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German Second empire


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(1871–1918)

A continental and overseas empire ruled by Prussia. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which ended in 1806. The Second empire replaced the German Confederation and the short-lived North German Confederation (1866–70). It was created by Bismarck following the Franco-Prussian War, by the union of 25 German states under the Hohenzollern King of Prussia, now Emperor William I. An alliance was formed with Austria-Hungary in 1879 and German economic investment took place in south-east Europe. In 1884 Bismarck presided over a conference of European colonial powers in Berlin, to allocate territories in Africa. In the same year Karl Peters founded the Society for German Colonization, and Bismarck was prepared to claim three areas of Africa: German South-West Africa, bordering on Cape Colony; the Cameroons and Togoland, where Britain had long monopolized the trade; and German East Africa, thus threatening British interests in Zanzibar. Northern New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago in the Pacific were also claimed. With the accession of William II (1888) colonial activity, especially in the Far East, increased. In 1898 Germany leased the Chinese province of Shandong and purchased the Caroline and Mariana Islands from Spain. In 1899 Samoa was partitioned between Germany and the USA. Potential friction with Britain was averted by a mutual agreement in 1900, following its intervention to crush the Boxer Rising. In that year von Bülow became Chancellor (1900–09). The growth of German industry had now made it the greatest industrial power in Europe, and inevitably the search for new markets led to tension with other colonial powers. The expansion of the German navy under von Tirpitz led to rivalry with the British navy, while competition with France in Africa led to a crisis over Morocco (1905). In a second Moroccan Crisis (1911), an international war came close. The assassination at Sarajevo caught the empire unawares. After some debate it was decided that the 1879 alliance with Austria-Hungary must be honoured even if it meant war against Russia and France. During World War I most German African territories were conquered and at the Versailles Peace Settlement Germany was stripped of its overseas empire, which became mandated territories, administered by the victorious powers on behalf of the League of Nations. At the end of the war the emperor abdicated and the Weimar Republic was created.

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