Notes on German Culture

The story of Kaiser Friedrich III is a tale that ended sadly in 1888, “The year of three Emperors”

1871…Crown Prince Friedrich with his father Kaiser Wilhelm I at Versailles Palace

As the Crown Prince of Prussia, Friedrich was popular with the British royal family and in return he was fond of them and their more liberal policies. It makes me wonder what would have happened in 1914 if Friedrich had lived to be 90, the age achieved by his father Kaiser Wilhelm I. Could his close relationship with Britain have prevented the outbreak of WWI? Probably the war was inevitable, but its interesting to ponder the question.

1858…Friedrich Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Prussia, wearing the uniform of a general in the Prussian army. On his uniform are displayed the ribbon and breast star of the Order of the Black Eagle and a collar chain holding the Hohenzollern House Order. 

The portrait was painted in 1858 on the occasion of the Prince’s betrothal to Victoria, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Great Britain.The royal dynasty in Britain was predominantly German… there was little British blood in Queen Victoria and none in her husband. They desired to maintain their family’s blood ties to Germany, and Prince Albert further hoped that the marriage would lead to some liberalization in Prussia. 

Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (1831-88) was known affectionately as ‘Fritz’, the only son of Wilhelm I, King of Prussia and Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany, and Augusta, daughter of Karl Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The Prince was mature and experienced, having fought in three wars as a victorious field commander.

Crown Prince Friedrich , victorious Field Commander in the Austro-Prussia War of 1866

However, his liberal sympathies made his position at court difficult for many years. He was also very open to English influences, and Bismarck was opposed to those influences. Above all, Friedrich was also aware that the new Germany was feared but not loved and was intent on changing that feared perception when he became Kaiser. 

In Germany the year 1888 is remembered as the year of 3 Kaisers.

Upon his 90 year old father’s death in 1888, Friedrich became King of Prussia and Kaiser Friedrich III of Germany. Although still young at age 56, he was gravely ill and reigned as Emperor for only 3 months. He died from throat cancer in 1888, whereupon his son Wilhelm became King and Kaiser in 1888. Wilhelm II went on to rule for 30 years until his forced abdication at the end of WWI in November 1918.

The Second Reich ended effectively with the Abdication and was followed in 1919 by a new form of government, the chaotic Weimar Republic. A turbulent era followed: anarchist and communist revolutionaries, economic strangulation by France and Great Britain leading to starvation and runaway inflation, veteran soldier organizations confronting communists in street fighting in German cities and as Militia fighting communists in the Baltic States. And then the worlwide Depression starting in 1929 added even more misery. A strong new Third Reich was required to bring back the golden era of the Kaiserzeit.

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