January 18, 1871: Wilhelm I is proclaimed German Emperor.
Ten days before the fall of France to German forces and seven months into the Franco-Prussian War, William Frederick Louis of the House of Hohenzollern, then king of Prussia, was proclaimed emperor of the new unified German Empire, which succeeded the kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, and Württemberg, the duchies of Baden and Hesse, the North German Confederation, and the annexed (previously French-held) territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The new German Empire was a federation of twenty-seven states, the largest of which was Prussia, and its emperor’s full titles were:
His Imperial and Royal Majesty William the First, by the Grace of God, German Emperor and King of Prussia; Margrave of Brandenburg, Burgrave of Nuremberg, Count of Hohenzollern; sovereign and supreme Duke ofSilesia and of the County of Glatz; Grand Duke of the Lower Rhine and of Posen; Duke of Saxony, of Westphalia, of Angria, of Pomerania, Lunenburg, Holstein and Schleswig, of Magdeburg, of Bremen, of Guelders,Cleves, Jülich and Berg, Duke of the Wends and the Kassubes, of Crossen, Lauenburg and Mecklenburg; Landgrave of Hesse and Thuringia; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Prince of Orange; Prince of Rügen, of East Friesland, of Paderborn and Pyrmont, of Halberstadt, Münster, Minden, Osnabrück, Hildesheim, of Verden, Cammin, Fulda, Nassau and Moers; Princely Count of Henneberg; Count of Mark, of Ravensberg, of Hohenstein, Tecklenburg and Lingen, of Mansfeld, Sigmaringen and Veringen; Lord of Frankfurt.
His title was notably “German Emperor” and not “Emperor of Germany”, though he preferred the latter.
The German Empire was officially established in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, the same location where, nearly half a century later, the Treaty of Versailles would dismantle the empire, to be replaced by the Weimar Republic.
November 11, 1918: The Allies sign an armistice with the German Empire near Compiègne.
After over four years of brutal trench warfare and nearly ten million dead, the Great War came to an unofficial end when German delegates met with Allied representatives and signed an armistice that would go into effect at 11 AM (of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). Just two days earlier, a German Republic had been declared (a product of the ongoing German Revolution); on the same day, Wilhelm II and his newly-appointed chancellor Prince Max von Baden abdicated their respective positions.
Negotiations took place deep in the Forest of Compiègne as to avoid the presence of prying journalists. The delegations met in Ferdinand Foch’s own private railway carriage. In 1940, Adolf Hitler chose this site (and this carriage) as the negotiations site for the Second Armistice of Compiègne, a symbolic choice that sought to replicate and repay the French the embarrassment Germany had suffered under the harsh terms of the original armistice and under the Treaty of Versailles. The carriage itself was taken as a conqueror’s trophy back to Germany and put on display in Berlin.
The terms of the armistice were accepted without much quarrel by the German delegation and, in fact, there was not an overwhelming amount of negotiation in these negotiations at all. German delegates were not invited to the official peace negotiations of 1919, which eventually produced the Treaty of Versailles. A holiday - Armistice Day - was subsequently proclaimed in many Allied nations on November 11 to commemorate the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. In the United States, this holiday was eventually expanded to commemorate all veterans.
(pictured) coins of the German Empire: a Wilhelm I gold twenty Mark coin, a Frederick III silver five Mark coin, and a Wilhelm II gold twenty Mark coin.
In 1873, the standardized Mark replaced the currencies of each of the individual German states (the Thaler and the Gulden, for example). Later, these metal coins were replaced by paper currency, until the Mark itself was replaced by the Reichsmark (ℛℳ) in 1924.
March 22, 1797: Wilhelm I is born in Berlin.
Wilhelm inherited the Prussian crown at age sixty-three from his brother, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, upon his death. Politically, he was considered neither conservative nor liberal, but he appointed Otto von Bismarck as his Prime Minister in a history-making move. In 1871, he was proclaimed German Emperor, whereupon he also assumed the full titles of:
His Imperial and Royal Majesty William the First, by the Grace of God, German Emperor and King of Prussia; Margrave of Brandenburg, Burgrave of Nuremberg, Count of Hohenzollern; sovereign and supreme Duke of Silesia and of the County of Glatz; Grand Duke of the Lower Rhine and ofPosen; Duke of Saxony, of Westphalia, of Angria, of Pomerania, Lunenburg, Holstein and Schleswig, of Magdeburg, of Bremen, of Guelders, Cleves, Jülich and Berg, Duke of theWends and the Kassubes, of Crossen, Lauenburg and Mecklenburg; Landgrave of Hesse and Thuringia; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Prince of Orange; Prince of Rügen, of East Friesland, of Paderborn and Pyrmont, of Halberstadt, Münster,Minden, Osnabrück, Hildesheim, ofVerden, Cammin, Fulda, Nassau and Moers; Princely Count of Henneberg; Count of Mark, of Ravensberg, of Hohenstein, Tecklenburg and Lingen, of Mansfeld, Sigmaringen and Veringen; Lord of Frankfurt.
He ruled as emperor until his death in 1888; within thirty years, his empire would collapse with the end of World War I.
World War I: the U-boat, from the German perspective.
For years prior to the First World War, the German Empire was engaged in a rapid navy expansion with Great Britain, an arms race from which Britain emerged victorious. Still, for the first time since the early 1800s, there now existed a foreign naval force great enough to challenge the Royal Navy, which had dominated the seas for over 200 years. Naturally, when war came, German propagandists and painters (like Claus Bergen and Willy Stöwer) worked to immortalize and romanticize the U-boat through posters and paintings.
By the end of the war, the German U-boat fleet had succeeded in sinking nearly 5,000 merchant ships; a sharp increase in total tonnage sunk came in 1917, when, on January 31, the Kaiser authorized the continuation of unrestricted submarine warfare.
Although their usage in World War I was the breaking point for the United States, these relatively primitive submarines were only a taste of what was to come - by World War II, the German submarine fleet was the largest in the world, and far more advanced than it had ever been. But, like during the first war, the military leaders of Germany seemed unsure of how to use their advantages to the fullest.
January 31, 1917: Kaiser Wilhelm II signs the order to begin unrestricted submarine warfare.
It is no coincidence that the United States entered the war within months of this announcement - German U-boats had been a point of dispute between the two countries before “unrestricted warfare” even began. Knowing (or perhaps hoping) that America would be unwilling to declare war, a desperate Germany finally moved to try to thwart the Britain’s damaging blockade with their own (less effective) policy - unrestricted submarine warfare.
The Kaiser responded enthusiastically to this proposal, which was also supported by most of the German military leaders and the main parties in the Reichstag. President Wilson, however, already a critic of the despotic Wilhelm, broke off diplomatic relations with Germany - this, ultimately, was not enough. After the sinking of several American ships by German U-boats, Wilson was moved to urge Congress declare war, and on April 6th, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The second of Wilson’s fourteen points was, in fact, “freedom of the seas”.