Austria and Germany – A Short History of Association and Separation

Origins of Germany

Unlike much of the rest of Europe, the Roman Empire failed to conquer the land east of the Rhine (the second longest river in Europe, after the Danube) which Julius Causer termed ‘Germania’. At this point in time (around 9 AD), various Germanic tribes, like the Saxons, the Cherusci and the Bavarii, occupied most of what is now modern Germany. Although Germany became united by many different empires over time, including the Frankish Empire, the Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, the distinct regions of Germany were never unified until much later.

The Habsburgs maintained a grip on the Holy Roman Empire from 1438 until 1806 which, in Europe, became increasingly fragmented as time continued. Eventually, it collapsed into ruin, with the German Confederation, made up of 39 distinct states, being formed in 1815 in order to act as a buffer between the bigger, more powerful states of Austria and Prussia, as well as discouraging aggressive territory grabs by France and Russia. This Confederation was united further by Otto von Bismarck who, in 1871, amalgamated all the distinct states into modern Germany. Whilst Germany once consisted of many singular, local states, in 1871 it became a recognised Global country. Kaiser Wilhelm II (the last German Emperor, who rose to power in 1888)’s desires for Germany to be a Global Empire with a navy that could rival that of the British and foreign territories to match were quite the opposite views of Bismarck, who preferred Germany to remain a local and quiet state.

Origins of Austria

Austria, referred to as Osterreich in German, was initially part of the Duchy of Bavaria, and from 1156 onwards an independent Duchy of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Much like Germany, the House of Habsburg ruled Austria until 1806, who used the Duchy of Austria as their seat of power from which they ruled. The remains of the Holy Roman Empire went on to form the Austrian Empire, which was the second largest power in Europe, just after the Russian Empire. Initially, the Austrian Empire was part of the German Confederation until it was later excluded following the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, it continued as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which disbanded at the end of the First World War. The true beginning of modern Austria began after this, from which point it became a distinct republic of its own.

Why the two are not one

Despite Austria’s desires to be a part of Germany, even adopting the name German Austria, the Treaty of Versailles (one of the peace treaties signed at the end of World War I), taken on in 1918, prevented this from happening. The later rule of the so called ‘Austrofascism’ encouraged more independent views, which were eventually crushed by the Nazi invasion and forced incorporation of Austria into Germany in 1938, which was termed by Nazi propaganda as ‘Anschluß’.

After the end of World War II in 1945, a new Austrian government was setup, consisting of more left-wing socialists, conservatives and communists, which, having played no part in the war, led to Austria being treated as a liberated, rather than defeated, country. Although being very similar, Austria and Germany have never reunified – a condition the Soviets required for them to be a free country. To strengthen this idea, the media reinforced the idea of a unique Austrian cultural identity; creating a new locality in Austria that was independent of Germany’s.


By Robin Burton

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