Imperial Germans is the common translation of the German word Reichsdeutsche (adj. reichsdeutsch). It refers to German citizens, and by the word sense means people coming from the German Empire; i.e., Imperial Germany or Deutsches Reich, which was the official name of Germany between 1871 and 1945 (and later when referring historically to these times).
The key problem with the terms reichsdeutsch, volksdeutsch, auslandsdeutsch, and related ones is that the usage of the words often depends on context, i.e. who uses them where and when. There are, in that sense, no general legal or "right" definitions, although during the 20th century, all terms acquired legal — yet also changing — definitions.
The reason for the differentiation is that there has been a historical shift in the meaning of what belonging to a nation means. Until the 19th century, a term such as German was not too meaningful, although the concept certainly existed. If anything, it was more seen as a cultural concept (including language, religion (in different forms), and already sometimes race in a vague sense). Only with the 1871 unification of Germany under Prussian leadership did some concepts acquire a legal-political meaning, which they have retained until now.
The German nationality law of 1913 finally established the citizenship of the German Reich, whereas earlier political rights (including the claim to receive identity papers and passports) derived from one's citizenship of one of the states of the German Empire. The citizens of some German states comprised also autochthonous or immigrant ethnic minorities of other than German ethnicity, which is why citizens of the German Empire always also comprised people of other ethnicity than the German (e.g. Danish, French, Frisian, Polish, Romani, Sorbian etc.). German citizenship is passed on from parent to child (ius sanguinis) whatever their ethnicity is. With naturalisation of aliens as German citizens, however, their eventual German ethnicity formed or still forms an advantage under certain circumstances (see Aussiedler).
In a second meaning, for someone considering themselves German but living abroad, Imperial German means any German who is a citizen of Germany, as opposed to someone living abroad (and usually without a German passport). Part of the identity of ethnic German minorities living abroad — a classic example are the Baltic Germans — was to define themselves as German, using the pre-1871 concept. However, Imperial Germans visiting the Baltic provinces in the late 19th century, for instance, resented the claims of the Baltic Germans to be German — for the Germans from Germany, to be German meant to be a citizen of the Reich, while for the Baltic Germans, it meant cultural-historical belonging.
The opposite of Imperial Germans is, then, depending on context and historical period, Volksdeutsche, Auslandsdeutsche (however, usually meaning German citizens living abroad), or a more specific term denoting the area of settlement, such as Baltic Germans or Volga Germans (Wolgadeutsche). After 1949 an analogous term, Bundesdeutsche (i.e. federal Germans), was colloquially used to distinguish de facto citizens of the West German Federal Republic of Germany, from people entitled to German citizenship, but as a matter of fact unwilling or unable to exercise it, such as citizens of East Germany and East Berlin, or of the Saar Protectorate.
Famous quotes containing the words germans and/or imperial:
“The Germans are called brutal, the Spanish cruel, the Americans superficial, and so on; but we are perfide Albion, the island of hypocrites, the people who have built up an Empire with a Bible in one hand, a pistol in the other, and financial concessions in both pockets. Is the charge true? I think it is.”
—E.M. (Edward Morgan)
“The imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.”
—William Shakespeare (15641616)