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Over the past few weeks in Berlin, I have noticed a number of differences and similarities between Beavercreek, Ohio (the town I grew up in) and Berlin. One of the most striking differences, aside from the native language, between Berlin and Beavercreek is the sheer size of Berlin. Beavercreek, suburb of Dayton, a town with a population less than 150,000 people, has a population of less than 50,000 people. On the other hand, Berlin’s population is estimated to be a little under 3.5 million people. This is a huge difference in the number of people living in the same city/town. The population difference contributes to a difference in the way of life. For example, the modes of transportation between the two cities can be quite different. In Beavercreek, there is no public transportation (aside from schooling buses) and so everyone must either walk or drive their own cars. However, Berlin has an extensive public transportation system that allows those who do not wish to drive or who do not own a car to travel quickly and efficiently. Public transportation is more necessary in Berlin, in part, because of the large population of Berlin would cause numerous extensive traffic jams if everyone in Berlin drove a car everywhere. The demographics of Beavercreek and Berlin are also different. Berlin has a large immigrant population, especially Turkish. Beavercreek, however, has a very small immigrant population, which is mostly Asian. The last difference I shall point out deals with money. In general, most cities in America, including Beavercreek, uses credit cards to purchase almost everything. However, in Berlin, and Germany in general, most of the business transactions are done with cash and a large number of places don’t accept credit cards. This stark difference shows how differently the two cultures view money and the use of it. Additionally, another striking difference is that a glass of water in Beavercreek is free while, in Berlin, I have found that a glass of water can cost between one and three Euros. The same goes with public toilets where they cost money in Europe and are free in America.
Despite numerous differences between Beavercreek and Berlin, some aspects of the cities remind me of the other. The neighborhood that our hotel is in, for example, reminds me of my neighborhood. The calmness of the neighborhood and the gardens are similar to my neighborhood, except there are more single family houses than apartment buildings. On my trip to Dresden, I observed the landscape. My hometown has numerous fields and patches of forests similar to those I saw as I left Berlin by bus. Such basic similarities, as those provided by nature, show how everyone is interconnected, even if they may not realize it.
The most defining achievement of Rathenau’s lifetime was his most notable, the founding of Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), however, that is not his sole achievement. Rathenau’s work founding AEG included many small achievements in itself and some of his achievements linked to other companies he worked with. In 1865, Rathenau founded a small machine factory. This small factory became one of Rathenau’s first successes as it produced a portable steam engine and quickly became profitable. However, by 1872, the banks and Rathenau’s co-owner wanted to change the company into a joint stock company. Rathenau strongly protested and filibustered this, which resulted in liquidation of the company in 1873.
Just under a decade later, in 1882, Rathenau obtained the rights to use Edison’s patents dealing with electricity. This move would be the beginning of Rathenau’s most known achievement, the founding of AEG. Rathenau founded “German Edison Corporation for Applied Electricity” (Deutsche Edison-Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität) less than a year after he acquired the rights. This company would later develop into AEG. Rathenau partnered with his competitor, Werner von Siemens, when founding this company in order to create a monopoly on electricity. Siemens would produce and sell generators while Rathenau would build the power stations and lay cables. Rathenau expanded his company’s reach when he signed a deal with the magistrate of Berlin in 1884 to allow Rathenau’s company the use of public streets for electricity lines. This deal between Rathenau and Berlin has been hailed as Germany’s first private-public partnership, an impressive achievement on its own. In 1887, Rathenau detaches his company from the American Edison Company and changes the company’s name to Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG). AEG, in 1891, transmitted power over 175 kilometers to Frankfurt from a power plant in Lauffen am Neckar. This marked another success, the start of alternating current being used for electrification in Germany. This also demonstrated that it could be economical to transfer electricity over large distances, a practice which AEG soon took up. As AEG continued to grow, Siemenes and Rathenau’s partnership began to deteriorate and the partnership ended in 1894. Rathenau then perused a different business style, focused more on flexible adaption to market. His new business style and Rathenau’s leadership allowed the company to grow even more. Rathenau’s son, Walther Rathenau, joined Rathenau in running the company in 1912 when Rathenau began to become sick. Walther ran the company after Rathenau’s death in 1915.
Rathenau’s lesser known achievements, such as the smaller, specific achievements his company achieved with his help, also contribute to Rathenau’s fame, especially in certain circles. However, Rathenau’s achievements are not solely what he accomplished during his lifetime but also the legacy he left behind. His company, which still exists today, has grown and expanded, a proper representation for the legacy of this successful and ambitious man.
During Rathenau’s life, a number of different kings or Emperors ruled Prussia, which became the German Empire in 1871. Friedrich Wilhelm III ruled for the first two years of Rathenau’s life. Friedrich Wilhelm IV ruled from 1840-1861 and Wilhelm I followed, ruling Prussia from 1861 to 1871. Beginning in 1871, Wilhelm I ruled as Emperor of the German Empire until 1888. For less than one year, Friedrich III ruled the German Empire in part of 1888. For the last years of Rathanau’s life, Wilhelm II ruled Prussia from 1888 to 1918.
In 1848, a rebellion in Austria and Hungary ended with much bloodshed both during the fighting and after due to executions. When the rebellion was ended, a change in political power in Austria to heads of government spurred Frederick Wilhelm IV to move against political opponents in his own country to prevent a rebellion in his country. He ordered 13,000 soldiers to march into Berlin to end street demonstrations. Frederick Wilhelm IV also replaced his prime minister, who was a constitution monarchist with a conservative military commander, Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg. Fifty thousand more troops were moved into Berlin to keep order. The bloodshed in other countries influenced Germans greatly and many thought if such violence and disorder occurred during reform, like in Austria and in the French Revolution, then it might be better to have slow reforms.
After the uprisings in 1848, Prussia became a constitutional monarchy under Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In 1861, Wilhelm I began his rule. He wanted to spend 90% of the nation’s budget on rebuilding the army that was in day after fighting with Austria and the southern German states in 1848 and 1849. However, when the Parliament disagreed with Wilhelm I and rejected his plans, Wilhelm I ignored the Parliament. He hired Otto von Bismarck to be prime and foreign minister. Bismarck raised the money to rebuild the army by implementing increased direct taxation. Rebuilding the army became somewhat necessary since, in 1866, a German-German war took place between Prussia and Austria. In the end, under Prussia, the North German Federation was founded (without Austria). A few years later, a German-French war occurred in 1871, provoked by Bismarck. As a result of this war, the Deutsches Reich (German Empire) was founded. Wilhelm I was Emperor, “Kaiser”, of this new empire and Bismarck was the Chancellor. Berlin became the seat of government for Prussia and the German Empire as a result of the 1871 war. The German Empire would last under Wilhelm II until 1918, the end of WWI. In 1884, the first colonies were claimed by the German Reich. Wilhelm II also fired Bismarck and was determined to create a navy larger than Britain’s because he felt threatened. His bad sense of diplomacy regarding Britain and alliance with Austria with made him largely responsible for WWI.
Since he was a Jew, it is important to consider the attitudes of the people and government towards Jews during Rathenau’s life. Even before Rathenau was an adult, anti-Semitism was already beginning. Richard Wagner, a writer, wrote his first anti-Semitic article in 1850, called Das Judentum in der Musik, which condemned all Jews and proposed they be removed from cultural life. During the late 1800s, Hugo Preuss, a Jew and liberal politician, was denied for a professorship multiple times because of his Jewish background. Despite much negativity, almost all German states had given Jews full legal equality by 1868. By mid-April 1871, full rights for Jews became Imperial Law for the entire Prussia.
However, anti-Semitism was still rising during the time. In fact, the term anti-Semitism would not be used until it was coined in a book called The Victories of Judaism over Germanism by William Marr in 1879. It was also in 1879 that the anti-Semitism movement really took off. The “Christian Social Workers Party” was founded by Adolph Stoecker in 1879 and was a front for boycotting Jewish businesses. This was the first time that Jew became considered as an indicator of race instead of religion. Stoecker and his party made anti-Semitism a national issue over the next few years. Some influential people did speak against anti-Semitism and signed a declaration against anti-Semitism in 1880. However, this didn’t have much of an influence on Otto von Bismarck, who was Chancellor from 1871-1890. Bismarck accepted an anti-Semitic petition in April 1881 that included a ban on Jewish immigration.
Over the next years, anti-Semitism continued to grow. In September of 1882, the first international anti-Jewish congress was held in Dresden, with Stoecker presiding over it. In 1887, Theodor Fritisch founded an anti-Semitic publishing house, Hammer Publishing House. Despite the fall of Stoecker’s party in 1892, anti-Semitism was still respectable and somewhat popular.
Not all people hopped on the anti-Jewish bandwagon, however. In 1893, the Central Society of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith was created in order to defend Jews against libels and in 1901, the Relief Society for German Jews was founded to help Eastern European Jews immigrate to Germany. This helped increase the number of Jews in Germany, which also increased anti-Jewish feelings in some. Werner Sombart, an economist and historian, published a treatise in 1910 which blamed the evils of capitalism on Jews.
Despite anti-Jewish feelings from many, Jews were well represented in many aspects, such as science. Emilie Berliner, an inventor and writer, for example, believed that Orthodox Judaism was compatible with the world of science. Berliner, like Rathaneu, was also heavily influenced by Edison’s inventions. Along the same lines, other Jews proved that science could correlate with religion. Paul Ehrlich developed the ability to study blood cells by injecting dyes during the late 1800s. In 1906, Von Wasserman developed a test for the diagnosis of syphilis. Not all successful Jews of the time were scientists however. In 1912, there were 12 Jewish members of the Reichstag (out of a total of 100 members).
The Reichstag was not the only thing with increasing numbers of Jews. From about 47,500 Jews in 1871 to 200,000 Jews in 1910, the city of Berlin itself also saw an increase in the Jewish population. By 1910, the Jewish population accounted for about 10% of Berlin’s population.
In general, despite the rising anti-Jewish sentiment of the time by some, Jews during Rathenau’s life could still become successful, especially in science related fields. Rathenau himself is an example of this, running an extremely successful business, despite being Jewish.
The uprisings in 1848 were encouraged by mass unemployment and reduced wages due to a decline in the textile industry, couple with increased food prices due to poor harvests. However, unemployment decreased in the 1850s when the industrial production and foreign trade in Berlin doubled. Amongst this working population, the living standards began to worsen. The spread of disease increased with the rapid urbanization brought on by this industrial revolution. Berlin became the financial and industrial capital of Germany after the 1871 war with the French. It also became a center for science and medicine at some point in the 50s. Living standards slowly increased but were still not at high levels. During 1890, the average income for a working-class family was 1700 marks, varying between the level of the job held. In order to pay for all expenses, such as rent, heating, and food, families had to be frugal.
Due to the industrial revolution in the late 1800s and the large influx of immigrants, the population of Berlin increased from two to four million people, becoming the 6th largest city in the world at the time. The rapid growth industrial revolution contributed to the development of the worst industrial slums of Europe in Berlin at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Additionally, the industrial revolution attracted immigrants, as people moved to Berlin in search of new job opportunities. The less than ideal working and living conditions were responsible for many protests and strikes that became more frequent during the time as well, especially those due to workers’ rights. However, Berlin had a number of regulations that protected workers against exploitation by employers, such as minimum wage, inspected working conditions and banishment of child labor.
Emil Moritz Rathenau was born in Berlin on December 11, 1838. His father was a wealthy Jewish businessman named Moritz Rathenau. He is a German industrialist and a leading figure in early European electrical industry. As a child, Rathenau attended the Berlin boys’ school of Marggraf and high school. He left the school after Obersekunda (seventh year of German secondary school).
From 1855-1859, Rathenau received practical training in engineering under his uncle in Lower Silesia. He studied Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnikum in Hannover and also at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) from 1859-1862. Interestingly, Albert Einstein later attended the same school and taught as a professor from 1909-1912. Rathenau spent a short period of time at the August Borsig locomotive factory in Berlin and went to England for two years, where he engaged in engineering works and deepened his technical knowledge. In 1865, Rathenau acquired a small machine factory in Berlin with his high school friend, Julius Valentin. Rathenau successfully ran the company and profitably produced unit steam engines. When Rathenau could not prevent the eventual conversion of the company into a joint stock corporation, he resisted the plan and the operation was later liquidated because of founder crisis. He left the company with business reputation temporarily damaged.
In the following ten years, Rathenau was pulled back from professional life and traveled extensively across the globe. He attended the 1873, 1876, and 1878 world exhibitions in Vienna, Philadelphia, and Paris, respectively. In 1881, Rathenau attended the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris and was fascinated by Thomas Edison’s improved incandescent bulb. Rathenau thought of machines as “the tools for the future” and in 1883, he founded the Deutsche Edison-Gesellschaft fur Angewandte Elektriciatät (German Edison Society for Applied Electricity) based on Thomas Edison’s patents, for which he acquired the right to use across Europe. The company was later renamed Allegmeine-Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG, , General Electricity Incorporated) in 1887, when Rathenau detached the company from the American Edison Company. AEG eventually developed into a worldwide enterprise, operating in 18 countries, including: Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Rathenau possessed a well-acclaimed “Manager Entrepreneur” leadership style, unlike the Siemens’ family-run business style of the time. At the turn of the 20th century, he successfully led the company to thrive from the electrical industry crisis through aggressive sales strategies and active patent acquisitions.
Additionally, in February of 1884, Rathanau and the Magistrate of Berlin signed an agreement that allowed Rathanau’s company the use of public streets for electricity lines. In return, the agreement also stated that the city received ten percent of the income. The agreement has been called Germany’s first private-public partnership by energy experts. Almost two decades later, in 1903, Rathenau partnered with his competitor, Werner von Siemens, noted German engineer, and established the Telefunken Gesellschaft für drahtlose Telegraphie mbH. Rathenau was also the first to produce aluminum in Germany for industrial use.
Rathenau not only managed a successful business career but also enjoyed a satisfying family life. In 1866, Rathenau married Mathilde Nachmann. They had two sons, Walter and Erich, and a daughter, Edith. Walther Rathenau, the elder son, would become a famous industrialist, politician, and economist. Walther became the president of AEG after Emil’s death on June 20, 1915.
Rathenau and his wife, Mathilde (1881)