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Receipt of Monies from France and Expenditures in Germany from the French War Indemnity (1870s)

After victory in 1871, the Germans imposed the unheard-of sum of five billion francs as a war indemnity on defeated France. This table details both revenues and expenses as this enormous influx of capital was channeled to various projects and German states. Apart from causing French antipathy, the resulting cash surplus stimulated economic growth (including unhealthy speculation) in Germany after 1871, which ended abruptly only a few years later. The sum of 4 million thaler designated as “endowments” was to honor victorious generals. But Kaiser Wilhelm’s generosity prompted fierce debate. To some Germans, this monetary windfall for a small group of senior officers seemed badly out of proportion with the suffering or death of those who actually did the fighting. To other observers it smacked of élitism and absolutism: only in a bygone age, not in the new German Empire, would a supreme warlord distribute war booty to his praetorians. War Minister Albrecht von Roon did not help the government’s cause when he declared in the Reichstag that ordinary foot-soldiers who had lost limbs in the war had already increased their honor. But in the end the generals got their money.

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War indemnity

5,000,000,000 Fr.



301,191,959 Fr.



5,303,191,959 Fr.

= 1,413,651,189 thalers




Paris contribution


53,505,865 thalers

Surplus of taxes and local contributions collected in France


17,600,000 thalers


Total sum

1,484,757,054 thalers

Minus value of railway in Alsace-Lorraine


86,666,666 thalers



 1,398,090,388 thalers




1. Reich Invalid Fund


187,000,000 thalers

2. War invalid pensions before Reich Invalid Fund


16,196,674 thalers

3. Compensation for war damages and contributions


38,800,000 thalers

4. Indemnification of German Shipping Company


5,600,000 thalers

5. Restructuring and equipping German fortresses


72,000,000 thalers

6. Restructuring and equipping fortresses in Alsace-Lorraine


43,280,950 thalers

7. Expansion of railways in Alsace-Lorraine


57,205,887 thalers

8. Reich War Treasury


40,000,000 thalers

9. Compensation for Reich expenditures for warfare, indemnification for railway administrations, restoration of war maps, war memorial coins


43,120,793 thalers

10. Occupation costs


21,815,000 thalers

11. Surplus costs of occupying army in Alsace-Lorraine


4,581,938 thalers

12. Expansion of the navy


31,949,890 thalers

13. Firing range of artillery testing commission


1,618,267 thalers

14. Amount towards operating fund of the Reich Treasury and towards firm advances for the Army Administration


8,270,000 thalers

15. Assumption of tariff and tax credits granted by German states


19,792,719 thalers

16. Construction of Reichstag building


8,000,000 thalers

17. Assistance for the Germans expelled from France


2,000,000 thalers

18. Endowments


4,000,000 thalers

19. Purchase of the Radziwill-Palace in Wilhelmstraße


2,011,328 thalers



607,243,446 thalers






790,846,942 thalers

With interest approx.


793,000,000 thalers

Bavarian share


90,200,411 thalers

Remaining for the other German states


702,799,589 thalers

For their common account, towards paying off the Reich debt for coastal fortifications, extension of office buildings, etc.



6,119,000 thalers

Württemberg receives


28,500,870 thalers

Remaining for North German Confederation, Baden, and South Hesse


668,179,719 thalers

For the common account:



Operating fund of the postal administration

1,750,000 thalers


Restoration of the army

106,846,810 thalers

108,596,810 thalers

Remaining for distribution among


559,582,609 thalers

North German Confederation

530,116,053 thalers



20,133,182 thalers


South Hesse

9,333,674 thalers

559,582,909 thalers

Source: F. Hirsch, ed., Gebhardts Handbuch der Deutschen Geschichte [Gebhardt's Handbook to German History], 6th ed. Stuttgart, 1923, vol. 3, pp. 740-41.

Original German data reprinted in Johannes Hohlfeld, Deutsche Reichsgeschichte in Dokumenten 1849-1934 [The History of the German Reich in Documents 1849-1934]. Berlin, 1927, pp. 85-86.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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