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Mitteleuropa (pronounced [ˈmɪtl̩ʔɔʏˌroːpa]), meaning Middle Europe, is one of the German terms for Central Europe.[1] The term has acquired diverse cultural, political and historical connotations.[2][3][4]

The Prussian vision of Mitteleuropa was a pan-Germanist state-centric imperium, an idea that was later adopted in a modified form by Nazi geopoliticians.[5][6][7]


The German term "Mitteleuropa" is not used or understood in the same way in all areas of Europe. The term has also been used differently over time. In Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and northern Italy, especially in Friuli and Trieste, the common definition is somewhat different from that in Germany: Mitteleuropa is equated with the successor states of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Regions such as the Baltic States and the North German-Polish plains are perceived as "Northern European", other parts of Germany as "Western European". For example, the today Central European (Mitteleuropean) Order of St. Georg has its centers mainly in the area of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.[8][9]

Conceptual history[edit]

Medieval migrations[edit]

By the mid-14th century, when the Black Death brought an end to the 500-year-long Ostsiedlung process, populations from Western Europe had moved into the "Wendish" Central European areas of Germania Slavica far beyond the Elbe and Saale rivers. They had moved along the Baltic coast from Holstein to Farther Pomerania, up the Oder river to the Moravian Gate, down the Danube into the Kingdom of Hungary and into the Slovene lands of Carniola. From the mouth of the Vistula river and the Prussian region, the Teutonic Knights by force continued the migration up to Estonian Reval (Tallinn). They had also settled the mountainous border regions of Bohemia and Moravia and formed a distinct social class of citizens in towns like Prague, Havlíčkův Brod (German Brod), Olomouc (Olmütz) and Brno (Brünn). They had moved into the Polish Kraków Voivodeship, the Western Carpathians and Transylvania (Siebenbürgen), introducing the practice of crop rotation and German town law.

Different visions of Mitteleuropa[edit]

In the first half of the 19th century, ideas of a Central-European federation between the Russian Empire and the West European great powers arose, based on geographical, ethnic and economic considerations.

The term Mitteleuropa was formally introduced by Karl Ludwig von Bruck and Lorenz von Stein, a first theorization of the term attempted in 1848,[10] with the aim of a series of interlocking economic confederations.[11] However, plans advocated by the Austrian minister-president, Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg, foundered on the resistance of the German states. After the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Prussian-led unification of Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871, Austria had to abandon its claim to leadership and thereafter used Mitteleuropa to refer to the lands of Austria-Hungary in the Danube basin. In Austria, the Mitteleuropa concept evolved as an alternative to the German question, equivalent to an amalgamation of the states of the German Confederation and the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire under the firm leadership of the Habsburg dynasty.

Political and ethnic visions of a Mitteleuropa began to dominate in Germany. After the Revolutions of 1848 liberal theorists like Friedrich List and Heinrich von Gagern, socialists and then later groups like the German National Liberal Party would adopt the idea. However, a distinct Pan-German notion accompanied by the concept of a renewed settler colonialism would become associated with the idea. In the German Empire, the Ostforschung concentrated on the achievements by ethnic Germans in Central Europe on the basis of ethnocentrism with significant anti-Slavic, especially anti-Polish notions, as propagated by the Pan-German League. By 1914 and the Septemberprogramm, Mitteleuropa, meaning central Europe under the control of Germany, had become a part of German hegemonic policy.[12]

The Prussian Mitteleuropa Plan[edit]

Alleged map of German plans for a new political order in Central and Eastern Europe after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of February 9, 1918, Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 3, 1918 and Treaty of Bucharest of May 7, 1918.
  Germany and its allies
  Areas of Russian parts of Poland and parts of Armenia/Georgia to be annexed by Germany/Turkey
  Semi-autonomous states under full German control – planned annexation
  New countries – economically and administratively dependent on Germany
  Ukraine – under German economic control
  Planned Tatar Republic – area of German control
  Countries politically and economically tied with Germany
  Planned Transcaucasian Republic – politically tied with Germany
  Semi-autonomous Cossack states inside Russia – German sphere of influence

The Mitteleuropa plan was to achieve an economic and cultural hegemony over Central Europe by the German Empire[13][14] and subsequent economic and financial exploitation[15][16] of this region combined with direct annexations,[15] making of puppet states, and the creation of puppet states for a buffer between Germany and Russia. The issue of Central Europe was taken by German thinker Friedrich Naumann in 1915 in his work Mitteleuropa. According to his thought, this part of Europe was to become a politically and economically integrated bloc subjected to German rule. In his program, Naumann also supported programs of Germanization and Hungarization as well.[17] In his book, Naumann used imperialist rhetoric combined with praises to nature, and imperial condescension towards non-German people, while advising politicians to show some "flexibility" towards non-German languages to achieve "harmony".[13] Naumann wrote that it would stabilize the whole Central-European region.[18] Some parts of the planning included designs on creating a new state in Crimea and have the Baltic states to be client states.[19]

The ruling political elites of Germany accepted the Mitteleuropa plan during World War I while drawing out German war aims and plans for the new order of Europe.[17] Mitteleuropa was to be created by establishing a series of puppet states whose political, economic and military aspects would be under the control of the German Reich.[20] The entire region was to serve as an economic backyard of Germany, whose exploitation would enable the German sphere of influence to better compete against strategic rivals like Britain, the United States.[20] Political, military and economic organization was to be based on German domination,[21] with commercial treaties imposed on countries like Poland and Ukraine. It was believed that the German working classes could be appeased by German politicians through the economic benefits of territorial annexation, a new economic sphere of influence, and exploitation of conquered countries for the material benefit of Germany.[22] Partial realization of these plans was reflected in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where guarantees of economic and military domination over Ukraine by Germany were laid out.[23] The Mitteleuropa plan was viewed as a threat by the British Empire, which concluded it would destroy British continental trade and diminish its military power.[14]

Other visions of Mitteleuropa[edit]

While Mitteleuropa describes a geographical location, it also is the word denoting a political concept of a German-dominated and exploited Central European union that was put into motion during the First World War. The historian Jörg Brechtefeld describes Mitteleuropa as the following:

The term Mitteleuropa never has been merely a geographical term; it is also a political one, much as Europe, East and West are terms that political scientists employ as synonyms for political ideas or concepts. Traditionally, Mitteleuropa has been that part of Europa between East and West. As profane as this may sound, this is probably the most precise definition of Mitteleuropa available.[24]

Mitteleuropean literature of the period between the end of the 19th century and World War II has been the subject of renewed interest, starting in the 1960s. Pioneers in this revival have been Claudio Magris, Roberto Calasso, and the Italian publishing house Adelphi.[25] In the 1920s, French scholar Pierre Renouvin published eleven volumes of documents explaining that Germany decided to bail out Austria which they believed was threatened with economic disintegration by Serbian and other nationalist movements. J Keiger maintained in the debate on the Fischer Controversy that confirmed this opinion rebutting revisionist arguments that Germany was looking for an excuse to occupy Austro-Hungary.[26]

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg's plan prepared for a Central European Economic Union. Published in September 1914, the program for interdependent development was designed to include France in a Central European Customs Federation. The German occupation of Belgium was the first phase in this process, which ultimately failed to come to fruition. Plans to create a Duchy of Flanders and a Grand Duchy of Warsaw were discussed as political units of future "localized" administration. The original economic plan was conceived pre-1914 by Walther Rathenau and Alfred von Gwinner, respectively, with the legal support of Hans Delbrück. It was a Customs Union consistent with a history of the Zollverein and German Confederation of the 19th century, in which German philosophers believed in the wider sustainability of a Greater Europe. There were concerns from Schoenbeck and others that it would make Germany too inward-looking, but Mitteleuropa gained the support of von Hertling, later a Chancellor and Kurt Kuhlmann, the diplomat. The major sticking point was continued and exclusive German access to Austrian markets, while in the mind of others, like von Falkenhausen, mastery of competition was not possible before military mastery of Europe.[27]

An extension of Mitteleuropa was the Longwy-Briey basin. Capturing this mining area west of Alsace-Lorraine, already annexed since 1871, was a major part of the Schlieffen Plan and Germany's war aims. The high plateau dominated the French interior, giving the German army a wide range of fire. But the area also contained immensely prized deposits of iron. These were essential to both France and German war efforts. The development of heavy industry was a central feature of economic policy "under Imperial Protective Administration." Initially, Roedern, the Reich treasurer, was deeply skeptical that a plan to "incorporate" French assets into a customs union and federation would succeed, but civilian doubts were overcome by January 1915, and by 26 August 1916, it was official German policy.

The first port of Mitteleuropa was Antwerp: Belgium's occupation in August 1914 was suggestive of partition. Anglophile Albert Ballin, therefore, set up a "German–Belgian trading company" to transfer assets and people from the occupied territories back to the Reich. The Post Office was to become German, and so too the railways, and the banks, all overseen by an Economics Committee, which would be a liaison group between private enterprise and the public sector. Belgian capital markets were absorbed into Karl von Lumm's Report, and all currency issued was backed by the Reichsbank. German obsession with the "Race to the Sea" and right to Belgian seaports continued to be a major policy initiative in the Memorandum of "Attachement" maritime security persisted in the German-Luxembourg Customs Association finally completed on 25 November 1915. Much of the theoretical work would be carried out by Six Economic Associations discussed in memoranda from Spring 1915 designated so as to set Germany free from British tutelage.

Mitteleuropa also had its opponents inside Germany. Erich Marcks, a historian from Magdeburg and a member of SPD, had referred to "that great European idea" before the war. And then, in March 1916, he urged the Chancellor to renew calls in the Reichstag for a public debate on the war's aims.


Mitteleuropa is also used in a cultural sense to denote a fertile region whose thought has brought many fruits, artistic and cultural. It is also sometimes denote with the expression "Habsburg thought and culture."[28] The rich Mitteleuropean literary and cultural traditions include Polish philosophy, Czech avantgarde literature, Hungarian social theory and science, Austrian lyric poetry, and the common capacity for irony and linguistic prowess.[29]

According to the Jewish Hungarian writer György Konrád, the Mitteleuropean spirit is "an aesthetic sensibility that allows for complexity and multilingualism, a strategy that rests on understanding even one's deadly enemy," a spirit that "consist of accepting plurality as a value in and of itself."[30][31] In Prague, in 1984, the journal Střední Evropa (Mitteleuropa) was founded, albeit characterized by a Catholic revisionist view nostalgic of the pre-1918 Habsburg Empire.[32] Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert wrote the poem Mitteleuropa, included in his 1992 book Rovigo (Wrocław).

Among the main writers of the literary Mitteleuropa are Joseph Roth (1894–1939), Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), Arnold Zweig (1887–1968) and Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958).[33] Roth's novel Radetzky March is a study of the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,[33] via the story of a family’s elevation to the nobility.

Other authors that have been catalogued as of Mitteleuropean literature are the Hungarians Sándor Márai (1900–1989), János Székely (1901–1958), Milán Füst (1888–1967), Ödön von Horváth (1901–1938); the Polish-Yiddish Israel Joshua Singer; the Czech-Austrians Leo Perutz (1882–1957), Alfred Kubin (1877–1959), Franz Werfel (1890–1945), Johannes Urzidil (1896–1970), Ernst Weiss (1882–1940); the Austrians Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1897–1976), Hermann Broch (1886–1951), Soma Morgenstern (1890–1976), Karl Kraus (1874–1936), Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), Peter Altenberg (1859–1919); the Croatian Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981); the Bulgarian Elias Canetti (1905–1994); the German Frank Wedekind (1864–1918); the Italians Italo Svevo (1861–1928), Claudio Magris (1939–), and Roberto Calasso (1941–); and the Swiss Carl Seelig (1894–1962).

Outside of fiction, eccentric scholars of Old Austria include Léopold Szondi, Eugen Heinrich Schmitt, and Josef Popper-Lynkeus.[28]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ LEO Ergebnisse für "Mitteleuropa"
  2. ^ Wendt, Jan 'Współpraca regionalna Polski w Europie Środkowej' Centrum Europejskie University of Warsaw, Studia Europejskie, nr 4/1998
  3. ^ Johnson, Lonnie (1996) Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends pp.6–12 quotation:

    it may refer to different things for different people. Its meaning changes in different national and historical contexts, or as Jacques Rupnik ... observed: "Tell me where Central Europe is, and I can tell who you are." For example, when Germans start talking about Central Europe, Mitteleuropa, or their historical relations with "the East," everyone starts getting nervous because this inevitably conjures up negative historical associations starting with the conquests of the Teutonic Knights in the Middle Ages and ending with German imperialism in the nineteenth century, World War I, the Third Reich, Nazi imperialism, World War II, and the Holocaust.

  4. ^ Bischof et al. (2000) p.558 quotation:

    I have identified at least seven different "definitions" of "Central Europe": Mitteleuropa (in the German imperial sense); German-Jewish Central Europe; the Central Europe of small (non-Germanic) nations (the Palacky-Masaryk tradition); the nostalgic, k.u.k. or Austro-Hungarian version of Mitteleuropa (without imperial Germans) which is related to the Austro-Hungarian version of Mitteleuropa in the 1970s and 1980s (Kreisky-Kadar-Busek); the Mitteleuropa of the West German left and peace movement in the 1980s; the "Central Europe" of Eastern European dissidents and intellectuals (for example, Milosz, Kundera, Konrad); and finally the "Central and Eastern Europe" of the European Union.

  5. ^ Hann, C. M. and Magocsi, Paul R. (2005) Galicia: A Multicultured Land, pp.178–9 quotation:

    The notion of Mitteleuropa carries diverse connotations, many far from positive. ... the Mitteleuropa fondly recalled by Habsburg-era nostalgics stands in clear oppositions to the Prussian understanding of Mitteleuropa. The Habsburg multi-national vision is a negation of the Prussian state-centric ideal first promoted by Friedrich Naumann and others, and later adopted by Nazi geopoliticians.

  6. ^ Eder, Klaus and Spohn, Willfried Collective Memory and European Identity pp.90–1, quotation:

    Not only has Central Europe been recovered from oblivion, but also the memory of past links, affinities and cultural commonalities between Italy and other Mitteleuropean countries — namely, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia — seems to have come to the forefront again. ... one should mention the role and the weight of Mitteleuropean literature in Italy. This genre has acquired considerable prominence among Italian readers and in cultural debates since the early 1960s, thanks to literary festivals such as Mittelfest and to the support of important publishing houses such as Adelphi. Authors such as ... are all read and known to Italians not only as Italian, Austria, Czech, Hungarian, etc, but also as Mitteleuropean. The well-known writer Claudio Magris contributed more than anybody else to the 1960s revival of Mitteleuropean culture and to the awareness of the existence of a common cultural koiné among those territories that were once part of the Habsburg Empire. ... The notion of Mitteleuropa, as authors such as Magris conceive it, has nothing to do with the notorious pan-Germanist interpretation of it that goes back to Frederich Naumann's Mitteleuropa (Le Rider 1995:97–106). The point of reference is, instead, the super-national, cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian Empire and its specific 'cultural and spiritual koiné'. ... there is no embarrassment surrounding the use of this term in Italy as is the case with Germany and Austria.

  7. ^ Bischof, Günter and Pelinka, Anton and Stiefel, Dieter (2000) The Marshall Plan in Austria p.552 quotation:

    the German-speaking world was the filter through which western European ideas were transmitted to central Europe; ... The frontier of this Mitteleuropa may correspond to the more benign Habsburg or, after 1867, the Austro-Hungarian version of Mitteleuropa as well as the more aggressive imperial German versions of Naumann's German "economic space" or Hitler's Lebensraum.

  8. ^ Erhard Busek, Emil Brix: Projekt Mitteleuropa. Vienna 1986.
  9. ^ Le Rider, Jacques "Mitteleuropa" (1995), pp 7.
  10. ^ Libardi, Massimo and Orlandi, Fernando (2011) 'Mitteleuropa, Mito, letteratura, filosofia', p.19
  11. ^ Atkinson, David and Dodds, Klaus (editors) Geopolitical Traditions: Critical Histories of a Century of Geopolitical Thought Routledge (2000) p41
  12. ^ Atkinson, David and Dodds, Klaus (editors) Geopolitical Traditions: Critical Histories of a Century of Geopolitical Thought Routledge (2000) p43-44
  13. ^ a b A history of eastern Europe: crisis and change Robert Bideleux, Ian Jeffries, page 12, Routledge 1998
  14. ^ a b The Challenge of Hegemony: Grand Strategy, Trade, and Domestic Politics Steven E. Lobell, page 52, University of Michigan Press
  15. ^ a b War and Punishment: The Causes of War Termination and the First World War Hein Erich Goemans, Princeton University, page 116 Press 2000
  16. ^ The First World War, 1914–1918 Gerd Hardach, page 235 University of California Press 1981
  17. ^ a b "A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526–1918." Robert Adolf Kann. University of California Press 1980
  18. ^ See^ Naumann, Mitteleuropa. Reimer, Berlin 1915
  19. ^ Czesław Madajczyk '"Generalna Gubernia w planach hitlerowskich. Studia"', Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warsaw, 1961, pp. 88–89
  20. ^ a b Imanuel Geiss, 'Tzw. polski pas graniczny 1914–1918'. Warsaw 1964
  21. ^ Barry Hayes, Bismarck and Mitteleuropa, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994, p.16
  22. ^ War and Punishment: The Causes of War Termination and the First World War. Hein Erich Goemans, page 115, Princeton University Press 2000
  23. ^ Coalition Warfare: An Uneasy Accord. Roy Arnold Prete, Keith Neilson, 1983, Wilfrid Laurier University Press
  24. ^ J. Brechtefeld, Mitteleuropa and German politics. 1848 to the present (London 1996)
  25. ^ (1983) Interview with Claudio Magris, in Dzieduszycki Michele Pagine sparse. Fatti e figure di fine secolo, [1]
  26. ^ J.F.V. Keiger, "The Fischer Controversy: the war origins debate and France: A non-history of Cambridge", Journal of Contemporary History, (2010), pp.373
  27. ^ Fischer, p.251
  28. ^ a b Johnston, William M. (2006) Österreichische Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte: Gesellschaft und Ideen im Donauraum 1848 bis 1938, p. xxxii
  29. ^ Günter Bischof, Anton Pelinka (eds.) Austria in the new Europe, p.17 quotation:

    Whose Mitteleuropa? There can be little doubt that if it is to be Mitteleuropa, it will be Arnheim's and not Count Leinsdorff's. Better that its peoples take their undoubtedly rich literary and cultural traditions-Polish philosophy or Czech avantgarde literature, Hungarian social theory and science, Austrian lyric poetry, the common capacity for irony and linguistic prowess, bittersweet neurotic love affairs and chocolate tortes.

  30. ^ Sara B. Young Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook p.40
  31. ^ György Konrád (1984) Der Traum von Mitteleuropa
  32. ^ Seán Hanley The New Right in the New Europe: Czech Transformation and Right-wing Politics, 1989–2006, p.51
  33. ^ a b Chamberlain, John (1933) "Books of The Times", The New York Times, October 17, 1933, quotation:

    It is one of the devices by which Joseph Roth manages to bind together his study of the disintegration of an empire ... "Radetzky March" is an example of the way a good sociological novel should be written. Great events are present only as they are reflected in the lives of the characters ... "Radetzky March" explains much about the European past. ... Joseph Roth ... is one of the galaxy of great novelists of Mitteleuropa [whose list] includes the two Zweigs and Feuchtwanger.


  • JFV Keiger, The Fischer Controversy, the War Origins Debate and France: A non-history of Cambridge, Journal of Contemporary History (London 2010), pp. 363–375
  • Fritz Fischer, The War Aims of Germany, 1914–1918, (1967)
  • J. Brechtefeld, Mitteleuropa and German politics. 1848 to the present (London 1996)