German Empire Leaders: Frederick
, Bismarck Starting technologies: Hunting Mining Unique unit: Panzer Unique building: Assembly Plant
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Julius Caesar`s Gallic Wars brought the Germanic tribes into the spotlight of history. Although Roman efforts to establish hegemony across the Rhine continued for decades, the frontier eventually stabilized along the Rhine and Danube rivers. At that time, Germanic culture extended from Scandinavia as far south as the Carpathians. Although it was heavily fortified, the frontier was never a barrier to trade or culture. Germanic fear of the Huns eventually drove many of the tribes inside the borders of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries, where the weakened Romans were unable to contain them. The Eastern Roman Empire survived the crisis and lasted for another thousand years, but the Germanic peoples carved out their own independent kingdoms in the West.
Of the various Germanics tribes that had invaded the Roman Empire, the Franks proved to be the most successful. The Merovingian kings and their Carolingian successors eventually brought much of what would later constitute Germany under Frankish control, but the ceaseless blows from Danes, Saracens (Muslims), and Magyars in the later 9th and 10th centuries weakened the kingdom`s cohesion. Because the Carolingians themselves were unable to provide effective defense for the empire, there arose in nearly all the German lands powerful lines of margraves, counts, and hereditary rulers their intrigues and wars against each other were interrupted only briefly by the rise of strong emperors such as Frederick Barbarossa (1155-1190). The subsequent history of Germany is, despite the role of the central rule of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the rise and fall of feuding principalities. It would be a thousand years before Germany was again unified under a single ruler.
Out of the hundreds of states that made up Germany, it was the kingdom of Prussia that would eventually succeed in bringing them together. Beginning as a small duchy on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the rulers of Prussia gradually accumulated more and more territory through a combination of warfare and marriage agreements. King Frederick William I (1713-40) trained the Prussian army to be one of the finest in Europe, and his son Frederick II (1740-86) - also known as Frederick the Great - used it to win a series of military victories against the larger kingdoms of Austria and Russia. Frederick was also known as a patron of the arts, his court attracting intellectuals such as Voltaire from across Europe. Ruling as an enlightened despot, Frederick was equally skilled at defeating Russian invasions and playing the flute.
Following its humiliation and defeat in the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, Prussia managed to bounce back and reorganize itself along more modern lines. Troubled by the popular uprisings that had occurred across Germany during the 1848 revolutions, William I of Prussia (1861-1888) considered abdicating in favor of his son, who was believed to have political views close to those of the liberal opposition. He was persuaded, however, to consider forming a new government led by Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian ambassador to Paris. In September 1862, Europe was startled by the news that a statesman with a reputation for conservatism, nationalism, and realpolitik had become the prime minister of Prussia. Bismarck proved to be a master strategist, and the new German Empire was proclaimed in January 1871, in the aftermath of three short and decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. In the span of a decade, Bismarck had unified Germany - or, as some would say, Prussia had conquered it.
The same nationalism that had brought unity would also bring disaster. Ignoring the careful diplomacy that had isolated Prussia`s opponent in each of Bismarck`s wars, Germany rushed into World War I against a coalition of Britain, France, and Russia. Despite initial successes, the war eventually turned into a stalemate that Germany could not win, especially once the United Stated entered the war on the Entente side in 1917. Already staggering under a vengeful peace imposed by the Western Allies following World War I, the worldwide economic collapse that began in 1929 proved the catalyst for political extremism. Although bitterly opposed to each other, the Nazis and Communists during the next decade succeeded in mobilizing the political and economic resentments generated by defeat and depression. When Hitler finally became chancellor in January 1933, it was not on the crest of a wave of popular support but as the result of ruthless political intrigue.
World War II is appropriately called "Hitler`s War." Spearheaded by Panzer formations using revolutionary new tactics, Hitler came close to realizing his aim of establishing German hegemony in Europe. But the turning point of the war came with his decision to send his Panzers into Soviet Russia. Though at the end of 1942 an ultimate German victory still seemed possible, by spring 1945 the Third Reich was prostrate. As a legacy of surrender and the ensuing Cold War, a truncated Germany was divided into two zones of military occupation. While under Soviet rule East Germany suffered and stagnated, West Germany`s recovery from total economic and political prostration at the end of World War II was of such dramatic proportions as to become a modern legend. The swift and unexpected downfall of the Soviet order in Europe led to a unification treaty, ratified by the West German Bundestag and the East German People`s Chamber in September 1990. After 45 years of division, Germany was once again a united nation. Today Germany is one of the world`s economic powerhouses, and a leading force in the European Union.