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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps and Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewExplosionStalemateTrench WarfareWilhelm II / MeidnerJaures / Gibbs
Voices of the Great War

Kaiser Wilhelm II Kaiser Wilhelm II
After his father's untimely death in 1888, 29 year-old Wilhelm II becomes the ruler of Germany.

"I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood. When I was a little boy... I admired the proud British ships. There awoke in me the will to build ships of my own like these some day, and when I was grown up to possess a fine navy as the English."
-- Kaiser Wilhelm II, autobiography My Early Life

Kaiser Wilhelm II
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Germany's monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II had a withered and useless left arm caused by the use of forceps when he was born that also affected him psychologically and emotionally. He never wanted himself or Germany to appear weak; hence he developed a strong will, an aggressive demeanor and an arrogance that led to a complex mix of stubbornness and instability. He had no real political power, but appointed those who did - notably the chiefs of the army and navy, and the Chancellor, or Prime Minister.

Historian Commentary
The Kaiser

Robert Massie, Author
I think that the Kaiser's personality -- the aggressive, bombastic, nature of his personality -- had to do with the arm. He was compensating. You didn't laugh at a German emperor with a crippled arm who had the most powerful army in the world and who could remove you from the throne by snapping his fingers if he wanted to.
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Ludwig Meidner Ludwig Meidner
Ludwig Meidner, a young German painter, lived and worked in Berlin in the years prior to the outbreak of war in 1914.

Play Audio"It was a time unlike no other in the brooding metropolis of Berlin.... I was very poor, but not unhappy, charged with energy... and a belief in great days ahead. I made myself a home in a cheap studio... Food was a minor matter, but canvas seemed the most valuable thing there was.... I was in love with it and I was not ashamed to kiss it with trembling lips before painting those ominous landscapes.
I did not paint from life but what my imagination bid me to paint.... Bathed in sweat, I felt like a hound, racing along in a wild chase, mile after mile, to find his master - a finished oil painting filled with apocalyptic ruin.... I feared those visions..."
-- Ludwig Meidner, A Memorable Summer

Ludwig Meidner, self-portrait
Ludwig Meidner, self-portrait
Ludwig Meidner, a Jew born in 1884 in Breslau, Germany [now Poland], came to Berlin in his twenties and stayed there in extreme poverty to paint astonishing images of war and urban catastrophe, all well before the war crisis of 1914. He both loved and hated the city. His subject was the dynamism of the metropolis, its shapes, its sounds, and its dangers. He celebrated the muscular newness of metropolitan life, while probing the explosive potential of such vast concentrations of people. He survived the Great War, lived through the Holocaust and died in 1966.

Historian Commentary
Germany at the turn of the Century

Jay Winter, Historian
It was not at all surprising that anybody who lived in Germany would find this the most dynamic, the most robust, and the most terrifying nation in the world. Most of German society as it was in the early 19th Century had vanished by 1900. The pace of urbanization was huge. Berlin was a provincial backwater in 1860. By 1910 it was one of the great metropolitan centers of the world...
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Source: Ein Denkwurdiger Sommer, (A Memorable Summer), Ludwig Meidner. Translated by Alan Goodson. Article appeared in "Der Monat: Die Neue Zeitung," Vol. XVI, No. 191, August 1964. Page 75


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