Ten Minute History – German Unification and Empire (Short Documentary)

Ten Minute History – German Unification and Empire (Short Documentary)


1805, and the Austrian Army is on the march against Napoleon ( it didn’t go great). The man leading this army was Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was also the emperor of Austria, a title he created in response to Napoleon declaring himself the Emperor of France. Because he wasn’t about to be ‘out-emperored’ by anyone. So as far as empires go, the Austrian Empire was fairly run-of-the-mill. The Holy Roman Empire, however, was not so normal. It was comprised of hundreds of mostly German-speaking states who swore allegiance to an emperor. The most powerful state in the Holy Roman Empire was Austria, followed by Prussia, and both of these had territory inside and outside of the Empire because it was complicated. Having been defeated by Napoleon, Francis gave up his title of Holy Roman Emperor, and the Holy Roman Empire itself was dissolved in 1806. Most of its former states, except notably Prussia and Austria, were brought into the Confederation of the Rhine, which was a French puppet state. The people that lived in these states were somewhat unhappy living under the dominance of France, and many quickly began to resent everything French. One way to counter the French influence was to emphasize just how German they were. So sidenote, the term German was used to refer to people that spoke German. There were Germans, but no Germany. In some respects, there was a sense of shared identity in culture, but Germans were also very divided by religion, economics and politics. So long story short, after Napoleon had been defeated by the Russians, Prussia and Austria rose up against him and by 1815, he had been firmly defeated. After Napoleon’s defeat, The Congress of Vienna was called to establish and maintain a balance of power so that no country could become too powerful. This balance of power is known as the Concert of Europe. A man called Klemens von Metternich was very important to the establishment of this new order. Metternich was an Austrian diplomat who was instrumental in protecting Austria from Napoleon’s harsher punishments. As a result of the Congress, Prussia gained this territory, most notably the Rhineland, and Austria gained this territory in Italy, but lost the Austrian Netherlands Importantly the German Confederation was formed It was led by a President, who was also the Emperor of Austria, had these borders which included some of Prussia and Austria, but not all of Prussia and Austria, but was also totally not the Holy Roman Empire under a different name. The German Confederation was quite a loose alliance and as such was seen as quite weak in comparison to other powers such as France and Russia. This led to some calls for political unification, which would help protect the smaller German states and prevent a repeat of Napoleon. Prussia was keen on the idea of German Unification because it, being the largest German state, would be in charge. In 1819, Prussia formed the Zollverein, which was a customs and trading union which sought to make commerce between German States easier. This was not just an economic union. Austria was excluded from joining, which meant that there was no economic counterbalance to Prussia, and by 1848 the Zollverein looked like this. Throughout the early 19th century liberal ideas were spreading throughout the continent, and the new middle class wanted reforms such as political representation and freedom of speech. In Austria, these calls for reform had been repressed by Metternich by censorship and prosecution. The cries for reform continued to groan, and in 1848, riots broke out across the German Confederation and Austria. In Austria, the reforms were short-lived, but Metternich was forced to resign and fled to Britain. Riots in Berlin was suppressed by Prince Wilhelm of Prussia via cannons, which earned him the nickname, the Prince of Grapeshot. So the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, grudgingly agreed to the establishment of a Parliament which could advise him. The liberal factions involved in the rioting believed that the best way to secure these reforms was via a Re-Unified Germany. As such, liberals across the German Confederation called the Frankfurt Parliament, which planned to unify Germany and declare Friedrich Wilhelm IV as its Emperor. He said no and by late 1849, the Reform Movement had died down. Most of the reforms implemented by the Frankfurt Parliament were quickly abandoned, but the idea of a unified Germany persisted. There were two proposals for a unified German State: Kleindeutschland, which means small Germany, and Grossdeutschland, which means large Germany. The difference was that Grossdeutschland included the German-speaking parts of the Austrian Empire, whereas Kleindeutschland did not. This idea of a shared ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage or destination is an important part of nationalism. For more homogeneous places like Germany or Italy, nationalism was a uniting factor. For ethnically diverse empires, such as Russia or Austria, it was a destabilizing force. For example, in Austria the Hungarians attempted to break away in 1848, but this was prevented due to intervention from the Russians. The Austrians were opposed to a unified Germany which they weren’t in charge of. Austria wasn’t the only opponent of a unified Germany. France and Russia were quite nervous about the idea as well. Austria was able to rely on Russian pressure to dissuade the Prussians from pursuing Kleindeutschland, and maintain the German Confederation. Russian support for Austria ended in 1854 when Austria refused to help Russia in the Crimean war against Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. A few years later, Austria was defeated by France and Sardinia, and thus lost this territory in northern Italy. Whilst Austria was weakening, Prussia found itself gaining strength. Prussia was rapidly industrializing, had access to a great amount of natural resources such as coal, and was a major producer of iron. The Zollverein also allowed Prussia to export these products, and its economy grew in strength. So in 1861, Friedrich Wilhelm died and was succeeded by his brother Wilhelm I, the aforementioned Prince of Grapeshot. The next year, he appointed a man called Otto von Bismarck as the Minister President of Prussia. Bismarck was a very gifted Statesman and firmly opposed to the liberal forces in Prussia. He sought to unify the northern German States, remove Austria from the German Confederation and strengthen the position and prestige of the Prussian King. One of the first things that Bismarck did was to modernize and increase the size of the Prussian military, in case his plan led to war. They did. The first broke out in 1864, after Denmark had declared that both Schleswig and Holstein were Danish territory. Holstein was in the German Confederation, and in retaliation Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark, which they quickly won. So Prussia received Schleswig and Austria received Holstein. Austria was unhappy with the results of the war because the new territories were part of the Zollverein, and Austria needed to travel through Prussian territory to get to its own. Bismarck knew that this arrangement would lead to war with Austria, and so made sure that the other European nations stayed out of it. He made a defensive pact with the newly-unified Kingdom of Italy, on the condition that Italy would gain Venetia from Austria. He was also supportive for French and Russian ambitions to keep them neutral. Eventually, Austria tried to resolve the issue surrounding Holstein, and Bismarck accused the Austrians of treating them like enemies. Prussian troops occupied Holstein in June 1866. Most of the German Confederation backed Austria, and war broke out shortly afterwards. Fortunately for Prussia, the Italians mobilized on the Austrian border and declared war five days later. Prussia quickly defeated Austria’s northern allies and Austria had lost the war within two months. One of the reasons for this was that Prussian troops were armed with a new type of rifle: the needle gun. The Austrians fared much better against the Italians, but their losses against Prussia led them to surrender. In the end, Prussia gained all of this territory, which became the North German Confederation, with its own parliament. Austria also agreed to give up Venetia, but because they had generally outperformed the Italians, they gave it to France instead, who then gave it to Italy, because 19th century war was weird. So the rapid rise of Prussia was something that the French not anticipated. In 1870, the German Prince Leopold, Wilhelm I’s cousin, was offered the Spanish crown. The French Emperor Napoleon III did not want the North German Confederation to gain Spain as an ally, and demanded that Wilhelm order his cousin not to take the crown. Wilhelm told the French he’ll get back to them, and so sent a telegram to Bismarck. Bismarck edited the telegram so it sounded like Wilhelm rudely brushed the French off, and published it. This made the French look weak and silly, so they declared war. So the French declaring war made them the aggressors, and thus the Prussians were able to gain the support of the Southern German States. So to summarize the war, the French couldn’t mobilize as many men, the French Emperor was captured, the French had another revolution because it was the 19th century, and so at this point why not? The Germans pushed this far into French territory and on the 18th of January 1871, at the Palace of the side, the German leaders declared the creation of the German Empire, with Wilhelm I as emperor. The French soon after surrendered, agreeing to pay indemnities and giving Germany the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. So one of the great debates surrounding the German Empire is to what extent it was unification, or simply Prussian dominance. The smaller German States felt that they were unable to protect themselves from their larger neighbors, but in return for protection, found themselves dominated by Prussia, except for Liechtenstein, which was fine. The dominance of Prussia is best seen through what is known as the Kulturkampf, the culture struggle. So northern Germany was mostly Protestant, while the south had a large Catholic population. The Catholic Church had immense political authority, and Bismarck wished to remove its influence and strengthen the central government. Catholic bishops were arrested on mass, and Catholic institutions were sidelined, but ultimately it persevered. A unified Germany quickly became a great power. Bismarck negotiated an alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and managed to secure some African colonies by calling the Berlin Conference with the other European powers. It experienced a population boom alongside rapid industrialization and urbanization, and also became a global center of science. Wilhelm I died in 1888. He was replaced by Friedrich III, who died 99 days later. And he was followed by Wilhelm II. Wilhelm wanted to assert his own independence, and so encouraged Bismarck to resign in 1890. Unlike his predecessors, Wilhelm II was very hot-headed and prone to immediate reaction. He was also determined to increase the prestige of Germany. He did this by undertaking a major naval build-up in the early 20th century. This upset Britain. Britain had previously kept itself out of European affairs, but the large German navy posed a threat to its naval hegemony and could even threaten the British mainland. So in 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, and the established series of alliances and counter-alliances plunged Europe into World War One. Long story short, Germany was unable to break the stalemate that formed, its allies collapsed and a British blockade meant that a major food shortage occurred. War fatigue and hunger led many to protest, and eventually revolt. Revolt became full-on revolution, and Wilhelm abdicated on the night of November 1918. A republic was declared which soon after accepted the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which ultimately led to the conditions which precipitated the rise of the Nazi Party. In conclusion, it’s hard to overstate the effect of German unification. The rise of Prussia ended Austria’s dominance over Central Europe and ushered in the end of the balance of power established at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The strength of the new German Empire alongside its foreign policy paved the way for World War One, and the new world which was left in its wake. I hope you enjoyed this episode and thank you for watching!

100 Comments on "Ten Minute History – German Unification and Empire (Short Documentary)"


  1. Germany needs to be nationalist again. But sadly they are the exact opposite, and now have a self-loathing culture, and let the immigrants walk all over them and their Germanic culture, which is killing them slowly.

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  2. Wasn't Schleswig-Holstein already Danish territory? I'm pretty sure both were duchies under Denmark, and it was in fact that the Danish government wanted to split the region (because Schleswig was less German and not the Danish government wanted to unify the kingdom) so that Schleswig became part of Denmark, and the other areas remained duchies. I think the original idea was that the Schleswig area actually was part of the Danish kingdom once, but was made a duchy with Holstein under Danish control, but one of the conditions was that the 2 territories couldn't be separated or something along those lines. This is what my education plus a little bit of internet research tells me anyway.

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  3. History Matters, is there any chance you could post the books you use in your discription?

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  4. I cant stress this enough, Gavrili Princip was not a fuckin Serbian Nationalist! He was ethnically Serbian from Bosnia fighting for South Slavic unification. He was a member of "Young Bosnia" organization and so were many Croats and Bosnians. Nothing "Serbian nationalistic" about him at all. He never fought for Serbia or gave a rats ass about Serbia. You could label him as a Yugoslav Nationalist but by no stretch of imagination a Serbian one.

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  5. How was the march of gratitude in 1848 forgotten? Basically a mob of people went to the palace in order to thank the monarch for the acceptance of liberal reforms. However the soldiers there mistook the people for protesters and accidentally shot therfore causing a huge misunderstanding that gave way for riots in the aftermath.. so yeah had these folks decided NOT to thank the monarch that day then Germany would prolly have been established in 1848/49
    Butterfly effect at it's finest

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  6. I wanna be a big historical figure just to fall on the spot and make plonk when I kick the bucket

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  7. 5:29 you got the names of the territories mixed up, Prussia got holstine while Austria got schecugr…somethingrut

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  8. You switched the names of schleswig and holstein, holstein is the southern part of schleswig-holstein

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  9. Imagine being some of the most productive, cultural, and economically savvy people on Earth, and then being told that yourself and around 4 generations of your kinderen will live in poverty because of a war your nation really didn't want to be in. No wonder WW2 happened.

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  10. when saying german words as english speaker swap the way you wanna say ie and ei. And you're golden with you're Friedrich's.

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  11. I think the biggest problem with Germany was that they were late in joining the empire game, and the other European powers who were veterans at empire building did not want to share anything with the newcomer

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  12. Lichtenstein looking at the rest of Europe like you're all crazy have fun annihilating each other.

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  13. My hometown, which was a stronghold of catholics, errected a gigantic phallus on the most prominent hill (it was disguised as a religious collum but every idiot back then exactly knew what it was about) in the city to kindly express their opinion regarding the french and to some extend later towards bismarck. 19th peak politics .

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  14. 0:25 south Tyrol shown as non German. Even today being less than 30% italian and more than 60% Austrian despite more than 100 uninterrupted italian ownership (discounting the Nazi italian puppet after 43)

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  15. Im rewatching it 2 years after it came out and realized he mixed up holstein and schleswig

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  16. so germany wanted a navy.
    britain didnt like it.
    by CONCIDENCE a serbian nationalist starts the first great war.
    paving the way for world war 2 when germany dared to make its own decisions again, before getting put down by the same bully that started everything.
    good to know.

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  17. Very interesting and informative, but some of your pronunciations (in all videos) are just daft.

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  18. You said that Prussia in the war with Denmark recieved slesvig though you showed they recieved holstein which in truth that's what they recieved. The same with Austria, They recieved slesvig and you showed it on the map but you said they recieved holstein. Just noticing a mistake
    I love your channel btw!

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  19. 5:29 I know this vid is a little bit older, but Schleswig is the northern part of this region and not the southern

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  20. Read Wikipedia article about 'Kaiser "King" William II." Mr. "Be smart" Bismark was dismissed by the German Kaiser because he would not obey the Kaiser.

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  21. In 1871 that the first permanent unified German state emerged. This German state was a gigantic disaster for Europe, because of this German state there were 2 world wars with millions of deaths. Moreover, the Germans were only able to commit various genocides with a united state!

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  22. 0:38

    Much to the relief of historians around the world.
    Seriously, I remember back in high school we had to draw the map of the HRE during the 13th century… with borders, it was a fucking nightmare.

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  23. "The [blank] fared much better again the Italians." Don't we hear this phrase about every modern war on which the Italians fought?

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  24. This video just proves that the British started ww1 because of ego problems and imperial power but I'm gonna take a guess that eventually the German empire would have try to annex Austria Hungary empire , the Baltic north east region , Denmark, east of german mix with Germans french peoples and took full contorl of eastern african lands from the Egyptians then eventually become best of firends with the US Republic.. so I can see why British parliament was very worried about the germans influence and specialty its influence with america and probably just wanted to keep the balance which didn't solve anything in the so call war to end all wars .
    So the brits lost their empire in ww2 even they did won but the people was just pure upset and they had to no choice but to give independence to some nations ,losse their influence in modern Europe and still towards this day afterwards winning two war worlds , they still are nothing but an empty nation and now the Germans still have mast influence power over Europe but france is on the rise once more while Britain may be soon heading off to reiterate country house to talk about the old glory days of the empire . Scotland will eventually get their independence as the British become more solf , spain will lose its power pretty soon with future Spanish independence nations comming about. Portugal will keep fighting african terrorist groups untill the money runs out , the south Baltic region of greece will fall into a civil war bewteen Baltic nations , Turkey will annexed most of it's old lands from the failed states . Egypt will actually become a super power again, russia will eventually annexed or fight a war against Ukraine or New Republic of Crimea.
    Meanwhile behind close doors poland with its american military friend will annex Austria and Hungary, chez republic . While france starts investing into its naval power again and try to expand its power in africa before china gets all the power in Africa. Italy will just keep to themselfs and good old american republic will just fight anywhere and against anyone and for anyone who has that money or good looking tastefully RSS mine . So in other words today we can allies of France Poland and UK but that can be twisted real fast if some third party offers us tons of money .
    An empire for hire since 1900s .
    Anyways my comment is just pure bullshit expect for the Balkan region civil war that could actually start ww3 most likely then a war with russia , Iran, India, Pakistan or even china .
    America and those nations I name may talk shit and bark alot bit tbh were quite happy with what we got but that dosent say the same for turks, greece and the nations above Greece north east and west.
    I really think the next big war world will start in the heartland of Eastern Europe. Tbh I'm actually cheering for macdiona to get their old lands back .

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  25. 1:06 its called being a part of a nation but being stateless.

    A nation is a set group of people with similar characteristics.

    Hence why a state doesnt need a national language , becuase most states are homogeneous nation states.

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  26. Yaay, i had this history lesson today, but, instead of reading 4 files I watched your video.
    Thank you, ur the best:))

    Reply

  27. Bismark was an incredible politician and diplomat. He played Autria and France like a cat plays with a mouse.

    Reply

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