Our flag shall boldly wave,
O'er the high seas!
O how majestically
Over the land and sea,
The German eagle casts
Its fiery gaze!
The name 'Germany' for centuries was used as a geographical term to refer to the many states and nations that made up the area between France, Austria, Poland-Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Most of these weren't really able to object when the Great Powers used the region as a battlefield, but in 1871, Germany was unified for the first time ever (though the Holy Roman Empire was a basically German institution, it hadn't been meaningfully unified since the 10th century). Now, some historians have stated, Germany had turned from a sponge (i.e. soft and absorbing attacks) to a steel block. And the way it paraded around in uniform all day and had won its unity through force of arms, it looked like it would pick a fight at the next opportunity. Its neighbors were pretty uncomfortable with that.
A full third larger than modern Germany, it incorporated a large part of modern Polandnote (which itself lost all of its eastern territories to the Soviet Union after World War II and was compensated by territories taken from eastern Germany), Alsace-Lorrainenote (part of modern France), small slices of Lithuania. Belgium and Denmark, and what is now the Kaliningrad exclave of the Russian Federation. All had German populations at a time but in some places, primarily the Duchy of Posen (today Poznan in Poland) they were not a majority or "German in sentiment". Be very careful when you talk about this. It may spontaneously combust, and not only with Germans. Ethnic minorities, especially those living near the borders of the Empire (e.g. Poles in the East, Danes in the North, Alsatians in the West) were often discriminated against and tended to vote for separatist or ethnic parties that were mostly ignored by other political forces. Germans were kicked out of many places after World War I and far more after World War II, but in Germany and these places it's considered polite not to mention this.
Imperial Germany was a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, the Reichstag, and while in the United Kingdom around 50% of men failed to meet qualifications to vote, Imperial Germany had universal manhood suffrage. Furthermore, Bismarck introduced an advanced welfare system for the sick, the old, and the infirm. Not out of the kindness of his heart, mind you, he feared not doing it might make the workers restive so he gave them something to not lose everything. And yet while it was technically governed by rule of law, its constitution was weak, and a great deal of influence was in the hands of the emperor, aristocrats (Junkers), generals, landowners, and industrialists. While parliament had the power to pass bills, all laws had to be approved by the Chancellor, who was not elected but personally appointed by the Emperor, and was responsible only to him. Thus the true power lay not with the people, but the Kaiser. Although not bad for the age, and not a full-on autocracy like pre-1906 Tsarist Russia, none of this added up to democracy, at least not by contemporary standards.
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. Except for one brief interval, the Chancellor was also Prime Minister in Prussia, but after Bismarck's resignation the Kaiser took a more direct role in the politics of both anyway.
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. None of which did it any favors on the foreign policy scene and Wilhelm II was bad at diplomacy and PR to boot with ultimately predictable results.
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. 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 threenote . The first was Wilhelm I, a conservative old Prussian stalwart with magnificent whiskers who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars and was born in the 18th century. His reign was dominated, politically, by Bismarck. Then came Friedrich III,note for 99 days. A man of 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. Friedrich III also expressed disgust at the more and more open Antisemitism that reached even the higher echelons of society during his life. Finally and notoriously, Wilhelm II. A notoriously temperamental man with what we would now diagnose as ADHD and some major childhood issues concerning his arm defect, he veered between liberal and conservative, strident militarism and sympathy for socialism, and later defeatism and dreams of victory - in other words, he was a picture of the rather-divided German nation as a whole in one man. He also had serious Mommy Issues involving his relationship with Britain: 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. He admired British power but at the same time resented what he felt was Britain's attempts to keep Germany "in the shade." 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 center of gravity until during the war he was rendered irrelevant by OHL (Oberste Heeres Leitung, Army High Command) who formed a military Junta centered around Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff and ruled the country 'on his behalf'. Interestingly Imperial Japan, with a constitution and government modeled on Imperial Germany's, also fell prey to a much less stable and rational Army-Navy Junta in the 1930s which got a few tens of millions of people killed.
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.).
Imperial Germany have a lot of things in common with the Nazis and many Nazis began their careers in Imperial Germany. There are indeed, very strong continuities between Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany but, there are also continuities between Imperial Germany and the Weimar Republic, and generally people do distinguish between the Weimar and Nazi eras after all. Likewise, one can trace proto-Nazi ideas across German history, and even European history as a whole. Imperial Germany was anti-democratic, German supremacist, and belligerent by nature and design. It did share the goal of expanding into Eastern Europe that ultimately formed one of the major engines of The Holocaust. Imperial Germany was an authoritarian state run by the Prussian warrior-caste nobility and they also perpetrated genocide against the Herero people in German Southwest Africa.
There were key differences however. Bismarck did strive to maintain a facade of liberal institutions and civic society, so Imperial Germany did not impose a single nationalistic ideology outside of Prussian hegemony and loyalty to the Kaiser. Opposition political parties such as the Social Democrats, the Marxists and others were allowed to run and operate albeit a Sidekick Glass Ceiling was strongly maintained to prevent them from being truly effective, and the Reichstag had no say in foreign or domestic policies. While the Kaiserreich did have anti-semitism, and the Kaiser was anti-semitic, the militant ethnic hatred of the Nazis didn't take effect yet. Wilhelm II, despite remaining a reactionary, intolerant, and somewhat bonkers monarch 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 Germany invaded the Soviet Union and began exterminating her civilians. It is plausible to argue that Imperial Germany wasn't exceptional as both society and government in both domestic and international policy from Anglo-Saxon nations. After all, The British Empire was a racist, expansionist, colonialist empire where suffrage was smaller than in Wilhelmine Germany, and America had Jim Crow laws during the nadir of race relations. It would be inexact to say they were just like the Nazis, but it would be equally inexact to claim they were exceptionally different from their darker imperialist descendants.
Post-World War II German historians (such as Fritz Fischer, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Hans Mommsen among others) argue that Imperial Germany was the nation most responsible for the outbreak of World War I, arguing by citing the existence of long-term political plans and a cabinet meeting with the Kaiser and his generals prove that they knowingly escalated the Balkan situation (which was merely one of many and if handled correctly could have been a non-issue) to opportunistically launch a war to maintain German hegemony in the face of what they saw as Russia eventually exceeding its productivity once it completed industrialization. After the War, Imperial German nationalists and others cunningly exploited the unexpected sympathy it enjoyed in the global Anglophone by doctoring and or destroying documents in its archives, and patronizing friendly and sympathetic historians to argue that Imperial Germany was either no different from other nations (i.e. collective guilt) or that it was a victim of Tall Poppy Syndrome from neighbouring superpowers who were jealous of its prosperity. The success of this counter-propaganda (which has a startling resemblance to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy) can be seen in such instances as 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, which pleased Churchill's general imperialist and bellicose nostalgia and his belief that democracy was only common to Anglo-Saxon nations and its people and not to others.
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 tonote in order to circumvent German hate-speech laws and try (and fail) to gain some measure of legitimacy.
For more information on the Imperial German military, see Prussians in Pickelhauben.
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. The French were not amused. 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.
- During the War: The most popular period to show it in.
- 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.
- Everyone Has Standards: Wilhelm II wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue, but he was thoroughly disgusted at Adolf Hitler and regularly criticized the Nazis for their violence and amorality. He was horrified by the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler's purge of his political enemies (telling a friend that it meant "we have ceased to leave under the rule of law"), along with Hitler's treatment of Germany's Jews and declared that Hitler's actions made him "ashamed to be a German!" Wilhelm was an anti-Semite himself, but his racism involved simply wanting nothing to do with Jews, and he still considered them people who deserved to live their own lives. Wilhelm was even more disgusted when his son August Wilhelm became a Nazi, declaring him "completely lost to our family."
- The Federation: Imperial Germany was a federal monarchy with the Kingdom of Prussia having power over all the other states. Many regions retained their former heads of state and in fact, some were permitted to raise their own armies.
- 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 "Pig War" twelve years earlier.
- The High King: The King of Prussia functioned similarly to this as German Emperor, having seniority over the other monarchs.
- Historical Villain Downgrade: Whether Imperial Germany receives this or Historical Villain Upgrade, especially in regards to their actions in World War I, very much depends on the writer. Use Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment when assessing this issue.
- While many people rightly say that Imperial Germany fell short of Nazi Germany in scale of war crimes and means to implement them, as well as pointing out that German responsibility for starting the war was exaggeratednote , this has sometimes led many people to go further and significantly downplay some of Imperial Germany's crimes and, likewise significantly undersell their responsibility in unleashing the First World War which German historians such as Fritz Fischer and Hans Mommsen now conclude is mostly the fault of Imperial Germany's internal and external policies. While it was absurd of the Allied Powers to declare Imperial Germany "solely responsible" for the war, they were certainly involved in its expansion from a regional dispute into a world war. Likewise a lot of the policies and goals of Nazi Germany's Ostfront goals were similar in intent (if not methods) to Imperial Germany's policies. The Germans did implement policies of genocide against the Herero in Sudwestafrika, including use of concentration camps and death by starvation, measures which prefigured the The Holocaust.
- Among the other morally questionable German actions of this period that have slipped through the cracks of collective memory for the most part include; unrestricted submarine warfare, at least one incident in 1918 in which a Canadian hospital ship was sunk and the survivors machine gunned by the U-boat crew, the bombing of Allied cities via zeppelin, massacres similar to those which took place in Belgium in occupied France and the Russian Empire, the use of poison gas (albeit by circumventing the Hague accords which didn't specifically forbid the delivery of chemical weapons via releasing them on the wind) the use of civilians in the occupied territories as slave labour along with some allied prisoners (many of whom died as a result of malnutrition and overwork working in German war industries),an extensive campaign of terrorism and sabotage carried out in North America by German agents such as Franz Von Papen in an effort to undermine American industry during the period in which the neutral US was selling war materials to the Allies, and excesses by German troops in China during the Boxer Rebellion and Germany's other African colonies in addition to the infamous attempted extermination of the Hereros of present-day Namibia.
- The Treaty of Versailles was seen in its time, mostly thanks to J. M. Keynes' book, as a "carthaginian peace" or a victor's justice forced unfairly on Imperial Germany. This was an explanation shared within Germany, by Fascists, Nazis, Liberals and Communists (such as Vladimir Lenin who cited Keynes' book in his pamphlets and notes) who agreed with Keynes based on his later fame as an economist. Decades later, the French economist Etienne Mantoux (who fought in La Résistance against the Nazis and died in battle) debunked Keynes' claims and analyses. Later historians such as A. J. P. Taylor, Fritz Fischer and Hans Mommsen argue that Imperial Germany was truly culpable for the first world war, and deserved to pay reparations. They also point out that the problems with the reparations was that it was too lenient and that Germany was in a position to pay and that the problem was that Versailles was a Golden Mean Fallacy that humiliated Germany politically yet left it in a militarily and economically secure position to act on its vengeance, while leaving the League of Nations no force and authority to enforce the reparations and conditions of the Treaty. It was also pointed out that the treaty was far milder than the reparations and conditions extorted by Germany against France during the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia. As the economist Thomas Piketty pointed out, that far from being burdened with reparations, Germany's history is one of unpaid debts, generous concessions and cancellations and Imperial Germany received an entirely unearned victim status for the stigma of Versailles.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: At their worst, the Imperial Army could be repressive and violent. Their greatest crime might have been the deliberate burning of library of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which contained many irreplaceable one-of-a-kinds. Hostage taking and executions of civilians in occupied Belgium and France weren't unknown, either. This was particularly common as reprisal against Belgian sharpshooters, whose actions were blamed on civilian "francs-tireurs" as they refused to believe that enemy snipers could be operating well inside the German occupation zone. That said, these atrocities, while very real, weren't anywhere near the scale of the Holocaust or other Nazi war crimes, or even the concurrent actions of Austria in Serbia or the Turks against Armenians. Some people aren't clear on this. On both sides of the issue. The Allies' propaganda during World War I (notably the Rape of Belgium campaign, which blended fact and fiction profligately) and the total responsibility that was laid on them by the Versailles treaty didn't help, while Wilhelm's openly belligerent rhetoric and attitude made Germany easy to caricature.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Wilhelm II 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.
- Wilhelm II also made an habit of remarking the short stature of his ally, King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy, and generally trying to piss him off. After fourteen years of these tricks World War I started, and Vittorio Emanuele and his government were in perfect agreement to not invade France as they were supposed to.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Wilhelm II, especially in the early years of his reign. In the span of nearly a decade (1902-1911) he nearly went to war with the United States over Venezuela (1902-1903) and the Dominican Republic (1904-1905), and France and Britain over Morocco, twice (1905-1906 & 1911). Then came the construction of Germany's High Seas Fleet (1907-1914), which provoked Britain, followed by the Daily Telegraph Affair (1908), which nearly resulted in his abdication. How rational 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.
- Nice Hat: The notorious Pickelhaube. It even saved the life of Wilhelm I, after the third assassination attempt on him.
- Red Right Hand: Wilhelm II and his withered left arm. It only fed into his inferiority complex.
- Royally Screwed Up: Wilhelm II was rather loopy. Part of the reason for Germany's poor reputation before and during the Great War was his fondness for making the sort of grandiose, bellicose and megalomaniacal statements one might typically hear from your average comic book villain. In addition to his infamous "Hun Speech" of 1900 and his disastrous Daily Telegraph interview of 1908, some of his more grandiose (and sourced) statements include:
"I regard every Social Democrat as an enemy of the Empire and Fatherland.""The soldier and the army, not Parliamentary majorities and decisions, have welded the German Empire together. I put my trust in the army.""There is only one person who is master in this Empire and I am not going to tolerate any other.""You [recruits] have sworn loyalty to me. You have only one enemy and that is my enemy. In the present social confusion it may come about that I order you to shoot down your own relatives, brothers or parents but even then you must follow my orders without a murmur.""Unless the Social Democratic leaders are taken out from the Reichstag by soldiers and executed by firing squad, no improvement is to be expected.""Poland's bravado wants to offend the Germans and I am forced to call on my people to guard their national treasures.""Shoot down, behead and eliminate the Socialists first, if need be, by a blood-bath, then war abroad.""Even now I rule supreme in the United States, where three million voters do my bidding at the Presidential elections.""I look on myself as an instrument of the Almighty and go on my way regardless of transient opinions and views.""I am a man of peace — but now I have to arm my Country so that whoever falls on me I can crush - and crush them I will.""God has made us for civilizing the world. Woe and death to all who resist my will.""The sword is drawn, and I cannot sheathe it again without victory and honor. All of you shall and will see to it that only in honor is it returned to the scabbard. You are my guarantee that I can dictate peace to my enemies.""Where my Guards appear, there is no room for democracy.""Either Germanic ideals or Anglo-Saxon ones must prevail. Justice, freedom, honor, and virtue will triumph, or the worship of money. There can be only one victor in this struggle. German ideals are at stake!"
- Basically, you could guarantee that a scandal of some sort would erupt any time he opened his big mouth.
- 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. The most infamous agency to be considered this, however, was the Prussian Secret Police (Preußische Geheimpolizei), who were the direct model for the later Gestapo. However it should be noted that the Prussian Secret Police were actually nowhere near as bad as even most other secret police organizations, let alone the Gestapo.
- 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.)
- Start of Darkness: World War One, for the German nation. Gave them a reputation they wouldn't shave off for a very long time.
- 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 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).
- The event which crippled Wilhelm's arm (his botched birth during which the doctors didn't get to examine the mother except in a fully clothed state until it was nearly too late) could've easily ended in his death - and possibly that of his mother as well. What if it had?
- 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. There were also briefly flirtations of merging all territories of all German states (including the non-German speaking areas of Austria-Hungary) into one giant state, but nationalism made this a pipe dream that never gained traction.
- 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 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.) Would Wilhelm (or King William V as he would've been known in Britain) have chafed under the system of constitutional monarchy (in reality he never seemed to understand that his cousin King George V had far less power over Britain than Wilhelm II had over Germany), or would such a system have spread to Germany as well?
- There were several assassination attempts on Wilhelm I (who born in the 18th century lived to 1888 when the crown prince was already mortally ill). What if any of them had succeeded?
- Before even the German-Danish war of 1864 Wilhelm I was caught in a Constitutional Crisis when he could not get a parliamentary majority to finance his military reforms and tried to get the money some other way. Knowing no other way out, Wilhelm I even considered abdicating in favor of his son in 1862, but Bismarck was brought in as Prime Minister, resolved the conflict, convinced Wilhelm I to stay on, engineered three wars (1864 against Denmark, 1866 against Austria and 1870/1871 against France) to unite Germany and the rest, as they say, is history. What if Wilhelm I, had resigned. What if he had brought in literally any other person not named Bismarck to resolve his issues?
- Speaking of said war against Austria, during the latter days of the Austro-Prussian War, Wilhelm I wanted to annex all of Austria (or at least the historically German or German-owned parts that had been part of either the Holy Roman Empire and/or the German Confederation). This would have essentially created Großdeutschland under the Prussian government (eventually; most likely it would have taken the Franco-Prussian War to get the Southern German States to buy in) and made Prussia and Germany potentially unassailable. Bismarck, however, vetoed it because he didn't want a weakened Prussia to face the rest of hostile Europe alone, particularly France and Russia (balance of power and all that). Bismarck even threatened to resign at one point or even hurl himself out a fourth story window as a means of stopping Wilhelm. Thus, Wilhelm, instead of marching on Vienna and bringing the Hapsburg Emperor to his knees, made a quick and easy peace that only lightly humiliated Austria, with the Peace of Prague. This had two effects: it allowed Germany and Austria to set aside their difference later and face the new threats of France and Russia together, but it also laid the groundwork for the European alliance system that would drag the whole continent into war less than a century later. Though Bismarck's actions made great Realpolitik for the immediate future, even he couldn't foresee the long term consequences of a powerful Hapsburgian Monarchy in place in Austria, or the continuing pressures that would arise from Austria-Hungary's overlapping interests in the Balkans vs. that of the Russian Empire. Who knows what would have happened Bismarck gone unheeded (or maybe, took a header out that window!)?
- 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.
Depictions in fiction:
- 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 now discontinued "Baron Von Redberry" cereal, the mascot of which was the titular mustachioed Baron in his red biplane, who had an ongoing competition with rival British air ace Sir Grapefellow about whose breakfast cereal was superior.
- The Galactic Empire from Legend of 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 anime version of Youjo Senki sets the story in a rather obvious Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Kaiserreich during a parallel-universe version of World War One (as opposed to the manga which was more obviously inspired by World War Two) complete with largely period-accurate uniforms and weapons.
- Despite being set in a fantasy World War Two, the Putting on the Reich Germanian Empire from Izetta The Last Witch invites some comparison to Imperial Germany by virtue of being a monarchy rather than a one-party dictatorship.
- DC Comics' "Enemy Ace" series, created by Joe Kubert in the 1960s and running into the 70s, depicts the adventures of the Richtofen-esque German air ace Hans Von Hammer. It was notable for being the first war-themed comic strip to depict the point of view of "the enemy", and its treatment of war as a morally ambiguous and bleak enterprise channeled popular sentiments in Vietnam-era America.
- The Marvel comics villain Baron Blood, an English aristocrat turned vampire, gets his start working for the Kaiser's Germany during the First World War.
- 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, mustachioed, 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 labor 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.
- The novel and film adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front deal with the First World War from their perspective.
- 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.
- Germany is represented in a 1910s great plane race by buffoonish German Colonel Manfred Von Holstein (Gert Fröbe) in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.
- Were the comical villains of the British sex-comedy "Up The Front"
- Various silent First World War propaganda films portrayed them as melodramatic mustache-twiddling villains, such as in Hearts of the World and the now lost The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, starring Rupert Julian.
- Die Feuerzangenbowle is set here. It's a lighthearted comedy, even if you think that's impossible.
- "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.
- Several revisionist propaganda films about the period in Nazi Germany, 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. This assumption proves fatal however, when Ned demonstrates that no such trickery was used by gunning his opponent down.
- The title character of the biopic Sergeant York is involved in a battle against Imperial German forces near the end of the movie. The Germans are portrayed neither positively nor negatively, merely as soldiers on another side.
- The movie adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot gives von Schoenvorts some serious Adaptational Heroism (and a promotion from lieutenant to captain!) and portrays both him and the majority of his crew as decent-hearted men. All the negative German stereotypes are heaped onto the character of von Schoenvort's first officer, Dietz, who betrays and dooms everyone at the end.
- Shout at the Devil (1976) takes place along the border between Kenya and German East Africa in 1914. The plot is inspired, in part, by the story of the light cruiser SMS Königsberg.
- While most film adaptations of Frankenstein tend to set the story in some sort of generic possibly fictional German-esque Uberwald locale, the 1964 Hammer film The Evil of Frankenstein is explicitly set in the German Empire, complete with pickelhaubes on the constabulary.
- 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 bourgeois 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 Britain apparently lived in mortal fear of Imperial Germany's rising power, because at least three novels exist on the subject of an invasion of Britain 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 Britain 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.
- Amusingly, 'the Battle of Dorking' took an abrupt turn when the producers realized that most of their readers actually lived in the Midlands and not London. At about the same time the German invasion, which had started in York and was documented in weekly instalments, stopped marching on London and turned westward...
- These were actually just some of the better known entries in what was known as "invasion literature"; an extremely popular form of speculative fiction envisioning future wars and invasions of the British Isles by foreign powers. Sometimes the foe was the Russians, French, or even the Chinese, but between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and into the First World War, by far the most common variation of this theme in Britain was works envisioning an attack by the Germans. Many authors tried to scare their readers with lurid depictions of a hypothetical future in which Britain suffered a Prussian-style Day of the Jackboot. The genre was so popular that several jingoistic German writers also fantasized about conquering Britain thusly (such as the 1915 German novel "Hindenburgs Einmarsch in London.")
- 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 I, 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 I and continued its global territorial expansion unabated for decades before defeating the United States in a nuclear war in the 1950s.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel The Land That Time Forgot features extremely stereotyped World War I German submariners, particular U-Boat commander Baron von Schoenvorts who is an evil aristocrat that likes shelling lifeboats. The Germans are mostly depicted as being sneaky and untrustworthy, and are effectively treated as a different race by the American and British characters (terms like "boche" and "Kaiser-breed" are bandied about). Von Schoenvorts in particular is shown to be abusive towards his own men, and fanatically devoted to German supremacy, boasting, "I'll put the fear of God and the Kaiser into [the enemy]!" In the end, at least a couple of the German characters get to do a HeelFace Turn.
- H. P. Lovecraft's 1920 story "The Temple", an example of some of the rather rabidly jingoistic material Lovecraft wrote during and after the First World War. Set in 1917, it concerns the crew of a U-boat in the Imperial Navy sinking a British freighter and murdering the survivors (perhaps a reference to the Real Life incident in 1918 where the Canadian hospital ship HMHS Llandovery Castle was torpedoed by a U-boat and its survivors machine-gunned in their lifeboats.) This being a Lovecraft story, the crew gradually kill each other off being driven mad by the supernatural force emanating from the sunken ruins of Atlantis in the waters far below them. The story relies heavily on the rabidly anti-German sentiment that was widely pervasive in the Allied countries during and shortly after the war, portraying the Germans as arrogant, casually brutal and fully convinced of their own superiority.
- Aleister Crowley's novel "Moonchild," written in 1917 and published in 1923, is set shortly before and during the First World War. It depicts the Germans and their Central Power allies as obtaining the assistance of a group of black magicians who are the rivals of the white magicians who serve as the protagonists.
- The popular long-running pulp series "G8 And His Battle Aces" (which ran in the 1930s and 40s and depicted the adventures of an American aviator/spy in World War One) depicts the German Empire as standard comic book style villains. Their ranks include the deranged Herr Doktor Krueger, the somewhat proto-Dr. Doom Steel Mask, and the hulking green-skinned pre-Hulk mutant Grun. The schemes and technologies whipped up by the Kaiser's stable of mad scientists throughout the series range from death rays to murderous plant gas and everything in between.
- John Buchan, author of "The Thirty-Nine Steps" (which famously dealt with German espionage in Britain shortly before the First World War) also published the similar highly popular espionage thriller "Greenmantle" in 1916, based off of the Germans' Real Life attempts to engineer a revolt in British India during the war as part of their plan to defeat the Allies and secure domination of the Middle East, Central and South Asia. Despite the novel featuring the character of an archetypal brutish German in the form of Colonel Ulrich Von Stumm, the novel surprisingly also contains several sympathetic German characters. Additionally when secret agent hero Richard Hannay encounters Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, the Kaiser is portrayed as a sensitive and reasonable man who is troubled by the war (in what is perhaps a fictional deviation from his often bellicose personality in Real Life.)
- D.H.Lawrence's 1914 short story "The Prussian Officer" concerns an aide to a German army captain who is routinely physically and mentally abused by his superior officer. The officer privately both regards his aide with pseudo-sexual desire, at the same time as being consumed with an obsession with forcing him to conform to a hyper-rigid ideal military discipline, until the aide eventually snaps, murders him, wanders into a nearby forest and dies of thirst and exhaustion from being dehydrated and over-marched. (As a story written by an Englishman on the eve of the First World War, its view of the German military and by extension of Prussian militarization of German society at large is..less than kind, but not entirely unrealistic given the German army's reputation at the time for rather draconian punishments for enlisted men.)
- The British historical miniseries Fall of Eagles deals to a great extent with Imperial Germany's rise and fall. Barry Foster plays Kaiser Wilhelm II.
- They are frequently prominent antagonists in The Adventures of 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."
- California-based death metal band Minenwerfer's music is concerned primarily with the First World War from their perspective.
- Is the subject of Ammer and Einheit's "historical sound recording opera"/electronic song series "Kaiser Wilhelm Overdrive," from the album "Deutscher Krieger."
- The Industrial Metal band Hanzel Und Gretyl, known for playing up the Music to Invade Poland To trope to its fullest as a parody, did a song called "Kaiserreich".
"Eins fur der Kaiser, zwei fur das Reich!"
- 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.
- 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".
- Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun has the German Empire as a playable faction after Prussia unifies the German states, which can potentially happen much earlier than 1871.
- "Toy Soldiers: War Chest", in which one can witness the quite unique spectacle of a miniature Kaiser Wilhelm II, leading a German army complete with machine guns, biplanes, stormtroopers, flamethrowers and A-7 tanks, taking on armies of space marines and fairies.
- 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".
- In Polandball, the Reichtangle, who represents a hypothetical Fourth Reich, uses the colours of Imperial Germany's flag. Due to this, he may also be used to represent Imperial Germany itself.
- The German Empire is usually considered a separate character and is one of Germany's earlier incarnations.
- In Homestar Runner the King of Town's "Old Timey" counterpart is "The Kaiser", who looks like a stereotypical World War I-era German caricature, complete with a Pickelhaube. He lives in Hell, where he rules over "the Demon" (aka the Old-Timey version of The Poopsmith).
- The Simpsons:
"Hey. he's not a cowboy!""Sure I em! YIPPEE VIPPEE VIPPEE!!!!!"
- Kaiser Wilhelm II appeared as a zombie in a "Treehouse of Horror" episode, working with several Old West zombie outlaws to terrorize Springfield. He was even called the scariest German who ever lived. The joke, of course, being that Hitler (whom most people would pick for that title) was technically Austrian.
"Zis chust arrived for you, Herr Baron.""Okay, who's ze vise guy?"
- 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 reenactors celebrating their graduation by throwing their pickelhaubes into the air, only to regret this when they fall with the points facing downwards.
- Also appearing 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 one of his rambling senile stories, Grandpa Simpson declares that at one point the word "Dicketty" had replaced "twenty," because Kaiser Wilhelm II had stolen the word, and he chased him to get it back before giving up after "dicketty-six miles."
- 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.