History of Germany

From Wikipedia

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Note: The history of Germany is, in places, extremely complicated and depends much on how one defines "Germany". The reader is advised to examine which time and place he is interested in, and either continue reading this article or move on to any of the following entries:

  • A currently non-existant article on the lands of present-day Germany in Roman times and earlier. Perhaps this should go in this article, but I feel uncomfortable running from 55 AD or so, then sending readers off to Brandenburg after 1600 or so and saying "come back in 1918". What a mess.
  • Charlemagne and Louis the Pious - Who ruled much of what is present-day Germany during the eighth and ninth centuries. This period is only touched on in this article.
  • Holy Roman Empire - Perhaps the best entry for an overview of the history of the cultural region known as Germany from perhaps 1000 AD to the beginning of the 19th century. However, for the latter part of this period the reader is advised to consider whether or not he should be looking at Brandenburg or Prussia, or any of the other lesser German states in the west of the German cultural region (such as Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, and The Palatinate). This period is only touched on in this article.
  • Brandenburg - The former duchy surrounding Berlin and technically subsumed by the Kingdom of Prussia after 1701 (but in fact still the most important part of that nation). Traditionally, the history of the country of Germany is traced to that of Brandenburg beginning some time after the Hohenzollern family took control of Brandenburg in the 15th century.
  • Prussia - The duchy, owned by the Margraves of Brandenburg, which was used to justify their declaring themselves kings in 1701, and which lent its name to the Kingdom of Prussia in that year. Not as important as Brandenburg in actuality, but its name applied. The history of the country of Germany from 1701 to 1871 is traditionally equivalent to that of the Kingdom of Prussia.
  • German Empire - Read this article for the history of the country of Germany from 1871-1918. This period is only touched on in this article.
  • This article - The history of Germany from 1918 to the present, as well as some detail on the previous periods. More information on the period of 1933 to 1945 can also be found at Nazi Germany.
  • Austria - Long the most important of the German states, though with two qualifications: it was eclipsed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the middle of the 19th century, and its southerly and easterly position often extended its interests well outside anything that could reasonably be designated "Germany".

The Federal Republic of Germany has existed in its current form since 1990, the year of reunification of the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR, which stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik) and the western-oriented Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, former German territories east of the DDR that were under Polish and Russian control were given to that nations, most notably Eastern Prussia. However, the history of Germany is far longer and more complicated than the year 1990 would suggest.

The first confederations of Germanic tribes were before the birth of Christ.

The first recording of " MAGNA GERMANIA " was in 98 AD by Tacitus in his "Agricola and Germania".

One of the most significant battles of the Roman period was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in which German tribes ambushed and wiped out three Roman Legions. After that the Romans never again seriously tried to expand their empire north of the Rhine.

Again a major effort to unite the disparate German kingdoms and territories was headed by Charlemagne, who founded his vast empire in 800 AD. His successors divided the Frankish Empire later into eastern and western parts, the western part became France and the western part the first "Reich" (German for empire), with the "Kaiser" (emperor, term is derived from Caesar) as the head of the Holy Roman Empire, which was several hundred years later renamed to Holy Roman Empire of German Nations which was disbanded in 1806 and conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte a few years later. After Napoleon's defeat, the German states (which had been relatively independent throughout the First Reich) united to form the Deutscher Bund - a rather loose organisation, especially because the two great rivals, the Austrian empire and the Prussian kingdom didn't want to give up their power. Under the consolidating Prussian power in the 19th century, supported by growing German nationalism, inter-state fighting ended and resulted in the formation of the German empire in 1871 under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck. Under Bismarck's influence, the Prussian kingdom expanded its power greatly and forced Austria to leave the Bund. After the victory of 1871 in the Franco-Prussian War, the German states formed the second Reich or the German Empire, with the Prussian king as the emperor and without Austria. Although authoritarian in many respects, the empire eventually permitted the development of political parties, and Bismarck was credited with passing the most advanced social welfare legislation of the age. This Reich flourished under Bismarck's guidance until the Kaiser's death . His son, the successor only lived 88 days . This Kaiser's successor, still too young and too different from the "old Kaiser " -- his grandfather -- forced Bismarck out of office. Apparently theBritish Empire with its naval power,felt challenged , which eventually lead to confrontation in World War I.

After the death of Queen Victoria, the European balance of power became shaky, and the struggling Austrian empire declared war on Serbia after the Austrian successor to the throne and his wife were shot in Sarajevo. Serbia was supported by Russia, which in turn was allied with France. Germany, which still had an alliance with Austria dating back to Bismarck's sophisticated system of treaties, joined Austria and declared war on France in what it called a strike of prevention. This was the beginning of World War I. In the course of the war, Germany and its allies slowly but steadily lost. The peace treaty was signed in Versailles, the same place where the Second Reich had been founded some forty years before. The Kaiser was forced to abdicate, Germany lost some territories to France, the reinstated nation of Poland, and elsewhere. After revolts by socialists and communists (like the Spartacist uprisings), the Weimar Republic was formed.

Fascism's Rise and Defeat
The postwar Weimar Republic (1919-33) was an attempt to establish a peaceful, liberal democratic regime in Germany. This government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed by economic problems and the inherent weakness of the Weimar state. After some successful years, the Great Depression came. The hyperinflation of the early 1920s, the world depression of the 1930s, and the social unrest stemming from the draconian conditions of the Treaty of Versailles worked to destroy the Weimar government from inside and out.


Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP) (see National Socialism) capitalized on this and on the growing unemployment. The National Socialist (Nazi) Party stressed nationalist themes and promised to put the unemployed back to work, blaming many of Germany's ills on alleged Jewish conspiracies, and even claiming that the first World War was lost because of treason from within (the so-called Dolchstosslegende).

Nazi support expanded rapidly in the early 1930s; and, with the help of monarchists and conservatives like President Hindenburg, Hitler was asked to form a government as Reich Chancellor in January 1933. After President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler assumed that office as well. Once in power, Hitler and his party first undermined then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties. In six years, he prepared the country (see Nazi Germany) for war and enforced many discriminating laws against Jews and those that weren't of German origin. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population in Germany and later in the occupied countries forced emigration and, ultimately, genocide.

In 1939, Hitler started war on Poland, after he claimed German forces had been attacked (the attack was forged by German SS men). Six years later he and his partners, the so-called Axis powers (Italy, Germany, Japan) were defeated by Allied forces (United States, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union), and half of Europe lay in ruins, millions of people had been killed, the majority of them civilians, like the six million Jews killed in concentration camps and the countless millions of Russians in conquered territories. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructures, led to its division, and left a humiliating legacy.

At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, after the loss of World War II, the Allies divided the soon-to-be-defeated Germany into four military occupation zones--French in the southwest, British in the northwest, United States in the south, and Soviet in the east. The intended governing body was called the Allied Control Council. The commanders in chief exercised supreme authority in their respective zones and acted in concert on questions affecting the whole country. France was later given a separate zone of occupation. Berlin, which lay in the Soviet sector, was also divided into four zones.

Eastern Germany was put under Soviet Russian and Polish administration, until a peace treaty. A transfer of Germans from Poland, Tchechoslowakia and Hungary was agreed on ,but the countries were urged to stop the expulsions. For complete wording see the Potsdam Conference.

Although the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union agreed at Potsdam in August 1945 to a broad program of decentralization, treating Germany as a single economic unit with some central administrative departments, these plans failed. The turning point came in 1948, when the Soviets withdrew from the Four Power governing bodies and blockaded Berlin. Until May 1949, West Berlin was kept supplied only by an Allied airlift.

The German constitution dates back to 1949, when the Western occupied zones were established as the Federal Republic of Germany.

As part of the Cold War the zones developed in 1949 into the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, aka West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, aka East Germany). West Germany was allied with the United States of America, the UK and France. It was a western capitalist country with a so called Social Market Economy. East Germany was at first occupied and later allied with and controlled by the Soviet Union. It was a totalitarian country (for example, its citizens were generally unable to leave) with a USSR-style communist economy. East Germany was probably the richest, most advanced country in the Soviet bloc. Berlin also was divided in four sectors (French, British, American, Soviet), whereas western zones formed West Berlin and the Soviet sector became "Berlin, capital of the DDR" (aka East Berlin). Berlin was divided by the Berlin Wall from August, 13th 1961 until 1989.

Political Developments in West Germany
The United States and the United Kingdom moved to establish a nucleus for a future German government by creating a central Economic Council for their two zones. The program later provided for a West German constituent assembly, an occupation statute governing relations between the Allies and the German authorities, and the political and economic merger of the French with the British and American zones.

On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, was promulgated. The first federal government was formed by Konrad Adenauer on September 20, 1949. The next day, the occupation statute came into force, granting powers of self-government with certain exceptions.

The FRG quickly progressed toward fuller sovereignty and association with its European neighbors and the Atlantic community. The London and Paris agreements of 1954 restored full sovereignty (with some exceptions) to the FRG in May 1955 and opened the way for German membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

West German Rearmament
During the early 1950s a need was increasingly recognized for the rearmanent of West Germany, in order to defend Europe from the Soviet threat. But the memory of Nazism was still fresh, and it was feared that Nazism might rise again in Germany and again threaten Europe. As a result, the need was felt to permit West German rearnament while granting other European states tight control over the West German military. The most pro-integrationist European states (the original Six of the European Union), having just concluded the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, decided to establish a European Defence Commuity. The European Defence Community (EDC) would have an integrated army, navy and air force, composed of the armed forces of its member states. The West German military would be subject to complete EDC control, whilst the other EDC member states (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) would cooperate in the EDC whilst maintaining independent control of their own armed forces.

However, whilst the EDC treaty was signed, it never entered into force. Gaullists in the French National Assembly opposed the treaty on the grounds that it threatened national soverignity, and when the French National Assembly refused to ratify it, the treaty died. Other means then had to be found to allow the rearmament of West Germany. In response, the Brussels Treaty was modified to include West Germany, and to form the Western European Union (WEU). West Germany was to be permitted to rearm, and have full soverign control of its military; the WEU would however regulate the size of the armed forces permitted to each of its member states. Fears of a return to Nazism, however, soon receeded, and as a consequence these provisions of the WEU treaty have little effect today.

The three Western Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain responsibilities for Germany as a whole. Under the new arrangements, the Allies stationed troops within the FRG for NATO defense, pursuant to stationing and status-of-forces agreements. With the exception of 45,000 French troops, Allied forces were under NATO's joint defense command. (France withdrew from the collective military command structure of NATO in 1966.)

Political life in the FRG was remarkably stable and orderly. The Adenauer era (1949-63) was followed by a brief period under Ludwig Erhard (1963-66) who, in turn, was replaced by Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-69). All governments between 1949 and 1966 were formed by the united caucus of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), either alone or in coalition with the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Kiesinger's 1966-69 "Grand Coalition" included the FRG's two largest parties, CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In the 1969 election, the SPD--headed by Willy Brandt--gained enough votes to form a coalition government with the FDP. Chancellor Brandt remained head of government until May 1974, when he resigned after a senior member of his staff was uncovered as a spy for the East German intelligence service.

Finance Minister Helmut Schmidt (SPD) formed a government and received the unanimous support of coalition members. He served as Chancellor from 1974 to 1982. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a leading FDP official, became Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister. Schmidt, a strong supporter of the European Community (EC) and the Atlantic alliance, emphasized his commitment to "the political unification of Europe in partnership with the USA."

In October 1982, the SPD-FDP coalition fell apart when the FDP joined forces with the CDU/CSU to elect CDU Chairman Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. Following national elections in March 1983, Kohl emerged in firm control of both the government and the CDU. The CDU/CSU fell just short of an absolute majority, due to the entry into the Bundestag of the Greens, who received 5.6% of the vote.

In January 1987, the Kohl-Genscher government was returned to office, but the FDP and the Greens gained at the expense of the larger parties. Kohl's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, slipped from 48.8% of the vote in 1983 to 44.3%. The SPD fell to 37%; long-time SPD Chairman Brandt subsequently resigned in April 1987 and was succeeded by Hans-Jochen Vogel. The FDP's share rose from 7% to 9.1%, its best showing since 1980. The Greens' share rose to 8.3% from their 1983 share of 5.6%.

Political Developments in East Germany
In the Soviet zone, the Social Democratic Party was forced to merge with the Communist Party in 1946 to form a new party, the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The October 1946 elections resulted in coalition governments in the five Land (state) parliaments with the SED as the undisputed leader.

A series of people's congresses were called in 1948 and early 1949 by the SED. Under Soviet direction, a constitution was drafted on May 30, 1949, and adopted on October 7, which was celebrated as the day when the German Democratic Republic was proclaimed. The People's Chamber (Volkskammer)--the lower house of the GDR Parliament--and an upper house--the States Chamber (Laenderkammer)--were created. (The Laenderkammer was abolished in 1958.) On October 11, 1949, the two houses elected Wilhelm Pieck as President, and a SED government was set up. The Soviet Union and its East European allies immediately recognized the GDR, although it remained largely unrecognized by noncommunist countries until 1972-73.

The GDR established the structures of a single-party, centralized, communist state. On July 23, 1952, the traditional Laender were abolished and, in their place, 14 Bezirke (districts) were established. Effectively, all government control was in the hands of the SED, and almost all important government positions were held by SED members.

The National Front was an umbrella organization nominally consisting of the SED, four other political parties controlled and directed by the SED, and the four principal mass organizations-- youth, trade unions, women, and culture. However, control was clearly and solely in the hands of the SED. Balloting in GDR elections was not secret. As in other Soviet bloc countries, electoral participation was consistently high, with nearly unanimous candidate approval.

Inter-German Relations
The constant stream of East Germans fleeing to West Germany placed great strains on FRG-GDR relations in the 1950s. On August 13, 1961, the GDR began building a wall through the center of Berlin to divide the city and slow the flood of refugees to a trickle. The Berlin Wall became the symbol of the East's political debility and the division of Europe.

In 1969, Chancellor Brandt announced that the FRG would remain firmly rooted in the Atlantic alliance but would intensify efforts to improve relations with Eastern Europe and the GDR. The FRG commenced this Ostpolitik by negotiating nonaggression treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

The FRG's relations with the GDR posed particularly difficult questions. Though anxious to relieve serious hardships for divided families and to reduce friction, the FRG under Brandt was intent on holding to its concept of "two German states in one German nation." Relations improved, however, and in September 1973, the FRG and the GDR were admitted to the United Nations. The two Germanys exchanged permanent representatives in 1974, and, in 1987, GDR head of state Erich Honecker paid an official visit to the FRG.

German Unification
During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in the GDR, which ultimately led to German unification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to the FRG via Hungary after the Hungarians decided not to use force to stop them. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at FRG diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals. The exodus generated demands within the GDR for political change, and mass demonstrations in several cities--particularly in Leipzig--continued to grow. On October 7, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Berlin to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the GDR and urged the East German leadership to pursue reform.

On October 18, Erich Honecker resigned as head of the SED and as head of state and was replaced by Egon Krenz. But the exodus continued unabated, and pressure for political reform mounted. On November 4, a demonstration in East Berlin drew as many as 1 million East Germans. Finally, on November 9, the Berlin Wall was opened, and East Germans were allowed to travel freely. Thousands poured through the wall into the western sectors of Berlin, and on November 12, the GDR began dismantling it.

On November 28, FRG Chancellor Kohl outlined a 10-point plan for the peaceful unification of the two Germanys based on free elections in the GDR and a unification of their two economies. In December, the GDR Volkskammer eliminated the SED monopoly on power, and the entire Politburo and Central Committee--including Krenz--resigned. The SED changed its name to the Party of Democratic Socialism PDS and the formation and growth of numerous political groups and parties marked the end of the communist system. Prime Minister Hans Modrow headed a caretaker government which shared power with the new, democratically oriented parties. On December 7, 1989, agreement was reached to hold free elections in May 1990 and rewrite the GDR constitution. On January 28, all the parties agreed to advance the elections to March 18, primarily because of an erosion of state authority and because the East German exodus was continuing apace; more than 117,000 left in January and February 1990.

In early February 1990, the Modrow government's proposal for a unified, neutral German state was rejected by Chancellor Kohl, who affirmed that a unified Germany must be a member of NATO. Finally, on March 18, the first free elections were held in the GDR, and a government led by Lothar de Maiziere (CDU) was formed under a policy of expeditious unification with the FRG. The freely elected representatives of the Volkskammer held their first session on April 5, and the GDR peacefully evolved from a communist to a democratically elected government. Free and secret communal (local) elections were held in the GDR on May 6, and the CDU again won. On July 1, the two Germanys entered into an economic and monetary union.

Four Power Control Ends
During 1990, in parallel with internal German developments, the Four Powers--the United States, U.K., France, and the Soviet Union--together with the two German states negotiated to end Four Power reserved rights for Berlin and Germany as a whole. These "Two-plus-Four" negotiations were mandated at the Ottawa Open Skies conference on February 13, 1990. The six foreign ministers met four times in the ensuing months in Bonn (May 5), Berlin (June 22), Paris (July 17), and Moscow (September 12). The Polish Foreign Minister participated in the part of the Paris meeting that dealt with the Polish-German borders.

Of key importance was overcoming Soviet objections to a united Germany's membership in NATO. This was accomplished in July when the alliance, led by President Bush, issued the London Declaration on a transformed NATO. On July 16, President Gorbachev and Chancellor Kohl announced agreement in principle on a united Germany in NATO. This cleared the way for the signing in Moscow on September 12 of the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany. In addition to terminating Four Power rights, the treaty mandated the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from Germany by the end of 1994, made clear that the current borders were final and definitive, and specified the right of a united Germany to belong to NATO. It also provided for the continued presence of British, French, and American troops in Berlin during the interim period of the Soviet withdrawal. In the treaty, the Germans renounced nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and stated their intention to reduce German armed forces to 370,000 within 3 to 4 years after the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, signed in Paris on November 19, 1990, entered into force.

Conclusion of the final settlement cleared the way for unification of the FRG and GDR. Formal political union occurred on October 3, 1990, with the accession (in accordance with Article 23 of the FRG's Basic Law) of the five Laender which had been reestablished in the GDR. On December 2, 1990, all-German elections were held for the first time since 1933. In fact, accession meant that East Germany was annexed by West Germany, as the new country kept the name Bundesrepublik Deutschland, used the West German "Deutsche Mark" for currency, and the capital remained at Bonn for the time being. Around 1994 it was moved back to Berlin, where it had been before World War II. Now the main administrative bodies are situated in Berlin.

Today Germany is doing fairly well economically, being the world's third-largest economy (behind the USA and Japan). It's among the top 5 countries in Internet access worldwide. Many Germans speak English and/or French, in addition to High German and their local dialect of German (of which there are many).

/Talk