The German Empire was an industrial, military, and technological giant which dominated central Europe from 1871-1918. With natural strengths in coal, iron, and railways, the empire’s strong industrial base made Germany an economic power. It operated as a scientific powerhouse, gaining more Nobel Prizes in science during its 47 years of existence than France, Britain, Russia, and the United States combined.
The empire’s domestic and foreign policy was increasingly determined by two men: Kaiser Wilhelm I’s careful strategist Otto von Bismarck, and the king’s son, Wilhelm II. Guided by Bismarck, the empire slowly secured its political and military influence through a complex series of alliances. Through key, strategic alliances with Russia and Austria-Hungary, Bismarck secured Germany’s eastern frontier and eliminated the possibility of a disastrous two front war. In a position of economic and military strength as a result of Bismarck’s complex diplomacy, the German Empire saw slow, but consistent growth.
However, when Kaiser Wilhelm II ascended to the throne, he fired Bismarck and pursued an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy that provoked Germany’s neighbors. As a result Russia canceled their alliance with Germany and joined France and Britain instead. Adamant that it was Germany’s right to conquer central Europe, Wilhelm II continued to antagonistically expand despite his exposed borders. In the resulting First World War, the German Empire was forced to fight a protracted, costly two front war against both France and Russia. Eventually the German army was worn down and defeated, resulting in the abdication of Wilhelm II and the dissolution of the German Empire. While Otto von Bismarck had brilliantly crafted the empire out of the divided German kingdoms and secured her borders, Wilhelm II’s reckless diplomacy led to the downfall of the nation.
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