Sunday, February 11, 2018

Germany

Schlacht bei Königgrätz - Georg Bleibtreu
(Source)
Germany came into existence in 1870. So Germany is actually younger than the United States. However, the Germans themselves have been around for much longer than we Americans.

The name itself, Germany, is not used by the Germans, to them their country is Deutschland which apparently comes from a couple of really old words which can be translated to the land of the people (the Old High German word diutisc means the people, rather like many native American tribe names just mean "the people" in their language, or so I'm told). The English name, Germany, actually comes from the Latin Germania which is how Caesar referred to the people east of the Rhine River.

Prior to 1870, the lands populated by the Deutsch were scattered from the Meuse River to the Nieman (a river which the Germans called the Memel, the old words of the German National Anthem contained the phrase "von der Maas bis an die Memel," which indicated that the old German Reich stretched from the Meuse (Maas) River to the Memel (or Nieman) River.

While Germany still borders the Meuse, the territory along the Nieman River now belongs to Russian and Lithuania. When I was in Germany I did notice that the tune of the German National Anthem remains the same, but the words are rather different these days. Of course, Germany is rather smaller than she was in 1914.

I should also mention that the word Reich simply means "empire." Hitler gave the whole idea a bad connotation with his Third or Thousand Year Reich. Which while it was indeed the Third German Empire, it did not last a thousand years. For which we can be very thankful. The Nazis did enough damage to Europe in the 12 years they were in power.

So, does anyone know when was the First Reich and who was in charge? Well the First German Reich later became the Holy Roman Empire. (Which the Emperor Napoléon noted was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.) But when it was started, Charlemagne was the head guy. Charles the Great, (or Karl der Grosse as the Germans call him) was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774 and Emperor of the Romans from 800. He united much of Europe during the early Middle Ages. His capital was (for a time) in Aachen, a town I lived about a half hour north of, back in the day.

Note that none of that was actually Germany. They came to pass due to the machinations and plain hard work of Otto von Bismarck. He was a conservative Prussian statesman who...

What's that? What's this "Prussia" I speak of?

Well, to put it in simple terms, Berlin was the capital of Prussia. The lands around Berlin were known as West Prussia (more or less, I am painting in broad strokes here) and East Prussia was the area around Königsberg, which is now known as Kaliningrad and is in the Kaliningrad Oblast, this used to be the northern half of East Prussia, which the Russians kept after World War II. The just-shifted-to-the-west country of Poland got the southern half and a bunch of other ex-Prussian lands (which the Teutonic knights had kind of stolen from the Poles a long time ago.)

Poland moved westward because, if you recall your history classes on World War II, the Germans and Russians divided Poland in 1939. The Russians kept much of their half but gave the Poles a lot of land which used to be German, which had been Polish, which had (at one time) belonged to Austria. So Poland slid to the west.

Huh, Austria? Yes, Austria used to be a much larger place than it is now. It encompassed modern Austria (officially Republik Österreich, Republic of the Eastern Empire), the Czech Republic, bits of modern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and bits and pieces of other places which they'd conquered. If you're thinking that Austria (by then known as Austria-Hungary) got  screwed by World War I (a war they, not Germany, started), then you'd be right.

But I'm drifting off topic here. The lands which weren't Austria but which did speak German (or forms thereof) were Prussia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Kassel, Saxony, Hannover, and a bunch of smaller principalities, duchies, bishoprics, etc., etc. The mercenaries which the British hired to crush our Revolution were Germans. (Hessians is what we called them, but they didn't all come from Hesse.)

Napoléon ran roughshod over the Germans, giving the Prussians a sound thrashing and many of those smaller German states allied themselves to France. The Prussians remembered that some years down the road when some of them decided that, "wouldn't it be nice to gather all those little German states together and make one big country?"

So they did. First they wanted to grab bits of Denmark, the modern area we know as Schleswig-Holstein. This area had Danes and Germans living in it. The first Prussian attempt to grab that ended in defeat, the First Schleswig War. So a bit later they tried again, with Austrian help they won the Second Schleswig War.

Now some of those smaller German states had more of an affinity with the Austrians than they did with the Prussians, they didn't really want to be dominated by the Prussians and apparently the Austrians were content to leave them semi-alone. No, Prussia didn't like that. So they threw a war in which the Prussians and their little German buddies fought against the Austrians and their little German buddies.

Austria lost.

Don't think that the French weren't paying attention during all of this. For centuries France had been a "pretty big deal" in Europe and they didn't like the idea of the Prussians competing with them. France and Prussia had disliked each other for a long time. Frederick the Great defeated France in his day, badly, which the French remembered. So Napoléon returned the favor, defeating Prussia very badly in 1806. Yup, they remembered when it was their turn to march into France and defeat Napoléon.

Napoléon's nephew, who called himself Napoléon III (Napoléon II was the first Napoléon's son who died in Austria at a rather young age, his Mom was Austrian, yes European history is a bit complicated) was itching to show that he was a great soldier just like his famous uncle. Which he most certainly was not.

The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 saw Bismarck put the finishing touches on what would become the German Empire (for those keeping score, that was the Second Reich). Not only did the Prussians beat the French (badly) they captured Napoléon III himself at the Battle of Sedan. Then they had the nerve to declare the new German Empire in the palace of Versailles, just outside Paris.

The proclamation of the German Empire - Anton von Werner
(Source)
That's Bismarck in the fancy white uniform looking reverently at the new German Emperor, Wilhelm I. Wilhelm had been king of Prussia, now he got to be Kaiser Wilhelm I.

Worth noting is that the German word for emperor, kaiser, is derived from the name Caesar? Interesting, neh? The fellow who first called them Germans loaned his name to them for the word Kaiser. Well not personally but you get my drift.

So that's how we got Germany, which is smaller now than it was in 1870. Which happens when you lose two wars. Wikipedia has a long and fairly accurate article on German unification which you can peruse here, (unification is what Bismarck did, though unification happened again when the Berlin Wall came down) .

History, I love it.

(Source)
Even when it is kind of complicated, well, actually especially when it's kind of complicated.


36 comments:

  1. I've always chafed a bit at the characterization of the German soldiers who fought under the British during the Revolutionary War as "mercenaries". I suppose there is something to it in the sense that those men were professional soldiers fighting under a foreign flag, but they did so after being "loaned" to George III by their princes. It seems to me that the AEF in WWI may well have faced the same situation had Wilson and Pershing not insisted that they remain under American command....

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    1. I know what you mean, the term "mercenary" has taken on a connotation in modern times which makes it a bit disreputable. The word comes from the Latin mercenarius which means "hireling" and is derived from the Latin word for "reward", merces. Even Xenophon's 10,000 were called mercenaries. Greeks hired by the Persians to do their fighting for them.

      The AEF doesn't really qualify as we actually declared war against Germany, we had a dog in that hunt. But the Brits and the French did wish to treat them as mercenaries.

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    2. There were some Americans that flew in WWI and WWII before we joined in. No one would probably call them mercs. I guess it depends on point of view or who is writing the history.

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    3. Not mercs, they volunteered. The Escadrille Lafayette in WWI (in the French service, under the auspices of the Foreign Legion IIRC) and the Eagle Squadrons during the Battle of Britain and until we entered the war. Many of the Eagle Squadron pilots enlisted in Canada before going to Britain. I guess the difference is that the French and the British didn't hire them, they joined up for reasons other than remuneration.

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  2. My old physics professor spent a lot of time in Germany (east and west). He researched a lot in the Vorderasiatisches Museum. He studied Nebuchadnezzar. Anyway, when the wall was coming down in Berlin, he got very serious and said, "the world will note when the Germans unite." He was of the opinion that Germans don't keep to themselves, they have large ambitions.

    I sure do miss Dr. Sanders. He was a man's man. He bicycled through east Germany, and had a flat one day. He went into a shop to ask for a patch kit. The salesman didn't admit to knowing English, so Dr. Sanders started in asking for a "bicycle inner tube repair kit" in German. He said that you basically string all the words together in German, and it sounded funny to him. He'd get about halfway through and start laughing, finally the guy says with a deadpan face, "you want a tube repair kit, no?" in a slight accent.

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    1. My experience with many Germans was that they wouldn't speak English for fear of pronouncing things wrong. Usually their English was more than acceptable. The Dutch had no such qualms, yapping on quite contently regardless of pronunciation. The Dutch are a bit more unrestrained than their German cousins.

      I enjoyed both countries and their inhabitants. A lot.

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    2. I enjoyed Holland and the Dutch. Germany? The beer!

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    3. Bier und Schnitzel und Wurst und Sauerbraten und, und...

      Moselwein!

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  3. A lovely muddle, indeed. Then you throw in all the intermarriages and it all becomes a huge family feud.

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    1. Hmmm...posted before I meant to do so.

      You get things like notes "Dear Nicky, sorry my troops are attacking yours. No hard feelings. Your cousin Willie."
      "Dear Willie, I say! Do have your boys pull back from attacking Cousin Nicky. Otherwise I'll have my chaps give you a good hiding! Love, Georgie.

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    2. Especially muddled in the late 1800s, early 1900s!

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    3. All those grandchildren of Queen Victoria grew up to lead other nations.

      Willie was always a bit awkward around his relations.

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    4. Yeah, that whole "We're not Saxe-Colberg-Gotha, our last name is. . . . hm, nice castle, what is it's name? Windsor? Yes, that's the ticket, Windsor" thingy during the first great unpleasantness.

      Or not being able to sling a dead dog in most European locations from the 1600's to pretty much WWI without hitting some Hapsburg by-blow in charge of something.

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    5. Oh dear, don't get me started on the Hapsburgs. Almost as bad as the Bourbons!

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  4. Hummmmm. I have long thought of myself as something of an amateur historian, but y'all make me feel like an unlettered, back-woods, mouth-breathing moron.

    OAFS: another outstanding post.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Thanks Paul.

      Your comment gave me a nice chuckle, sprayed the monitor I did.

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  5. Western European history from the Reformation to the French Revolution is a bit like a 19th Century Russian novel--unless you understand Russian names you need a scorecard to keep track of the players....

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    1. You had to bring up Russian novels...

      I can start them but I can't finish, always feels like my head would explode if I tried.

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  6. "Gospodin Pavlovich." "Ivan Ivanovich." "Ivan 'Vanich." "Vanya"--they're all the same person, only the relationships have changed....

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    1. Yup, I see you're no stranger to Русские романы yourself.

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  7. Holstien! Home of the cow factories!

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  8. Looking at that map, I notice the W and SW border of Germany is further west than it is now. Is that a result of WWII? The Rhine is the border now. I'm interested because I'll be on the Rhine late next Summer and sailing along France, but what apparently used to be Germany.

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    1. At the end of WWI Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen on the map) was returned to France. Belgium also received a bit of land as well. Inside Belgium, in the Ardennes, there are still a few concrete border markers indicating where Germany used to be. In the area of Belgium around St. Vith, the people still speak German.

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    2. Thanks for the history lesson! I think I probably knew that at one time, Alsace-Lorraine is a familiar lesson, but it's been forgotten over the years. A co-worker had a mother who was German before the war, and Czech after, due to borders being redrawn.

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    3. That used to happen a lot in Europe.

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  9. Fyi: the original German concept of mercenary was not tied solely to military service.

    While researching the old German church records of the 1700-1800s, they sometimes include the occupation of the, say, father of the baptized child or the groom for a marriage. I've seen the Latin word "mercenarius," which my German/Latin-English Dictionary translates as "works for wages" and "laborer." ...more the concept of not-a-professional, e.g., doctor, schoolteacher, town council member, or such (as I have also seen.)

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    1. Poor sentence construction - it happens when re-thinking is not accompanied by re-writing. Heh. I am compelled to correct or it will bother me the rest of the day!
      "The old German church records of the 1700-1800s sometimes include the occupation of ...."

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    2. Those old church records are a goldmine of information!

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    3. When I see grammatical or spelling errors in old posts, it drives me nuts. I am compelled to fix them.

      So yeah, I know what you mean.

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    4. I stumbled over this book excerpt well over a dozen or two years ago, and have kept its lesson to hand, in paper as well as in mind.
      ***************************************************************
      The Perfect Book
      By William Keddie


      The Foulis’s editions of classical works were much praised by scholars and collectors in the nineteenth century. The celebrated Glasgow publishers once attempted to issue a book which should be a perfect specimen of typographical accuracy. Every precaution was taken to secure the desired result. Six experienced proof-readers were employed, who devoted hours to the reading of each page; and after it was thought to be perfect, it was posted up in the hall of the university, with a notification that a reward of fifty pounds would be paid to any person who could discover an error. Each page was suffered to remain two weeks in the place where it had been posted, before the work was printed, and the printers thought that they had attained the object for which they had been striving. When the work was issued, it was discovered that several errors had been committed, one of which was in the first line of the first page.
      (As found in A Passion for Books, by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan.)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)