GERMANY: The Button

"We cannot have that thing sitting there, pointing like a dagger at England," explained a British officer.

"That thing" was Helgoland—the tiny, mile-long island, 28 miles north of Germany. In 1890, when Britain traded it to the Germans for Zanzibar and a chunk of continental Africa, it was considered a fine swap. "Like getting a whole suit of clothes for a single trouser button," crowed famed African Explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. By 1914 the Kaiser had spent $80 million turning Helgoland into an "unsinkable battleship."

After victory in 1918, the British tore down the fortifications, but in spite of the protests...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!