that would form the German Empire of 1871 (with the exception of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg and the Hanseatic cities) had joined the Prussian-led Deutsche Zollverein (customs union). Thus the economic union preceded the political one. However, industrialization and the introduction of a free market was accompanied by economic hardship in many places, which e. g. led to revolts by impoverished hand-weavers in Silesia in the 1840s and which became an important "push" factor that made Germans the most numerous group of immigrants to the United States during the mid-19th century, just ahead of the Irish.

The flip side of Restauration during the Biedermeier period is called Vormärz, "Before-March", referring to the European Revolution that broke out in Germany in March 1848. Vormärz refers to the diverse oppositional movements of the time: liberals, democrats, nationalists, early socialists etc., often associated with student societies (Burschenschaften) and the literary movement that came to be called "Young Germany". Discontent with the stagnation of the political development at home, many of them went to exile in Paris or Brussels after the Revolutions of 1830 and 1831. A wind of change did sweep through Germany in 1848 and 1849, and for the first time Germans (well, German men at any rate) elected a National Assembly, which convened in Frankfurt and framed a constitution. However, the attempt to set up a German national state failed, as in Prussia, Austria and many other states the old monarchs who never had entirely lost the hold over their armies regained control of the situation. The last remnants of the more radical revolutionaries were put down with harsh military force, and many of them went into exile. Many of them ended up in the United States, where they became known as "Forty-Eighters", associated with the radical abolitionist wing of the nascent Republican party and went on to fight another war for freedom some years later. Others ended up in Switzerland, like Richard Wagner, or in London, like Karl Marx. Nevertheless, the dream of a united Germany lived on, and things did not return to those of the Restauration era. Even Prussia now had to enact a written constitution, and states all over Germany got in the habit of having elected legislatures (even if some of them, like Prussia, elected them in systems which favored the rich). The parties that would characterize German party politics for the next ca. 70 years began to take shape, and one of them, the Social Democratic Party (founded in the 1860s), continues to this day.

North German unity, at least, would be achieved when the Prussian prime-minister, Otto von Bismarck-Schönhausen (after victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 effectively diminished Austrian influence among the German states) took advantage of the German nationalist sentiment inspired by Prussia's successful war with France in 1870 to have William I of Prussia crowned German Emperor at Versailles in 1871. Substantial bribes to various South German sovereigns and ministers (many of whom were, in any case, more nervous of Austria than of a more distant Prussia) secured the acquiescence of Catholic Germany. The Second Reich had begun.

In popular culture outside Germany, the unrest of this time period is all but ignored. All the Little Germanies, so far as fiction is concerned, is pure Gemütlichkeit, with lots of diplomats waltzing in embroidered tailcoats and silk stockings, Burschen dueling (as often with large Steins of Pilsner as with sabers), mob-capped grandmothers telling fairy tales, blue-eyed peasant maidens singing folk songs (especially Die Lorelei note ), and dozens of aristocratic Uhlans and Hussars in multi-colored uniforms to woo them.

Not to be confused with the more recent split of Germany between 1949 and 1990.

Tropes associated with All the Little Germanies include:

  • Amazing Technicolor World:
    • As an exhibition demonstrated a few years ago, people in the Biedermeier really liked bright colors, creating wallpapers and upholstery decorated in bright complementary colours (purple-yellow, red-green, blue-orange) as popularized by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his theory of colours. This was partially facilitated by the emergence of new artificial, industrially produced pigments. Some of these, most famously Schweinfurt Green, turned out to be highly toxic, however.
    • The eruption of the volcano Tambora in 1815 not only caused the "year without a summer" in 1816, but the volcanic dust in the atmosphere for decades created some of the most glorious and multicoloured sunsets ever seen.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Still very much the standard for members of ruling houses, but also for the upper and middle classes, despite the idea of marrying for love gaining ground thanks to its fictional portrayals. For instance, in some places it was still possible for a guild to tell a journeyman who became a master that he must marry another master's widow.
    • The most famous aversion of this trope was probably the 1829 wedding of Archduke John of Austria with Anna Plochl, the daughter of a postmaster, which cost the bridegroom, a younger brother of Francis I, his place in the succession.
  • Badass Beard: Came into its own during this period. During the 18th century most men were clean-shaven. Only a few, especially certain types of soldiers like grenadiers or hussars, wore mustaches. Mustaches (and muttonchops) became much more common in Germany during The Napoleonic Wars, and in the period that followed full beards became associated with radicals and revolutionaries like Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Friedrich Hecker, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, before the fashion became "mainstream" after the Revolution of 1848. The changing fashion for facial hair can be seen for instance with the kings of Prussia (whose styles obviously became imitated by many): Frederick William III grew a mustache after the defeat of 1806, of his two eldest sons Frederick William IV went clean-shaven and William I wore a mustache and sideburns, while William's son Frederick William (the future Frederick III) grew a full beard.
  • Chemistry Can Do Anything: Following the lead of France, Chemistry established itself as a science of its own at German universities. The most famous German chemist of the day was Justus von Liebig, the founder of agrochemics and inventor of an extract of meat that became used worldwide in the 1860s.
  • Cool Train: The first German railway line, between Nuremberg and Fürth in the kingdom of Bavaria, was opened in 1835, and soon a railway network began to evolve in several states, Prussia taking the lead.
  • Cosplay: At the "Festival of the White Rose" in Potsdam (13 July 1829), in honor of the birthday of visiting Czarina Alexandra Fyodorovna (daughter of King Frederick William III), princes and nobles performed a "carousel" and "living pictures" that lasted until the morning of the next day dressed up as medieval knights. Architect and painter Karl Friedrich Schinkel was responsible for the designs. This was because Alexandra was a fan of the historical novels of Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué; in her family she had the nickname "Blanchefleur", after one of Fouqué's characters.
  • Funny Foreigner: Germany, especially the newly "discovered" Rhine valley and the Elbe valley south of Dresden, began to attract much larger numbers of foreign tourists than ever before, including e. g. Victor Hugo, Hans Christian Andersen, and painter J.M.W. Turner. This led to foreign tourists, especially eccentric Englishmen with more money than sense, to become popular comedy figures in German media.
  • Happily Married: This became very much an ideal during the Biedermeier, in part because the more severe policing of public assemblies and societies led many to retreat into private life, and living a contented, harmonious life with your family became something to be praised in works of fiction, art etc. Interestingly this also led to the rulers' family lives to be held up to much greater scrutiny than in the 18th century. For instance, King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the end had to abdicate over his liaison with the Irish dancer Lola Montez.
  • Nice Hat: The era saw a few. Men wore various types of toppers, while in the 1840s the Italian-style Kalabreser came to be regarded as the hat of radicals and democrats. Women wore mob caps and the like, often cut in a way that protected the face from becoming unfashionably tanned. The military switched from tricorn hats to shakos and later képis and Pickelhauben.
  • Oktoberfest: The first one was held in Munich in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese; the main event was a horse-race. After the Napoleonic Wars it became the annual popular fair we know today. The first Oktoberfest also for the first time created widespread interest in traditional folk dress among the upper and middle classes. However, folk dress still looked rather different from what one associates with Bavaria today; for instance, the Dirndl dress only began to emerge in the 1880s and 1890s. During the early and mid-1800s, Lederhosen were almost exclusively worn by hunters, being too expensive and impractical for everyday wear; Bavarian peasants wore cloth trousers to work, which rather resembled the ones tailored by a Bavarian emigrant to America, Levi Strauss.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: One of the great international literary successes of the time was the novella Undine (1811) by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué. The romantic and sad story of mermaid Undine who falls in love with the knight Huldbrand was adapted by Fouqué into an opera with music by his friend E. T. A. Hoffmann (1816), two other opera adaptations were written by Albert Lortzing (1845) and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1869). Undine led to a fashion for mermaids, nixies and sirens among German and other creators, for instance in poems by Goethe, Heine, and Joseph von Eichendorff, as well as the story Die Historie von der schönen Lau ("The history of the Fair Lau") by Eduard Mörike and Richard Wagner's Rhinemaidens.
  • Romanticism: To a large extent it dominated literature, the arts, and especially music, with composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), E. T. A. Hoffmann, Heinrich August Marschner, Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, and Carl Maria von Weber.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: As many Romantics became more "mainstream" and conservative, new social and political movements as well as the writers of "Young Germany" swung back to an approach closer to those of the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Ruritania: Frequently the Hollywood version of the smaller German states of this era.
  • Spare to the Throne:
    • If anyone had a princeling they couldn't figure out what to do with they dumped him here. If one of the royal families here had one of these they dumped them somewhere else. As a result, almost every monarchy in Europe had/has some minor German prince in the ancestry—if indeed the royal family wasn't already of German origin (such as The House of Hanover).
    • Britain was particularly fond of marrying German princelings. From the accession of George I until quite recently, the British monarchs fairly consistently married only German consorts, with the occasional Dane for flavor—and the Danish monarchs come from a branch of the German house of Oldenburg, namely that of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.
    • Ditto for Russia. Nicolas II and George V were first cousins and looked pretty much like twins.
    • When new thrones were created or old ones became vacant, people would often look for a German prince to sit on it. Thus in 1831 newly-independent Belgium selected Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as its new king, and a year later the Greeks did the same with Prince Otto of Bavaria. Later they became discontented with him, deposed him and in 1862 chose Prince George of Denmark as his successor. Later that decade the possibility that Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, scion of a Catholic side-branch of the Prussian royal family, might become king of Spain was one of the factors that led to the Franco-German War in 1870.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Given the contemporary state of public medicine and occasional epidemics (e. g. typhoid during the Napoleonic Wars, cholera in the 1830s), it is not surprising that quite a number of famous creators died at a young age, for instance painter Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810), composers Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and writers Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811, suicide), Christian Dietrich Grabbe (1801-1836), Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827), and Georg Büchner (1813-1837) did not reach age 40.
  • The Western: Thanks to the success of the writings of James Fenimore Cooper and the large numbers of Germans emigrating to the United States, interest in America increased dramatically. Starting in the 1830s German-language proto-westerns written by writers like Charles Sealsfield (Carl Anton Postl) and Friedrich Gerstäcker becan to carve out a big niche for themselves in the book market.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: After Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote Von deutscher Baukunst (1773), the Gothic style was misidentified as a peculiarly German style of architecture (it is actually French in origin, and people started to build new buildings in that style. This fashion really came into full force after the Napoleonic Wars and led e. g. to the intense rebuilding of castles on the Rhine. However, in contrast to the English-speaking world, where Gothic Revival is often associated with monarchy and Classicism with republicanism, the rulers and architects of the Little Germanies said: Why not have a bit of both? So e. g. in Berlin Frederick William III had Karl Friedrich Schinkel build the Kreuzberg Monument in a Neo-Gothic style and the new museum (now Old Museum) in a classicist one. Ludwig I of Bavaria liked both Classicist and Neo-Renaissance, while Frederick William IV also had new church buildings modeled on Early Christian basilicas. Meanwhile in republican Hamburg the Gothic Revival led to the rediscovery of redbrick building.

Works associated with All the Little Germanies:

Art and Architecture

  • The paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, Carl Spitzweg and Adolf von Menzel.
  • The Black Brunswicker
  • The Walhalla near Regensburg, a hall of fame for important German-speaking people from history in the form of a Greek temple. Built on the orders of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and opened in 1842.
  • The Bavaria statue in Munich (1844-1850), the first colossal statue to be entirely cast in bronze since antiquity. Another of Ludwig I's pet projects.
  • Christian Daniel Rauch's statue of Frederick the Great (1851) in Berlin.
  • The Hermannsdenkmal near Detmold, a colossal statue of Arminius, the victor of the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, by sculptur Ernst von Bandel. At first financed only by public subscription, it was begun in 1841 but only completed in 1875.
  • The completion of the great ensemble of parks and gardens in Potsdam as designed by Peter Josef Lenné, including the "Russian colony" of Alexandrowka erected on the orders of Frederick William III in memory of his friendship to Czar Alexander I.
  • The landscape parks designed by Prince Pückler in Muskau and Branitz.
  • The new stock exchange in Hamburg, which almost miraculously survived the Great Fire of 1842. And the Alsterarkaden, which were built in a burnt-down part of the city.



  • Die SchöneMüllerin
  • The Viennese Waltz, which evolved from a folk dance regarded as scandalous by Georgian Britons (shocking, this close bodily contact between a man and a woman!) to a fashionable society dance in the whole of Europe thanks to Josef Lanner, Johann Strauß father and Johann Strauß son.



Depictions in fiction:

  • La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, an operetta by Jacques Offenbach
  • The Tales of Hoffmann
  • Die Weber, a naturalist social drama by Gerhart Hauptmann, set during the Silesian Weavers' revolt of the 1840s.
  • The play Alt-Heidelberg ("Old Heidelberg") by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster, on which the movie The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is based, evokes the image of Heidelberg that arose during this era, particularly in the works of Joseph Victor von Scheffel. The title alludes to Scheffel's poem Alt-Heidelberg, du feine.
  • Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks chronicles the downfall of wealthy a bourgeois family of an unnamed city that has to be Mann's native Lübeck from 1835 to 1877.
    • Thomas Mann's 1939 novel Lotte in Weimar shows Goethe's old flame Charlotte Kestner née Buff (the model for Lotte in The Sorrows of Young Werther) travelling to Weimar to see him again in 1816.
  • Any version of the story of the Brüder Grimm (e.g., The Brothers Grimm and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm)
  • The Sissi trilogy (Sissi, Sissi — Die junge Kaiserin, Sissi — Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin) starring Romy Schneider paints a romantic picture the life of Bavarian-born Empress Elisabeth of Austria during this period.
  • Various films about King Ludwig II of Bavaria begin in this era.
  • The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser: Based on the real-life case, one of the great unsolved mysteries of the era.
    • The story of Kaspar Hauser was also treated in a number of songs including Kaspar Hauser by Dschinghis Khan and Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser's Song) by Suzanne Vega.
  • Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun: Sizable part of both Victorias is about supporting, slowing down or outright stopping German unification, depending on country player picked.
  • Princess Sissi
  • Empire: Total War is set during the time when the lands of Germany were increasingly divided. Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Westphalia/Hessen, and Prussia are all factions.

Alternative Title(s): German Confederation