Empire of Confusion

Germany, as a centralized state, is very young. Even younger than the United States. Germany, for centuries, had been defined by its component states such as Bavaria, Prussia, or Austria; all developing their own national ideas. There was also a strong protestant and catholic divide that would eventually morph into the disastrous “Kulturkampf” of the early Bismarck years. Amidst the various arguments that broke out concerning the nature of a new Germany, there was vigorous debate about what architecture should best represent this young state.

Often, it was the theories of historicism that reigned supreme, such as on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In regard to the use of unique historicist styles on this famous Viennese thoroughfare, Carl Schorske states in his book Fin-de-siècle Vienna that: “The four public buildings of this sector together form a veritable quadrilateral of Recht and Kultur. – parliamentary government in the [classicist] Reichsrat, municipal autonomy in the [neo-gothic] Rathaus, the higher learning in the [neo-renaissance] University, and the dramatic art in the [neo-baroque] Burgtheater. Each building was executed in the historical style felt to be appropriate to its function.”

This kind of thought can be seen in the competitions for the new German parliament. The competition entries ranged from neo-classicism, to neo-gothic, neo-baroque, etc. The final winning entry from Paul Wallot can be seen as something of an almagamation of all of the above. Neo-classicist pediment and columns, neo-renaissance towers, neo-gothic interiors, neo-baroque flourishes, and a modernist dome. To return to the accounts of Emile Wetterlé: There is a bewildering excess of wainscoting, bas-reliefs, statues, frescos, and stained glass windows.” The end result is something that resembles a large crowd filling the halls of a massive Greek temple, particularly with the crowd of heraldic figures in its Königsplatz facing pediment. The confusion of its design is quite indicative of the nature of the regime it was built for. It had the impossible task of wrangling the disparate cultural and state elements of the suddenly expansive empire into a singular structure. The nation, a new and diverse construct, had a building that encapsulated a widely diverse array of historical styles.

It later became a rallying point of German architecture partially due to its ability to change. First with the addition of “Dem Deutsche Volke”, then with the post-WW2 renovations and then finally with the addition of the Norman Foster dome. Its architectural diversity was first the image of a new state still working as it what it meant, and then became a building that could be remixed for the new demands of the ever changing Germany of the 20th century.



Carl Emil. Schorske, Fin-de-siècle Vienna (New York, NY: Knopf, 1980).

Rudy Koshar, From Monuments to Traces: Artifacts of German Memory, 1870-1990 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

WETTERLE, EMILE. BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE REICHSTAG: Sixteen Years of Parliamentary Life in Germany. FORGOTTEN Books, 2015.

Ein Mann und sein Reich

I speak often on the issue of Kaiser Wilhelm II as of late, not merely because of my preexisting fascination but due to the literature I have been reviewing lately. There comes Christopher Clark’s 2000 book on the Kaiser, and Robert Waite’s The Kaiser and the Führer that I have mentioned in the previous post, and also literature for an OSU seminar class taught by Professor David Hoffmann on the regime of Joesph Stalin. The latter literature concerns articles by Ronald Grigor Suny and Martin Malia that concern the relationship between the Stalin’s personality and the nature of his regime. Such concerns are also at the heart of discussions concerning our aforementioned Kaiser. John Röhl, probably the most authoritative researcher of Wilhelm II, argues that the nature of the Kaiserreich was often dictated by the mercurial and pseudo-absolutist nature of Wilhelm himself.

The issue I have with this argument is that it understates the democratic organs of the Kaiserreich. The Kaiserreich was a state with a quite democratic core in the Reichstag and a full judicial wing symbolically housed far from Berlin in a massive building in Leipzig. The Reichstag was an institution elected by full universal male suffrage and would contain, at the start of the First World War, the largest socialist party in all of Europe. Its power is not marginal either, there is constant evidence of figures like Bismarck and the Kaiser having to deal with an “unruly” Reichstag. To return to Stalin, the personalist narrative holds much more water as any organs of state that could had fought off the rise of Stalin were killed off by the Bolsheviks in their fight for a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Stalin was far more responsible for the nature of his state than anyone else, so the analysis of his character actually does do much to explain the nature of his regime.

With the Kaiser, understanding his personality does quite little to fully explain the activity and nature of the Kaiserreich from 1888 to 1918. The Kaiserreich was a state that had fully operational organs of democratic and balancing power, and they had much say in how the leaders of the Kaiserreich (whether the Chancellor, Ministers, or even the Kaiser) acted, at least in the civilian sphere. Whilst the mercurial personality of the Kaiser is not something to be thrown away in the context of understanding Kaiserreich politics, it is not to be compared to the relationship between personality and totalitarian regimes. This should always be remembered, particularly when we make Sonderweg-style arguments connecting the Kaiserreich to the “Third Reich.”

Works Cited:

Clark, Christopher M. Kaiser Wilhelm II: Profiles in Power. Harlow: Longman, 2000.

Hoffmann, David L. Stalinism: The Essential Readings. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Waite, Robert G. L. Kaiser and Führer A Comparative Study of Personality and Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

A special thanks to Professor Hoffmann for triggering these comparative thoughts.

“During this whole affair I underwent great mental anguish”

I don’t know how I feel about the last Deutscher Kaiser. I often do find the desire to defend his legacy in certain regards as the historiography that surrounds the Kaiser can often be quite toxic with psycho-analytical projections that will always (because no historian has personally done an in-person psychological test of the Kaiser himself) be speculative at best and fallacious at worst. I also have a habit of grafting my own personality onto him, as some kind of sub-conscious exercise of empathy as I read endless accounts of his words and his actions. It can be easy to look at his fragmented personality and reports of his depressions and hysterias as evidence of a fragile mind wishing to do all it can for an impossible task in an unhealthy environment.

Perhaps these feelings resonate within me as I do not envy the task of being Emperor of a nation like the German Empire. Whilst historians such as John Röhl have framed the role of the Deutscher Kaiser as a position of great power, I posit that the interpretations of Christopher Clark are the closest to understanding the duel behavior of the Kaiser. Clark claims that the Monarch’s office was at once a constitutional position of great potential power, but also one strung by the legal reality of the Kaiserreich: “Here again, we encounter the dialectic of empowerment and constraint that was so characteristic of Wilhelm’s experience of sovereign office.” Even after a “purge” of disagreeable ministers in 1897, Clark posits that, due to the continual maneuvering nature of the ministers. “In reality, little had changed.”

Wilhelm would often feel dejected about the lack of impact of his efforts, such as after a personal push for reform of the educational system in the spring of 1889. Dejected sentiments also followed the sometimes impossible juggling act of his position, such as another event in 1892 concerning the possible resignation of Chancellor Caprivi: “Am very wretched… and must abstain from work. Condition caused by strain and over-exertion. Fever abated. But still great lassitude. – The shock of Caprivi’s threat of resignation seems to have triggered a nervous collapse lasting some two weeks.”

It is, however, inaccurate to claim that the Kaiser was some marginalized figure that couldn’t claim power. He was something of a constitutional absolutist and sometimes his lack of power and control was of his own flaws: an inability to take to details or to relax being quite obvious ones. However, the Kaiser often attempted to approach the role of Kaiser as a neutral arbiter. If one must define the Kaiser politically, it was authoritarian centrism. Only rarely were the Kaiser’s political views on the fringe of contemporary beliefs. So possibly it comes only naturally that I feel a certain sympathy for a long-dead man who probably didn’t need it. Kaiser Wilhelm II was a man whom, whilst vain and a problem-child, still attempted often in good faith to be a Kaiser of unity and often failed either of his omission or of the nature of the state he helmed. It is often difficult to look at good-natured failure without a sense of internal empathy wishing to address itself. Perhaps my fascination with the Kaiser is not with his personage in particular, but why I have feelings of empathy for a man whom was one of the strongest men in the world during his reign.

Works Cited:

Clark, Christopher M. Kaiser Wilhelm II: Profiles in Power. Harlow: Longman, 2000.

Waite, Robert G. L. Kaiser and Führer A Comparative Study of Personality and Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

“I speak in Latin to God, Italian to Women, French to Men, and German to my Horse.”

Franz Joesph of Austria reigned from 1848 at the age of 18 till his death in 1916. He is a human and political link between the age of Metternich and the First World War. His empire is one that is regarded by several segments of the Historiographical world as an anachronism not meant for the modern world. To Adam Kozuchowski in his book The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary, he characterizes the historiography as such: “Only one thing seemed certain: the monarchy fell because of the dissatisfaction of its nation- alities.” However, there are historiographical voices that have risen from the woodworks to reevaluate and exhume this lost empire. Voices like John Deak of Notre Dame and Christopher Clark have come to say that the Empire was strong and evolving until the defeat of WW1. Coming from Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers, “most inhabitants of the empire associated the Hapsburg state with the benefits of orderly government: public education, welfare, sanitation, the rule of law, and the maintenance of a sophisticated infrastructure. — Finally, most minority activists acknowledged the value of the Hapsburg commonwealth as a system of collective security .” There are many reasons why this was the case, including the Charles Ingrao theory of a “culture of consensus” that pervaded the empire. A theory that I bring forward in this space is the idea that the monarchial form of the Hapsburg Empire was often the glue that held it together. Clark describes the aforementioned Franz Joseph as an “imperturbable, bewhiskered figure” whom “demonstrated considerable skill in managing the complex machinery of his state.” Franz Joesph was beloved throughout the Empire, and the role of the Monarch as defender of the ethnic minorities was essential in this endeavor. This is partially due to the nature of the Hapsburg dynasty and other European dynasties. Due to the marriage traditions, they were often multi-ethnic families of considerable worldliness. This can be seen in the trio of Imperial cousins of Wilhelm II, George V, and Nikolas II of Germany, Britain, and Russia. It is inaccurate to claim that the Hapsburgs were German singularly. Their multi-ethnic nation-hood made it so that any ethnic group of the Empire could see Franz Joesph as their personal defender alongside his literal actions of defense; such as the blocking of anti-semitic mayoral candidate Karl Lueger several times. “It was widely recognized that his popularity was anchored outside of his constitutional role in broadly shared popular emotions.” It is difficult to imagine that these emotions and Imperial glue would had held in the context of a republican framework.

Clark, Christopher M. The Sleepwalkers. New York, NY: Harper-Collins, 2013.

“On Loyalty to the Emperor, seeStephan Fischer-Galati, ‘Nationalism and Kaisertreue’, Slavic Review, 22 (1963), pp. 3I-6; Robert A. Kann, ‘The Dynasty and the Imperial Idea’, Austrian History Yearbook, 3/I (1967), pp. II-31; Lawrence Cole and Daniel Unowsky, ‘Introduction. Imperial Loyalty and Popular Allegiances in the Late Hapsburg Monarchy’, in id. (eds.), chapters: Christiane Wolf, ‘Representing Constitutional Monarchy in Late Nineteenth Century and Early Twentieth Century Britain, Germany and Austria’, pp. 199-222, eps. 214; Alice Freifeld, ‘Empress Elisabeth as Hungarian Queen: The Uses of Celebrity Monarch’, pp. 138-61.”

Kozuchowski, Adam. The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary: The Image of the Hapsburg Monarchy in Interwar Europe. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.


A Reichstag Story

Emile Wetterlé was an Alsatian nationalist whom wrote a book concerning his 16 years in the Reichstag from 1898 called: Behind the Scenes of the Reichstag. The book is something of a war-time hit piece written before Wetterlé would take up time in the parliament of the French Third Republic. Despite these biases, oftentimes the criticisms of Imperial Germany given by Wetterlé are feelings shared by Germans themselves. Such as his criticisms of Berlin as, “a very ugly city.” This leads to his analysis of the Reichstag building itself. In spite of its war-torn sleek look today, the Reichstag was a sea of orientation when new: “There is a bewildering excess of wainscoting, bas-reliefs, statues, frescos, and stained glass windows.” One can find little Imperial crowns dotted about on chandeliers, neo-renassiance towers and on a “thickset” Germania. The building was so richly ornamented that they ran out of Imperial imagery, hence why Emile must ask himself: “What, indeed, are those huge stained-glass windows which remind us of the gallant adventures of Romeo and Juliet, and the tragic destiny of Othello and Desdemona, doing there?” Though, amongst his criticisms of the Reichstag structure comes an particular event of Imperial compromise. Apart of his critique of the structure includes a “powerful stone lion, rampant, holding under its left paw a ball of which one could read the words ‘Elass-Lothringen'” (The German for Alsace-Lorraine). Wetterlé claimed that this was a “humiliating symbol” that they the Alsatian representatives had asked “several times” to remove. Wetterlé, however, then immediately describes a scenario in 1906 where a massive painting of Wilhelm I trampling with his horse a flag of France in the Reichstag Plenary Hall became a source of controversy. A Centre Party representative, Prince von Arenberg, thought the painting portrayed, “an insult to France [that] was too indecent.” Despite that the painting was, allegedly a, “source of constant joy to the Prussian Conservatives,” it was removed from the Plenary Hall of the Reichstag and moved to where the Budget Committee sat. This was in a Germany that was molded by Bismarck for the purposes of Prussian hegemony and a parliament molded for Prussian conservative control. Yet, in this scenario, there is presented the reality that Germany was also a state built upon compromise and unity. The push for Prussian hegemony by 1906 had fallen and the push for the Imperial Project had won out. Imperial Germany was not merely a state dedicated to Prussian Junkers. Even in this tiny little controversy comes the sense to find compromise for the Imperial project.

Works Cited:

Clark, Christopher M. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

WETTERLE, EMILE. BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE REICHSTAG: Sixteen Years of Parliamentary Life in Germany. FORGOTTEN Books, 2015.

Populist Historicism

Dedicated on December 18th, 1901, the Victory Avenue in Berlin became an emblematic symbol of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s reign as perceived by intellectual circles in the Kaiserreich: crude and overly bombastic. The avenue, consisting of a series of statues to former Prussian kings, was named the “Avenue of Dolls” by Berliners. It became not only a symbol of dissatisfaction with the Kaiser himself, but with dissatisfaction with Berliner historicism. Christopher Clark, in his book Iron Kingdom, frames these issues in the light of a disconnect between Prussian state culture and contemporary German culture. The Kaiser, in a speech he gave at its dedication, framed it in the following light: “An art that oversteps the laws and boundaries which I have indicated is no longer art; it is factory work, it is trade, and that no art dare become.”

As easy as it is to frame this event in the light of autocratic pomposity, Kaiser Wilhelm II also presents this avenue in the light of soft populism, “art must help to educate the people; it must give the lower classes, after their cramping exertions, the opportunity to right themselves again through ideals.” From this comes an Industrial-Period yearning to raise-up the lower dregs of society through high works. This was also the ideology of the Hobrecht Plan to expand Berlin: neo-renaissance city palaces that hold all the classes. The plan, in that singular regard, failed and instead gave rise to Berlin’s infamous “Rental Barracks”, but the idealism is still there. This is the backing of the Kaiser’s support for historicism in this particular context, “The fostering of the ideal is the greatest work of culture; and if we wish to be and to remain a pattern in this for other peoples, then we must work all together; and if culture is to accomplish its full task, then it must penetrate through to the very lower strata of the people.”

To be certain, the Kaiser’s desires are certainly anachronistic as this speech also contains many a reference to, “great achievements in the art of the Middles Ages and of the Italians,” and is a hardly veiled insult to modern art. These views, however, come connected to an interesting social idealism that makes the issue a little more complex than upon first blush. Whilst they seem to have not gained much contemporary enthusiasm nor do they remove the aforementioned reactionary opinions, they are an interesting thought exercise for those interested in the Imperial era. This is rather emblematic for the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The more you look and scratch into the nature of his reign, the most complexities and contradictions you find.

Clark, Christopher M. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Hohenzollern, Wilhelm Von, and Christian Gauss. The German Emperor as Shown in His Public Utterances. London: Heinemann, 1915.

Pugh, Emily. Architecture, Politics, and Identity in Divided Berlin. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.


Is This a Nationalist Blog? No.

I must first note the nature of the symbols I utilize on this site. I understand that many of the symbols of Imperial Germany are co-opted by the hard-right as alternatives to the Nazi imagery that is often banned in Europe.

I do not use these symbols as nationalist posturing, I attempt to use them in an educational context. I do not intend this site to be an outright glorification of this history, as much of it is quite grim and regrettable.

What I suggest is nuance in the face of these issues. The Kaiserreich, in particular, was a regime that both committed genocide in Africa and invented the modern welfare state. These states can be both agents of progress and agents of horror. I choose to look at the progress because whilst I do not wish for these horrors to be forgotten, I do not wish for them to be an excuse to provide reductionist history about these regimes. I wish to analyze these regimes for all that they hold, and I hope you join me in this nuanced journey.