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The first-century Germanic tribes as described by Tacitus

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BACKGROUND FOR THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC: The political unification of Germany and ongoing divisions of German society.

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BACKGROUND FOR THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC:The political unification of Germany andongoing divisions of German society

Germany experienced political fragmentation at the end of the Middle Ages, but it enjoyed a great cultural blossoming in the late 18th century and dramatic economic growth in the 19th century.

In 1871 Germany finally experienced national unification under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck and the Kingdom of Prussia, but this development alienated large minority groups. Imperial Germany developed three distinct political cultures:

A Protestant/middle class dominant culture.

A Catholic subculture, resentful of the Kulturkampf.

A socialist/proletarian counter-culture.

the first reich the roman emperor otto iii r 980 1002 receives tribute from all of europe
The “First Reich” -- The “Roman” Emperor Otto III (r. 980-1002) receives tribute from all of Europe

But then conflicts between Emperors and Popes tore

the Empire apart….


“The Court of Frederick II in Palermo” (painted in 1865):He reigned 1220-1250 as Holy Roman Emperor and liberated Jerusalem (cf. Peter Gay, pp. 49-51)

The Empire fragmented into 300 independent states, 1300-1800, led by Habsburg Austria and Brandenburg-Prussia

Luther faces Charles V at the Reichstag of Worms, April 1521:“The verses of Holy Scripture that I cite have overcome my conscience and trapped me in the word of God. Therefore I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience does not bring safety or salvation. God help me!”

Luther’s new doctrines plunged Germany into turmoil:

Salvation through faith alone!

Only the Bible!

The priesthood of all believers!


The Protestant Reformation caused deep divisions between North and South: Lucas Cranach, “The Supper of the Evangelicals and the Damnation of the Papists” (ca. 1530)


“Seven-Headed Martin Luther” (Catholic caricature, 1529).Charles V conquered Saxony and Hessein 1547 but found himself unable to stamp out Protestantism.


Prussia’s King Frederick the Great (r. 1740-86) became a hero for his victories in the Seven Years’ War (painted here at the Battle of Hochkirch by Adolph von Menzel, 1856)

germany s greatest literary center meanwhile became the small duchy of weimar in thuringia
Germany’s greatest literary center meanwhile became the small Duchy of Weimar (in Thuringia)

Duke Karl August engaged Germany’s most brilliant writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832):

The Sorrows of Young Werther;

Iphigenia on Tauris;

Faust I & II

“Goethe in the Roman Campagna” (1787)

friedrich schiller 1759 1805 became a history professor at the nearby university of jena
FRIEDRICH SCHILLER (1759-1805) became a historyprofessor at the nearby University of Jena

He joined the Freemasons, wrote the first great history of the Dutch War of Independence against Spain, and denounced tyranny in famous dramas:

The Robbers;

Wilhelm Tell;

Don Carlos;

The Wallenstein Trilogy;

Maria Stuart


The Goethe-Schiller Monument,before the Weimar National Theater(the building where the National Assembly wrote the Weimar constitution in 1919)

Germans attempted national unification through democratic methods in 1848 (the victorious crowd in Berlin on March 18)
The young Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels believed that Germany would now experience the “bourgeois revolution” that erupted in France in 1789
prussian troops defeat the revolutionary army of the baden republic including engels june 22 1849
Prussian troops defeat the revolutionary army of the Baden Republic (including Engels), June 22, 1849

German unification was in fact carried out by the Prussian army in three wars planned by Otto von Bismarck: “The Battle of Königgratz, July 3, 1866”

The Founding of the “Second Reich”: Prussia’s King William I Hailed as German Kaiser at Versailles, 18 January 1871
polarization along class lines

* Right column refers to West Germany only

polarization by religious denomination

The population in 1890 was:

64% Protestant;

32% Catholic;

1% Jewish


Bismarck repressed Catholic “Enemies of the Reich” in the Kulturkampf (1872-80) and then outlawed socialism (1878-90). Here the police offer “Holiday Travel Assistance” to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, and Bishop Melchers

the gothic parish church at kiedrich near wiesbaden contains another sort of bismarck monument
The Gothic parish church at Kiedrich, near Wiesbaden, contains another sort of “Bismarck monument”
Kiedrich Parish Church, Stations of the Cross (1877):Bismarck (carrying axe) as a Roman soldier torturing Christ
revenge for our persecuted comrades 1878 88 long live social democracy

“Only he deserves freedom and life who must conquer them daily” (a “proletarian house blessing” from Berlin)

“Revenge for our persecuted comrades, 1878-88. Long live Social Democracy”

For dedicated Social Democrats, Bismarck was a tyrant, and Karl Marx, the true hero.


Liberty summons Progress to demolish the Bastille of capitalism with the 8-Hour day and free the prisoners within (Der wahre Jacob, SPD, 1895)


VOTING TRENDS IN IMPERIAL GERMANY: The three leftist parties critical of Bismarck increased their share of the popular vote from 28% in 1871 to 63% in 1912