World War I in literature
In most descriptions of wars, commanders, generals and the
course of the battle are depicted. Most of the time, the
unending suffering of the common soldiers or civilians
hardly or only marginally occurred.
The following poem by Walter Flex (1887-1917) in his book
"The Wanderer Between Two Worlds" (1916), which was set to
music by Robert Götz (1892-1978), describes in a
melancholy-sentimental way the hopelessness of ordinary
Even if Walter Flex, who died as a company commander on the
Eastern Front as a result of a serious wound on October 16,
1917, did not pursue this with his poem.
- Wild geese rush through the night
With a shrill cry to the north -
unsteady journey! Be careful, be careful!
The world is full of murders.
- Drive through the night-swept world,
Pale light twitches, and the battle cry rings out,
The quarrel surges and waves far.
- Intoxication, drive up, you gray army!
Rush to the north!
Drive south across the sea -
what has become of us!
- Like you we are a gray army,
and we drive in the name of the emperor, and we drive
rustle us in autumn an amen!
Rainer Maria Remarque
On the other hand, Rainer Maria Remarque (1898-1970) clearly
described the horrors of war in his book "In the West
Nothing New" (1929). Remarque, whose real name was Erich
Paul Remark, took part as a soldier on the Western Front
from 1916 after his graduation until June 1917. His famous
novel "Nothing New in the West" was not, however, his first
work. "In the West Nothing New" had been published as a
serial in the Vossische Zeitung since 1928. Very quickly, as
early as 1930, the book was made into a film by Lewis
Milestone in Hollywood and became world famous.
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The novel "In Stahlgewittern" by Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) is
downright disturbing in its detached objectivity. Ernst
Jünger's early work, also including the book “In
Stahlgewittern” (1920), can be attributed to the
Conservative Revolution. In the book “In Stahlgewittern”
Jünger describes his experiences at the front from January
1915 to August 1918. What is remarkable is the changing
character of the work, which on the one hand depicts the war
in all its brutality without condemning it. Although “In
Stahlgewittern” is based on Jünger's diary entries, his
diaries were only published in 2010.
The situation before 1914
In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed the province of
Bosnia-Herzegovina. On June 28, 1914, the heir to the
throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), visited
Sarajevo with his wife Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg. The
couple drove through the city together with a few companions
in an open "double Phäton". The heir to the throne and his
wife were shot dead in Franz-Joseph-Gasse by the Serbian
nationalist, the 19-year-old student Gavrilo Princip
The assassin was a member of Mlada Bosna, a
revolutionary-nationalist association of schoolchildren and
students that was active in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was
ruled by Austria-Hungary, at the beginning of the 20th
century and, among other things, fought to keep
Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Austro-Hungarian occupation to
free. He was then sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and
died after just four years imprisonment under dire
circumstances in the prison in Theresienstadt - in what is
now the Czech Republic.
It should be mentioned that the car in which the heir to the
throne and his wife were shot is exhibited in the
"Heeresgeschichtliches Museum" in Vienna in the Sarajevo
In order to be able to take military action against
Serbia, Austria sought the support of Germany, as in this
case an intervention by Russia was feared. This request was
granted by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Chancellor Theobald von
Bethmann Hollweg. As a result, Austria-Hungary issued an
ultimatum to the Serbs on July 23, demanding that Serbia,
with the participation of Austria-Hungary, among other
things, initiate a judicial investigation against the
participants in the June 28 plot. At first it appeared that
Serbia would fulfill the ultimatum, but Russia's promises to
help the Serbs in the event of an attack diminished the
willingness to fulfill the ultimatum. The conflict took on a
pan-European dimension during the French state visit to St.
Petersburg between April 20 and 23.
Outbreak of war
On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungarians declared war on the
Kingdom of Serbia. The interests of the great powers and
their alliance obligations let the war in the Balkans
escalate into continental war within a few days - with the
participation of Russia, on which Germany declared war on
August 1, 1914, and France, with the German declaration of
war on August 3, 1914.
Because of the violation the neutrality of Belgium and
Luxembourg as a result of the Schlieffen Plan - Great
Britain declared war on Germany as the Belgian guarantee
power on August 4, 1914. All major European powers were at
war with one another.
On August 1, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II had given a speech
from the balcony of the city palace (2nd balcony speech), in
which he announced, among other things,
that he no longer knew any political parties or
denominations, instead we are all only German today
He repeated this speech on August 4th in the German
Reichstag with the modified and "famous" saying:
"I no longer know any parties or denominations, only
The Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan provided for attacking France from
the northeast, bypassing the French fortresses between
Verdun and Belfort, even if the neutrality of Belgium and
Luxembourg had to be violated.
These plans were made in 1905 by Field Marshal Alfred Graf
von Schlieffen (1833-1913). With the help of this strategy,
a quick victory over France was intended to prevent Germany
from entering a grueling two-front war with France and
Russia, since it was assumed that the Russian Empire would
need a longer period of time to mobilize. As is well known,
the plan was unsuccessful, but Schlieffen, who died in 1913,
had never lived to see it fail. However, it should be
mentioned that the implementation of the Schlieffen Plan
worked until the Battle of the Marne (September 5-12, 1914).
In the course of this plan, German troops attacked Liège
on August 4, 1914, where unexpectedly fierce resistance was
Battle of the Marne
The battle of the River Marne marked a decisive turning
point in the war. The fighting took place from September 5
to 12, 1914 along the Marne east of Paris and halted the
successful German advance of the five armies, which had
begun on August 2. During the advance of the Germans, which
led to fleeing movements of the French, there was a gap of
about 30 km between the 1st and 2nd Army, which led to the
Germans pausing - with the result that the French were
rearranging themselves and gained time to bring
reinforcements from their colonies. The 1st German Army was
commanded by Colonel General Alexander von Kluck and the 2nd
Army by General Karl von Bülow.
The plan of the German army command - under the command
of Colonel General Helmuth von Moltke - to defeat France in
a short time, had failed after this battle. The French spoke
of the "miracle on the Marne":
The consequences of this first German defeat were an almost
four-year trench war with unimaginable suffering and losses
for the soldiers involved. The ossuary near Verdun still
reminds of these battles today.
Fight at Langemark
In the course of the first Battle of Flanders between
October 20 and November 18, 1914, on November 10, the
Belgian village of Langemarck was attacked by the Germans,
whose units consisted of inexperienced volunteers, including
many students. Thousands of people found a senseless death
here without a recognizable goal, which in the course of
time was transfigured into the "myth of Langemarck" by
propaganda in which the soldiers ran into the enemy fire
The trench warfare in the west
The trench warfare in the west began after the war of
movement ended. This turning point is usually dated with the
fighting near Ypres (October/November 1914). After the
so-called “Race to the Sea” had extended the western front
to a length of approx. 750 km, this stretched from the
English Channel to the Swiss border. The solidification of
the front led to the establishment of an extensive system of
trenches. The foremost rows of trenches were usually only 50
m apart. These defensive systems put the defending armies in
an advantageous position and made any attempts at
breakthrough almost impossible. The “Battle of Verdun” is a
symbol of the solidification of the front line. This attack
by German troops on the French fortress Verdun lasted from
February 21, 1916 to December 19. 1916, killing more than
300,000 soldiers in total (note that this is a conservative
estimate and the death toll was likely much higher). The
battle entered both German and French cultures of
remembrance. Partly as "Hell of Verdun", partly as "White
blood of the enemy" or "Blood pump" and "Bone mill". The
result of the battle was a minimal shift in the course of
the front without having achieved a breakthrough.
Later attempts to break through the frozen front led to the
use of poisonous gas such as chlorine gas. The first use of
chlorine gas took place on April 22, 1915 near Ypres. In the
perverted logic of the war, this led to the development of
even more cruel gases such as mustard gas, which was also
first used in Ypres in 1917. The end of the trench warfare,
however, led to the use of tanks on the Allied side.
The fighting in the east
The fighting between the Central Powers (Germany,
Austria-Hungary) and Russia took place on the so-called
Eastern Front during World War I. The area of the fighting
encompassed almost all of Eastern Europe and stretched from
the Baltic States to the Black Sea. The fighting on the
Eastern Front contrasts with the frozen rift system of the
Western Front, as larger front shifts took place here. The
fighting ended with the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. After
the end of the First World War, the greatest political
upheavals took place on the former combat zone of the
Eastern Front. In addition to the successful October
Revolution and the establishment of Soviet rule in Russia,
the multi-ethnic state Austria-Hungary also disintegrated
and thus ensured the emergence of new and historical states
such as Austria
Battle of Tannenberg
The battle took place between August 26 and August 30,
1914 south of Allenstein in East Prussia between German and
Russian units and ended with a victory for the German units
under the command of Paul von Hindenburg. It ended with a
victory for the German troops and the defeat of the Russian
troops that had invaded East Prussia.
At the request of Paul von Hindenburg, the battle was called
the "Battle of Tannenberg" and propagandistically
exaggerated. This should also make the eponymous defeat of
the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 1410 against the
Polish-Lithuanian Union forgotten.
Lenin's trip to Russia
During the February Revolution of 1917 the Tsar had been
overthrown, but the Russian army nonetheless continued to
fight the Germans. In order to weaken the Russian will to
fight and to create chaos in Russia, the German Supreme Army
Command decided to allow Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin
(1870-1924), together with other prominent communists, to
return to Russia from their Swiss exile via Germany. This
happened on a sealed train that had been declared
extraterritorial. Lenin and his companions reached Petrograd
in April 1917 and planned the revolution to seize power by
the workers, peasants and soldiers.
Lenin stood against the provisional government, which ruled
under Kerensky. On June 4, Lenin announced at the 4th
All-Russian Congress of Soviets that the Bolsheviks wanted
to take power in the country.
Their slogans were an immediate peace agreement, the
distribution of the land to the peasants and the workers
taking over the factories. The party, chaired by Lenin, set
up the Council of People's Commissars as the Bolshevik
government. In February 1918 they were supported by the Red
Army under the leadership of Leon Trotsky and the Cheka
secret police under Felix Dzerzhinsky.
The Peace of Bresk-Litovsk
On March 3, 1918, the separate peace of Brest-Litovsk
ended the war between Russia and Germany, with Russia
accepting considerable land losses, approx. 26% of the then
European territory. And Germany believed that it had solved
its problems on the Eastern Front.
End of war, Treaty of Versailles, Weimar Republic
The First World War was officially ended with the Treaty
of Versailles. But with the signing of the Compiègne
armistice on November 11, 1918, all fighting had ceased.
The war had cost between 17 and 20 million dead and many
wounded. Not to mention the material damage.
The ceasefire agreement was signed in a railway saloon
car that was in a wooded area east of the northern French
town of Compiègne.
The armistice was signed by the Council of People's
Representatives - a body that held the highest governmental
power in the German Reich between 1918 and 19119 after the
end of the war.
The chairman of the council was Friedrich Ebert, who had
been provisionally appointed Chancellor on November 9th by
the "imperial" Chancellor Max von Baden. Max von Baden also
announced the resignation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had left
Germany on November 10th and was living in exile in Doorn in
the Netherlands until his death. Wilhelm II officially
announced his abdication on November 28, 1918. This made
Germany a de jure republic.
On the afternoon of November 9, 1918, the SPD politician
Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann (1865-1939) proclaimed the
republic from a balcony of the Reichstag - without informing
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 in the Palace of
Versailles, the opponents of Germany and their allies until
May 1919 largely agreed on the content of a peace treaty.
The treaty established the sole responsibility of Germany
and its allies for the outbreak of war and therefore obliged
it to cede territories, disarm and pay reparations to the
victorious powers. The delegation of Germany was not
admitted to the negotiations, but was only able to make a
few improvements at the end.
After strong political pressure, the German delegation
signed the contract on June 28, 1919 in protest in the
Versailles Hall of Mirrors. It officially came into force on
January 10, 1920, but was not recognized by many Germans
because of the restrictive conditions and the way in which
it came about and served the Right and the National
Socialists as a reason for their political struggle against
the Weimar Republic. The signatories of the treaty were
dubbed "November criminals" by the nationalists in Germany,
along with others.
On January 19, 1919, the Weimar National Assembly was
elected in general, free and secret elections. This passed a
law on provisional imperial authority on February 6th. Then
on February 11, 1919, the National Assembly elected
Friedrich Ebert as Reich President, who two days later
installed the Scheidemann government. This ended the time of
the Council of People's Representatives. The famous Weimar
Constitution was also adopted in Weimar on July 31, 1919 and
came into force on August 14, 1919
The war had killed around 9 million soldiers and around 6
million civilians. In addition, the Treaty of Versailles
laid the foundation for World War II and ultimately made
Hitler's successes possible.
On August 3, 2014 - 100 years after the declaration of war
on France - Federal President Joachim Gauck and French
President François Hollande laid the foundation stone for a
Franco-German war museum on the 956 m high
Hartmannsweilerkopf (Franz: Vieil Armand, Alsatian:
Hartmannswillerkopf) in Alsace. A French memorial is already
The mountain in the vicinity of the villages of Cernay,
Uffholtz and Guebwiller was fiercely contested during the
First World War and changed occupiers eight times during the
four-year positional war.
A total of around 30,000 German and French soldiers were
killed and many more were wounded.
The mountain was named "Death Mountain" by the people. About
60 km of the former 90 km long trenches are still preserved.
At the summit there is a 20 m high cross that is illuminated
Around 20 heads of government and state - including Federal
President Joachim Gauck - met in Liège on August 4th to
commemorate the 100th anniversary of the German attack on