What was going on in the 1890s

The 19th century

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Osterhammel

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Osterhammel

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Osterhammel has been Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Konstanz since 1999. His work focuses on the recent history of China, the history of international and intercultural relations, colonialism, imperialism as well as the history of ideas, the history of historiography and the theory of history. His book The Transformation of the World. A history of the 19th century (Munich 2009, 5th edition 2010) was awarded several prizes. Together with Akira Iriye (Harvard) he is the editor of a six-volume History of the World (Munich 2012 ff.).
Current research area: spatial and time structures of historical processes, especially using the example of the 19th century.Recent book publications: with Jan C. Jansen: Colonialism. History, forms, consequences, 7., rework. Ed., Munich 2012;
with Niels P. Petersson: History of Globalization. Dimensions - Processes - Epochs, 5th edition, Munich 2012 (American edition 2005);
with Fritz Stern (as ed.): Modern Historians. Classical texts from Voltaire to the present, Munich 2011.

At the turn of the century, prosperity increased in Europe. Global trade in goods reaches its peak, as does intercontinental migration. The USA, which is rising to become the largest economic power, will benefit from both. Imperialism, sense of mission and racism ensure the expansion of colonialism, in which the new great power Japan is now participating. At the international level, nationalism promotes state egotism and mutual distrust. He drives Germany into isolation from foreign policy.

Emigrants from Austria-Hungary on their departure in Trieste on an Austro-Americana ship (& copy Wikimedia)

Germany 1880-1914

Politics in the Empire

It is not easy to divide the entire period of the Empire (1871-1914 / 18) by a clear interim caesura. The fall of Bismarck in 1890 marked a turning point in political history. German foreign policy also changed its character afterwards. In the economy and society, on the other hand, the 1880s were a period of transition: in many respects Germany's entry into the “modern age”. Much of the response in the arts and humanities to these changes did not take place until the 1890s.
The domestic policy of the empire was determined from the beginning to an unusually large extent by the imperial chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck was also Prime Minister of Prussia from 1862 to 1890 and therefore the formative political personality in Germany during this entire period. The office of Reich Chancellor was tailored to Bismarck's understanding of politics. Since the Chancellor was not dependent on a majority in parliament like a British Prime Minister or a French Prime Minister under the Third Republic (which "functioned" since 1875), he had no immediate fatal consequences for his political career from poor election results. However, this quasi-dictatorial position hung by the silk thread of the imperial trust. Kaiser Wilhelm I held onto Bismarck until his death in 1888. His grandson, the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, dismissed the “Iron Chancellor” in 1890. With monarchical support, the Reich Chancellor had immense room for maneuver. Nevertheless, he had to watch to secure a power base in the institutions. In the Reichstag he needed majorities to pass the budget and the laws. He had to seek constant balance with the individual states in a federal system. In Germany, a highly dynamic society had emerged that could no longer be governed according to the old Prussian "landlord style". In the extra-parliamentary area, associations and interest groups, such as industry and large-scale agrarians, formed for the first time. An important new power was the press. With all his intimidation and manipulation skills, Bismarck was unable to keep them under control. The public became more and more unpredictable for politicians. In the German Empire, politics first had to reckon with the fluctuating moods of public opinion. Sometimes she allowed herself to be instrumentalized and mobilized, sometimes she made demands on politics.

Results of the Reichstag elections from 1871 to 1912 (seats and voting shares in%)
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Even a chancellor with such an authoritarian habitus as Bismarck therefore moved in an environment of incessant political movement that he could not completely dominate. By the time Bismarck was released, support for Bismarck had already become precarious. None of his successors achieved the stature of the first Reich Chancellor. In the quarter of a century between Bismarck's release and the beginning of World War I, the balance of power in Germany became more complicated. Weaker chancellors were faced with a gradually growing Reichstag. In the Reichstag election in 1890, the SPD won the majority of the votes; In 1912 she became the strongest force in parliament. The military, which was only subordinate to the imperial "Supreme Warlord", remained an independent power factor. After its victories in the three "Wars of Unification" between 1864 and 1871, it enjoyed the highest level of prestige. During the long period of peace after 1871 it maintained its position through compulsory military service, which for most recruits lasted three years and which became one of the most important instruments of integration in German society. Another center of power was the imperial court. Wilhelm II stayed less discreetly in the background than his two predecessors. Although not a universally revered personality like his grandfather Wilhelm I, he was present in public and repeatedly interfered in politics, often with bizarre solo efforts. The political system of Wilhelminism (1890-1914) can be characterized as a conflict-ridden interplay of several power factors, none of which gained the clear upper hand, not even the emperor or the imperial chancellor.
Two longer-term developments in German politics are particularly important: the mobilization through campaigns and the slow development of the intervention state. Campaigns were mostly launched by the political right. She represented a nationalism that was becoming ever sharper. After national unity was achieved in 1871 and the institutional structure of the empire was largely complete at the end of the 1870s, nationalism sought new goals. The aggressive demarcation to the outside came increasingly to the fore. Germany, it was said, had to defy a “place in the sun” and fight for it. The campaign for the establishment of a German battle fleet, which began in 1898, was carried by this spirit. The most important initiator of these plans, the State Secretary in the Reichsmarineamt Admiral Al-fred von Tirpitz (1849-1930), was able to achieve his goal with the help of broad public enthusiasm. By 1913 the “Flottenverein” had 1.1 million members; His actual potential for support was even greater in view of the enormous importance of military values ​​in German society. At the turn of the century, war clubs and nationalist agitation associations were not an exclusively German peculiarity. In Germany, however, there was a "radical nationalism that lacked the counter-forces of strong liberal, democratic counter-forces" (Hans-Ulrich Wehler).
The expansion of the intervention state, in which Germany was ahead of other European countries, was less noticeable. In the tradition of the pre-modern regulatory state, the state reacted with new means to the challenges of the emerging industrial society. Already under Bismarck, between 1883 and 1889, compulsory health, accident, disability and old age insurance had been introduced for large parts of the workforce. This social security system was expanded to include more and more sections of the population until the world war. It meant great social progress, even if benefits remained low, there was no unemployment insurance and the legal status of workers and trade unions was hardly guaranteed. Throughout the entire German Empire, the share of government spending in the gross domestic product (“government quota”) rose continuously from around 3 percent to around 15 percent (today approx. 46 percent). After the nationalization of the initially privately founded railroads, the state (at the level of the empire, federal states and municipalities) also became an important owner. For the first time, the public sector appeared as an important factor in economic life.

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Militarism in Prussia

[...] The army emerged from the wars of unification with a halo. Their part in the founding of the new Germany was honored during the imperial era with the celebrations for Sedan Day, which commemorated the victory over France. [...] The military presentations in the form of parades, marching bands and maneuvers were meticulously studied. Military members were given places of honor at almost all public events. And military education and symbols even invaded the private sphere: the uniform [...] was worn with pride, even on days off; military insignia and medals were kept as souvenirs of deceased relatives. The service as a Prussian reserve officer - around 1914 there were around 120,000 - was a coveted status symbol in civil society [...]. School children in garrison towns sang songs of war and marched in the playgrounds. Former military personnel joined the rapidly growing veterans and military associations in droves; Until 1913, the Kyffhäuserbund, the central organization of the veterans' associations in Germany, had a good 2.9 million members.
In other words, the military penetrated more and more everyday life after 1871. What this fact actually means is by no means so obvious. According to some historians, the militarization of Prussian imperial society deepened the gulf between Germany and the Western European states, suppressed the critical and liberal energies of civil society, preserved a hierarchically ordered society and funneled into millions of Germans political views that were reactionary, chauvinistic and ultra-nationalistic call were. [...]
[But] one must not ignore the fact that the German peace movement was more popular than in any other country. On Sunday, August 20, 1911, 100,000 people gathered for a peace rally in Berlin to demonstrate against the risky policies of the great powers during the Morocco crisis. In late summer there was a wave of similar rallies in Halle, Elberfeld, Barmen, Jena, Essen and other German cities. The highlight was a mammoth event in Berlin on September 3rd, when 250,000 people crowded into Treptower Park. The movement subsided a little in 1912/13, but at the end of July 1914, when the war was clearly imminent, large peace rallies were again held in Düsseldorf and Berlin. The German public by no means reacted to the war with unanimous enthusiasm, as is usually claimed. On the contrary: in the first days of August 1914 the mood was depressed, ambivalent and in some places fearful.
Moreover, “militarism” was a diffuse and internally divided phenomenon. One must clearly distinguish between the essentially aristocratic and conservative moral concepts of the Prussian officer corps and the very different identities and ties associated with the “militarism of the common people”. The legendary arrogance of the Prussian officer caste and their disdain for civil values ​​and norms were an extract of the old spirit of exclusivity of the East Elbian aristocracy, mixed with the defensive [...] attitude of a social group that did not want to renounce its traditional supremacy. In contrast, the morals of many veterans' associations were plebeian and egalitarian. [...] Viewed “from below”, the decisive factor in the military was not the respect between the ranks, but the equality among the men who served together.

Christopher Clark, Prussia. Rise and fall; 1600-1947. Translation: Richard Barth / Norbert Juraschitz / Thomas Pfeiffer © 2007, Deutsche-Verlags-Anstalt, Munich, in the publishing group Random House GmbH, p. 684 ff.



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Fleet armament and German-English competition

[...] Reich Chancellor Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst in an undated recording, which was probably intended for an immediate lecture to the Kaiser on January 5, 1896 [...]:
The development of German trade means that it arouses the jealousy of other trading peoples. That is to be regretted, but it cannot be changed. So far we have endeavored to maintain the most peaceful relations with all powers, and we have succeeded in doing so. That can change, however, and it cannot be denied that these relationships can deteriorate. If we do not want to submit to everything and forego the role of a world power, we must be respected. Even the kindest word does not make an impression in international negotiations if it is not supported by sufficient power. To do this, a fleet is necessary for the naval powers.

From: Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Memories from the time of the Reich Chancellor, ed. by Karl Alexander von Müller, Stuttgart and Berlin 1931, p. 151 f.

[...] [I] n the justification for the 2nd Fleet Act [of 1900] it said:
Under the circumstances there is only one way to protect Germany's trade and colonies: Germany must have a fleet of such strength that even the largest fleet can be used. Red.] A war with him would involve such a risk that their own superiority would be jeopardized. [...]

From: Walther Hubatsch, The culmination point of German naval policy in 1912, in: Historische Zeitschrift, Vol. 176, 1953, p. 72 f.

[...] Article in the English newspaper Saturday Review of September 11, 1897 [...] on the contrast between England and Germany [...]:
In the long run, people in England too begin to see that there are two great irreconcilable, opposing powers in Europe, two great nations which would like to make the whole world their domain and levy the commercial tribute from it. England, with its long history of successful aggression and the wonderful conviction that in pursuing its own interests, it sheds light among peoples living in the dark, and Germany, flesh of the same flesh and blood of the same blood, with less willpower but perhaps more lively intelligence , compete in every corner of the globe. ... Everywhere where the flag of the Bible and trade has followed the flag, a German traveling salesman is at odds with the English peddler. [...]
A million minor disputes unite for the greatest cause of war the world has ever seen. If Germany were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no Englishman in the world the day after tomorrow who had not become so richer. [...]

From: Saturday Review v. September 11, 1897, quoted from: William L. Langer, The Diplomacy of Imperialism 1890-1902, New York 1935, p. 437

Bernhard von Bülow, [...] at that time [...] Foreign Minister [...] and later, from 1900 to 1909 [...] Chancellor [...] in 1916, looking back on this article [. ..]:
In the autumn of 1897, a few weeks after I took over the business of the Foreign Office, the Saturday Review published that famous article which culminated in the declaration that if Germany were to be exterminated from the world tomorrow, there would be no Englishman the day after tomorrow would be all the richer, and who ended with the words: "Germaniam esse delendam". Twelve years later, on the occasion of my resignation, two large and not particularly pro-German English newspapers declared that Germany's position was greater and stronger than it had ever been since Prince Bismarck's resignation.
[...] During these years we have made the full transition to world politics through the construction of our fleet. Our rise to world politics has been successful. [...]

From: Prince Bernhard von Bülow, Deutsche Politik, Berlin 1916, p. 129 f.
In: Manfred Görtemaker, Germany in the 19th century, 5th through. Ed., Opladen: Leske + Budrich 1996, p. 362, with the kind permission of Springer Science and Business Media



Germany in world politics and world economy

The emergence of a militarily and economically strong unitary state superior to its continental neighbors in the middle of Europe in 1871 meant a geopolitical revolution. Central Europe has always been fragmented by the state throughout history. The establishment of the German Empire was enforced militarily against Austria and France and accepted by the other two great powers, Russia and Great Britain. Something like European integration was out of the question at the time. After the end of the Viennese system (see above, p. 16 ff.) In the early 1850s, foreign policy was more than ever a power game between sovereign states that stalked one another and, despite the family ties between the ruling houses, something like “friendship “Didn't matter.
Bismarck pursued foreign policy as a top priority during his entire chancellorship. In this area, he still enjoys a high degree of recognition from his numerous critics. Bismarck combined strategic goals with tactical finesse. He was not a second Napoleon who wanted to establish a great continental empire. He saw the new nation-state as "saturated". Further territorial gains at the expense of the neighbors were not sought. Central to Bismarck's foreign policy "system" was the different treatment of the defeated opponents of the war. Austria-Hungary became the most important ally of the German Empire, while France, because of the forced cession of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, was deeply affected and irreconcilable, remained the main enemy and had to be diplomatically isolated at all costs. Bismarck played an ingenious game of agreements and treaties, some of which were kept secret, each of which had very different obligations. There was a relatively loose connection with Russia, with Great Britain, despite dynastic proximity (Wilhelm II was a grandson of Queen Victoria), no alliance at all.
Bismarck pursued foreign policy beyond mere neighborhood policy. At the Berlin Congress (1878) and at the Berlin West Africa Conference (1884/85) he acted as a mediator between the great powers. In doing so, he succeeded in diverting the interests of the other powers from Central Europe to the non-European (including the Balkan) “periphery” and structurally applied tensions - for example between Russia and Austria in the Balkans or between Great Britain and France in the colonies - below the threshold of the outbreak of war to keep simmering. At the end of the Bismarck era this became increasingly difficult; Opportunism and short-term tactics gained the upper hand.
Bismarck's elaborate system of equilibrium only outlived its creator for a short time. The clumsiness of his Wilhelmine successors and their vocal nationalistic demeanor destabilized the situation, as did shifts in a dynamic international system. By 1907 a completely new international constellation had emerged. Through a Franco-Russian alliance, France, which at the same time strongly promoted the Russian economy, freed itself from its isolation: A Bismarckian nightmare had come true. Great Britain and France had come closer to each other in 1904 (Entente cordiale), Russia and Great Britain in 1907 settled their imperial conflicts in Asia, which had been smoldering for a century, by delimiting zones of influence. Only the two militarily weakest among the major European powers remained as allies of the German Reich: the Habsburg Monarchy and Italy; because of the old antagonism between Austria and Italy, however, this was an unsustainable partnership. The main problem was that, at the turn of the century, the German government, transitioning to a grandiose “world politics”, did not see such isolation as a real problem.
Even Bismarck did not limit his horizons to Europe. In 1884/85 he had participated in the division of Africa, despite a previously clearly expressed disdain for colonial adventures. The empire appropriated several colonies in Africa: Togo and Cameroon in West Africa, Namibia (South West Africa) and large parts of today's Tanzania in East Africa. This was a comparatively small and economically meager colonial property. In the Wilhelmine era, New Guinea and Samoa were added as pure prestige objects, and in 1898 the lease area Kiautschou (today: Jiaozhou) around the port city of Tsingtau (today: Qingdao), which was to become a "model colony" for the Imperial Navy. Wilhelmine “world politics” since the late 1890s did not see its goal in the establishment of a large colonial empire (for which there would have been only a few territorial possibilities anyway), but in the informal economic penetration of overseas territories. This was done through private entrepreneurship with government support in South America, China (beyond the borders of the small colony) and in the Ottoman Empire (in the form of the Baghdad Railway). Germany used methods that Great Britain had successfully used for a long time. World politics also included selective demonstrations of military strength, for example by sending gunboats or participating in the suppression of the Boxer uprising in China in 1900/01 by an international expeditionary force.
An economically sound world policy was possible because the German Reich was involved in the world economy in a variety of ways. The most intensive trade and financial contacts were with other European countries and the USA, so they had no imperialist significance. How great the weight of exports had become for Germany by 1913 is shown by the fact that at that time it accounted for 12.2 percent of gross domestic product, slightly less than for Great Britain (14.7 percent), significantly more than for France (6.0 percent) ), Austria-Hungary (5.2 percent) and the USA (4.1 percent). As a capital exporter, Germany was also in second place behind Great Britain. His trading houses and large corporations established business relationships all over the world. Germany was not only a beneficiary, but also an active contributor to the great economic globalization wave before the First World War. This high degree of economic integration only appears to contradict an increasingly vocal nationalism. While Germany maneuvered itself diplomatically into isolation, it achieved an unprecedented degree of integration in international currency flows and communication contexts, such as cross-border postal traffic. "Globalization around 1900 and the institution of the nation state were not in competition." (Sebastian Conrad)

National product and population in Germany
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Beginnings of German colonial policy after 1871

[...] Chancellor Otto von Bismarck [...] on December 5, 1888 [...]:
[...] The English sphere of interest goes as far as the sources of the Nile, [...] but my map of Africa is in Europe. Here is Russia, and here ... is France, and we are in the middle; this is my map of africa.

From: Otto von Bismarck, The collected works, Vol. 8: Conversations, ed. and edit by Willi Andres, Berlin 1926, p. 646

[...] On March 28, 1884, the "Society for German Colonization" was founded in Berlin [...]. In an appeal written by the Africa researcher Carl Peters, she appealed to the public in April 1884 [...]:
The German nation came away empty-handed in the distribution of the earth as it took place from the end of the 15th century to our day. All other civilized peoples of Europe also have places outside of our continent where their language and style can take root and develop. The German emigrant, as soon as he has left the borders of the Reich behind him, is a stranger on foreign land. The German Reich, great and strong through the unity achieved with blood, stands there as the leading power on the continent of Europe: its sons abroad must fit into nations everywhere that are either indifferent or downright hostile to ours. [...]
In this fact, which is so painful for national pride, there is an enormous economic disadvantage for our people! This mass of force mostly flows directly into the camp of our economic competitors and increases the strength of our opponents. German imports of products from tropical zones come from foreign branches, which means that millions of German capital are lost to foreign nations every year! German export is dependent on the arbitrariness of foreign customs policies. Our industry lacks a sales market that is secure under all circumstances, because our people lack their own colonies. [...]

From: Hermann Krätschell, Carl Peters 1856 to 1918. A contribution to the journalism of imperialist nationalism in Germany, Berlin 1959, p. 16 f.

Under the impression of this appeal, a debate of the German Reichstag took place on June 26, 1884, in which Bismarck was forced to present his ideas on the colonial question in detail [...]:
[...] I repeat that against colonies [...] which create a piece of land as a basis and then seek to attract emigrants, employ civil servants and set up garrisons - that I mean my previous aversion to this type of colonization, which for other countries may be useful, but not feasible for us, have not given up today ...
The question of whether it is expedient and, secondly, whether it is the duty of the German Reich to grant those of its subjects who indulge in such undertakings in the trust of the Reich protection, this Reich protection and certain aids in their colonial endeavors, is something completely different to accomplish [...] And I say yes, albeit with less certainty from the standpoint of expediency - I cannot foresee what will become of it - but with absolute certainty from the standpoint of state duty. (Very correct! On the right.) [...]
My intention, approved by His Majesty the Kaiser, is to leave the responsibility for the material development of the colony as well as its creation to the activity and enterprise spirit of our seafaring and trading fellow citizens [...], and [...] to those interested in the colony at the same time essentially leaving them to rule and only granting them the possibility of European jurisdiction for Europeans and that protection that we can afford there without a standing garrison ...

From: Otto von Bismarck, The collected works, Vol. 12: Reden 1878-1885, arr. by Wilhelm Schüßler, Berlin 1929, p. 479 ff.
In: Manfred Görtemaker, Germany in the 19th century, 5th through. Ed., Opladen: Leske + Budrich 1996, p. 345 ff., With the kind permission of Springer Science and Business Media



Living conditions and milieus

The fact that the German economy experienced a downturn at the end of the 1870s and has since moved through the ups and downs of the economic cycle did nothing to change the long-term upward trend. Overall economic output grew, as did the productivity of labor per hour and, accordingly, real income per capita, which is decisive for the development of prosperity. This material progress was noticeable in everyday life for a majority of the German population. The long-term trend towards urbanization accelerated. While in 1871 only 4.8 percent of the population lived in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, in 1910 it was already 21.3 percent. However, this was not “water-head urbanization”, because medium-sized towns grew at a similar rate at the expense of rural areas.
In addition to the still dynamic key sectors iron / steel and mechanical engineering, economic growth was driven by new industries. In the electrical and chemical industry, Germany was in the top group from the start. Many of the most important scientific and technological innovations came from Germany. Some historians speak of a "Second Industrial Revolution" that was taking place elsewhere, especially in the United States, at the same time. It also included the increasing importance of "large companies", statistically defined as companies with more than 50 employees, as well as "giant companies" with over 1000 employees. These companies, understood as production units, in turn often only formed parts of large corporations (e.g. in the steel, electrical or chemical industries) that strived for market dominance and were internationally active through branch offices. Big banks gained an ever stronger position on the capital market. The "free play of forces" has been suspended in some markets through stable price agreements in the form of "cartels". Even contemporary critics spoke here - exaggerated but not wrongly - of the transition from “competitive capitalism” to “monopoly capitalism” or “organized capitalism”.
Economic dynamism and population growth went hand in hand with social differentiation. For this period at the latest it is impossible to speak of a homogeneous “workforce” across the board. The doubling of the real wages of industrial workers between 1871 and 1913 did not benefit all wage workers equally. At the upper end of the scale, skilled workers who were in relatively secure employment enjoyed the standard of living of the petty bourgeoisie. At the lower end, millions of semi-skilled and unskilled workers lived on the poverty line. Even in better-off working-class households, it was characteristic that in many cases the head of the family could not generate the necessary income on his own. Women and - albeit less and less - children had to earn additional income. In other respects, too, the life experience of the lower classes was mixed. The reduction in the number of hours actually worked per week between around 1860 and 1910 from 85 to 55 hours was a major step forward; since 1908 the ten-hour day was set as the legal norm. At the same time, however, the mechanization of work seems to have increased the physical strain on individuals in many industries. Such exhaustion due to the rhythm of the machines was in turn offset by a long-term improvement in medical care for the population.
The economic boom not only led to migration from the villages to the cities. The most unpleasant jobs were increasingly assigned to immigrants who came from the part of Poland that belonged to the tsarist empire, from Austria-Hungary or from Italy. Many of them were also employed as seasonal workers in agriculture. Before 1914, around seven percent of the workforce in the German Reich were among these “guest workers” from the very beginning. Even after the end of the Socialist Law in 1890, obstacles were placed in the way of the self-organization of the proletariat. Nevertheless, a politically attentive and self-confident workforce developed in Germany, which was better organized than anywhere else on the European continent and which was by no means uncompromisingly hostile to the ruling order. It is true that the end of capitalism was expected, but one settled in it as long as it existed.
A new social group of insecure status and self-esteem were the employees. In terms of their remuneration, not too far from the skilled worker, these "clerks", accountants or secretaries who did not have to get their hands dirty and dressed in civil clothing (hence called white-collar workers in America) saw themselves as something better. Shortly before the First World War, this “new middle class”, which comprised the employees both in the commercial offices and in the offices of the state and municipal administration, made up about seven percent of the workforce. At that time there were two million salaried employees and 14 million wage workers.
The rapid growth in the number of female and male employees is an indication of the expansion of administrative state activity. The fact that an army of salespeople now emerged is due in turn to the appearance of department stores in the big cities. Because the empire also saw the beginnings of a mass consumer culture. Department stores presented a universe of goods that had never before been brought together under one roof. They sold factory-made ready-made goods that competed with the products of handicraft businesses. In “grocery stores”, consumer goods from overseas were offered for sale as special attractions. They carried the exotic into German living rooms, as could be marveled at in the big cities in zoological gardens, national shows with living "savages" and ethnological museums. In bourgeois salons, the Orient, represented by the “Persian carpet”, has now become almost a fashion. Germany, although only a subordinate colonial power, consumed the big wide world.

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“Decent humanity was taken by surprise by their new inventions and advances. [...] Our fathers were given no time. From one day to the next, without preparation, with a murderous suddenness, they had to swap the comfortable step of their earlier existence for the stormy run of modern life, and their hearts and lungs couldn't withstand that. ”So Max Nordau - doctor, ardent Zionist and radical critic of civilization - in his bestseller “Degeneration” (1892). [...]
[...] In Europe as in the USA, there are indications of previously unknown nervous stress [...].
George Miller Beard, the American pioneer of modern neurology, sees the causes of nervousness primarily in the inevitable adaptation to technical innovations, in the compulsion to specialize, in the pocket watch and the punctuality dictatorship it embodies, in the acceleration of business life through telegraphy the nerve-damaging effects of noise and, last but not least, of electricity. Edison's electric light is "the best possible illustration of the effects of modern civilization on the nervous system". [...]
However, it has been proven today that the extension of the day due to the electric light influences the human biorhythm, says Joachim Radkau. There is reason to believe that the switch from gas light to the incandescent lamp at the end of the 19th century was accompanied by symptoms of stress [...].
[...] The society agrees with many voices about the fate of the nerves in the process of 'electrical modernity'. Radical rejection of technical innovations up to pathological technology phobia on the one hand, forced enthusiasm for technology on the other hand, in the onslaught of innovations, lead to excesses and hypersensitivity. [...] Around 1880 it is [...] en vogue to hold electricity and its assumed effects accountable for all conceivable social and political phenomena. Even the emperor's often lamented restlessness is examined from this point of view. [...]
Perhaps, however, it was not electricity itself, but the economic form of its introduction [...] in already highly developed industrial societies that "took man by surprise". As workers in the factories, as clerks in the offices, [people are confronted with] previously unknown requirements. Their labor, their attention, their nervous system, even their very psycho-physical existence must adapt to the conditions of a new 'electrified' world. [...]
The experiences of suffering of those who work as poorly paid helots on the front lines of technical networking (e.g. the German railway workers or the American telephone operators with their stomach ulcers) can only be guessed at. They pour into medical practices and sanatoriums, and their medical records can now be used as research material for an archeology of the second industrial revolution. The problem for the historian is, of course, that in their anamnesis the patients do not complain about 'acceleration', technology 'or' mechanization ', but rather tell endless stories about their digestion, their sleep disorders or their fear of impotence. [...] “Between the lines” of a patient's file, Joachim Radkau “clearly recognizes the new Berlin at the turn of the century, the Berlin of the press and the stock exchange, the speed and the salespeople chasing after orders: a city of millions, whose nerve-racking effect is by no means existed only in the imagination of reactionary romantic cultural critics. "
The fact is that the number of patients who describe themselves as 'nervous' or are diagnosed by their doctors increased rapidly between 1870 and 1914. They come from all classes and classes, occupy the bureaucracies of the health and accident insurance created under Bismarck and trigger controversial debates among medical professionals. Statistical source material is extremely rare; After all, figures from the Reich insurance authorities from 1902 show that of over 150,000 patients who receive payments from accident insurance, more than 14,000 suffer from unspecified nervous disorders.
The nervousness discourse, of course, is decidedly a reserve of the upper classes, predominantly the educated middle class and numerous intellectuals, among them again the musically gifted and artistically active, who with the help of self-diagnoses work off their discomfort with the surface phenomena of modernization. [...]

Klaus Kreimeier, Dream and Excess. The cultural history of early cinema, © Paul Zsolnay Verlag Vienna 2011, p. 84 ff.



The unity of German culture

To do without Austria in an overview of 19th century German history would be problematic for the time of the German Confederation; for the time after it has become common among historians. However, it cannot be justified in terms of cultural history.
After the victory of the “small German” solution of the nation on the battlefield of Königgrätz in 1866, the Habsburg monarchy was reformed. She gave herself a new constitution. The Habsburg Empire, in which the German language group made up less than a quarter of the total population in 1910, was organized more decentrally. The goal of national dominance of the German-speaking minority had finally become unrealistic. In contrast to the Hohenzollern monarchy, which was expanded into a nation state, the Habsburg monarchy did not take the path towards greater integration. A Germanization of the non-German parts of the empire (which could hardly have been realized) was dispensed with. There wasn't even a state parliament.
A kind of special mentality developed in the late Habsburg Empire, deliberately differentiating it from Germany. They cultivated a pride in the Habsburg traditions and the multicultural cosmopolitanism of the empire and, even among German-Austrians, there was hardly any urge towards political unification with the north. There was a certain morbid tone of decadence and doom in the literature. At least as important, however, is the other side of this picture: the proximity between Germany and Austria. It was initially a political proximity, because the Danube Monarchy remained a junior partner of the German Reich until the bitter end. In the July crisis, which culminated in the First World War in 1914, the military and politics in Austria played a particularly aggressive and disastrous role.
Even more striking is the unity of German-speaking culture, which only faded into the background after the founding of the Republic of Austria in 1918. Vienna remained one of the great centers of German culture, perhaps even more radiant than the other great centers: Berlin, Munich, Leipzig or Zurich. Austria, Germany and German-speaking Switzerland formed a common cultural market. Books that were published somewhere were available everywhere. Austrian artists were hired at German theaters or opera houses, professors from Germany were appointed to Vienna or Prague. Vienna played a special role in this cultural enterprise. Even more than Berlin or Munich, it formed a cultural island in a strongly rural environment. It was also the only large city in the Habsburg Empire with a numerically large bourgeoisie interested in culture, in which Jewish families played an unusually large role. Vienna had a glorious tradition to keep, especially in music. This tradition of Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert was not simply cultivated. It was continued at the highest possible level of composing, above all with Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who came from Hamburg and had lived permanently in Vienna since 1875, and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), who was born in Moravia and who between 1897 and 1907 as Court Opera Director held a central position in Viennese cultural life. The younger Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) was able to gain a foothold as a composer in the metropolis shortly before the turn of the century. With his group of students, he became a radical innovator of the musical language even before the First World War. Vienna at the turn of the century was also the cultural capital of Europe in other ways. It was here that the neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed psychoanalysis. Vienna also enjoyed a European reputation in philosophy (where the pre-war approaches matured in the 1920s) and painting. Versatile writers such as the poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) or the essayist and satirist Karl Kraus (1874-1936) were among the most important representatives of German-language literature of the era.
It is a paradox that at a time of foaming public nationalism, culture in the German Reich was hardly shaped by nationalism. Attempts to create a “German” music and visual arts did not go very far. Even Richard Wagner, who died in 1883, a man of nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiments, was unsuitable as a role model, as his music was admired all over Europe. The German poets and writers saw themselves in a pan-European context. The scientific exchange across borders was intense, despite a certain rivalry between the scientific cultures. As a scientific language, German was on an equal footing with French and English. All of this was in contradiction to the political situation on a continent on which industrialized great powers were arming against each other.