What do Germans today think of the Kaiser?

Kaiser Wilhelm II, to be specific.

It’s 100 years since the start of the First World War, an unpleasant business for all involved - in Britain we tend to think of “lions led by donkeys”. What about Germany, how do they think of their war leaders (like Moltke, Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Falkenhayn)?

Is he seen as a tragic figure, a misguided fool, an enemy of the German people (like the head of state in its sequel)?

The following is my purely subjective impression as an educated German, from the portraiture in quality magazine history retrospectives (mostly on round anniversaries of significant events) and the very occasional talk about histoic events with non-historians:

Wilhelm II: not a villain but in many ways a fool, beginning with dismissing Bismack; causing a totally unneccessary rift with the UK with his fleet-madness. Personally bears a large part of the responsibility for WW I.

NB I remember in the 1970s the peacetime Wilhelmine Empire (1871-1914) being romanticized in mainstream media as a golden age of peace and progress, with the military being smartly turned out harmless peacocks, set to Paul Lincke’s operettas. The social and political rifts of the time are much more emphasized now.

Hindenburg: His part in WWI isn’t much in the public consciousness now (different from WWI and the 1920s/early 1930s when he was made a national hero by the Right); he is remembered now as the senile reactionary of of his 1925-1934 tenure as President who helped Hitler into the Chancellor’s office.

Ludendorff: known less for his role in WWI as for his political role in the far Right during the Weimar Republic.

Moltke (the Younger) and Falkenhayn: only known to historians (military history as a hobby is not nearly as big in Germany as it seems to be e.g. in the US). The surname Moltke has name recognition, though, because a lot of streets are named either after his uncle Moltke the Older (revered in the Wilhelmine empire for winning the 1870/71 war) or Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (resistant executed in January 1945). Some towns such as the one I live in have cunningly changed the official attribution of the street name Moltkestraße, originally named after Moltke the Older which does not sit well with today’s sensibilities, to Helmuth James Graf von Moltke.

Danke schön, Herr Mops.

Since this is about opinions, let’s move it to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Not being a German, but having read many of the WWI analysis and histories recently out, more of less Wilhelm II is thought of as Mops sez. More a bungler than a bad guy.

More or less the idea that the Germans were “the bad guys” in WWI is going away. The causes of the war are many and varied and many can be laid at the feet of the Allies.

Having read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, Robert Massie’s Dreadnought, and John Keegan’s The First World War, one of the things that struck me repeatedly was how juvenile, vain, and selfish a lot of the world’s leaders were (and that’s probably still true). Over and over again statesmen and leaders permitted fits of pique, bad tempers, laziness, the urge to one-up someone, gossip, pride, and sheer wishful thinking to guide the course of nations.

It’s quite disillusioning. Kaiser Wilhelm is well-known for allowing pet projects (the High Seas Fleet) and what amounts to an inferiority complex compared to his English relatives distort national policy, but he is by no means alone in these flaws.

A difference between then and now, if I may interject a degree of anti-cynicism, is that today’s leaders have to at least demonstrate a degree of intelligence and cunning, inasmuch as they need to earn their jobs.

A monarch is much likelier to be simply stupid and incompetent, since they inherit the job. Wilhelm II was by all accounts a fool.

He’s on a roll.

… yeah, I got nothin …

Not in the United States. :slight_smile:

Didn’t some of his contempoaries (including German ones) speculate that he was mad? I remember thinking at several points when i read Dreadnought last year “Jesus, what a fuck-up this guy is”.

Don’t know if it works the same way in Germany, but as far as the rest of the world goes, the best thing to happen to the reputation of Kaiser Wilhelm and the German WWI leadership was Hitler and the WWII leadership. It’s like the way even a homely girl looks good when she’s standing next to her plug ugly sister. Compared to Hitler, the Kaiser starts too look borderline attractive, at least after a drink or two.

Hitler’s rhetoric that Germany surrendered without being invaded, would lead one to think that the first think he should do is bring back the Kaiser from exile and turn power over to him. Some German officers visited the Kaiser despite an order forbidding it.

Make another joke like that about Wilhelm, and I’ll scream.

The Kaiser, exiled in the Netherlands, did send Hitler a message after its surrender in 1940, saying "My Fuhrer, I congratulate you and hope that under your marvellous leadership the German monarchy will be restored completely."

Hitler remarked to his valet, “What an idiot!”