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History of Germany

Related subjects History

History of Germany
The Reichstag building at the end of the nineteenth century
Ancient times
Germanic peoples
Migration Period
Frankish Empire
Medieval times
East Francia
Kingdom of Germany
Holy Roman Empire
East Colonisation
Sectionalism
Building a nation
Confederation of the Rhine
German Confederation
German Revolutions of 1848
German Reichsflotte Navy
North German Confederation
Unification of Germany
The German Reich
German Empire
World War I
Weimar Republic
Nazi Germany
World War II
Post-war Germany since 1945
Occupation + Ostgebiete
Expulsion of Germans
FR Germany + GDR
German reunification
Present day Germany
Federal Republic of Germany
Topical
Military history of Germany
Territorial changes of Germany
Timeline of German history
History of the German language

The History of Germany begins with the establishment of the nation from Ancient Roman times to the 8th century, and then continues into the Holy Roman Empire dating all the way from the 9th century until 1806. At its largest, the territory of this empire included what today is Germany, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, western Poland, the Low Countries, eastern France, Switzerland and most of northern Italy. After the mid 16th century, when it had lost many former territories, it was known as the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation".

This was followed by the German Confederation of 18151866, the German Empire of 18711918, and the Weimar Republic of 19191933. Then came Adolf Hitler's German Reich also known as Nazi Germany or Third Reich of 19331945 and the devastations of World War II. The article concludes with the history of the post-war Federal Republic of Germany ( West Germany) and the history of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1945 to 1990.

Germanic tribes (100 BC to 300 AD)

Germania, in the early 2nd century (Harper and Brothers, 1849)
Germania, in the early 2nd century (Harper and Brothers, 1849)

The ethnogenesis of the Germanic tribes is assumed to have occurred during the Nordic Bronze Age, or at the latest, during the Pre-Roman Iron Age. From southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, the tribes began expanding south, east and west in the 1st century BC, coming into contact with the Celtic tribes of Gaul as well as Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe. Little is known about early Germanic history, except through their recorded interactions with the Roman Empire, etymological research, and archaeological finds.

Under Augustus, the Roman General Publius Quinctilius Varus began to invade Germania (a term used by the Romans running roughly from the Rhine to the Urals), and it was in this period that the Germanic tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare while maintaining their tribal identity. In AD 9, three Roman legions led by Varus were defeated by the Cheruscan leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Modern Germany, as far as the Rhine and the Danube, thus remained outside the Roman Empire. By AD 100, the time of Tacitus' Germania, Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany. The 3rd century saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes: Alamanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisians, Sicambri, and Thuringii. Around 260, the Germanic peoples broke through the Limes and the Danube frontier into Roman-controlled lands.

The Franks

The Merovingian kings of the Germanic Franks conquered northern Gaul in 486 CE. In the fifth and sixth century the Merovingian kings conquered several other Germanic tribes and kingdoms and placed them under the control of autonomous dukes of mixed Frankish and native blood. Frankish Colonists were encouraged to move to the newly conquered territories. While the local Germanic tribes were allowed to preserve their laws, they were pressured into changing their religion.

Frankish Empire

After the fall of the Western Roman empire the Franks created an empire under the Merovingian kings and subjugated the other Germanic tribes. Swabia became a duchy under the Frankish Empire in 496, following the Battle of Tolbiac. Already king Chlothar I ruled the greater part of what is now Germany and made expeditions into Saxony while the Southeast of modern Germany was still under influence of the Ostrogoths. In 531 Saxons and Franks destroyed the Kingdom of Thuringia. Saxons inhabit the area down to the Unstrut river. During the partition of the Frankish empire their German territories were a part of Austrasia. In 718 the Franconian Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel marked war against Saxony, because of its help for the Neustrians. The Franconian Carloman started in 743 a new war against Saxony, because the Saxons gave aid to Duke Odilo of Bavaria. In 751 Pippin III, mayor of the palace under the Merovingian king, himself assumed the title of king and was anointed by the Church. The Frankish kings now set up as protectors of the Pope, Charlemagne launched a decades-long military campaign against their heathen rivals, the Saxons and the Avars. The Saxons (by the Saxon Wars ( 772- 804)) and Avars were eventually overwhelmed and forcibly converted, and their lands were annexed by the Carolingian Empire.

Middle Ages

The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. (left to right: Archbishop of Cologne, Archbishop of Mainz, Archbishop of Trier, Count Palatine, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg and King of Bohemia)
The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. (left to right: Archbishop of Cologne, Archbishop of Mainz, Archbishop of Trier, Count Palatine, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg and King of Bohemia)

From 772 to 814 king Charlemagne extended the Carolingian empire into northern Italy and the territories of all west Germanic peoples, including the Saxons and the Bajuwari (Bavarians). In 800 Charlemagne's authority in Western Europe was confirmed by his coronation as emperor in Rome. The Frankish empire was divided into counties, and its frontiers were protected by border Marches. Imperial strongholds (Kaiserpfalzen) became economic and cultural centres ( Aachen being the most famous).

Between 843 and 880, after fighting between Charlemagne's grandchildren, the Carolingian empire was partitioned into several parts in the Treaty of Verdun, the Treaty of Meerssen and the Treaty of Ribemont. The German empire developed out of the East Frankish kingdom, East Francia. From 919 to 936 the Germanic peoples (Franks, Saxons, Swabians and Bavarians) were united under Duke Henry of Saxony, who took the title of king. For the first time, the term Kingdom (Empire) of the Germans (" Regnum Teutonicorum") was applied to a Frankish kingdom, even though Teutonicorum at its founding originally meant something closer to "Realm of the Germanic peoples" or "Germanic Realm" than realm of the Germans.

In 936 Otto I the Great was crowned at Aachen. He strengthened the royal authority by appointing bishops and abbots as princes of the Empire ( Reichsfürsten), thereby establishing a national church. In 951 Otto the Great married the widowed Queen Adelheid, thereby winning the Lombard crown. Outside threats to the kingdom were contained with the decisive defeat of the Magyars of Hungary near Augsburg at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 and the subjugation of Slavs between the Elbe and the Oder rivers. In 962 Otto I was crowned emperor in Rome, taking the succession of Charlemagne and establishing a strong Frankish influence over the Papacy.

In 1033 the Kingdom of Burgundy was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Conrad II, the first emperor of the Salian dynasty.

During the reign of his son Henry III the Holy Roman Empire supported the Cluniac reform of the Church - the Peace of God, the prohibition of simony (the purchase of clerical offices) and the celibacy of priests. Imperial authority over the Pope reached its peak. An imperial stronghold ( Pfalz) was built at Goslar, as the Empire continued its expansion to the East.

In the Investiture Dispute which began between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII over appointments to ecclesiastical offices, the emperor was compelled to submit to the Pope at Canossa in 1077, after having been excommunicated. In 1122 a temporary reconciliation was reached between Henry V and the Pope with the Concordat of Worms. The consequences of the investiture dispute were a weakening of the Ottonian National Church Reichskirche, and a strengthening of the Imperial secular princes.

Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (German: Marienburg)
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (German: Marienburg)

The time between 1096 and 1291 was the age of the crusades. Knightly religious orders were established, including the Templars, the Knights of St John and the Teutonic Order.

From 1100, new towns were founded around imperial strongholds, castles, bishops' palaces and monasteries. The towns began to establish municipal rights and liberties (see German town law), while the rural population remained in a state of serfdom. In particular, several cities became Imperial Free Cities, which did not depend on princes or bishops, but were immediately subject to the Emperor. The towns were ruled by patricians (merchants carrying on long-distance trade). The craftsmen formed guilds, governed by strict rules, which sought to obtain control of the towns. Trade with the East and North intensified, as the major trading towns came together in the Hanseatic League, under the leadership of Lübeck.

The German colonization and the chartering of new towns and villages began into largely Slav-inhabited territories east of the Elbe, such as Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, and Livonia (see also Ostsiedlung).

Between 1152 and 1190, during the reign of Frederick I (Barbarossa), of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, an accommodation was reached with the rival Guelph party by the grant of the duchy of Bavaria to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. Austria became a separate duchy by virtue of the Privilegium Minus in 1156. Barbarossa tried to reassert his control over Italy. In 1177 a final reconciliation was reached between the emperor and the Pope in Venice.

In 1180 Henry the Lion was outlawed and Bavaria was given to Otto of Wittelsbach (founder of the Wittelsbach dynasty which was to rule Bavaria until 1918), while Saxony was divided.

From 1184 to 1186 the Hohenstaufen empire under Barbarossa reached its peak in the Reichsfest (imperial celebrations) held at Mainz and the marriage of his son Henry in Milan to the Norman princess Constance of Sicily. The power of the feudal lords was undermined by the appointment of "ministerials" (unfree servants of the Emperor) as officials. Chivalry and the court life flowered, leading to a development of German culture and literature (see Wolfram von Eschenbach).

Between 1212 and 1250 Frederick II established a modern, professionally administered state in Sicily. He resumed the conquest of Italy, leading to further conflict with the Papacy. In the Empire, extensive sovereign powers were granted to ecclesiastical and secular princes, leading to the rise of independent territorial states. The struggle with the Pope sapped the Empire's strength, as Frederick II was excommunicated three times. After his death, the Hohenstaufen dynasty fell, followed by an interregnum during which there was no Emperor.

Beginning in 1226 under the auspices of Emperor Frederick II, the Teutonic Knights began their conquest of Prussia after being invited to Chełmno Land by the Polish Duke Konrad I of Masovia. The native Baltic Prussians were conquered and Christianized by the Knights with much warfare, and numerous German towns were established along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. From 1300, however, the Empire started to lose territory on all its frontiers.

The failure of negotiations between Emperor Louis IV with the papacy led in 1338 to the declaration at Rhense by six electors to the effect that election by all or the majority of the electors automatically conferred the royal title and rule over the empire, without papal confirmation.

Between 1346 and 1378 Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, sought to restore the imperial authority.

Around the middle of the 14th century, the Black Death ravaged Germany and Europe. From the Dance of Death by Hans Holbein (1491)
Around the middle of the 14th century, the Black Death ravaged Germany and Europe. From the Dance of Death by Hans Holbein (1491)

Around 1350 Germany and almost the whole of Europe were ravaged by the Black Death. Jews were persecuted on religious and economic grounds; many fled to Poland.

The Golden Bull of 1356 stipulated that in future the emperor was to be chosen by four secular electors (the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg) and three spiritual electors (the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne).

After the disasters of the 14th century, early-modern European society gradually came into being as a result of economic, religious and political changes. A money economy arose which provoked social discontent among knights and peasants. Gradually, a proto-capitalistic system evolved out of feudalism. The Fugger family gained prominence through commercial and financial activities and became financiers to both ecclesiastical and secular rulers.

The knightly classes found their monopoly on arms and military skill undermined by the introduction of mercenary armies and foot soldiers. Predatory activity by "robber knights" became common. From 1438 the Habsburgs, who controlled most of the southeast of the Empire (more or less modern-day Austria and Slovenia, and Bohemia and Moravia after the death of King Louis II in 1526), maintained a constant grip on the position of the Holy Roman Emperor until 1806 (with the exception of the years between 1742 and 1745). This situation, however, gave rise to increased disunity among the Holy Roman Empires territorial rulers and prevented sections of the country from coming together and forming nations in the manner of France and England.

During his reign from 1493 to 1519, Maximilian I tried to reform the Empire: an Imperial Supreme Court (Reichskammergericht) was established, imperial taxes were levied, the power of the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) was increased. The reforms were, however, frustrated by the continued territorial fragmentation of the Empire.

Early modern Germany

Reformation and Thirty Years War

"The Holy Roman Empire, 1512.
"The Holy Roman Empire, 1512.
Martin Luther, German reformer, 1529
Martin Luther, German reformer, 1529

Around the beginning of the 16th century there was much discontent in the Holy Roman Empire with abuses in the Catholic Church and a desire for reform.

In 1517 the Reformation began Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. These were the 95 things that he deemed unacceptable about the way that the Catholic church was run at that time.

In 1520 Luther was outlawed at the Diet of Worms. But the Reformation spread rapidly, helped by the Emperor Charles V's wars with France and the Turks. Hiding in the Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible, establishing the basis of modern German.

In 1524 the Peasants' War broke out in Swabia, Franconia and Thuringia against ruling princes and lords, following the preachings of Reformist priests. But the revolts, which were assisted by war-experienced noblemen like Götz von Berlichingen and Florian Geyer (in Franconia), and by the theologian Thomas Münzer (in Thuringia), were soon repressed by the territorial princes.

From 1545 the Counter-Reformation began in Germany. The main force was provided by the Jesuit order, founded by the Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. Central and north-eastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic. In 1546, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V defeated the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant rulers.

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 brought recognition of the Lutheran faith. But the treaty also stipulated that the religion of a state was to be that of its ruler ( Cuius regio, eius religio).

In 1556 Charles V abdicated. The Habsburg Empire was divided, as Spain was separated from the Imperial possessions.

In 1608/1609 the Protestant Union and the Catholic League were formed.

From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years' War ravaged in the Holy Roman Empire. The causes were the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the efforts by the various states within the Empire to increase their power and the Emperor's attempt to achieve the religious and political unity of the Empire. The immediate occasion for the war was the uprising of the Protestant nobility of Bohemia against the emperor ( Defenestration of Prague), but the conflict was widened into a European War by the intervention of King Christian IV of Denmark (1625-29), Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1630-48) and France under Cardinal Richelieu, the regent of the young Louis XIV (1635-48). Germany became the main theatre of war and the scene of the final conflict between France and the Habsburgs for predominance in Europe. The war resulted in large areas of Germany being laid waste, a loss of approximately a third of its population, and in a general impoverishment.

The war ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, signed in Münster and Osnabrück: Imperial territory was lost to France and Sweden and the Netherlands left the Holy Roman Empire after being de facto seceded for 80 years already. The imperial power declined further as the states' rights were increased.

End of the Holy Roman Empire

The German Empire in 1705, map "L’Empire d’Allemagne" from Nicolas de Fer
The German Empire in 1705, map "L’Empire d’Allemagne" from Nicolas de Fer
After the Peace of Hubertsburg in 1763, Prussia became a European great power. The rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany began
After the Peace of Hubertsburg in 1763, Prussia became a European great power. The rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany began

From 1640, Brandenburg-Prussia had started to rise under the Great Elector, Frederick William. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 strengthened it even further, through the acquisition of East Pomerania. A system of rule based on absolutism was established.

In 1701 Elector Frederick of Brandenburg was crowned " King in Prussia". From 1713 to 1740, King Frederick William I, also known as the "Soldier King", established a highly centralized state.

Meanwhile Louis XIV of France had conquered parts of Alsace and Lorraine (1678-1681), and had invaded and devastated the Palatinate (1688-1697). Louis XIV benefited from the Empire's problems with the Turks, which were menacing Austria. He ultimately had to relinquish the Palatinate, though.

In 1683 the Turks were defeated outside Vienna by a Polish relief army led by King Jan Sobieski of Poland while the city itself was defended by Imperial and Austrian troops under the command of Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine. Hungary was reconquered, and later became a new destination for German settlers. Austria, under the Habsburgs, developed into a great power.

In the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) Maria Theresa fought successfully for recognition of her succession to the throne. But in the Silesian Wars and in the Seven Years' War she had to cede Silesia to Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia. After the Peace of Hubertsburg in 1763 between Austria, Prussia and Saxony, Prussia became a European great power. This gave the start to the rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany.

From 1763, against resistance from the nobility and citizenry, an " enlightened absolutism" was established in Prussia and Austria, according to which the ruler was to be "the first servant of the state". The economy developed and legal reforms were undertaken, including the abolition of torture and the improvement in the status of Jews; the emancipation of the peasants began. Education was promoted.

In 1772-1795 Prussia took part in the partitions of Poland, occupying western territories of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which led to centuries of Polish resistance against German rule and persecution.

The French Revolution sparked a new war between France and several of its Eastern neighbors, including Prussia and Austria. Following the Peace of Basel in 1795 with Prussia, the west bank of the Rhine was ceded to France.

Napoleon I of France relaunched the war against the Empire. In 1803, under the " Reichsdeputationshauptschluss" (a resolution of a committee of the Imperial Diet meeting in Regensburg), he abolished almost all the ecclesiastical and the smaller secular states and most of the imperial free cities. New medium-sized states were established in south-western Germany. In turn, Prussia gained territory in north-western Germany.

The Holy Roman Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) resigned. Francis II's family continued to be called Austrian emperors until 1918. In 1806 the Confederation of the Rhine was established under Napoleon's protection.

After the Prussian army was defeated by the French revolutionary forces at Jena and Auerstedt, the Peace of Tilsit was signed in 1807: Prussia ceded all its possessions west of the Elbe to France and the kingdom of Westphalia was established under Napoleon's brother Jérome. Some of the territories Prussia conquered from Poland were regained by Duchy of Warsaw.

From 1808 to 1812 Prussia was reconstructed, and a series of reforms were enacted by Freiherr vom Stein and Freiherr von Hardenberg, including the regulation of municipal government, the liberation of the peasants and the emancipation of the Jews. A reform of the army was undertaken by the Prussian generals Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August von Gneisenau.

In 1813 the Wars of Liberation began, following the destruction of Napoleon's army in Russia (1812). After the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Germany was liberated from French rule. The Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved.

In 1815 Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo by the Britain's Duke of Wellington and by Prussia's Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.

German Confederation

Restoration and Revolution

Liberal and nationalist pressure led to the Revolution of 1848 in the German states
Liberal and nationalist pressure led to the Revolution of 1848 in the German states

After the fall of Napoleon, European monarchs and statesmen convened in Vienna in 1814 for the reorganization of European affairs, under the leadership of the Austrian Prince Metternich. The political principles agreed upon at this Congress of Vienna included the restoration, legitimacy and solidarity of rulers for the repression of revolutionary and nationalist ideas.

On the terrditory of the former "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation", the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was founded, a loose union of 39 states (35 ruling princes and 4 free cities) under Austrian leadership, with a Federal Diet (Bundestag) meeting in Frankfurt am Main.

In 1817, inspired by liberal and patriotic ideas of a united Germany, student organisations gathered for the "Wartburg festival" at Wartburg Castle, at Eisenach in Thuringia, on the occasion of which reactionary books were burnt.

In 1819 the student Karl Ludwig Sand murdered the writer August von Kotzebue, who had scoffed at liberal student organizations. Prince Metternich used the killing as an occasion to call a conference in Karlsbad, which Prussia, Austria and eight other states attended, and which issued the Karlsbad Decrees: censorship was introduced, and universities were put under supervision. The decrees also gave the start to the so-called "persecution of the demagogues", which was directed against individuals who were accused of spreading revolutionary and nationalist ideas. Among the persecuted were the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, the publisher Johann Joseph Görres and the "Father of Gymnastics" Ludwig Jahn.

In 1834 the Zollverein was established, a customs union between Prussia and most other German states, but excluding Austria.

Growing discontent with the political and social order imposed by the Congress of Vienna led to the outbreak, in 1848, of the March Revolution in the German states. In May the German National Assembly (the Frankfurt Parliament) met in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main to draw up a national German constitution.

But the 1848 revolution turned out to be unsuccessful: King Frederick William IV of Prussia refused the imperial crown, the Frankfurt parliament was dissolved, the ruling princes repressed the risings by military force and the German Confederation was re-established by 1850.

In 1862 Prince Bismarck was nominated chief minister of Prussia - against the opposition of liberals, who saw him as a reactionary.

In 1863-64, disputes between Prussia and Denmark grew over Schleswig, which - unlike Holstein - was not part of the German Confederation, and which Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate into the Danish kingdom. The dispute led to the Second War of Schleswig, in the course of which Prussia, joined by Austria, defeated Denmark. Denmark was forced to cede both the duchy of Schleswig and the duchy of Holstein to Austria and Prussia. In the aftermath, the management of the two duchies caused growing tensions between Austria and Prussia, which ultimately led to the Austro-Prussian War (1866). The Prussians were victorious in this war, carrying a decisive victory at the Battle of Königgratz under the command of Helmuth von Moltke.

North German Federation

In 1866 the German Confederation was dissolved. In its place the North German Federation (German Norddeutscher Bund) was established, under the leadership of Prussia. Austria was excluded, and would remain outside German affairs for most of the remaining 19th and the 20th centuries.

The North German Federation was a transitory group that existed from 1867 to 1871, between the dissolution of the German Confederation and the founding of the German Empire, led by Otto Von Bismarck who was declared chancellor. With it, Prussia established control over the 22 states of northern Germany and, via the Zollverein, southern Germany.

German Empire

Age of Bismarck

On 18 January 1871, the German Empire is proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. Bismarck appears in white.
On 18 January 1871, the German Empire is proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. Bismarck appears in white.
The German Empire of 1871. By excluding Austria, Bismarck chose a "little German" solution.
The German Empire of 1871. By excluding Austria, Bismarck chose a "little German" solution.

Differences between France and Prussia over the possible accession to the Spanish throne of a German candidate — whom France opposed — was the French pretext to declare the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). Due to their defensive treaties, joint southern-German and Prussian troops, under the command of Moltke, repelled French troops which had occupied Saarbrücken and proceeded to invade France in August 1870. After a few weeks, the French army was finally forced to capitulate in the fortress of Sedan. French Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner and the Second French Empire collapsed, yet the new republic decided to prolong the war for several months. Months after the Siege of Paris was lifted, the Peace Treaty of Frankfurt was signed: France was obliged to cede what became known as Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. The ceded area consisted of Alsace and parts of Lorraine. The fact that many small, French-speaking areas were included was used by France to denounce the new border as hypocrisy, since Germany had justified it by the native Germanic dialects and culture of the areas inhabitants.

During the Siege of Paris, the German princes assembled in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles and proclaimed the Prussian King Wilhelm I as the "German Emperor" on 18 January 1871. The German Empire was thus founded, with 25 states, three of which were Hanseatic free cities, and Bismarck, again, served as Chancellor. It was dubbed the "Little German" solution, since Austria was not included.

Bismarck's domestic policies as Chancellor of Germany were characterized by his fight against perceived enemies of the Protestant Prussian state. In the so-called Kulturkampf (1872–1878), he tried to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and of its political arm, the Catholic Centre Party, through various measures — like the introduction of civil marriage — but without much success. Millions of non-Germans subjects in the German Empire, like the Polish, Danish and French minorities, were discriminated against and a policy of Germanization was implemented.

The other perceived threat was the rise of the Socialist Workers' Party (later known as the Social Democratic Party of Germany), whose declared aim was the establishment of a new socialist order through the transformation of existing political and social conditions. From 1878, Bismarck tried to repress the social democratic movement by outlawing the party's organization, its assemblies and most of its newspapers. Through the introduction of a social insurance system, on the other hand, he hoped to win the support of the working classes for the Empire.

Bismarck's priority was to protect Germany's expanding power through a system of alliances and an attempt to contain crises until Germany was fully prepared to initiate them. Of particular importance, in this context, was the containment and isolation of France, because Bismarck feared that France would form an alliance with Russia and take revenge for its loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.

The Three Emperor's League was signed in 1872 by Russia, Austria and Germany. It stated that republicanism and socialism were common enemies and that the three powers would discuss any matters concerning foreign policy. Bismarck needed good relations with Russia in order to keep France isolated.

In 1879, Bismarck formed a Dual Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary, with the aim of mutual military assistance in the case of an attack from Russia, which was not satisfied with the agreement reached at the Congress of Berlin.

The establishment of the Dual Alliance led Russia to take a more conciliatory stance, and in 1887, the so-called Reinsurance Treaty was signed between Germany and Russia: in it, the two powers agreed on mutual military support in the case that France attacked Germany, or in case of an Austrian attack on Russia.

In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance to form a Triple Alliance. Italy wanted to defend its interests in North Africa against France's colonial policy. In return for German and Austrian support, Italy committed itself to assisting Germany in the case of a French military attack.

For a long time, Bismarck had refused to give in to Crown Prince Wilhelm II's aspirations of making Germany a world power through the acquisition of German colonies ("a place in the sun", originally a statement of Bernhard von Bülow). Bismarck wanted to avoid tensions between the European great powers that would threaten the security of Germany at all cost. But when, between 1880 and 1885, the foreign situation proved auspicious, Bismarck gave way, and a number of colonies were established overseas: in Africa, these were Togo, the Cameroons, German South-West Africa and German East Africa; in Oceania, they were German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Marshall Islands. In fact, it was Bismarck himself who helped initiate the Berlin Conference of 1885. He did it "establish international guidelines for the acquisition of African territory," (see Colonisation of Africa). This conference was an impetus for the "Scramble for Africa" and " New Imperialism".

In 1888 Kaiser Wilhelm I died at age 91, and his terminally ill son Friedrich III ruled for only 99 days before his death. The 29 year old and ambitious Wilhelm II, Friedrich's son, acceded to the throne. Political and personal differences between Bismarck and the new monarch, who wanted to be "his own chancellor", eventually caused Bismarck to resign in 1890.

Wilhelminian Era

A postage stamp from the Carolines, dating back to the time when the islands were ruled by the German Empire. The new Weltpolitik of Kaiser Wilhelm II led to frictions with other imperialist powers.
A postage stamp from the Carolines, dating back to the time when the islands were ruled by the German Empire. The new Weltpolitik of Kaiser Wilhelm II led to frictions with other imperialist powers.

When Bismarck resigned, Wilhelm II had declared that he would continue the foreign policy of the old chancellor. But soon, a new course was taken, with the aim of increasing Germany's influence in the world (Weltpolitik). The Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was not renewed. Instead, France formed an alliance with Russia, against the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Alliance itself was undermined by differences between Austria and Italy.

From 1898, German colonial expansion in East Asia ( Jiaozhou Bay, the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, Samoa) led to frictions with the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan and the United States. The construction of the Baghdad Railway, financed by German banks and heavy industry, and aimed at connecting the North Sea with the Persian Gulf via the Bosporus, also collided with British and Russian geopolitical and economic interests.

To protect Germany's overseas trade and colonies, Admiral von Tirpitz started a programme of warship construction in 1898. This posed a direct threat to British hegemony on the seas, with the result that negotiations for an alliance between Germany and Britain broke down. Germany was increasingly isolated.

Imperialist power politics and the determined pursuit of national interests ultimately led to the outbreak in 1914 of the First World War, sparked by the assassination, on June 28, 1914, of the Austrian heir-apparent Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina by a Serbian nationalist. The theorized underlying causes have included the opposing policies of the European states, the armaments race, German-British rivalry, the difficulties of the Austro-Hungarian multinational state, Russia's Balkan policy and overhasty mobilisations and ultimatums (the underlying belief being that the war would be short). Germany fought on the side of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire against Russia, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and several other smaller states. Fighting also spread to the Near East and the German colonies.

In the west, Germany fought a war of attrition with bloody battles. After a quick march through Belgium, German troops were halted on the Marne, north of Paris. The frontlines in France changed little until the end of the war. In the east, despite there being initially no decisive victories against the Russian army, the trapping and defeat of large parts of the Russian contingent at the Battle of Tannenberg, followed by smaller Austrian and German successes led to a breakdown of Russian forces and an imposed peace. The British naval blockade in the North Sea had crippling effects on Germany's supplies of raw materials and foodstuffs. The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 following Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare marked a decisive turning-point against Germany.

At the end of October, units of the German Navy in Kiel, in northern Germany, refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war which they saw as good as lost. On November 3, the uprising spread to other cities. So-called workers' and soldiers' councils were established.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated. On November 9, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a Republic. On November 11, an armistice ending the war was signed at Compiègne.

Weimar Republic

States of Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic, with Prussia in blue
States of Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic, with Prussia in blue

On 28 June 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Germany was to cede Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen-Malmédy, North Schleswig, and the Memel area. Poland was restored and most of the provinces of Posen and West Prussia, and some areas of Upper Silesia were reincorporated into the reformed country after plebiscites and independence uprisings. All German colonies were to be handed over to the Allies. The left and right banks of the Rhine were to be permanently demilitarised. The industrially important Saarland was to be governed by the League of Nations for 15 years and its coalfields administered by France. At the end of that time a plebiscite was to determine the Saar's future status. To ensure execution of the treaty's terms, Allied troops would occupy the left (German) bank of the Rhine for a period of 5–15 years. The German army was to be limited to 100,000 officers and men; the general staff was to be dissolved; vast quantities of war material were to be handed over and the manufacture of munitions rigidly curtailed. The navy was to be similarly reduced, and no military aircraft were allowed. Germany and its allies were to accept the sole responsibility of the war, in accordance with the War Guilt Clause, and were to pay financial reparations for all loss and damage suffered by the Allies.

The humiliating peace terms provoked bitter indignation throughout Germany, and seriously weakened the new democratic regime.

On 11 August 1919 the Weimar constitution came into effect, with Friedrich Ebert as first President.

The two biggest enemies of the new democratic order, however, had already been constituted. In December 1918, the German Communist Party (KPD) was founded, followed in January 1919 by the establishment of the German Workers' Party, later known as the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). Both parties would make reckless use of the freedoms guaranteed by the new constitution in their fight against the Weimar Republic.

In the first months of 1920, the Reichswehr was to be reduced to 100,000 men, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles. This included the dissolution of many Freikorps - units made up of volunteers. Some of them made difficulties. The discontent was exploited by the extreme right-wing politician Wolfgang Kapp. He let the rebelling Freikorps march on Berlin and proclaimed himself Reich Chancellor ( Kapp Putsch). After only four days the coup d'état collapsed, due to lack of support by the civil servants and the officers. Other cities were shaken by strikes and rebellions, which were bloodily suppressed.

Faced with animosity from Britain and France and the retreat of American power from Europe, in 1922 Germany was the first state to establish diplomatic relations with the new Soviet Union. Under the Treaty of Rapallo, Germany accorded the Soviet Union de jure recognition, and the two signatories mutually cancelled all pre-war debts and renounced war claims.

When Germany defaulted on its reparation payments, French and Belgian troops occupied the heavily industrialised Ruhr district (January 1923). The German government encouraged the population of the Ruhr to passive resistance: shops would not sell goods to the foreign soldiers, coal-mines would not dig for the foreign troops, trams in which members of the occupation army had taken seat would be left abandoned in the middle of the street. The passive resistance proved effective, insofar as the occupation became a loss-making deal for the French government. But the Ruhr fight also led to hyperinflation, and many who lost all their fortune would become bitter enemies of the Weimar Republic, and voters of the anti-democratic right. See 1920s German inflation.

In September 1923, the deteriorating economic conditions led Chancellor Gustav Stresemann to call an end to the passive resistance in the Ruhr. In November, his government introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark (later: Reichsmark), together with other measures to stop the hyperinflation. In the following six years the economic situation improved. In 1928, Germany's industrial production even regained the pre-war levels of 1913.

On the evening of November 8, 1923, six hundred armed SA men surrounded a beer hall in Munich, where the heads of the Bavarian state and the local Reichswehr had gathered for a rally. The storm troopers were led by Adolf Hitler. Born in 1889 in Austria, a former volunteer in the German army during WWI, now a member of a new party called NSDAP, he was largely unknown until then. Hitler tried to force those present to join him and to march on to Berlin to seize power ( Beer Hall Putsch). Hitler was later arrested and condemned to five years in prison, but was released at the end of 1924 after less than one year of detention.

The national elections of 1924 led to a swing to the right (Ruck nach rechts). Field Marshal Hindenburg, a supporter of the monarchy, was elected President in 1925.

In October 1925 the Treaty of Locarno was signed between Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Italy, which recognized Germany's borders with France and Belgium. Moreover, Britain, Italy and Belgium undertook to assist France in the case that German troops marched into the demilitarised Rheinland. The Treaty of Locarno paved the way for Germany's admission to the League of Nations in 1926.

The stock market crash of 1929 on Wall Street marked the beginning of the Great Depression. The effects of the ensuing world economic crisis were also felt in Germany, where the economic situation rapidly deteriorated. In July 1931, the Darmstätter und Nationalbank - one of the biggest German banks - failed, and, in early 1932, the number of unemployed rose to more than 6,000,000.

In addition to the flagging economy came political problems, due to the inability by the political parties represented in the Reichstag to build a governing majority. In March 1930, President Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning Chancellor. To push through his package of austerity measures against a majority of Social Democrats, Communists and the NSDAP, Brüning made use of emergency decrees, and even dissolved Parliament. In March and April of 1932, Hindenburg was re-elected in the German presidential election of 1932.

The NSDAP was the big winner in the national elections of July 1932. It gained 38% of the vote, making it the biggest party in the Reichstag. The Communist KPD came third, with 15%. Together, the anti-democratic parties of right and left were now able to hold the majority of seats in Parliament. The NSDAP was particularly successful among young voters, who were unable to find a place in vocational training, with little hope for a future job; among the petite bourgeoisie (lower middle class) which had lost its assets in the hyperinflation of 1923; among the rural population; and among the army of unemployed. In new elections in November 1932, the NSDAP's share of the vote declined slightly, but it remained the biggest party in the Parliament.

On January 30, 1933, pressured by former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservatives, President Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler Chancellor.

German Reich

Nazi revolution or 'Seizure of Power'

In order to secure a majority for his NSDAP in the Reichstag, Hitler called for new elections. On the evening of 27 February 1933, a fire was set in the Reichstag building. Hitler swiftly blamed an alleged Communist uprising, and convinced President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree, which would remain in force until 1945, repealed important political and human rights of the Weimar constitution. Communist agitation was banned, but at this time not the Communist Party itself.

Eleven thousand Communists and Socialists were arrested and brought into concentration camps, where they were at the mercy of the Gestapo, the newly established secret police force (9,000 were found guilty and very many executed). Communist Reichstag deputies were taken into protective custody (despite their constitutional privileges).

Despite the terror and unprecedented propaganda, the last free General Elections of March 5 failed to bring the majority for the NSDAP that Hitler had hoped for. Together with the German National People's Party (DNVP), however, he was able to form a slim majority government. With accommodations to the Catholic Centre Party Germany, Hitler succeeded in convincing a required two-thirds of a rigged Parliament to pass the Enabling act of 1933 which gave his government full legislative power. Only the Social Democrats voted against the Act. The Enabling Act formed the basis for the Dictatorship, dissolution of the Länder; the trade unions and all political parties other than the National Socialist (Nazi) Party were suppressed. A centralised totalitarian state was established, no longer based on the liberal Weimar constitution. Germany left the League of Nations. The coalition Parliament was rigged on this fateful 23 March 1933 by defining the absence of arrested and murdered deputies as voluntary and therefore cause for their exclusion as wilful absentees. Subsequently in July the Centre Party was voluntarily dissolved in a quid pro quo with the Holy See under the anti-communist Pope Pius XI for the Reichskonkordat; and by these maneuvers Hitler achieved movement of these Catholic voters into the Nazi party, and a long-awaited international diplomatic acceptance of his regime. The Communist Party was proscribed in April 1933 .

However, many leaders of the Nazi SA were disappointed. The Chief of Staff of the SA, Ernst Röhm, was pressing for the SA to be incorporated into the Wehrmacht under his supreme command. Hitler felt threatened by these plans. On the weekend of June 30, 1934, he gave order to the SS to seize Röhm and his lieutenants, and to execute them without trial (known as the Night of the Long Knives).

The SS became an independent organisation under the command of the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. He would become the supervisor of the Gestapo and of the concentration camps, soon also of the ordinary police. Hitler also established the Waffen-SS as a separate troop.

The regime showed particular hostility towards the Jews. In September 1935, the Reichstag passed the so-called Nuremberg race laws directed against Jewish citizens. Jews lost their German citizenship, and were banned from marrying Germans. About 500,000 individuals were affected by the new rules.

Hitler re-established the German air force and reintroduced universal military service. The open rearmament was in flagrant breach of the Treaty of Versailles, but neither the United Kingdom, France or Italy went beyond issuing notes of protest.

In 1936 German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. In this case, the Treaty of Locarno would have obliged the United Kingdom to intervene in favour of France. But despite protests by the French government, Britain chose to do nothing about it. The coup strengthened Hitler's standing in Germany. His reputation was going to increase further with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were held in the same year in Berlin and in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and which proved another great propaganda success for the regime.

Expansion and defeat

After establishing the "Rome-Berlin axis" with Mussolini, and signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan - which was joined by Italy a year later in 1937 - Hitler felt able to take the offensive in foreign policy. On 12 March 1938, German troops marched into Austria, where an attempted Nazi coup had been unsuccessful in 1934. When Hitler entered Vienna, he was greeted by loud cheers. Four weeks later, 99% of Austrians voted in favour of the annexation (Anschluss) of their country to the German Reich. Hitler thereby fulfilled the old idea of an all encompassing German Reich with the inclusion of Austria - the "greater Germany" solution that Bismarck had shunned when, in 1871, he united the German-speaking lands under Prussian leadership. Although the annexation denounced the Treaty of Saint-Germain, which expressedly forbade the unification of Austria with Germany, the western powers once again merely protested.

After Austria, Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia, where the 3.5 million-strong Sudeten German minority was demanding equal rights and self-government. At the Munich Conference of September 1938, Hitler, the Italian leader Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier agreed upon the cession of Sudeten territory to the German Reich by Czechoslovakia. Hitler thereupon declared that all of German Reich's territorial claims had been fulfilled. However, hardly six months after the Munich Agreement, in March 1939, Hitler used the smoldering quarrel between Slovaks and Czechs as a pretext for taking over the rest of Czechoslovakia as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In the same month, he secured the return of Memel from Lithuania to Germany. British Prime Minister Chamberlain was forced to acknowledge that his policy of appeasement towards Hitler had failed.

In six years, the Nazi regime prepared the country for World War II. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population of Nazi Germany and later in the occupied countries through forced deportation and, ultimately, genocide now known as the Holocaust. A similar policy applied to the various ethnic and national groups considered subhuman such as Poles , Roma or Russians. These groups were seen as threats to the purity of Germany's Aryan race. There were also many groups, such as the mentally handicapped and those who were physically challenged from birth, which were singled out as being detrimental to Aryan purity. After annexing the Sudetenland border country of Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and taking over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate (March 1939), the German Reich and the Soviet Union invaded Poland on first September 1939 predominantly as part of the Wehrmacht operation codenamed Fall Weiss. The invasion of Poland began World War II.

Territorial losses of modern Germany 1919-1945.
Territorial losses of modern Germany 1919-1945.

By 1941, the Germans were having the upper hand, but the tide turned in December 1941 after the invasion of the Soviet Union stalled in front of Moscow and the USA joined the war. Because of the invasion (see Operation Barbarossa) , the Soviets joined the Allies.The tide turned further after the Battle of Stalingrad. By late 1944, the United States and Great Britain were closing in on Germany in the West, while the Soviets were closing from the East. In May 1945, Nazi Germany collapsed when Berlin was taken over by Soviet and Polish forces. Hitler committed suicide when it seemed inevitable that the Allies would win.

By September 1945, the German Reich (Which lasted only 10 years) and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) had been defeated, chiefly by the forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, United Kingdom, France and Canada. Much of Europe lay in ruins, over sixty million people had been killed (most of them civilians), including approximately six million Jews and five million non-Jews in what became known as the Holocaust. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructure and led directly to its partition, considerable loss of territory (especially in the east), and historical legacy of guilt and shame.

Soviet Soldiers storming the Berlin metro 1945.
Soviet Soldiers storming the Berlin metro 1945.

Germany since 1945

Germans frequently refer to 1945 as the Stunde Null (zero hour) to describe the near-total collapse of their country. At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones by the Allies, see Partitions of Germany; the three western zones would form the Federal Republic of Germany (commonly known as West Germany), while part of the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (commonly known as East Germany), both founded in 1949. West Germany was established as a liberal democratic republic while East Germany became a Communist State under the influence of the Soviet Union. Also in Potsdam, the allies agreed that the provinces east of the Oder and Neisse rivers (the Oder-Neisse line) were transferred to Poland and Russia ( Kaliningrad). The agreement also set forth the abolition of Prussia and the repatriation of Germans living in those territories, and formalized the German exodus from Eastern Europe. In the process of the expulsion millions of these German expellees from the lost pre-1945 German east provinces died, and many suffered from exhaustion and dehydration.

Prisoners of war in the streets of Berlin.
Prisoners of war in the streets of Berlin.

In the immediate post-war years the German population lived on near starvation levels, and the Allied economic policy was one of de-industrialisation ( Morgenthau Plan) in order to preclude any future German war-making capability. U.S. policy began to change at the end of 1946 ( Restatement of Policy on Germany), and by mid 1947, after lobbying by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Generals Clay and Marshall, the Truman administration finally realized that economic recovery in Europe could not go forward without the reconstruction of the German industrial base on which it had previously been dependent. In July, Truman rescinded on "national security grounds" the punitive JCS 1067, which had directed the U.S. forces of occupation in Germany to "take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany." It was replaced by JCS 1779, which instead stressed that "[a]n orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany."

West Germany eventually came to enjoy prolonged economic growth beginning in the early 1950s ( Wirtschaftswunder). The recovery occurred largely because of the previously forbidden currency reform of June 1948 and to a minor degree by U.S. assistance through Marshall Plan loans. West Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1958 . Across the border, East Germany soon became the richest, most advanced country in the Warsaw Pact, but many of its citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity.

Reunification

Relations between the two post-war German states remained icy until the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt launched a highly controversial rapprochement with the East European communist states ( Ostpolitik) in the 1970s, culminating in the Warschauer Kniefall on 7 December 1970. Although anxious to relieve serious hardships for divided families and to reduce friction, West Germany under Brandt's Ostpolitik was intent on holding to its concept of "two German states in one German nation." Relations improved, however, and in September 1973, East Germany and West Germany were admitted to the United Nations.

During the summer of 1989 , rapid changes took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to West Germany via Hungary after Hungary's reformist government opened its borders. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations in several cities continued to grow.

Faced with civil unrest, East German leader Erich Honecker was forced to resign in October, and on 9 November, East German authorities unexpectedly allowed East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. This led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with the German reunification that came into force on 3 October 1990. The reunification of Germany also brought to light civil discontent concerning the racial makeup of Germany. Poet/historian May Ayim brought to light to various perspectives of both the German people and the minorities such as the Afro-German and Afro-Turkish populations. Showing Our Colors (May Opitz, 1992) and Blues in Black and White (Blues in schwarz-weiss) are two published books that contain much of May Ayim's poems and essays along with the work of other Afro-German and German feminist scholars that were inspired by events surrounding the German reunification.

Role in the European Union

Together with France and other EU states, the new Germany has played the leading role in the European Union. Germany (especially under Chancellor Helmut Kohl) was one of the main supporters of the wish of many East European countries to join the EU. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defence and security apparatus. The German chancellor expressed an interest in a permanent seat for Germany in the UN Security Council, identifying France, Russia and Japan as countries that explicitly backed Germany's bid.

Historiography

A major historiographical debate about the German history concerns the Sonderweg, the alleged “special path” that separated German history from the “normal” course of historical development, and whether or not Nazi Germany was the inevitable result of the Sonderweg. Proponents of the Sonderweg theory such as Fritz Fischer point to such events of the Revolution of 1848, the authoritarian of the Second Empire and the continuation of the Imperial elite into the Weimar and Nazi periods. Opponents such as Gerhard Ritter of the Sonderweg theory argue that proponents of the theory are guilty of seeking selective examples, and there was much contingency and chance in German history. In addition, there was much debate within the supporters of the Sonderweg concept as for the reasons for the Sonderweg, and whether or not the Sonderweg ended in 1945.

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