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2.11 German History

History until 1945
A reading passageGermany was originally occupied by Teutonic tribes who were driven back across the Rhine by Julius Caesar in 58 BC. When the Roman empire collapsed eight Germanic kingdoms were created, but in the 8th century Charlemagne consolidated these kingdoms under the Franks. The region became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 962, and almost 200 years later was invaded by the Mongols. A period of unrest followed until 1438 when the long rule of the Habsburgs began.

The kingdom, now made up of hundreds of states, was torn apart during the Thirty Years War; when this ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia emerged as a force ready to challenge Austrian supremacy. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the alliance of 400 separate German states that had existed within the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) had been reduced to thirty-eight. At the Congress of Vienna these were formed into a loose grouping, the German Confederation, under Austrian leadership.

The Confederation was dissolved as a result of the Austro-Prussian War (1866), and in 1867 all northern Germany formed a new North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. This was in turn dissolved in 1871, and the new German Second empire proclaimed.

After Germany's defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic was instituted, to be replaced in 1933 by the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler.

History: 1945 to 1990
Willy Brandt in WarsawIn 1945 the victorious Allies divided defeated Germany into four zones of occupation: American, British, French and Soviet. The original intention was to denazify and unite Germany. But with the advent of the Cold War, ideological differences between the Allied powers became apparent, and two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The FRG embedded itself in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC and NATO, while the communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

In 1953 East German workers revolted against the communist government, demanding higher salaries, more work and democratic elections. Faced by a steady flow of workers moving from East to West, the GDR government constructed the "antifascist protective wall" which divided Berlin into two. This Wall was 165 kilometres in length and between three and four metres in height.

In the West, Konrad Adenauer, as Chancellor (1949-63), was determined to see eventual reunification of Germany and refused to recognize the legal existence of the German Democratic Republic. A crisis developed over Berlin in 1958, when the Soviet Union demanded the withdrawal of Western troops and, in 1961, when it authorized the erection of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin situation began to ease in 1971, during the chancellorship of the social democrat Willy Brandt (1969-74) with his policy of Ostpolitik. This resulted in treaties with the Soviet Union (1970), Poland (1970), Czechoslovakia (1973), and one of mutual recognition and co-operation with the German Democratic Republic (1972), with membership of the UN following in 1973.

Economic recovery was assisted after the war by the Marshall Plan. The challenge of rebuilding shattered cities and of absorbing many millions of refugees from eastern Europe was successfully met, as was that of re-creating systems of social welfare and health provision. The Federal Republic joined NATO in 1955, when both army and airforce were reconstituted; large numbers of US and British troops remained stationed there. In 1957 it signed the Treaty of Rome, becoming a founder-member of the European Economic Community in 1958. Although the pace of economic growth slackened, the economy remained one of the strongest in the world, under a stable democratic regime.

History: The present day
The Berlin Wall comes downThe decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German reunification. Establishing the terms of political union proceeded quickly in the months following the collapse of the GDR's communist order in late 1989, with reunification itself following on October 3, 1990. This brought together one of the most affluent capitalist countries with one of the most prosperous socialist countries from the Eastern bloc.

Yet despite this background, economic and social reunification remains a work in progress. During the forty years they existed side by side, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic developed very different political, economic and social institutions. Forty years of state ownership and a command economy have left eastern Germany's industry obsolete and unable to compete in the German marketplace. Modernization of the infrastructure of the former GDR and the privatization of its industries has placed a burden on taxpayers in East and West. Economic disparities between east and west still remain. Eastern Germany is home to roughly a fifth of the country's residents, for example, but accounts for only about a tenth of its GDP. The unemployment rate in the east - 17 percent at the beginning of September 2000 - is more than double the rate in the west.

In short, the euphoria sparked by the opening of the Berlin Wall has gradually given way to a more sober realization of the full magnitude of the task of rebuilding the east from the ground up. Relocating the seat of German government eastwards from Bonn to new official capital Berlin in 1999 is a symbol however that closing social gaps between east and west must remain the German government's highest priority.

German History Quiz
You can test your knowledge of German history by taking a test offered by the German Culture website. You may wish to read their overview of German history before clicking on the bar below to take the test!

 Web Links 
German History - An Overview The German Culture website offers an excellent overview of key episodes of German history.
Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online (LeMO) This "living virtual museum" presents a thematically organised voyage through the history of Germany in the 20th Century. It contains documents, biographies, audio files and a chronicle of the major events in each year. The 3-D version of the virtual museum is particularly valuable. In German only.
Germany Info The history page of the German embassy in Washington offers a multimedia guide to key episodes in German history. Includes video files.
Berlin Wall See the remains of the Berlin Wall in these panoramic pictures taken by Helmut Koelbach.
Mauermuseum Find out more about the building and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
German Studies Web: History A link-list of history resources for Germany, Switzerland and Austria maintained by Richard Hacken at Brigham Young University. Also provides access to selected German primary historical documents.
German History The homepage of the periodical German History.
H-German Discussion Network A daily English-language discussion forum focused on scholarly topics in German history and aimed at professional historians of Germany around the world.

Weiter!Chapter 2.12: The German Länder

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