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About this book

Even a brief glance at the maps of what has, or might have, been called Germany through the ages reveals a kaleidoscope of alterations in shape and composition. Though there are elements of continuity, the history of Germany has been the history of nearly constant change.

In this concise introduction to Germany's fascinating past, Peter Wende provides an approachable historical interpretation of the key periods and turning points from Roman times to the present. Wende shows that, throughout the course of 2000 years, German history is actually the history of many Germanies, and that it can be written neither just as the history of a region nor of a political, ethnic or cultural formation. Focussing on key points in Germany's political, social and economic development, this guide is ideal for all those with an interest in the complex and compelling history of one of Europe's main nation-states.

Table of Contents

1. Origins and Beginnings

Abstract
On the hilltop of a wooded mountain ridge in eastern Westphalia, near the provincial town of Detmold, towers a huge monument: the statue of a warrior clad in a short tunic, brandishing a 23-foot-long sword and gazing sternly out from under his winged helmet towards the south-west. It was erected to commemorate Arminius, a noble member of the Germanic tribe of the Cherusci, who led his warriors to a decisive victory over three Roman legions in the year ad 9.
Peter Wende

2. Medieval Germany

Abstract
One of the major factors in the process of the formation of Germany was the office of kingship, which decisively contributed to the integration of Germany as a political entity. In Carolingian times, according to traditional custom and contemporary understanding, monarchy was the natural form in which human society should be organized. Only the rule of kings, based on the chain of command and obedience, could guarantee law and order, peace and protection. Where there was no king there was no constitution and not even a realm. The king did not represent the kingdom or empire: he, or rather the power he wielded, incorporated the realm. Where there is no king there is anarchy and chaos. The kingdom (regnum) is not a certain territory within clearly defined frontiers but the totality of kingly rights and the whole of the sphere where he wields his power.
Peter Wende

3. From the Reformation to the Thirty Years’ War

Abstract
At the turn of the fifteenth century, quite a number of outstanding events marked the dawn of a new age, the beginning of the period of modern European history:
  • In 1453 Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was taken by the Ottoman Turks, which brought the long history of the Eastern Roman Empire to an end. In the wake of this catastrophe many Greek scholars migrated to Italy, thus effecting a huge transfer of the spiritual heritage of classic antiquity to Europe, which gave a monumental boost to the Renaissance movement.
  • In 1492, in search of a new route to the riches of the Far East, Columbus ‘discovered’ America. From now on Europe began to conquer the rest of the world — this marks the beginning of the process of globalization.
  • In 1494, King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy and conquered the Kingdom of Naples, an event which is often regarded as the starting point not only of the conflict between France and the Habsburg Empire, which was to last for more than two centuries, but of modern power politics.
  • In 1517, the Saxon monk Martin Luther published 95 ‘theses’ directed against the practice of the Church selling indulgences. With this he set off a chain of actions and reactions, finally leading to the break-up of the unity of Christendom which had been the dominant feature of the European Middle Ages.
Peter Wende

4. Eighteenth-Century Germany

Abstract
The period of European history which stretches from the Peace of Westphalia up to the outbreak of the French Revolution has often been labelled the Age of Absolutism. But usually the realities of history defy the degree of uniformity suggested by such a label. Instead, they present an enormous variety of political systems in Europe, ranging from a decentralized republican confederation like Switzerland, at one end of the scale, to extreme autocracies like the Ottoman Empire or Russia, at the other. And there were also variations within the time-span of a century — when, for example, England changed its constitution from a republic under Oliver Cromwell to near absolutism under the late Stuart kings.
Peter Wende

5. Revolution and the Formation of the Nation-State

Abstract
The French Revolution was never solely a French affair. Since the time of Louis XIV France had been the focus of Europeans’ political interest and political imagination. For that reason, from the very outset the great upheaval that began in 1789 soon produced palpable and often violent repercussions all over the continent. As it affected the whole of Europe and in many ways marked the beginning of a new era, it also shaped the course of German history. It did this in two ways: it provided the models and the impetus for political and social modernization and it, literally, cleared the ground for a reallocation of the political forces in Germany as a precondition for a new political landscape and the formation of new political structures.
Peter Wende

6. Industrialization and Social Change

Abstract
Fundamental economic change like the Industrial Revolution is always the result of the interplay of many factors and it is seldom possible to distinguish between cause and effect; it is usually a two-way relationship. Thus the acceleration of economic growth and the development of new techniques in production cannot be separated from the rise in population that had taken place in Germany since the middle of the eighteenth century. It provided the economy with an expanding market for new goods as well as with a cheap workforce. At the same time this population increase was intimately connected with growing productive resources and their use, if only by the fact that an expanding economy offers more people the chance to marry at an earlier age and thus increase the rate of demographic reproduction.
Peter Wende

7. Prussia’s Germany

Abstract
Bismarck was not a German nationalist but a Prussian patriot. The aim of his policy was the extension and consolidation of Prussia and to this end he had to establish Prussian hegemony in Central Europe against Austria as his main rival. In 1866 and 1871 this was achieved by the foundation first of the Norddeutscher Bund and then of the Deutsche Reich. As it was based on the concept of the ‘lesser Germany’ solution of 1848, it was an ‘unfinished national state’ because it did not include all German-speaking people, especially not the German Austrians. Instead, it was in many respects a Greater Prussia. Prussia not only accounted for more than 50 per cent of the territory and population of Germany, but her dominant position was confirmed and further strengthened by the constitution of the Reich which, in its main parts, had been drafted by Bismarck himself.
Peter Wende

8. Weimar Germany

Abstract
The modern German Empire had lasted for less than half a century; the first German democracy collapsed after only 14 years. The history of this period will therefore concentrate on the causes of its downfall.
Peter Wende

9. Hitler’s Germany

Abstract
Never, before Hitler came to power, had a single individual — not even Bismarck — shaped the course of German history so decisively that within a dozen years the country first threatened to dominate the whole of Europe and shortly afterwards was on the brink of total extinction. At the same time his short reign of crime and terror marked the climax of the horrors of the twentieth century.
Peter Wende

10. Two Germanies

Abstract
Apart from the fact that the crimes committed by Nazi Germany attached a weight of moral guilt to the German name that has lasted to the present day, the most important legacy of Hitler’s regime was the immediate consequence of total defeat which made 1945 another decisive turning point in the course of German history. For the time being, the end of Hitler’s Germany also marked the end of the German nation-state. And Hitler had not only undone Bismarck’s achievement but also gambled away the heartlands of this nineteenth-century Reich, because the Allied victors, determined to eradicate German militarism and authoritarianism, formally abolished Prussia by decree on 25 February 1947.
Peter Wende

11. Epilogue: Today’s Germany

Abstract
The first German nation-state had been Prussia’s Germany, according to the dominating political and military role this East German kingdom had played in the process of unification; in today’s Germany the tables have been turned and the balance has shifted in favour of Western and Southern Germany because of the domineering economic role the former FRG played on the occasion of reunification. And it is still the economy that makes all the difference between East and West and stands in the way of turning mere incorporation into genuine assimilation of the two former Germanies.
Peter Wende
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