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Between 1815 and 1848 nothing of real
significance happened to encourage the
growth of German nationalism. How far
can that view be supported?
Prior to the 1850s, the area which is now called Germany was
divided into numerous smaller states which made up the Holy
Roman Empire. The dominant states were Austria and Prussia and
the other states were too small to compete with their power.
However, in the run up to the 1850s, nationalism was on the rise.
It would be unfair to say that nothing of real significance led to
the growth of nationalism in Germany. Various factors meant
that relations between the states improved. Firstly, political
nationalism emerged whereby ideas of liberalism and nationalism
began to spread, influenced by the French Revolution. Some
people in the states began to argue that the individual states
should join into one single Germany for political reasons as
together they would be stronger. In addition, cultural
nationalism is the notion that people in the individual states
shared things like a common language, music and literature which
created a sense of German identity and led to a growth in
nationalism and cultural awareness. Furthermore, economic
factors played a major part in the growth of nationalism in this
period and the individual states saw the clear benefits of the
Zollverein. Overall, it would not be fair to say that nothing
happened between 1815 and 1848 leading to a growth of
nationalism as various factors contributed to the growing feeling
of a German identity.
The first clear reason for the growth of nationalism in Germany
is down to political nationalism. This was on the rise in Germany
during the early to mid-nineteenth century with ideas of
liberalism and nationalism spreading throughout the states.
During the Napoleonic Wars of 1789-1815, Napoleon merged
many of the states of the conquered Holy Roman Empire into 38
larger states which he called the Confederation of the Rhine.
This collection of states brought them closer together leading to
a greater sense of nationalism. Eventually, the states forced
Napoleon out and renamed them and this new group of states was
similar to the Germany which was eventually formed in 1851. The
occupation by Napoleon has sparked a negative reaction and led
to a growth of nationalistic feelings in the states. After the
French had been forced out, the Confederation was renamed the
‘Deutscher Bund’ (German Confederation). To many nationalists in
Germany this seemed to be the beginning of the formation of a
new German state. This clearly shows that it would be inaccurate
to say that no particular factor led to the growth of nationalism
in Germany between 1815 and 1848.
However, perhaps political factors were not the most important
reason for nationalism developing in the German states. Under
Prince Metternich, the Austrian Empire was able to largely
suppress the emergence of nationalism. German students who
had been inspired by the coming together of the German states
in forcing out the French started to spread ideas of a common
German identity. Their natural enemy was Metternich and they
protested against him by, for example, burning his effigy at a
festival in Wartburg Saxony. In response, Metternich
introduced a series of measures known as the Carlsbad Decrees
to clamp down on student protests. These decrees banned
student societies and censored newspapers. This meant that
nationalists found it difficult to spread their message and so
suggests that perhaps political reasons were not of great
importance in bringing about feelings of German nationalism.
Revolutions occurred in many European states in 1848 and these
organised protests spread to parts of the Deutscher Bund. In
March 1848, there were demonstrations on the streets of Berlin
and other major German cities. Liberals who protested wanted
democracy and freedom of speech whilst nationalists demanded
the formation of a German state. These protests show a clear
rise in feelings of a German identity. Although they were not
ultimately successful, it is clear that this was a factor in
bringing about nationalism in Germany. Political reasons were
clearly important in bringing about nationalism in Germany,
although perhaps other factors were more important.
Another factor which proves that there were reasons why
nationalism emerged is the notion of cultural nationalism. The
area of Europe in which the states of the Holy Roman Empire
were situated had natural borders. To the west was the River
Rhine and to the south the Alps. Within these borders a distinct
culture had developed over the centuries. In addition, the shared
history of the states was characterised by rivalry with the
French which had culminated in the Napoleonic occupation of the
19th century. Some historians have argued that the distinct
culture in the German states actually brought about the growth
of German nationalism. The German states, as well as sharing a
common language, celebrated noted writers including Hegel,
Goethe and Schiller. The literature produced by these writers
recognised common German characteristics and this certainly
contributed slightly to nationalism emerging in the old states of
the Holy Roman Empire. Furthermore, German folk tales
compiled and published by the Brothers Grimm, including their
first collection, Children’s and Household Tales, were popular
across the states and this similarly highlights the common
ground the states had in terms of culture. It has also been
argued that the music of Beethoven helped to unify the German
peoples and masterpieces such as his Fifth Symphony gave
Germans a sense of pride. The growing popularity of German
musicians and writers brought about a feeling of a German
identity and so it is clear that cultural nationalism was a factor
in bringing about feelings of nationalism.
However, it could be argued that it was not a significant factor.
The historian Golo Mann has argued that most Germans “seldom
looked up from the plough”. This suggests that Germans did not
have time to follow national issues and that they did not embrace
‘German’ culture. Clearly then, cultural nationalism did exist and
was a factor in bringing about a sense of German identity,
however it was not a significant factor.
Perhaps the most important reason for the growth of nationalism
in Germany in the early to mid-nineteenth century was down to
economic factors. Cultural and political nationalism existed but
the driving force of the growth of nationalism was certainly
economic nationalism. The economy was relevant to all people in
the former states of the Holy Roman Empire. As Germany was
divided into so many states, trade was slow and expensive. Each
state imposed its own customs and taxes on goods passing through
borders and this meant that prices ended up being high. For
example, moving goods such as coal from West Prussia to East
Prussia meant passing through four different states which could
double the price of the coal. Therefore, if there was an
agreement between the individual states, perhaps they could
benefit economically. In 1818, Prussia formed a customs union.
Members of this union did not have to pay tax on goods
transported from one state to another. By the 1830s, this union
was known as the Zollverein. This made goods cheaper for
member states and so trade improved. By 1836, 25 German states
were getting rich because they were members of the Zollverein.
Austria was excluded and so the states began to look to Prussia
for leadership. Eventually, even the Southern Catholic states
abandoned Austria and joined Prussia in the union. The Zollverein
showed people in the states the economic benefits of a united
Germany. This certainly led to feelings of nationalism as people
realised that together they could prosper. The historian William
Carr referred to the Zollverein as the “mighty lever of German
unification”. Clearly then, the Zollverein as an economic customs
union was the most important single reason for the emergence of
nationalism in Germany between 1815 and 1848 as it united people
from all social classes and areas of Germany.
Linked to economic factors was the growth of the railway network
in Germany which certainly enabled ideas of nationalism to spread
more easily. Prussia was at the forefront of the rail network
which enabled her to become richer and this wealth was
eventually passed on to neighbouring states. This led to a growth
of nationalism as the rail network did not only allow people and
goods to travel but also ideas such as nationalism. As people were
now more closely connected in towns and cities, nationalism spread
which shows that the emergence of the railway system in
Germany was an important reason for the growth of nationalism in
Germany.
In conclusion, it would be wrong to say that nothing of real
significance happened to encourage the growth of German
nationalism. A number of important reasons led to the growth of
the idea of a common German identity. Political factors played a
part. The defeat of Napoleon and the emergence of the
Deutscher Bund gave Germans an idea of how powerful they could
be if they united. In addition, cultural factors played a part as
they people in the different states recognised common ground in
terms of music and literature. However, it could be argued, as
Golo Mann suggests, that most ordinary working class Germans did
not have time to concern themselves with political or cultural
nationalism. By far and away the most important factor for the
emergence of nationalism was down to the economic union the
Zollverein. This union benefited all Germans and, as Carr argues,
was crucial in leading to the eventual unification of Germany. The
growth of the railways in Germany also enabled ideas of
nationalism to spread. Overall, various factors combined to
encourage the growth of German nationalism, but by far the most
important single factor was the emergence of economic
nationalism.