In the early 1800s, German-speaking people lived in a number of small and medium-sized states, as well as in Prussia and the Austrian Hapsburg empire. Napoleon's invasions unleashed new forces in these lands, especially a sense of German nationalism. Early efforts to unify Germany failed, but by 1862 a strong-willed Prussian official, Otto von Bismarck, set out to build a strong, unified German state.
Napoleon rides triumphantly into Berlin. French rule inspired German nationalism and demands for a unified German state.
Between 1806 and 1812, Napoleon made important territorial changes in German-speaking lands. He annexed lands along the Rhine River for France. He dissolved the Holy Roman Empire by forcing the emperor of Austria to agree to the lesser title of king. He also organized a number of German states into the Rhine Confederation.
At first, some Germans welcomed the French emperor as a hero with enlightened, modern policies. He encouraged freeing the serfs, made trade easier, and abolished laws against Jews. However, not all Germans appreciated Napoleon and his changes. As people fought to free their lands from French rule, a sense of German nationalism emerged. They began to demand a unified German state.
Napoleon's defeat did not resolve the issue. At the Congress of Vienna, Metternich opposed nationalist demands. A united Germany, he argued, would require dismantling the governments of the many German states. Instead, conservative peacemakers created the German Confederation, a weak alliance headed by Austria.