2nd Reich

My revision notes made using Layton's "From Kaiser to Fuhrer" coursebook. This is for the 2nd Reich until the end of WW1. If there are any errors please let me know


The Constitution of the Second Reich

The Kaiser:

  • King of Prussia - Monarch (Wilhelm I `1871 - 1888, Wilhelm II 1888 - 1918)
  • Appointed / dismissed Chancellor, controlled army and foreign policy, could dissolve Reichstag

The Chancellor:

  • Appointed / dismissed by the Kaiser - Only answerable to Kaiser (didn't need Reichstag)
  • Chair of the Bundesrat (upper house)

The Bundesrat:

  • Federal Council (upper house)
  • 58 members sent by 25 state assemblies (Prussia had 17 members - enough to veto)

The Reichstag:

  • Lower house - voted every 5 years (3 years originally) by secret ballot (men over 25)
  • Limited power
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Strengths and Weaknesses of the Constitution


  • Backed by the German elites
  • Universal male suffrage
  • Autocratic state was efficient
  • Ran well if there was a good relationship between the Kaiser and the Chancellor


  • No sense of national identity - no flag
  • Chancellor more powerful than the elected Reichstag
  • Poor quality of Reichstag members from 1880 - no direction or strong leadership
  • Political structure dominated by the elites, particularly Prussians
  • The constitution was never redrawn to take urbanisation into account - rural areas were overrepresented
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Economic change

Economic growth:

  • Economy expanded 4.5% a year between 1890 and 1914
  • Coal and iron almost doubled
  • Trade as big as Britain by 1914
  • Steel production exceeded Britain by 1900

New industries:

  • Germany excelled in industries that used new technologies like chemicals, motors, electricals
  • 1913 - Germany produced half of world's electrical goods
  • Led the world in production of chemicals

Industrial economy:

  • More people worked in industry - contribution rose from 33% to 42%
  • More transport links (trains, trams etc)
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Social impacts


  • New industry jobs in towns led to urbanisation
  • By 1910, 60% of Germans lived in towns - the highest rate in Europe
  • Berlin had over 2 million inhabitants
  • Cologne, Hamburg and Munich all had populations of over half a million
  • Urbanisation meant that many towns and cities were overcrowded with no running water - this in turn led to disease. This led to the government creating sewage systems with running water etc
  • The introduction of efficient sewage disposal decreased the infant mortality rate
  • Homelessness increased with urbanisation as houses couldn't be built quickly enough to keep up with the growing population
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  • The fortunes of farmers fluctuated
  • Bismarck's Tariff Law 1879 - protected farmers
  • Growth in population increased demand
  • Improved chemical technology improved fertilisers meaning better crops
  • Refrigerated ships meant cheap meat could be imported, meaning german farmers suffered
  • The growth of the cities meant foreign workers had to be recruited to work in the countryside
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Causes of WW1 - Foreign Policy

German Foreign Policy:

  • Included nationalism, imperialism etc
  • Traditional historical view - no one country to blame for the war, the alliance system meant the European powers stumbled into conflict
  • Fischer thesis - 1961 - German government had a decisive share of the responsibility for the war - Germany wanted status as the world power - were they trying to provoke a war?
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Causes of WW1 - Alliances

The Alliance System:

  • Triple Alliance of 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy - agreed to help each other if attacked
  • Germany also kept on good terms with Russia with the Three Emperors' Alliance (1881) - although this lapsed they agreed to stay neutral in the event of war
  • Franco-Russian Alliance - 1894 - Meant Germany would have to fight on two fronts
  • Britain and Germany didn't get on because of the Kruger Telegram (1896) when Germany supported a British colony's independence (Transvaal)
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Causes of WW1 - Weltpolitik


  • Two naval laws in 1898 and 1900 to expand the German Navy
  • Wanted to rival the British Empire
  • Some saw it simply as racist Lebensraum to conquer other races
  • Social imperialism - to rally public opinion to stabilise the Kaiserreich
  • Wanted to create a large colony in central Africa - including countries already owned by other powers
  • Wanted economic domination of Central Europe
  • Not many real acheivements between 1897 and 1904 - only a few insignificant pieces of land claimed
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Causes of WW1 - 1904-11

International Crises and Tensions 1904-11:

  • Russo-Japanese War 1904 - was to Germany's advantage
  • First Moroccan Crisis 1905-6 - Kaiser made speech supporting Moroccan independence, led to Algeciras conference in 1906, Germany humiliated, strengthened Anglo-French relations
  • Brinkmanship - the strategy of pushing one's opponent to the limit in a dangerous situation with the aim of forcing them to concede.
  • Bosnian crisis - 1908-9 - Austria annexed Bosnia, Germany supported Austria
  • Naval rivalry - Dreadnoughts - to rival Britain
  • Second Moroccan Crisis 1911 - Kaiser sent the Panther to Morocco after a revolt - claims they were protecting German citizens there false, made Anglo-French relations stronger - Anglo-French naval agreement 1912 
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Causes of WW1 - 1911-14

The Final Years of Peace - 1911-14:

  • The Balkan Wars (1912-13) - Turkey lost most European land, Serbia doubled in size, Russia won a diplomatic victory, Austria felt threatened by Serbia
  • The War Council Meeting 1912 - Moltke - if war "the sooner the better", planned war, but Bethmann not there, too organised, informal meeting
  • Arms race - most European powers increased their military
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Causes of WW1 - 1914

Sarajevo and the July 1914 crisis:

  • 28th June 1914 - Franz Ferdinand and wife shot by Princip, a Bosnian Serb
  • 5th July 1914 - Blank Cheque to Austria
  • 23rd July 1914 - Austria send ultimatum to Serbia
  • 28th July 1914 - Austria declare war on Serbia and attack Belgrade
  • 29th July 1914 - Russia partially mobilised
  • 31st July 1914 -  Russia fully mobilised
  • 1st August 1914 - Germany declare war on Russia
  • 3rd August 1914 - Germany declare war on France and invade Belgium
  • 4th August 1914 - Britain declare war on Germany
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Germany at War

The Course of the War 1914-18:

  • The failure of the Schlieffen Plan - Germany had to keep to a timetable, Russia mobilised quicker than planned, stiff Belgian resistance, Britain entered war after Belgian invasion, progress slowed, Battle of the Marne - Germans retreated, stalemate
  • Failure of other strategies - Unrestricted submarine warfare - stopped after sinking of American Lusitania in 1915, Tirpitz resigned, Britain introduced convoy system, US entered war 1917. Attrition - Battles at Verdun and Somme failed to defeat French, Germany unable to break dead-lock
  • The final German offensive - Russian revolution - Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, despite this 1.5 million German troops kept on Eastern front, increasing number of new American soldiers
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Germany at War

Why did Germany lose WW1?:

  • Failure to acheive a rapid victory in the summer of 1914 - The Schlieffen Plan didn't work as it was meant to
  • Stalemate - Forced to fight a war on two fronts, situation made worse by the Naval Blockade which limited imported supplies, unrestricted submarine warfare not effective
  • Strength of the Allies - Britain and France had many colonies if they needed extra support, USA entry into the war helped the Allies, Germany's allies were weak
  • Limitations of German war economy - Germany was unprepared for the cost of a world war
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The Impact of the War on Germany


  • Banks and export industries disrupted
  • Couldn't produce enough food
  • Couldn't import food and raw materials etc
  • KRA (Kriegsrohstoffabteilung - war raw materials dept) - worked with companies to obtain and distribute raw materials
  • Finance - sale of war bonds - to raise money for war (alternative to raising taxes), started inflation
  • Food - Blockade, War Nutrition Office to regulate food - resistance, black market
  • Auxiliary Service Law - All able-bodied Germans to do work for war
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The Impact of the War on Germany


  • Burgfriede - "I know no parties any more, only Germans" only lasted until 1916
  • Silent Dictatorship - Hindenburg and Ludendorff 1916 turned down peace numerous times, introduced Auxiliary Service Law


  • Military morale - 16% of Germans conscripted died, joke - only Kaiser with 6 sons, many became radicalised while at war, no large scale breakdowns of discipline until final weeks of the war
  • Home front - Food and fuel shortages - turnip winter, animal food, civilian deaths - 121,000 in 1916, 293,000 in 1918 (starvation and hypothermia), infant mortality up 50%, Spanish flu - 20 to 40 million dead in Europe, inflation - longer hours less money, prices doubled between 1914 and 1918
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The German Revolution 1918-19

October reforms:

Ludendorff's aims:

  • Secure good peace terms for Germany - he believed if Germany was more democratic this would be easier
  • Prevent the outbreak of political revolutionary disturbances
  • Shift the responsibility of German loss from the military leaders to the new leaders (stab in the back)

After Prince Max of Baden was appointed Chancellor on 3rd October 1918:

  • Wilhelm II gave up powers over army and navy to the Reichstag
  • Chancellor and his government were made accountable to the Reichstag rather than to the Kaiser
  • Armistice negotiations were opened with the Allies
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The German Revolution 1918-19

The effects of the October Reform:

Revolution from above:

  • Brought about by those in power
  • Events in October Reform show Germany had been controlled and manipulated by traditional conservative forces - structuralists - Wehler
  • Shaped from above and Reichstag happy to go along with it BUT not a constitutional revolution

Revolution from below:

  • Steps taken by military leaders coincided with increasing pressure from Reichstag for political change - Kolb
  • Wanted a "government supported by the confidence of a majority of the Reichstag
  • BUT Reichstag didn't aim to definitively seize power

Shock of defeat hardened public opinion and pushed Germany to political reform

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The German Revolution 1918-19

The November Revolution:

  • 29th October - Mutiny spread among sailors at Wilhelmshaven who refused to obey orders
  • Prince Max's government quickly lost control of the political situation
  • By 2nd November the sailors had gained control of other ports such as Kiel and Hamburg - this made other sailors in other ports more discontented with the government too
  • By 6th November a number of soviet style unions had set up
  • In Bavaria, King Louis III was deposed and Eisler declared Bavaria an independent republic
  • People weren't impressed by the October reforms - they wanted the Kaiser to abdicate and peace
  • 9th November - Kaiser abdicated and fled to the Netherlands (technically he didn't abdicate but walked away into exile voluntarily), government to be formed by Ebert, Scheidemann proclamed Germany a Republic
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The German Revolution 1918-19

The left-wing movement:

Three main strands:

  • The SPD - moderate socialist aims, Ebert and Scheidemann, election of 1912 was largest party in Reichstag, over 1 million members, wanted parliamentary democracy, hated soviet style communism
  • The USPD - wanted to create a republic run by workers' councils in conjunction with a parliament, radical social and economic changes, nationalisation
  • The Spartacists - on 1st Jan 1919 they formally founded the KPD (communists), wanted to create a soviet republic without parliamentary election - preferred workers' councils

The Spartacist revolt - In January 1919, over 50000 revolted in Germany. The government were in Weimar to avoid the violence. The revolt was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were both killed after the revolt. 

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