• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

100 years ago, Germans celebrated war's outbreak

AFP · 1 Aug 2014, 08:46

Published: 01 Aug 2014 08:46 GMT+02:00

It is past dusk when Wilhelm II uncorks the sparkling wine for his top army brass on August 1st, 1914.

The German emperor has just declared war on Russia, is preparing to attack France, and has received word from his ambassador in London that Britain would remain neutral in the conflict.

Germany had started World War I. 

Wilhelm believed the matter would be wrapped up in a few weeks in a blaze of glory, his troops sweeping through vanquished lands.

Four years later, Germany will have lost the conflict, costing it about two million lives and bringing about the end of its empire.

Before the toast, in the early afternoon, the Kaiser had called up his troops in response to a Russian general mobilization ordered on July 30th.

Tsar Nicholas II aimed to intimidate the Austro-Hungarian empire which had just attacked Russia's tiny Serbian ally.

War seemed imminent in Germany, which lived in dread of allies Russia, France and Britain encircling it.

Fearing privation, the citizenry rushed to stockpile food and other supplies, sending prices soaring.

With a look of satisfaction at his military strategists - some weeping tears of joy at the long-awaited arrival of a war for which they had prepared for decades - the emperor put his elegant signature at the bottom of the declaration of war at the Prussian Royal Palace in Berlin, historian C.G. Röhl said.

'No parties, only Germans'

Wilhelm then addressed a cheering crowd gathered outside, below the main palace balcony.

"If our neighbour will not grant us peace, I hope that the German people and the united empire will be victorious, with God's help," Wilhelm said.

"I know no parties anymore, only Germans," added the emperor, a Prussian Protestant, in a call to national unity aimed at the Social Democrats and the independently minded Catholics of the empire.

"Hooray," the masses cried, throwing their hats in the air with glee.

PHOTO GALLERY: German soldiers' life behind WWI lines

The mobilization order threw the German war machine into gear, ready to first of all send soldiers streaming west.

The marching orders prepared over several years had said that in case of war with Russia, its ally France would be invaded first before the German troops headed east.

The strategy in Berlin, known as the Schlieffen Plan, was that it was better to avoid a war on two fronts.

Germany's great rival Britain, it was believed, could be counted on for now to stay out of the European conflict.

'Britain can't stand by' 

But a telegram from Prince Lichnowsky, Germany's ambassador to London, which arrived in Berlin at about 5:00 pm, threw a wrench in the works, Röhl said.

It said that Britain would only remain neutral if Germany attacked Russia alone and not France.

Wilhelm then ordered his army chief Helmuth von Moltke to direct all of his troops toward Russia, drawing a rare protest from the aristocratic officer.

Growing red in the face, according to witnesses, von Moltke argued that changing the strategy at the last moment to plot an eastward advance risked throwing the German military off balance, and warned that France constituted a greater immediate threat than Russia.

Story continues below…

A second telegram from Lichnowsky arrived around 8:30 pm: London would probably remain neutral even if Germany invaded France.

Plan A could be maintained; Wilhelm ordered the wine.

Late that evening, however, came another twist in the plot.

England's King George V sent word to Wilhelm, his cousin, that Lichnowsky must have misunderstood: Britain could not stand by and watch France be annihilated.

The die, however, had been cast.

While many in the cities looked forward to a quick defeat of France, those in the countryside preparing the harvest knew that the manpower sent to fight the war would be desperately missed in the fields.

The ensuing war would cause untold suffering for the civilian population as well, with famine raging through the country as two million German soldiers fell on foreign fields.

SEE ALSO: Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
No injuries after blast near Bavarian migrant centre
A sign at the Zirndorf migrant centre. Photo: DPA

A suitcase, likely packed with aerosol cans, has blown up near a migrant centre on the outskirts of Nuremberg, causing no injuries, police confirm.

Not your average student digs: 'amazing' plastic bubble
Photo: DPA

Could this wacky experiment be the future of student housing?

Police settle train violence over smelly feet
Not the feet in question. Photo: Caitlin Regan/Flickr

A fellow passenger's foot odour proved too much for one traveller to stomach.

How Berliners are responding to the Bavaria attacks
Photo: DPA

Is fear of terrorism creeping up on the capital?

Munich gunman was far-right racist: media reports
Photo: DPA

According to research by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the Munich gunman was proud to have been born on the same day as Hitler and hated Turks and Arabs.

Ansbach suicide attack
Ansbach bomber ‘influenced’ by third person: officials
Photo: DPA

Officials in Bavaria have said that the man who blew himself up in an apparent Islamist attack on Sunday was influenced by an as yet unknown person.

What is the link between the attacks in Germany last week?
Police on guard in Munich. Photo: DPA

And how likely are 'copycat' attacks?

Rights experts call for calm after string of violent attacks
Bavaria has called for soldiers to protect the German border. Photo: DPA

Human rights groups and legal experts are warning the government to react responsibly to the attacks and rampages which have taken place in Germany in recent days.

France church attacker had been arrested in Germany
Photo: DPA

A neighbour described the man as a "ticking time bomb".

Dutch join hunt for German terrorists-turned-outlaws
From left to right: Ernst-Volker Staub, Daniela Klette and Burkhard Garweg. Photo: DPA.

Dutch police on Tuesday told people to be on the lookout for three German far-left militants, at large for decades and suspected of a string of recent heists.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
11,008
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd