James Call: Expert! He isn't getting laid, because he's writing this blog! But he is still smarter and better than you. And all his opinions and facts are 100% accurate.
Reader "Damian" asks: When and how did Germany become a country?
Oh man, what a great question! Germany's unification is one of the most ass-kicking unifications of all time, and features one of my favorite practitioners of realpolitik, ladies and gentlemen, let's get a big round of applause for... OTTO. VON. BISMAAAAAAAARK!
Ok, so, back in the day, Northern Germany was the big nastay Kingdom of Prussia. Berlin was the Prussian capital, I'm pretty sure, and Prussia also stretched all the way out to Bonn (future Western German capital). In the Seven Years War, in which Frederick the Great invaded neighboring Saxony, Prussia kicked the asses of Russia, France, Austria, and Sweden, all at the same time. This marked Prussia as the military badasses of Europe for the next century and a half. Oh, except when they totally got their clocks cleaned by Napoleon Bonaparte, but that's a story for another time.
Point is, post-Napoleon, the old Holy Roman Empire (don't even BOTHER trying to understand that nonsense) was dissolved and a "German Confederation" was in its place. Problem is, these assorted Krauts really didn't have too much in common. The Prussians and the Frissians and the Bavarians were like Californians, Nevadans and Coloradoans. I.e., similar, but they'd hardly say that about each other. The Bavarians in particular were known for their foul manners and low breeding. These people didn't like each other so much.
But what these little states all had in common was that they were tired of being pushed around by France, Austria, etc. They were also the "workshops of Europe," really the birthplace of modern industrial development (along with England the U. S. of A.). During the tumult of the mid-19th century, communism was born here! Karl Marx was a German through and through, the good kind, the intellectual who called for states to be abolished and the workers to run the world. Sigh. A girl can dream, can't she?
But little dinky worker's revolts don't build big countries like Germany. Nope, modern warfare builds countries! So when Wilhelm I of Prussia named Bismark Chancellor in 1862, what did Bismark do, other than rapidly modernize the military and start laying down rail (later VERY important)? He started invading his neighbors.
In three successive wars, Prussia kicked the ass of the Austrians, the Southern German states, and France. Definitely the coolest war was the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. This was the first war to really rely heavily on rail (discounting the US Civil War, of course). While the French relied on traditional infantry and cavalry, the Prussians used railways to quickly reach the front - and managed to conquer all of Northern France, including Paris.
Of course, Bismark wasn't a barbarian, and that's what makes him so great. He let Paris go free and most of France return to the French. In exchange, he got recognition of a whole new country: Germany.
And that's how Germany was born! Iron and blood! That, and Bismark's top-notch ability to build alliances and take down ONE enemy at a time: Austria, then France, etc.
Germany was KEPT ALIVE by Bismark's crazy mad diplomacy skillz. He was able to make the peace with both Russia and Austria, to keep Germany's traditional enemy, France, isolated (Bismark was only on good terms with newly-unified Italy, as well as Britain).
Of course, when Kaiser Wilhelm II got the helms of the state, he totally disregarded Bismark's advice and was all "We can take on France and Russia at the same time! Get out of here, Otto!" Which any Risk player can tell you is a totally asinine strategy to pursue, but that's what he did, and then we got WWI, and then we got the Nazis, and then we got WWII, and then we got Kraftwerk, and I guess it's all good, but Wilhelm II should have listened to Bismark... maybe France would be owened by Germany today.
p.s.: Don't get me wrong though, Bismark was virulently anti-worker and wanted to completely crush the socialists, something he was not able to do, as vigorous socialist and communist parties and movements continued in Germany well up into the 1930s, when they were finally snubbed out by the Nazis.
RECOMMENDED READING: Play some Castle Risk! Try basing yourself in Germany and keeping yourself alive against both Russia and France. It can't be done. Or read any military history of the 19th and/or 20th century. They're all say the same thing.