The article discusses constructs of collective identity among German speaking groups in two Polish-German border regions prior to the mid 19th century. It examines, on the one hand, the different contexts in which the notion of ‘German’ had been used as a marker of territorial, social, or reli-gious identity from the 16th to the 18th centuries. On the other hand, it outlines the emergence of patterns of national segregation in the first half of the 19th century. The author emphasises the discontinuity between pre-modern and modern concepts of ‘German identity’ in both regions: Until the end of the 18th century, ‘German’ was understood to indicate a specific social, linguistic, or confessional profile of individuals or groups, but never implied the idea of ‘national diversity’. Even in the early 19th century, German speakers maintained a marked sense of regional identification, and reacted weakly to national mobilisation processes.