What were Germany's military contributions to the First World War?

First World War: From frenzy of war to mass death

Status: 11/13/2019 11:14 am | archive
Tens of thousands of people celebrate the mobilization in Germany on August 1, 1914 on Hamburg's Rathausmarkt.

Hamburg, Rathausmarkt, late afternoon of July 31, 1914: Infantry soldiers of the Hamburg Regiment march through the Alster metropolis. At their head: an officer on horseback who stops in all public places and announces the imposition of the so-called state of siege, the last preliminary step to war.

First World War: The "Great Disaster of the 20th Century"

Austria-Hungary had already gone to war with Serbia three days earlier, an unofficial procedure coordinated with Berlin in the utmost secrecy. Serbia's greatest ally, Russia, is to be forced to mobilize, which, as foreseen, is happening. This seems to confirm that an attack by Russia is imminent. The Germans believe they are going into a just defensive war. On the morning of August 1st, at six in the morning, the general mobilization began throughout Germany. War is officially declared on Russia. The First World War, the "great catastrophe of the 20th century", has begun.

AUDIO: The First World War in the North (3 min)

Collective war frenzy: the "August experience"

In the summer days in July and August 1914, enthusiasm for the war initially spreads. An intoxicating, collective nationalism, which is later mystified as the "August experience", grips large parts of the population. The same goes for the citizens of Hamburg who come together in the elegant "Alsterpavillon" on Jungfernstieg. As the "Hamburger Nachrichten" report, "the band has to play without ceasing, and then the tones of 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles' like thunder and thunder roaring reached the ears of those who had to wait outside, because they weren't inside either would have been more space ". Scenes of spontaneous war euphoria take place in almost all northern German cities.

The First World War

From 1914 to 1918, around 17 million people, including millions of civilians, died in World War I. A revolution that begins in northern Germany ends the tragedy. more

"Battle on Jungfernstieg": euphoria turns into violence

Carnival scenes, hooliganism and brutal violence are part of the nationalist enthusiasm from the start. Even the landlord of the "Alsterpavilion" is not spared: When he tries to prevent a guest from reading an extra sheet aloud several times, the angry crowd beats him to hospital while the café is turned into a heap of broken glass. The approaching police had to pull their sabers to stop the "Battle of Jungfernstieg". Something similar is repeated in Kiel: When the imperial anthem rang out there on July 28th, students beat up other café guests who did not get up spontaneously, singing along and saying "Hurray!" roar.

"Espionitis" and mass hysteria are spreading

Suspected of espionage, only because of his beard: the Hanoverian philosophy Professor Theodor Lessing.

A kind of mass hysteria grips people: on August 4, 1914, shouting the slogan "Stop the spy!" At Bremen Central Station is enough to trigger a mass psychosis, as a result of which a man is almost kicked to death by a fanatical mob. When the police are finally able to rescue the seriously injured victim, it turns out that he is a German soldier on his way to his unit. The Hanoverian philosophy professor Theodor Lessing, who was arrested on a train platform as a "Russian spy" because of his long beard, was only saved by a Prussian officer who turned out to be his former student. "How much abuse, how many malice, acts of revenge, bestiality were practiced in these horrible days," Lessing later notes, "no one was sure of his life."

"Clouds are mistaken for planes, bicycle handlebars for bombs"

In the first days of August alone, 28 civilians were shot dead at wild roadblocks because there were rumors that French gold was being smuggled from France to Russia in cars. A police chief speaks of a “fool's house” in which “the residents” are beginning to go mad: “Everyone sees his fellow man as a Russian or French spy and believes it is his duty to bloody him and the policeman who takes care of him Clouds are mistaken for planes, stars for airships, bicycle handlebars for bombs, and spies are shot dead. There is no telling how this will all turn out when times really get tougher. "

Start of the war: ordinary people are skeptical

In 1916, hunger hit the civilian population: this old woman collapses in line at a grocery store.

Contrary to the myth of the "August experience", according to which all strata of the population were equally enthusiastic about the war, this phenomenon primarily affects the nobility, the bourgeoisie, many intellectuals and of course the political leadership. In the working-class districts of the big cities and in the country, however, the mood is often very different. During their spy tours through Hamburg's working-class pubs, the agents of the Political Police note that those present ask aloud what concerns them to the Austrian heir to the throne and why they should lose their lives for it. In Bremen, on August 1st, a Social Democrat observed the “most deplorable mood” he “ever experienced”: “Mothers, women and brides bring the young men to the train and cry. Everyone has the feeling that they are going straight to the slaughter. "

Not prepared for years of world war

However, hardly anyone expects how quickly times will get tougher. Most soldiers believe that they will be home again by Christmas, and the state is in no way equipped for a long war.

For the majority of the north German civilian population, the outbreak of war is not associated with a military threat, but after the declaration of war there is "sudden horror" in many villages, as a contemporary witness noted. Many farmers fear for their crops and their livelihoods. In addition, horses and wagons are often confiscated by the military. Siegfried Jacobson, editor of the magazine "Schaubühne", writes during his summer vacation on the North Sea: "Bring the enthusiastic Berliners here between our 15 farmhouses and they will fall silent."

Hunger and unemployment are spreading

In the northern German ports, the war made itself felt particularly quickly. Shipping practically comes to a standstill due to the British naval blockade. Despite the general mobilization, there is already mass unemployment in August. Shipowners, ship brokers, trading and port companies in Hamburg, Bremerhaven and elsewhere are laying off their employees. Although the men who were compulsory went to war, 30,000 unemployed were registered in Hamburg alone at the beginning of September 1914, many of them dock workers. Already on August 21st, the "Hamburger Echo" reported that in the poorer parts of the city "the need is infinitely great, indeed that in many cases people are already starving". Many families can no longer pay the rent and the number of homeless rises from 7,000 to 16,000 within a month.

Ten million soldiers die in the First World War

With the first terrible experiences at the front, the "baptism of fire", disillusionment and disillusionment spread among the war volunteers. Theodor Reil from Oldenburg wrote to his teacher from Belgium at the end of August: "After a 33-hour train ride and a seven-hour waiting time, our people had a strenuous march. On the way you saw the first destruction, the horrors of war, burned-out houses, villages completely destroyed . "

In many cities, like here in Rostock, soldiers' graves commemorate the victims of the war.

At the latest with the defeat in the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, which made a quick victory against France impossible, many felt like the grocer Johanna Boldt. At the beginning of October she wrote to her husband Julius on the Eastern Front: "People want nothing more than the end of this unhappy war. And there is still no prospect of it." It took another four long years for this wish to come true in the course of the November Revolution of 1918, which began in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. By the end of the war, ten million soldiers will die on the battlefields of Europe - including Julius Boldt.

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NDR Info | 07/29/2014 | 06:08 am