Essay by saikim May 2005

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In examining great social and cultural changes in the modern West, many specific events come to mind: the Renaissance and the Reformation, the "discovery" of the Americas, industrialization, and World War Two. One such event, often overlooked, is the "Great War", 1914-1918. Like every people affected by the expanse of this war, Germans were deeply affected and forever changed. As a social, cultural, and psychological reaction to World War I, the German people created the Weimar Republic, leading to a drastic change in German society and culture. To best understand these changes, a comprehensive analysis of World War I, before, during, and after, is necessary.

What was Germany before World War I? Before World War I, Germany was a Great Power on the cusp of social revolution, like many other European nations. The relatively new empire was struggling with the new working class and the increasing movement for labor rights (Gilbert and Large, 15-19).

Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany when World War I began, was moving his empire toward expansive imperialism and militarism. The political, social, and cultural structure of Germany before World War I was relatively new, but almost instantly powerful and potent.

The political structure of Germany, bred of Germany's attempt at solid unification, was rapidly becoming outdated in the face of labor and the precarious balance of power in Europe, and would soon be put under by World War I. The Bundesrat, like the contemporary House of Lords in the British parliament, was manipulated by the landowning class. The Reichstag, created to balance the weight of the Bundesrat, was extremely limited: it could in no way interfere with individual states' armies, being limited to legislation in the areas of foreign and naval affairs, as well as other relative trivialities like customs and mail (Gilbert and...