Teaching Students About the Fascinating Second German Reich


The 2nd German Reich, also known as the German Empire, was a significant period in German history that lasted from 1871 to 1918. This era marked the unification of various German states under Prussian leadership, transforming Germany into an industrial powerhouse and asserting their status as a major European power. Teaching students about the 2nd German Reich is crucial for understanding not only German history, but Europe’s political landscape during this time.

Unification Process

The first step in teaching students about the 2nd German Reich is to explore the complex process of unification, which was primarily driven by the ascendant power of Prussia. Key figures, such as Otto von Bismarck – appointed as Minister President of Prussia in 1862 – played a pivotal role in achieving political integration. The key events and tactics used by Bismarck deserve special attention:

1. The Danish War (1864): Prussian and Austrian forces allied to defeat Denmark and administer Schleswig-Holstein.

2. The Austro-Prussian War (1866): Bismarck turned on his former ally Austria, defeating them quickly and excluding them from internal German affairs.

3. The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71): By provoking France into declaring war against Prussia, Bismarck convinced southern German states to join in defense against this perceived external threat.

These three wars led to the creation of a unified Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm I on January 18th, 1871.

Economic Growth and Industrialization

Students must grasp how industrialization contributed to the second Reich’s rapid transformation into an economic powerhouse. During this time, Germany experienced exponential growth in coal and iron production, advances in chemical industries, and the expansion of railways that connected major cities and fostered trade. Additionally, the development of new industrial sectors, such as shipbuilding and the electrical industry, led to a booming economy.

Social Aspects and Reforms

As the second Reich established itself, students should learn about the resulting social changes. Population growth and urbanization created a new working class, while the middle class began demanding political influence. Bismarck introduced reforms like universal male suffrage, accident insurance, and health insurance as a means to gain support from different social classes. These reforms set a precedent for future German governments to follow.

Foreign Policy

Understanding the foreign policy of the second German Reich provides insight into how Germany positioned itself during geopolitical events. Bismarck pursued a strategy of maintaining peace among European nations by forging diplomatic alliances with Austria-Hungary and Russia (the Dreikaiserbund). Additionally, he sought cooperation with Great Britain. However, after Bismarck’s dismissal in 1890, under Emperor Wilhelm II, Germany adopted a more aggressive foreign policy that alienated its neighbors and contributed to the tensions leading up to World War I.


When teaching students about the 2nd German Reich, it’s essential to cover the unification process, economic growth and industrialization, social aspects and reforms, and foreign policy in detail. A comprehensive overview helps learners grasp this formative era in German history that shaped European politics for years to come.

Choose your Reaction!