A Short History of Germany

By S. H. Steinberg | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
CENTRALISM AND FEDERALISM IN GERMAN HISTORY

The outstanding fact in the history of Germany is the non-existence, up to 1871, of any political unit called Germany. When the Frankish Empire was partitioned among the grandsons of Charlemagne in 843, the parts east of the Rhine were called the East Frankish Kingdom as distinct from the West Frankish Kingdom, which was soon to be known as France. From 962, when Otto I was crowned emperor in Rome, the official title of his dominions was 'Holy Roman Empire'. At its head was the 'King of the Romans', who was elevated to the dignity of 'Roman Emperor' after his coronation by the Pope; when the coronation in Rome was discontinued the 'Roman King' assumed the title of 'Roman Emperor Elect' (from 1508). These titles remained in use until the dissolution of the Empire in 1806. The term 'German Lands', first used in an official document in 1442, occurs hereafter only at wide intervals. From 1486 it became the custom to speak of the 'German section of the Roman Empire' (Römisches Reich deutscher Nation) when referring to the regions north of the Alps. It was only after the Napoleonic wars that a 'German Confederation' was established ( 1815); and the empire of the Hohenzollerns was the first to be called officially the 'German Empire' ( 1871).

There was no ' Germany' for a thousand years because there was no German nation to which the term could be applied. The term 'Germans' comprises the West Teutonic tribes on the continent (the Anglo-Saxons forming the remaining part), just as the term 'Scandinavians' comprises the North Teutonic peoples. Saxons, Bavarians, Franks, Hessians, Swabians and Thuringians are not regional subdivisions of one nation, they are nations themselves. They stand in the same racial relation one to another as do the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians And Icelanders. The description of early nineteenth-century Italy as a'merely geographical expression' may be applied even more aptly to Germany. The Scandinavian peoples have been allowed to develop as independent nations throughout the centuries, apart from one or two short-lived attempts at a Scandinavian union under German princes. The

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