If you are like me, European history between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I baffles you. What was the difference between "Germany" and "Prussia"? Who was this Bismarck character, if he wasn't a Kaiser?
Lately I have used two sources to enlighten me, and they are excellent sources.
First is the Fall of the Eagles, a TV mini-series from the 1970's you can acquire through Netflix. It had almost no budget, and is filmed like a play, but the plots are both interesting and 100% accurate. Moreover, I believe the actors and writers did a good job of capturing the personalities of people like Bismarck. The series covers most of the major countries and events, including the unification of Germany, the fall of the last Russian Tsar, the suicide pact the Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria made with his admirer. They are long and many episodes, requiring four DVDs, but you can learn more from watching these videos than devoting the entire next year to books.
Next is the audiobook The Coming of the Third Reich, which reveals the essence of the German zeitgeist after Napoleon, after World War II, and of course, all the way to Hitler. I am surprised to say that, now that I know how the Germans thought, Hitler's rise is not very surprising. The Holy Roman Empire was the first Reich (empire). Unified Germany before World War I was the second. Nazi Germany was the third Reich.
What this book taught me was the quasi-religion that was made out of the concepts of "Germany" and "Prussia." The Germans thought their greatness inevitable, just, and after their defeat in World War I they blamed it on elements within the German government, and thus, didn't really accept military defeat. Just as men will kill each other over who has divine influence, the Germans thought of their government not as a political system, but a holy (though non-Christian) entity. Because this "entity" was given its own sentience and existence (in a way) when a man betrays Germany he betrays a god--and he must pay with his life.
I know that may sound weird, if you haven't been exposed to German history before and during World War I.
I truly do recommend these sources. Fortunately, they are cheap. Netflix is cheap to rent from, and members of audible.com can get The Coming of the Third Reich for only $5.99. What a great era to be an observer.
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