Old fatherland and new

New Palace, Park Sanssouci, Potsdam
New Palace, Park Sanssouci, Potsdam

“Glorious times” for Wilhelmine Germany, “Guilded Age” in the USA.

[Germany and America, around 1890] In Germany, the year 1888 saw three Emperors: Emperor Wilhelm I died in March, greatly mourned by his country. His son Friedrich III was suffering from incurable laryngeal cancer and died, leaving his son Wilhelm II (1888-1918) as new Emperor.

A highly innovative time

After a long period of stagnation, things were finally going well in Germany. “I will lead you towards glorious times” (in German: “herrlichen Zeiten führe ich Euch entgegen”) Emperor William II had said, and one would well believe it. Wilhelmine Germany was a modern industry state, a “High Tech location” as we would say today, and one of the world’s leading economic powers. Not only the iron and coal industry in the Ruhr area, in the Saarland and in Upper Silesia, also the industries relevant for the future – chemistry, pharmacy, electrical engineering and optics – contributed to the economic boom, and many Nobel Prizes went to Germany. In Berlin and other big cities one could see motor cars, trams and electric light.

The authoritarian state

The Empire made big progress in the field of economy and industry and had colonies in Africa and Asia, but at home it remained utterly conservative. The parliament, the Reichstag, had gotten a pompous new building, but its standing was low. The Chancellor and his Government were responsible to the Emperor, not to the parliament. Wilhelm himself believed that he was Emperor by the grace of God. Next to the Emperor, the military had the highest standing, becoming an officer was the best career option for a young nobleman, and having served on the army was highly recommendable for a career in a civilian profession too. William himself always wore uniform.


The USA had become the world’s leading economic power. In 1867, Alaska had been purchased from Russia, in 1882 the State of Washington had joined the United States. The whole territory now belonged to the US-Americans, the native American Indians had been killed in numerous wars or forced into reservations. On December 29, 1890, soldiers of the 7th US cavalry regiment killed men, women and children of the Minneconjou-Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, in the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. It crushed the last resistance against the Whites.

New York was a metropolis, skyscrapers towered into the sky. More and more people set out to find their luck in America. Between 1865 and 1890, over 10 million people, mainly from Northern and Western Europe, immigrated to the USA. But despite all economic boom and technological progress, there was much poverty and corruption, especially in the cities. Immigrants were now processed at Ellis Island, an island outside the city limits of New York, and immigration laws became more restrictive.

“Who does not honor the old fatherland is not worthy of the new.”

In 1893, the world exhibition took place in Chicago. On the occasion of the German Day, Carl Schurz had been asked for an address. His “Greeting to the Old Fatherland” was printed in the newspapers. Lorenz, now white-haired as Schurz, sat in his high-backed chair on the front porch of the Merry Dragon Inn and read. This was true also for him and his family. He loved his new homeland, the United States, and he loved his old homeland. They read German authors as well as American, English and Irish ones. “Schurz says exactly what I feel,” he said to his wife Annelie, “Who does not honor the old mother is also unable to love the young bride.”* He smiled and looked at his wife. Annelie was still as beautiful as she had been as a young bride, and that although she was not only an “old mother” but a grandmother. “We should go once again to the Rhine before we are too old,” he said with a big smile.

* Quoted from “Gruß ans alte Vaterland”, www.wikipedia.de

The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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