An army with a country

In this material we will describe some of the most important aspects of German culture and try to explain the spiritual development of this nation involved in many events which shaped the course of the world.

Germania was the Roman term for the historical region in north-central Europe initially inhabited mainly by Germanic tribes. Unlike Spain, France, and England, the Roman Empire was never able to conquer Germany… or Germania as the Romans called it. Rome came very close, but something very strange stopped Rome in its tracks.

You have to consider that Germania at this time was essentially one huge forest, which was very, well empty. No cities to conquer, the first German cities were actually founded by the Romans, like  Aachen, Cologne or Trier. The Germans were primitive tribesmen and had little to offer to the Roman Empire. Yet they were warlike and fought many hard battles against them. Although the Roman armies were generally much more advanced with regard to arms technology and tactics.

East of the Rhine it stretched on and on, dark, solid, and terrifying. Caesar talked to Germans who had journeyed through it for two months without a glimpse of sunlight. Tacitus was appalled by its vastness, its impenetrable marshes, its brutal winters and its cloaking, soaking fog. In Gaul there were roads down which his legions could march, conquering what would later become France and giving it political cohesion. In the trackless wild-wood to the east this was impossible, and so we see the beginning of an unhappy chain of events.

Another fact that should be taken into account is that the Roman invasion actually created a dangerous enemy for the Roman Empire, as the German tribes of that time were rather small groups that were hostile towards each other.  Only the threat of Roman aggression allowed leaders like Arminius or Marbod to unite them into larger groups that presented a real threat at the Roman borders.

The Germanic king originally had three main functions:

  • To serve as judge during the popular assemblies.
  • To serve as a priest during the sacrifices.
  • To serve as a military leader during wars.

According to the testimony of Tacitus (Germania), some early Germanic peoples had an elective monarchy already in the 1st century.

They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.

Germanic paganism refers to the ethnic religion practiced by the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages.  The worship of nature and war  was an essential element of early Germanic culture.

Another practice was the Germanic pagan custom of offering up weapons to their gods. In southern Scandinavia, there are about 50 sites where weapons have been thrown into a lake and sacrificed after the weapons were partially destroyed or rendered useless.

Germany, remaining formless, failed to develop into a national state during the Middle Ages; it was, not a nation but a name, an utopic dream.

But politics is only a symptom. The primeval forest had a profound effect on the people themselves, and it may be the most important single key to the mystery of why the Germans have behaved as they have.

As a constant note throughout the German centuries; give a German an afternoon off and he will pack a lunch, assemble his family, and vanish into the trees. Certainly the first primitive Teutons were capable of emigrating had they so wished. Even Tacitus was impressed by them. To him they were noble savages, hardy warriors. All accounts of that time agree that they were supple and powerfully built, with fair complexions and reddish-brown hair.

English historian Edward Gibbon observed that  Germany is  filled with a hardy race of men who “delighted in war,” who “spread terror and destruction from the Rhine to the Pyrenees,” and who, “through their poverty, bravery, obsession with honor, and primitive virtues and vices,  were a constant source of anxiety.” He concluded:

The Germans despised an enemy who appeared destitute either of power or of inclination to offend them.

 Virile, sentimental, insecure, melancholic and  distrustful of outsiders, the ancient German evolved into a tribal creature, happy only with his own Volk.

During the Middle Ages, Germanic peoples were successively converted to Christianity. The study of Germanic mythology has remained an important element of Germanic philology since the development of the field and the topic is an integral component of Heathenry, the modern revival of Germanic paganism. Elements of Germanic mythology has survived into modern Germanic folklore.

In time his outlook was complicated by a new religion, and particularly by the Protestant work ethic. But he continued to carry with him ancestral memories of tribal rituals: of the Germans of Moravia lighting bonfires atop hills on Midsummer Eve, say, or of a dying Teuton chieftain who would deliver a farewell sermon to his people and then ceremoniously bum himself to death in front of the sacred oak tree.

Always there was the interplay of light and darkness. Around the flickering fire, all was familiar.

There lovers dallied, and boys learned to fight pitilessly, and the strongest man ruled by right of club law, das Faustrecht,  which means Government by clubs or violence; the use of arms or force in place of law.

Each tribe had its own version of the superstition, and since it was hardy, with roots older than recorded history, it was unthreatened by the rise of Christianity. The murder of unwanted baby girls at birth persisted into the eleventh century. During the seventeenth century some hindered thousand Germans were executed for witchcraft. And there was nothing chivalrous about Teutonic tournaments. The object was mayhem. A knight entered the lists determined to hack to death as many fellow knights as he could; in one medieval tourney near Cologne, over sixty men were slain. Conversion to Rome had been deceptive. The old and the new were simply fused together. In time the Germans adorned the feast of the Nativity with colorful pagan symbols, notably the Christmas tree , and in some communities they transformed the local pagan legend into a Christian tale.

 Old Prussians were the indigenous peoples from a cluster of Baltic tribes that inhabited the region of Prussia. During the 13th century, the Old Prussians were conquered by the Teutonic Order. The former German state of Prussia took its name from the Baltic Prussians, although it was led by Germans. The Teutonic Knights and their troops transferred the Baltic Prussians from southern Prussia to northern Prussia. Many Old Prussians were also killed in crusades requested by Poland and the popes, while others were assimilated and formally accept Christianity as an official religion, but their Germanic spirit remains untouched. The Duchy of Prussia was created through partial secularization of the State of the Teutonic Order.  It was a vassal of the Kingdom of Poland and was governed by Duke Albert of Prussia, a member of a cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern.

Due to his wartime experiences, Frederick William was convinced that Brandenburg-Prussia would only prevail with a standing army. Traditionally, raising and financing army reserves was a privilege of the estates, yet Frederick William envisioned a standing army financed independently of the estates. He succeeded in getting the consent and necessary financial contributions of the estates.

Frederick William,  the “Soldier-King” obsessed with the army and achieving self-sufficiency for his country. The new king dismissed most of the artisans from his father’s court and granted military officers precedence over court officials. Punishments were draconian nature, such as running the gauntlet,  and despite the threat of hanging, many peasant conscripts deserted when they could. Uniforms and weaponry were standardized. Pigtails and, in those regiments which wore it, facial hair were to be of uniform length within a regiment; soldiers who could not adequately grow beards or moustaches were expected to paint an outline on their faces. Frederick William reduced the size of his father  gaudy royal guard to a single regiment, a troop of taller-than-average soldiers known as the Potsdam Giants.

The first garrison began construction in Berlin in 1764. While Frederick William I wanted to have a mostly native-born army, Frederick II wanted to have a mostly foreign-born army, preferring to have native Prussians be taxpayers and producers. The Prussian Army consisted of 187,000 soldiers in 1776, 90,000 of whom were Prussian subjects in central and eastern Prussia. By the end of Frederick’s reign, the army had become an integral part of Prussian society and numbered 200,000 soldiers, making it the third largest in Europe after the armies of Russia and Austria. The social classes were all expected to serve the state and its army — the nobility led the army, the middle class supplied the army, and the peasants composed the army. Minister Friedrich von Schrötter remarked that,

“Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country”

 In the 19th century the Prussian Army fought successful wars against Denmark, Austria and France, allowing Prussia to unify Germany, aside from Austria, establishing the German Empire in 1871.

Prussian virtues refers to the virtues associated with the historical Kingdom of Prussia, especially its militarism and the ethical code of the Prussian army, It has also significantly influenced wider German culture, such as the contemporary German stereotypes of efficiency, austerity and discipline.

The Prussian virtues may be summarized by the opening lines of the poem “Der alte Landmann an seinen Sohn” (“The Old Farmer to His Son”) by Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty. The text reads as follows: “Practice always fidelity and honesty / Until your cool grave; / And stray not the width of one finger/ From the ways of the Lord.” The poem was set to music by Mozart it was played daily by the carillon of the Potsdam Garrison Church where Frederick the Great was initially buried.

Since the defeat in World War II and the denazification campaign, historical German militarism has become anathema in German culture, focused on collective responsibility and atonement. At the same time, the related non-military, bourgeois virtues of efficiency, discipline and work morals remain in high standing. This has led to the concept of “Prussian virtues” being regarded with mixed feelings in modern-day Germany and these was the major factor that helped at re-unification of Germany and developing from a destroyed country after the war to a great power.

Information sources:

The Arms of Krupp – William Manchester


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