• Germany's news in English

100 years ago, Germans celebrated war's outbreak

AFP · 1 Aug 2014, 08:46

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd