East Germany Table of Contents
The Wilhelmine Era (1890-1914), characterized by Wilhelm II's predilection for military dress and posture, emphasized power. Increased armaments production, the creation of an ocean fleet, and a vigorous global foreign policy were the means used to buttress absolutism, encourage political unity, and secure social peace. Each of Bismarck's immediate successors--Leo von Caprivi (1890-94), Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe (1894-1900), Bernhard von Bülow (1900-1909), and Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1909-17)--pursued a policy of power. These policies, colliding with similar designs in other European capitals, culminated in World War I.
Weltpolitik (global politics), which included the establishment of overseas colonies and the development of economic spheres of interest abroad, was championed as the means to satisfy German liberals and to divert popular attention from the demand for social reform under the Hohenlohe ministry. Its supporters feared the Social Democrats in spite of the party's new revisionist policy advocating gradual socialization by parliamentary means. It was during Hohenlohe's chancellorship that Alfred von Tirpitz gained prominence. Founder of the modern German navy, Tirpitz advocated a program of accelerated battleship construction to protect German interests abroad. Although German colonization had ended in the mid-1880s, the extension of German commercial and industrial interests proceeded apace, and Anglo-German conflicts of interest in Africa and East Asia were frequent. Tirpitz identified Britain as the enemy of German economic progress. He converted the Naval Office into a propaganda center, won the support of German industrialists, and made his naval program the cornerstone of German foreign policy. In 1898 the Reichstag passed the first Naval Bill. As a result, Anglo-German relations deteriorated, and the German government ignored overtures from Britain for the peaceful settlement of colonial issues.
Chancellor Bülow, a friend and associate of Tirpitz, fomented the formation of a new European alliance by pursuing Weltpolitik on a grand scale. The Supplementary Naval Act of 1900 further strained relations with Britain. Wilhelm II proposed a Baghdad railroad through the Ottoman Empire, a project that threatened British as well as Russian interests in the Balkans. Germany also precipitated the Moroccan crisis of 1905 in which Wilhelm II landed at Tangier and announced German support for Moroccan independence, thereby challenging French predominance in the area. Britain supported the French claim to a sphere of influence in Morocco, however, and both powers forced Germany to back down. In 1907 Britain joined France and Russia in the formal alliance known as the Triple Entente.
Bülow's chancellorship ended largely in consequence of the Daily Telegraph affair, a contest between emperor and chancellor that raised the issue of imperial versus Reichstag authority. In November 1908, the London Daily Telegraph published an interview with Wilhelm II quoting seriously offensive remarks made by the emperor regarding Britain and Russia. The German public reacted with alarm. Bülow confronted Wilhelm, extracting his promise to consult the Reichstag before issuing public statements. Wilhelm and the Conservative Party, however, subsequently withdrew their support from Bülow, and his government collapsed.
The militarization of Wilhelmine Germany peaked during the chancellorship of Bethmann-Hollweg from 1909 to 1917. Wilhelm II and Bethmann-Hollweg relied increasingly on the counsel of the German military chiefs; in the Reichstag the political weight shifted to the left as the Conservative Party lost influence. In 1913 the Reichstag passed the new Army Bill, which enlarged the military; the Social Democrats supported the bill, thus indicating the party's decision to support German nationalism and the pursuit of world power status.
In 1911 a second Moroccan crisis had heightened tension between Germany and the Triple Entente powers, but the powers nevertheless remained neutral during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), a nationalist rebellion against Ottoman rule. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, however, proved to be fatal to peace in Europe. Germany encouraged its ally, Austria-Hungary, to declare war on Serbia. By early August, the European powers were engaged in a world war.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents