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Frederick the Great, Part II

Frederick the Great, Part II

Christoph Werner

Translation by Christoph Werner (Weimar, Thuringia) and Michael Leonard (Petaluma, California)

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In this Part II of my reflections on King Frederick the Great I would like to call back to mind the importance of Frederick's rule for German and European history, dispensing with listing his numerous military and domestic undertakings.

Most historians are agreed that Frederick exerted a decisive influence on the course of German and European history. In the conflicts of the 40s and 50s of the 18th century he contributed to the further weakening of the disintegrating Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The lasting struggle between Austria and Prussia over the supremacy in Germany, which was started or at least advanced by him was to become for more than a century one of the most important political driving forces in Germany and Central Europe, and only ended when Prussia gained victory over the German Confederation, led by Austria, in the year of 1866.

For good reasons Frederick was later reproached with having prevented the formation of a unified Germany that included all of the important German-speaking regions in Central Europe. It is correct that he felt neither sympathy nor understanding for the German national feeling that had started to develop. Therefore it is wrong to regard him as an early protagonist of a German nation state as some historians in the 19th and 20th centuries did.

His renewed attack in the year 1744 in the Second Silesian War against Austria, for example, prevented the recovery of Alsace by Austria and thus its reinclusion into the Holy Roman Empire. And in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) he repeatedly offered France territories in western Germany in the hope of dividing the coalition of his enemies.

And yet Frederick rightfully deserves the admiration which many in Germany felt for him. Though he was conservative in his social policies and intellectual outlook, he felt all his life in agreement with the spiritual and political currents of enlightenment and the contemporary efforts at tolerance and humanity.

Moreover, Frederick the Great put into the Prussians and later the Germans a sense of duty, incorruptibility, efficiency and discipline, for which his father had laid the foundations.

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