All the Little Germanies

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    Die Gedanken sind frei

    When Francis II abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in 1804 and assumed the title of Francis I of the Empire of Austria, the implied acceptance of the death of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, though dictated by Napoleon, was simply a recognition of reality. Napoleon, however, having shattered German unity legally, ironically went a good way toward re-establishing it politically by amalgamating the tiny imperial states into larger units; Bavaria and Württemberg became Kingdoms on January 1, 1806, Saxony followed on December 20, and Westphalia was created as a Kingdom for Napoleon's youngest brother Jérôme in 1807. After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 ratified most of Napoleon's foundations (Westphalia being a notable exception) while restoring some of the larger earlier units such as Hanover (now also raised to a Kingdom). Prussia increased dramatically in size, having been awarded substantial territories in the Rhineland, in recognition of the magnitude of her efforts against Napoleon - and of her army.[1] After the Empire itself ceased, the run-up to the establishment of the Deutsches Reich may be considered the period of All the Little Germanies (or, as the Germans called it, the 'Biedermeier' period).

    The powerful nineteenth century impulse toward Nationalism spurred efforts to secure the establishment of a single German nation. Nevertheless, the desire for peace of Germans exhausted by a quarter century of war, the fears of German Catholics of a too dominant Protestant Prussia and of German Protestants of a too dominant Catholic Austria, and the unwillingness of foreign powers such as England, Russia, and France to see the emergence of a powerful Central European empire, were exploited by unscrupulous ministers (such as the Anglo-Irish Castlereagh, the Russian Nesselrode, the wily Frenchman Talleyrand, the Prussian Hardenberg, and the influential Austrian Metternich) to promote the interests of their own sovereigns. Metternich, to maintain the status quo in Germany and Europe, would not hesitate to encourage the use of trickery and repression.

    The Romantic impulse, which in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods had encouraged innovation, was channeled in All the Little Germanies into a powerful nostalgia for the past. The time of the Hohenstaufen was exalted as Germany's Golden Age, the exploration of traditional culture in the form of folk-lore and folk-music was encouraged as the proper expression of nationalist sentiments, and religion took on the style, if not the substance, of Roman Catholicism, even among Protestants such as the painter Caspar David Friedrich. (A particular embodiment of this impulse was the recommencement, with the warm approval of Frederick William IV of Prussia, of construction on the Catholic cathedral of Köln, abandoned in the sixteenth century.) However, at the same time the German states did make significant progress in other fields, notably in science, education, and industry. On the economic front, Prussia took the lead in replacing the outmoded forms (guilds, privileged enterprises etc.) with capitalist free enterprise and the removal of inner-Prussian and inner-German customs barriers. By 1854 most of the territories that would form the German Empire of 1871 (with the exception of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg and the Hanseatic cities) had joined the Prussian-led Deutsche Zollverein (customs union). Thus the economic union preceded the political one.

    However, an intense desire for political unity remained, coupled with an increasingly passionate rebelliousness against the despotism, not only of the German princes, but of the growing class of wealthy industrialists. The year 1848 would see wide-spread Revolution throughout Germany, spearheaded by the numerous student societies (Burschenschaften) followed by widespread and brutal repression. Nevertheless, the dream of a united Germany lived on.

    North German unity, at least, would be achieved when the Prussian prime-minister, Otto von Bismarck-Schönhausen (after victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 effectively diminished Austrian influence among the German states) took advantage of the German nationalist sentiment inspired by Prussia's successful war with France in 1870 to have the William I of Prussia crowned German Emperor at Versailles in 1871. Substantial bribes to various South German sovereigns and ministers (many of whom were, in any case, more nervous of Austria than of a more distant Prussia) secured the acquiescence of Catholic Germany. The Second Reich had begun.

    In popular culture, the unrest of this time period is all but ignored. All the Little Germanies, so far as fiction is concerned, is pure Gemüthlichkeit, with lots of diplomats waltzing in embroidered tailcoats and silk stockings, Burschen dueling (as often with large Steins of Pilsner as with sabres), mob-capped grandmothers telling fairy tales, blue-eyed peasant maidens singing folk songs (especially Die Lorelei [2]), and dozens of aristocratic Uhlans and Hussars in multi-colored uniforms to woo them.


    All the Little Germanies provides examples of the following tropes:

    Examples of works associated with All the Little Germanies:
    1. This included the restoration of the territories west of the Elbe that had belonged to Prussia until 1806 and was in part considered a compensation for those territories in the east that were not restored to Prussia but used to form the Russian-controlled new Kingdom of Poland.
    2. Although that one is NOT a folk song. The Lorelay as a fair maiden dooming passing boats was a contemporary invention which afterwards got misrepresented as folklore.