The New Student's Reference Work/German Empire

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German Empire, a federation of 25 states, with one imperial province (the reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine), occupying the central portions of Europe.  It has an area of 208,780 square miles or about one sixteenth of that of all Europe, — about four fifths of that of Texas.  The total frontier line measures 4,570 miles.


The central and southern parts of the country are occupied by a range of high tableland, broken by mountain ranges and groups, such as the Harz in the north, the Taunus in the middle and the Black Forest and Bavarian Alps further south.  The Zugspitz in Bavaria, the highest peak in Germany, is 9,665 feet in height; the Vosges reach 4,700 feet; the Felberg in the Black Forest 4,903; and the famous Brocken 3,740.  From the center of the empire north to the German Ocean stretches a vast, sandy plain, broken only by two terrace-like elevations, with an average height of about 600 feet, one near the coast of the Baltic and the other running from Silesia into Hannover.

Drainage and Canals[edit]

The country is divided into three drainage-basins.  The Danube, with its tributaries, drains the greater part of Bavaria into the Black Sea.  But far the greater part of the country has a northern slope.  The main streams emptying into the North Sea are the Rhine, the Weser and the Elbe, with their branches.  Into the Baltic flow the Oder, the Vistula, the Memel and the Pregel.  Numerous canals also connect the great river-systems.  The chief are Ludwig’s Canal (110 miles long) in Bavaria, which, by uniting the Danube and the Main, connects the Black Sea and the German Ocean; the Finow Canal (40 miles) in Brandenburg; the Kiel and Eider Canal (21 miles), uniting the Baltic with the German Ocean.  The North Sea and Baltic Canal (the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal) is 61 miles in length from the mouth of the Elbe to Kiel, and is designed mainly for war-ships.  It was opened for traffic in June, 1895.  The cost of construction was close upon $40,000,000. The mileage of the canals and inland waterways of Germany is 8,436 miles.  There are many small lakes; and swamp-lands and marshes are abundant.

Natural Resources[edit]

The mineral products are rich and varied, and furnish one of the chief industries.  The chief mining and smelting districts are in Silesia, on the lower Rhine, in the upper Harz and in Saxony.  Alsace and Lorraine contain a great part of, perhaps, the largest iron-deposit in Europe.  Silesia has the largest coal-field in Europe, and Prussia yields nearly half of all the zinc annually produced in the world.  The country is rich in clays of all kinds, and the porcelain of Meissen, the pottery of Thuringia and the glass of Silesia and Bavaria are celebrated.  The mineral springs have been famous from the earliest ages.

Forests and Game[edit]

Fir, beech, pine and oak are the chief forest-products.  Small game of all kinds abounds in the forests, and a few wild boars and wolves are still found.  The chamois, red deer, wild goat, fox and marten find shelter in the Bavarian Alps.  In all the plains of the north storks, wild geese and ducks are abundant.  Carp, salmon, trout and eels are widely distributed, and the oyster, herring and cod-fisheries form important branches of commerce.


About 49 per cent. of the entire area of the empire is given up to plowed land, garden-land and vineyards, and about 26 per cent, is in woods and forests.  All the ordinary grains are grown in the north; the vine is brought to great perfection further south; the hops of Bavaria have a high reputation; the chicory grown there and in the district between the Rhine and the Elbe is used all over Europe as a substitute for coffee; potatoes are an important crop; and Madgeburg is the center of a large beetroot-growing industry.


The oldest and most important of the German industrial arts are the manufactures of linen and woolen goods.  The silk-industry is also notable, he making of toys and wooden clocks and wood-carving, which are almost a specialty of Germany, flourish in the hilly districts of Saxony, Bavaria and the Black Forest.  The iron and steel-works of Silesia, Hannover and Saxony; the glass-works of Silesia; the china and earthenware of Saxony and Prussia; the silver, gold and jewelry-work of Augsburg, Nuremberg, Munich and Berlin; and the typefounding, printing and lithography of Leipsic and Munich are among the most important manufactures.  Over a thousand million gallons of beer are brewed yearly.


Education is more widely spread in Germany than in any other country of Europe.  There are 21 universities, numerous scientific schools, 1,340 gymnasia or academies and other schools, besides 60,000 common schools.  Public libraries, museums, botanical collections, picture-galleries, schools of music and design and academies of art and sciences are to be met with in most of the capitals and in many of the other cities.  The press annually sends forth from 8,000 to 10,000 works, while about 3,000 newspapers and journals circulate throughout the empire.

Commerce and Communication[edit]

The German mercantile fleet is the fourth in the world, being excelled only by those of Great Britain, the United States and France.  It consists of 2,702 sailing vessels and 1,973 steamers, with a total of 73,993 sailors.  Its total tonnage is 2,903,570 tons.  Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Stettin, Dantzic, Kiel, Lübeck and Königsberg are the chief ports.  About 24,817 vessels ply on the numerous navigable rivers and canals.  The first railroad in Germany was built in 1835, and there is now a total length of railroads of 37,441 miles.  The postal and telegraph systems of all the German states, except Bavaria and Wurttemberg are now under a central administration, and since 1872 a German-Austrian postal union has been in operation.  There are over 224,794 kilometers of telegraph lines in the empire.

Army and Navy[edit]

The imperial army has a grand total of 589,676 men and 24,687 officers on a peace-footing and on a war-footing about 3,000,000, besides the landsturm, a reserve-force called out only in the last necessity.  Every German who is capable of bearing arms must serve in the standing army for seven years, three years in active service and the remainder in the army of reserve.  He then spends five years in the first class of the landwehr or militia, after which he belongs to the second class until his 39th year.  Besides this, every German from 17 to 21 and from 39 to 45 is a member of the landsturm.  The yearly cost of the army is over $200,000,000.  The fleet consists of over 200 vessels, (cruisers, battleships and torpedo-vessels) manned by 11,246 seamen and officered by 10 admirals and 688 other officers.  The seafaring population (estimated at 80,000, of whom 50,000 are serving in the merchant-navy) is liable to service in the navy instead of in the army.

People and Cities[edit]

Four fifths of the population (now 64,903,423) of this country are of the race called in English, Germans, in French, Allemands; but by the people themselves, Deutsche.  Among the peoples who retain their own language are Poles, Wends, Czechs, Lithuanians, Danes, French and Walloons.  The Germans are divided into High and Low Germans; the language of the former is the cultivated language of all the states, that of the latter is spoken in the north and northwest.  There are believed to be about 25,000,000 Germans beyond the boundary of the empire. During the last 50 years emigration from Germany has been very large; but since 1881, when the number was 220,798, it has decreased.  About five sevenths of the emigrants came to the United States.  The average density of the population in Germany is 310 to the square mile; while Saxony, the most densely populated state, has 829 people to a square mile.  There are about 83 cities with a population of 50,000 and upward; 45 with over 100,000; and 116 with between 20,000 and 100,000.  The largest cities are Berlin (2,070,695), Hamburg (932,078), Breslau (511,891), Munich (595,053), Dresden (546,882), Leipsic (587,635) Cologne (516,167), Frankfort (414,598), Nuremberg (332,651) and Hannover (302,384).


Germany has colonies and dependencies with a total area of 1,027,120 square miles, with an estimated population of close upon 15,000,000.  In Africa she has Togoland, Kamerun, German East Africa and German Southwest Africa; in Asia she has Kia-chau Bay; and in the Pacific, besides Kaiser Wilhelm’s Land, Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, Germany has the Marshall, Caroline, Pelew and Marianne Islands, with possessions in Samoa.  These have been acquired chiefly since 1884.  In 1905 the value of the imports from the colonies was over 18,000,000 marks; while the exports to the colonies amounted to 46,346,000 marks.


The position of emperor of Germany is hereditary.  There are two legislative bodies: the bundesrat or federal council, the members of which are annually appointed by the governments of the various states; and the reichstag or national representatives, the members of which are elected by general ballot for a period of five years.  Acting under the direction of the chancellor of the empire, the bundesrat, besides enacting laws, acts as a supreme consulting and governing board, and has ii standing committees — for the army, navy, trade, foreign affairs, railroads, etc.  It has 58 members, all of whom have the right to be present at the deliberations of the reichstag.  The reichstag contains about one member for every 131,604 inhabitants and has 397 members.  It must be called together every year, but cannot be assembled unless the other house is also in session.  Its proceedings are public; the members are paid and enjoy certain privileges; and it elects its own president.  All laws must receive the votes of a majority of both houses, and must have the assent of the emperor and be countersigned by the chancellor, who is appointed by the emperor and is president of the bundesrat.  The emperor, with the consent of the bundesrat, can declare war, make peace, enter into treaties with foreign nations and appoint and receive ambassadors.  But if the territory of the empire is attacked, he can act independently in declaring war.  The chief political parties may be roughly grouped as Liberals, Conservatives and Clericals.  The first includes the National Liberals, whose object is a united Germany on constitutional lines, and the Freisinnige, who are the advanced wing and favor radical changes.  The second includes the Conservatives proper and a more advanced wing called the Imperial party.  The Roman Catholic Clerical party is the Center or Ultramontane party.  Among smaller parties the most important is the Social Democrats.  The position of the chancellor now depends on the support of a particular party, as does that of the prime minister in England.  For years Prince Bismarck formed alliances, now with this party and now with that, according to the aim he had in view; and his opponents, even when they defeated his measures, had no thought of superseding him.  The states are joined together in an “eternal union,” and have no power to withdraw.  Whenever the laws of the empire and of individual states conflict, those of the empire prevail.


The Germans first appeared in history when they came in contact with the arms of Rome in 113 B. C.  They were not a single nation, but a multitude of separate and independent tribes, connected only by the fact that they were of the same race and language and alike in their mode of life.  Many of the tribes became subject to Rome.  But in the first few years of our era Arminius led a national revolt, overthrew the Roman, Varus, and slew him and his legions; and about 200 years later the Romans were called upon to defend their own empire against their former subjects.  The single tribes now began to form into groups, as the Goths, Franks, Frisians and Saxons, and the invasion of Europe by the Huns forced these races to cross the boundary and overrun the Roman empire.  Of the many confederations existing after the breaking up of the Roman empire, the Frankish was the one which formed the kingdom both of France and Germany.  The Franco-Merovingian empire in France spread across the Rhine, and with Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor in 800 by the pope, began the long line of emperors and kings who occupied the German throne for more than a thousand years.  With his death ended the strength of the vast empire he had reared on the ruins of the Roman power, and in 887 occurred the final separation of Germany and France.  At this period there were in Germany five nations: the Franks, Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians and Lorrainers, of whom the Franks were the most powerful; and, after the death of the last of Charlemagne’s descendants, the Frankish chief became emperor of Germany in 911.  After his death the house of Saxony reigned over the empire for 100 years and was followed by that of Franconia; whose greatest emperor was Henry III (1039–56), who did much to check the insolence of the great German nobles and strengthen the empire.  In 1138, with Conrad III, began the so-called Hohenstaufen dynasty, to which belonged the famous Frederick I (1152–90), surnamed Barbarossa.  This great monarch spent most of his life in wars, and took part in the crusades, in which both he and the flower of chivalry perished.  An interval of struggles and foreign wars followed his death, until in 1273 the declining glory of the empire was in part revived by Rudolf I, the earliest of the Hapsburg line which still rules in Austria.  For the next 200 years the history of the German empire presents few features of interest.  During the rule of Sigmund occurred the celebrated council of Constance, in 1414, at which John Huss was condemned to be burned for heresy.  Under Maximilian I, Luther began to preach the reformed faith, but it was during the reign of Charles V (1519–56) that this faith was firmly established in Germany.  At the same time occurred the Peasants’ War, which threatened to undermine the foundations of society.  In 1618 began the disastrous Thirty Years’ War, the effect of which was to depopulate the rural districts of Germany, destroy its commerce, burden its people with heavy taxes, cripple the already weakened power of the emperors and cut the empire into a multitude of little states, the rulers of which exercised almost absolute power within their own territories.  The War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13) brought glory to the German arms through the great victories of Prince Eugene, together with the English general Marlborough, over the French, but brought no solid advantage to the empire.  During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), Frederick the Great of Prussia won the name of a skillful general at the expense of the empire.

During the European wars which followed the French Revolution, Germany was almost entirely at the mercy of Napoleon.  In 1805 Francis II resigned the German crown, and became emperor of Austria, and the old empire was at an end.  After the fall of Napoleon those states which still were independent combined in 1815 to form a German confederation.  Of the 300 states into which the empire had once been divided, there remained only 39, a number afterward reduced to 35.  The old diet or assembly, which had formerly elected the emperors, was reorganized but failed to satisfy the nation, and in 1848 insurrections of the discontented people broke out, but ended in nothing.  Austria and Prussia had long been rivals for the leadership of Germany, and had made the diet the arena for their rivalry.  In 1866 war broke out between them.  The Prussian host of 225,400 men entered Bohemia, and, meeting the Austrian army, 262,400 strong, decisively defeated it in the battle of Sadowa and, pushing on toward Vienna, forced a peace which shut out Austria from a share in the future organization of the German states.  The states north of the Main were united with Prussia in what was called the North German Confederation.  On July 19, 1870, the long-threatened war between Prussia and France broke out.  The southern German states at once decided to support Prussia and the northern states, and placed their armies at the disposal of King William.  The Germans were victorious in battle after battle, and pushed on steadily, though with heavy loss, toward Paris. The French emperor, Napoleon III, was defeated at Sedan, surrendered his army of 90,000 men, and was sent as a prisoner into Germany.  The Germans laid siege to Paris, which surrendered on Jan. 29, 1871.  France was condemned to pay $1,000,000,000; and the province of Alsace, with the German part of Lorraine, was ceded to Germany.  But the most important result of the war was to complete the union of the northern and southern states of Germany.  The old empire was restored, with the king of Prussia as hereditary emperor, and on Jan. 18, 1871, at Versailles, France, King William was proclaimed emperor of Germany.

Under the skillful leadership of Prince Bismarck, then chancellor, the new empire steadily grew in power and influence.  Troubles arising with the church of Rome have been settled.  The spread of socialism has excited, and still excites, some alarm.  When Emperor William died, his son Frederick reigned but a few months (March to June, 1888), and was succeeded by his son William II, who has followed the policy of William I and Prince Bismarck, rather than the more liberal one promised by his father’s short reign.  The young emperor in 1888 and 1889 visited several of the courts of Europe.  In 1890 the rupture for some time threatened between William II and Bismarck took place, and the Iron Chancellor, who had so long been the guiding spirit of the empire was deposed.  On March 20 General Georg von Caprivi became chancellor, and in 1894 he was succeeded by Prince Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst.  On the death of the latter, in 1900, he was succeeded in the chancellorship by Count von Bülow.  Since 1900 Germany has enjoyed great commercial development and enormous industrial expansion, while representative government and socialist ideas have gained ground greatly, until the Social Democrats have become a leading instead of a minor party.  See Bryce’s Holy Roman Empire and Bayard Taylor’s, Baring-Gould’s and Gilman’s Germany.