In the 17th and 18th centuries, the state of Brandenburg was a rising star among the loose federation of German states. Brandenburg was ruled by the house of Hohenzollern, which from 1657 also ruled Prussia. When Friedrich III, the head of the house of Hohenzollern, crowned himself King of Prussia as Friedrich I in 1701, all of the lands under his control became known as Prussia.
During the 18th century, Prussia became the greatest rival to the Habsburg Austria empire, which had been the major force among the disunited German states. In 1740, Friedrich II, also known as Frederick the Great,was crowned King of Prussia. Under his rule, Berlin became a major European city.
Throughout the 1700s there was deep rivalry between the two, until the rise of Napoleon finally pushed them onto the same side, but not until Napoleon had defeated Prussia and entered Berlin in 1806. The Seventh Coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom was the final stage of the Napoleonic wars and culminated in Napoleon's ultimate defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The wars of liberation against Napoleon had led to a growth of nationalism and democratic awareness, as well as a desire for unification. The March Revolution broke out in 1848 in protest against the traditional, autocratic political structure of Germany's independent states. The urban middle class wanted more liberal policies and the working classes sought radical improvements to their working and living conditions.
The people of Berlin made their demands for democracy, unity and freedom of the press to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. He agreed hastily to quell the unrest that had led to battles between demonstrators, police and the Prussian army.
A Constituent National Assembly was elected in May 1848 and gathered as the all-German National Assembly in Frankfurt. The majority of the assembly were academics and liberals. Their mission was to find ways to unite the various German states into a single nation and to write a constitution, but they struggled to make any real decisions.
Although an elected Prussian National Assembly was established in May 1848, it was dissolved 6 months later when the King unilaterally imposed a monarchist Constitution as a way to undercut the democratic forces. Otto von Bismarck was elected to the very first Landtag under the new monarchical constitution.
Otto von Bismarck was a conservative Prussian statesman and in 1862 was appointed by King Wilhelm I as Minister President of Prussia. He was a dominant political force across Germany and Europe until 1890, skillfully engineering a series of wars against Denmark, Austria and France that united the German states into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership in 1871.
During this period, known as the Second Reich, industry boomed and the economy flourished, leading to a rise of workers' movements inspired by Karl Marx. In response, Bismarck established the world's first ever welfare state in an attempt to undermine the growing popularity of the socialist parties. He was committed to preserving peace in Europe and cementing unification. He remained as Chancellor until he was removed by the new King Wilhelm II in 1890.