The German Empire was founded in January 1871. Under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany became the powerhouse of Europe. Their economic and military powers were pre-eminent. Germany’s science and technology, education, and municipal administration were the envy of the world.
But Germany also played a decisive role in tipping Europe’s fragile balance of power over the brink and into the cataclysm of the First World War, eventually leading to the empire’s collapse in military defeat and revolution in November 1918.
World War I, centered in Europe, began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. It involved all the world’s great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (originally centered around the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; but, as Austria–Hungary had taken the offensive against the agreement, Italy did not enter into the war). These alliances both reorganized (Italy fought for the Allies), and expanded as more nations entered the war. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilized in one of the largest wars in history. More than 9 million combatants were killed.
The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Yugoslav nationalist was the trigger of the war. It resulted in a Hapsburg ultimatum against the Kingdom of Serbia. Several alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked, so within weeks the major powers were at war. The conflict soon spread around the world.
By the end of the war Germany and Russia lost a great amount of territory, while the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were dismantled entirely. The map of central Europe was redrawn into several smaller states.