The Second Reich Facts & Worksheets

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    • Formation of the Second Reich
    • Imperial Constitution in Germany
    • The Collapse of the Second Reich
    • Towards the First World War

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s find out more about The Second Reich

    • The defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) established the unified German Empire, also known as the Second Reich. It was once part of the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806. The unification of states in Germany brought them power during the 19th century.

    The Second Reich

    • The formation of the Second German Empire (the Second Reich) was the result of the victory of the Prussian and Allied armies over France in 1870. On 15 November 1870, the King of Prussia, on behalf of the Confederation of Northern Germany, signed several treaties extending it to the southern part of Hesse and the Grand Duchy of Baden.

    Constitution of North Germany

    • The “Verfassung des Deutschen Bundes” (in English “Constitution of the German Confederation”) was an agreement between the North and South German Confederations.
    • Otto von Bismarck led various wars that unified Germany, and was the mastermind of the German Empire. A treaty was signed with Bavaria on 23 November 1870, and with Wurttemberg on 25 November. These treaties, which stipulated the amendments to the Constitution of Northern Germany, were approved by the Reichstag on 9 December 1870, and the next day the Empire (Reich) came into being.
    • The instruments of ratification were exchanged in Berlin on 29 January 1871. The King of Prussia had already been proclaimed Emperor (Kaiser) on 18 January 1871, at Versailles.
    • The Constitution of Northern Germany was slightly modified, then became the Imperial Constitution. Its structure was identical for 14 titles (title 15 on the relations with Southern Germany having been scrapped) and the numbers of articles corresponded to the same objects. The King of Prussia, who became Emperor, saw his powers strengthened. Bavaria obtained some privileges and six votes in the Bundesrat (instead of four at the Diet of Frankfurt).
    • This constitution, also called Bismarck’s Imperial Constitution by some historians, was amended 14 times, but by only eight chancellors, and remained in force into the last days of WWI and until the revolution of 9 November 1918. It was replaced by the Weimar Constitution of 14 August 1919.
    • It was Bismarck and Prussian princes Hohenzollern who revived the Reich with the creation of the Deutsches Reich in 1871. It was still called Wilhelm’s Reich after the name of its two Emperors.
    • With the treaty of Frankfurt on 10 May 1871, France yielded Alsace (except Belfort) and part of Lorraine, which formed the land of the Empire (Reichsland) administered directly by the Emperor.
    • However, in 1874, the Emperor sent 15 deputies to the Reichstag.
    • The Empire, which brought together 25 Member States, covered 540,000 square kilometres with 41 million inhabitants.
    • The Reichstag or Parliament of the German Empire existed from 1871 to 1918. Power was shared between the Reichstag and the Bundesrat. Suffrage was extended to all German men over the age of 25 and members of the Reichstag were elected.
    • With 17 votes, Prussia was the Bundesrat’s most represented state.
    • The word also means Federal Council.
    • Reichstag means “imperial parliament”.
    • Reich - the closest definition in English is “realm”
    • Along with the latest united Reich, Bismarck also demonetised silver in Germany and implemented the gold standard in 1873.
    • From the 1840s, Germany entered an economic period called the “Gründerzeit”, meaning founders’ period, and was an economic boom. Industrialisation played a large role in this boom. However, later in the 19th century, Europe (including Germany) and North America suffered a stock market crash. The United States also panicked when the Vienna stock market crashed, creating the “Long Depression” from 1873-1877.

    The Rise of Technology, 1877-1918

    • Following the victory in the Prussian-Franco War, Germany steadily developed its industries, reaching independence and fully succeeding in its industrialisation.
    • German Industrialisation waves:
      • 1877 to 1886 - railway
      • 1887 to 1896 - dye
      • 1897 to 1902 - electrical engineering
      • 1903 to 1918 - chemical
    • Germany rose later than Britain but its superiority in chemistry and physics won it almost 34% of Nobel Prizes that were received by its scientists. Despite the depression and decline of the country and its industries compared to previous years, the German Reich maintained its wealth.
    • With a small technology base, the Germans were dependent on Britain until they gained independence in building railways in 1850, which gave birth to the steel industry.
    • In 1913, Germany was second only to the United States in terms of building the largest network of railroad tracks.
    • From 1900 to 1913, Germany was known for its chemical industry and synthetic dye production, which led to weapons production such as poison gas during World War I (1914-1918). The rise in chemical research also allowed Germany to develop a pharmaceutical industry.

    Bismarck, The Chancellor

    • As a result of an alliance with Austria, Germany joined World War I in 1914. Prior to that, diplomatic tension increased when Bismarck's plan to prevent further conflict lasted only until 1890. He focused on opposing Catholic civil rights. It was at this time that the Social Democratic Party started to emerge. Catholics were treated as lowly civilians while Protestants were considered to be of a higher social class.
    • Bismarck established the European welfare state that is still in use today, like health insurance and pensions. His sole intention in establishing the welfare state was to gain political advancement against the Social Worker’s Party or SWP.
    • Internationally, his tactical design was to make the German Empire formidable.
    • While Catholics slowly started to form a political party, anti-Catholicism increased. During “Kulturkampf”, Catholic schools were silenced by the government.
    • Catholics were successful in assembling people and support to protect their religious identity. They also became the second-largest party in parliament when their votes doubled in 1874.
    • The Poles
      • Non-German nationals, especially Poles, were pressured by the unification policies, which were designed to Germanise minorities. One of the rules was that everyone had to speak German at all times.
      • This led to the formation of strong minority groups.
      • In 1885, the expulsion of all ethnic Poles meant that the government was even tougher on them by making sure no non-German nationals could settle in German territories.
    • Germanic Concept
      • According to historians, the Reich represented a typically Germanic concept. Returning to the etymology of the word, we recall the antiquity of the term found in Sanskrit in the Rajan form, as well as in the old Indo-European dialects, with the sense of sovereignty or king.
      • Historians defined the Reich as meaning something that “represents both a territorial framework sometimes vague but resulting from a conquest and the political power that ‘exerts on him, whatever its political nature’.
      • The historians, thus, considered that the Holy Roman Empire represented the archetype of the Reich, especially in the first three centuries of its existence during the period of the “Reich of Caesars”, from the coronation of Otto the Great in 962 until the death of Frederick II Hohenstaufen in 1250, the last emperor who reigned over both Germany and Italy.
      • This first medieval Reich was based on both the Roman and Carolingian tradition, symbolised by two cities, namely Aachen where the King of Germany was crowned after being elected by the assembly of German princes, the Diet (or Reichstag ), and Rome where the pope crowned the king, conferring on him the imperial dignity.
      • In the Golden Age of Germany, the Reich of the Caesars, under the Ottonians (10th and 11th centuries) then the Hohenstaufen (1138 until 1254), represented the most prestigious medieval European power. By its imperial title, the emperor was the first sovereign of the West, reigning over Germany.
      • Germany’s eastern markets extended beyond the Elbe and the Oder through the policy of Drang Nach Osten, or eastern colonisation, that saw German culture, language, states, and settlement European regions inhabited by Slavs and Balts.
      • They also extended into Burgundy stretching from Switzerland to the Mediterranean and the kingdom of Italy.
      • This corresponded to Northern Italy and Tuscany. Although it covered a large part of the Western Christian world, the Reich remained a German state.
      • The bishops and governors appointed in Italy and Burgundy were Germans.
      • Similarly, throughout its eight hundred years of history, the emperors were all German kings or from Germanic dynasties.
      • By the Ottonian Privilege established in 962, the pope, if he was granted imperial dignity by the coronation, was placed under the imperial tutelage.
      • The pope was required to take an oath of allegiance to the emperor who in return, granted him his protection.
      • This situation was fraught with conflicts between Rome and the Holy Roman Empire. The quarrel of Investitures, the conflicts between Guelphs and Ghibellines that were tearing northern Italy apart in the thirteenth century and the double excommunication of Frederick II caused a fierce battle between Rome and the Empire. It resulted in the complete eradication of the Hohenstaufens, marking the end of the Reich of the Caesars.

    The Slow Agony of the First Reich

    • After the “great interregnum” and the election of Rodolphe de Habsbourg in 1273, the Reich nursed its wounds and refocused on the Germanic cultural space, abandoning any claim to Italy. The Habsburg family gradually took the ascendancy until monopolising the imperial title from 1438. The principle of the election of the sovereign by the seven great electors, defined by the Golden Bull of 1356, was maintained. The imperial authority, however, quickly faded.
    • The emperor became truly sovereign only in his patrimonial states of the House of Austria.
    • The decline of the Reich was accentuated and undermined by the divisions of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. What remained was only its secular and historical role as the bulwark of Europe against threats from the Levant. Under Turkish pressure, the Holy Empire defended Europe against the wave of Islam that came up to the walls of Budapest and Vienna.
    • Historians analysed with interest what continued: In liberal and revolutionary circles, the Reich disappeared in German political thought in the nineteenth century including Vörmarz (“pre-March” period extending from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the Spring of 1848 Peoples).
    • But it was Bismarck and Prussian princes Hohenzollern who revived the Reich with the creation of the Deutsches Reich in 1871. It was still called Wilhelm’s Reich after the name of its two emperors. This “ersatz de Reich”, as historians describe it, preserved the local particularities and was profoundly different from the Holy Roman Empire. It was a secular state which had nothing Roman anymore since its heart was Prussian.
    • It became a hereditary monarchy held by the family Hohenzollern and was no longer an Empire whose head was appointed by an electoral college.
    • Similarly, although its Germanic character was undeniable with the return of the former Empire lands of Alsace and Lorraine in favour of the War of 1870, the Reich nevertheless remained separated from Austria and Bohemia, which were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
    • Compared to the eight hundred years of the Holy Roman Empire, the Wilhelmian Reich had a limited existence and was swept away by WWI in 1914, which also ended the Romanov monarchy.

    Three Emperors in a year

    • Wilhelm I
      • (William Frederick Louis)
      • King of Prussia 1861
      • Introductory German Kaiser(Emperor) 1871
      • His presence in state conventions were minimal, so he mainly upheld Bismarck's strategies and made himself Bismarck’s representative at times.
      • Political view: Neutral
    • Frederick III
      • (Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus)
      • King of Prussia 1888 (99 days)
      • German Kaiser(Emperor) 1888 (99 days)
      • He received admiration and accolades from his national enemies as he was compassionate towards them.
      • Commander of III Army during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870
      • Political view: Liberal
    • Wilhelm II
      • (Frederick William Victor Albert)
      • King of Prussia 1888
      • German Kaiser (Emperor) 1888
      • Son of Frederick III and grandson of Wilhelm I
      • A Hands-on leader that administered both national and foreign policies, which was a Chancellor’s job
      • His objective was for Germany’s expansion of power all over Europe.
      • Political view: Autocratic
    • Otto von Bismarck
      • (Otto Eduard Leopold)
      • Prince of Bismarck
      • Chancellor in 1851
      • 1862 Prime Minister selected by Wilhelm I
      • An opponent of Frederick III due to their differences in political views
      • Political view: Conservative

    The Sovereign

    • As an heir, Wilhelm II was both an Emperor and a King when his father and grandfather died in the same year.
    • He fell into conflict with Bismarck due to their different approaches in handling political problems. This was followed by Bismarck's resignation.
    • He was an active leader who participated in administrative affairs, which was a chancellor’s job.
    • His aggressive approach on foreign policy played a role in the German Empire’s part in causing World War I.
    • Most of his people fled the country when he made military service a mandatory program.

    Towards the First World War

    • In the lead up to WWI, the sovereign prince of Austro-Hungarian, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by a Serbian radical. And Germany lent it unreserved support.
    • This is considered an error by Germany and described as a “blank check”, as it agreed to support Austria-Hungary no matter its decisions.
    • Germany also sought to invade France and Belgium via the Schlieffen Plan. However, France was better supported than expected and also sought to avenge its losses from the 1871 war against Germany.
    • In 1916, the battle ended between France and Germany.
    • The first prediction would be large casualties from France but as the battle ended, heavy damages were experienced by both countries.
    • After the concession of Russia, Germany's allied offensives were no matched for the British and American armies.
    • In Germany, everything was controlled to direct and divert supplies to the German forces. During this “total war”, thousands of German civilians died.
    • As German supplies diminished over time, morale began to wane. The Social Democratic Party or SPD, a political left, gained support by many Germans wanting to end the war.
    • Philipp Scheidemann of the SDP declared a new republic — Weimar Republic. Those who opposed it joined other groups like the Communists.
    • Historians consider the Weimar as an antechamber of the Third Hitler Reich, which became the GrossDeutsches Reich, “Great German Reich”.
    • Adopted on January 30, 1934, the “Reich Rebuilding Law” put an end to the federal structure of the German state and established a unitary and centralised state, eliminating the Länder from the old principalities to replace them by thirty-three corresponding to the administrative organisation of the NSDAP.
    • This new state had nothing in common with the German tradition, being built without or even against the old elites of the past. Historians point out that most of the Hitlerite leaders were not Prussians and that the old princely families, sometimes hostile to the new regime, were persecuted or exiled.
    • If the Reich, with the incorporation of Austria and Bohemia-Moravia, partly found the borders of the Holy Roman Empire, the idea of a community of the people (Volksgemeinschaft) denied the regional particularities of the former Reich.

    The Final Reich

    • In 1933, the NSDAP (Nazi Party) strengthened its power after Paul von Hindenburg, the Weimar Republic's President, commissioned Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany. Hitler then systematically set about eradicating political opposition. When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler had the combined powers of Chancellery and Presidency, which culminated in his dictatorship.
    • Hitler was an effective and influential speaker and this was used to build support from citizens wanting a great leader.
    • In 1919, the Weimar National assembly gathered in the town of Weimar to draft a constitution that had a democratic republican form of government administered by a president and parliament.
    • During this time, however, various conflicts arose involving national issues, religious studies and privileges of what constituted the Reich. This instability and weaknesses in the leadership led the Nazi’s to consolidate their power and promote national unification.
    • Consequently, the Reich disappeared in the glowing fire of the Götterdammerung, which is a figurative term that symbolises situations of world-altering destruction marked by extreme chaos and violence. In this case, it refers to the rise of Nazi Germany, 12 years of Hitler’s formidable rule and ultimately, the collapse of the Reich after WWII.