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Thread: The Second Reich: Rebirth of the Reich on 18 January, 1871

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    Post German Empire 1871-1918

    "I do not know what horrified me most at that time: the economic misery of my companions, their moral and ethical coarseness, or the low level of their intellectual development." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

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    The Second Reich: Rebirth of the Reich on 18 January, 1871

    Germania (1834), adorned with Reich insignia and throned in front of an Oak tree, symbolises the old Reich (919-1806) destroyed by Napoléon

    In a France defeated and invaded after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Chancellor Bismarck proclaimed the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors. This was Germany’s revenge for the humiliations imposed by Louis XIV and Napoléon I.

    On 19 July 1870, France declared war on Prussia. It capitulated at Sedan on 2 September. Prussia then invaded France. On 19 September, it besieged Paris and the first Prussian troops arrived in Versailles. On 5 October, William I and Bismarck moved into the town to prepare the proclamation of the German Empire from the Château.

    Since the mid-1860s, Prussia had emerged enlarged and fortified from its campaigns against Austria and Denmark. It now extended from the Rhine to Russia. Bismarck, its Chancellor, attempted to federate the other German states around Prussia in order to create an empire at the expense of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, its rival. He wanted Germany to become the new power of central Europe, between France and Russia. He had managed to constitute the Confederation of Northern Germany which united all the states except those of the south. Hesse and Baden, followed by Bavaria and Wurtemberg finally joined in November 1870. King Louis II of Bavaria, in fact, refused to join the other German princes in Versailles. Was this out of love of the place and Louis XIV? Whatever the reason, his brother Otto negotiated in his place. So the proclamation of German unity could be made.

    On 16 December 1870, a delegation from the Parliament of Northern Germany arrived in Versailles. It came to beseech the king of Prussia to accept the title of Emperor of Germany. The Confederation was dissolved on the 20th. The proclamation of the Empire was fixed for 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors. An altar was set up here for the religious ceremony. A stage was installed along the side next to the Salon of War, facing the spot where the throne of Louis XIV stood. 600 officers and all the German princes were present except Louis II. After the Te Deum, Bismarck, in his cuirassier’s uniform, read out the proclamation. When he had finished, the Grand-Duke of Baden shouted “Long live his Majesty the Emperor William!” The room rocked with the assembly’s “hurrahs!”. The Chancellor had finally made his dream come true under the paintings of Le Brun glorifying the victories of Louis XIV on the Rhine. He had also achieved his revenge for the defeat of Iena in 1806. The Germans soon left Versailles to the elected representatives of defeated France.

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    Heil dir im Siegerkranz (Hail to Thee in Victor's Crown) was from 1871 to 1918 the unofficial national anthem of the German Empire. Previously it had been the anthem of Prussia, but the melody of the hymn is actually the same as the British anthem God Save the Queen and the United States patriotic song My Country, 'Tis of Thee. For both reasons, the song failed to become popular within some circles in Germany. Not only did it fail to win the support of most German nationalists, but it was never recognised by the southern German states (e.g. Bavaria, Württemberg). The lyrics were written by Heinrich Harries in 1790 in honour of King Christian VII of Denmark. The original text was later adapted for use by the German Empire, e.g. the line "heil, Kaiser, dir" originally read "heil, Christian, dir".

    Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine) was a second hymn that was used during the German Empire and could also be observed as a national anthem from that period. In the Rhine Crisis of 1840, French prime minister Adolphe Thiers advanced the claim that the Rhine River should serve as France's "natural eastern border". Germans feared that France was planning to annex the left bank of the Rhine, as it had sought to do under Louis XIV, and had temporarily accomplished during the Napoleonic Wars a few decades earlier. In the two centuries from the Thirty Years' War to the final defeat of Napoleon, the German inhabitants of these lands suffered from repeated major and minor French invasions. Nikolaus Becker answered to these events by writing a poem called "Rheinlied", in which he swore to defend the Rhine. The Swabian merchant Max Schneckenburger, inspired by the German praise and French opposition this received, then wrote the poem "Die Wacht am Rhein".

    Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the text for Das Lied der Deutschen in 1841 on vacation on the North Sea island Helgoland, then a possession of the United Kingdom. He intended it to be sung to Haydn's tune, as the first publication of the poem included the music. The first line, "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt" (usually translated into English as "Germany, Germany above all, above all in the world"), was an appeal to the various German sovereigns to give the creation of a united Germany a higher priority than the independence of their small states. Das Lied der Deutschen was not played at an official ceremony until Germany and Britain had agreed on the Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty in 1890, when it appeared only appropriate to sing it at the ceremony on the now officially German island of Helgoland. The song became very popular after the 1914 Battle of Langemarck during the First World War, when several German regiments, consisting mostly of students no older than 16, attacked the British lines singing the song, suffering heavy casualties.

    As a final thought: "Wenn alle untreu werden, so bleiben wir doch treu" (English: When all become unfaithful, we remain loyal), written by Max von Schenkendorf in 1814. Schenkendorf dedicated the song to Friedrich Ludwig Jahn for the "holy German Empire". Gerhard Roßbach included the song in the activities of his German Youth Movement in which "its emphasis on loyalty in adversity and faith in Germany precisely fit Roßbach's desire to unify conservative forces behind a project of political and cultural renewal."

    When all become unfaithful, we still remain loyal
    That ever on earth a banner for you might be.
    Comrades of our youth, you pictures of a better time,
    That consecrated us to manly virtue and a death for love's sake.

    Never break rank, always stand close,
    Loyal like German oaks, like moon and sunshine!
    Once it is bright again in all brothers' spirit,
    They return to the source in love and humility.

    You stars to us are witnesses that calmly gaze down upon us
    When all brothers fall silent and trust in false idols.
    We won't break our word, won't become like rogues,
    We want to preach and speak of the holy German Reich.

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