Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of Germany
While the German people were not fully unified into a single political unit until the late 19th century, they exerted a tremendous influence upon Western civilization from its very beginnings.
The Holy Roman Empire, dating from the 8th century until 1806, was the first German Reich, or empire. The territory of the empire originally included what is now Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, eastern France, the Low Countries, and parts of northern and central Italy. But its sovereign was usually the German king, and the German lands were always its chief component. After the mid-15th century, it was known as the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". The German Empire of 1871–1918 was often known as the second Reich to indicate its descent from the medieval empire. By the same reasoning, Adolf Hitler referred to Nazi Germany (1933–1945) as the Third Reich.
This article begins with the Roman-Germanic period and ends with the Unification of the two Germanys in 1990. For further details, please consult the main articles given at the beginning of the sections and subsections. The History of Germany since 1945 continues this page.
The Germans and the Romans
Around 58 BC, in a succession of military campaigns the Romans made the Rhine the north-eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, giving way to the Romanisation of the left bank of the Rhine. Roman forts were built at Cologne, Trier, Koblenz, Mainz and elsewhere to secure the Rhine frontier. In 9 AD a Roman army led by Publius Quinctilius Varus was defeated by the Cheruscan leader Arminius (Hermann) in the Teutoburg Forest. Germany as far as the Rhine and the Danube remained outside the Roman Empire.
From 90 AD onwards, the Romans built the Limes, a 550 km (340 miles) long defensive line from the Rhine to the Danube designed to check German advances over the frontier, as well as numerous forts (e.g. at Wiesbaden, Augsburg, Regensburg, Passau). The 3rd century AD saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes - Alemanni, Franks, Chatti, Bajuwari, Saxons, Frisians, Thuringians, Langobardi. Around 260 AD, the Germans finally broke through the Limes and the Danube frontier.
In the fourth century AD, the advance of the Huns into Europe gave the start to the period of the Great Migrations, which changed the whole map of Europe. The Eastern Germanic peoples destroyed the Western Roman Empire, but the states they founded did not last. The western Germans moved into the territory of the former Roman Empire without losing contact with their own ancestral land. The mingling of Germanic traditions and the Christian religion gave rise to the pattern of life of the medieval West.
By unifying the Franks and conquering Gaul, the Merovingian king Chlodwig became the founder of the Frankish kingdom. In 496 AD the Franks defeated the Alemanni, accepted the Catholic faith and so gained the support of the Church.
From 600 AD, the Christianisation of the Germans began. Irish-Scots monks founded monasteries at Würzburg, Regensburg, Reichenau, and other places. The missionary activity in the Merovingian kingdom was continued by the Anglo-Saxon monk Boniface, who established the first monastery east of the Rhine at Fritzlar. Bishoprics under Papal authority were established to spread the Christian faith in the German lands.
In 751 AD Pippin III, mayor (controller) 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, and began to take an interest in Italian affairs.
Holy Roman Empire
Main article: Holy Roman Empire.
From 772 to 814 AD 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 AD Charlemagne's authority in Western Europe was confirmed by his coronation as emperor in Rome. The Holy Roman Empire was established. 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 the Carolingian empire was successively partitioned. The German empire developed out of the East Frankish kingdom. 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 the Frankish kingdom.
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 (Reichskirche). In 951 Otto the Great married the widowed queen Adelheid, thereby winning the Langobardic (Lombard) crown. Outside threats to the kingdom were contained when in 955 the Hungarians were decisively defeated near Augsburg and the Slavs between the Elbe and the Oder were submitted. In 962 Otto I was crowned emperor in Rome, taking the succession of Charlemagne and establishing a strong German influence over the Papacy.
In 1033 the kingdom of Burgundy was incorporated into the German empire.
During the reign of Henry III Germany 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 Reichskirche and a strengthening of the German secular princes.
From 1100, new towns were founded around imperial strongholds, castles, bishops' palaces and monasteries. The towns began to establish municipal rights and liberties, 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 colonisation of the East began: German settlers, including peasants, towns-people and the Teutonic Order, moved into the thinly populated Slav territories east of the Oder (Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, Poland, Courland), establishing towns and villages governed by German law.
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 reassertain 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 von 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.
In 1226 Prussia was conquered and christianized by the Teutonic Order. But from 1300, the Empire started to lose territory on all its frontiers.
The Golden Bull of 1356 stipulated that in future the emperor was to be chosen by seven electors - the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg.
From 1400, the modern world gradually came into being as a result of intellectual, economic and political changes. The knightly classes was impoverished 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, from 1526 onwards, Bohemia and Moravia), maintained a constant grip on the position of the Holy Roman Emperor until 1806 (with the exception of the years between 1742 and 1745). However, their power gave cause to increasing particularism of the territorial princes. The establishment of a money economy provoked social discontent among the 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.
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.
Reformation and Thirty Years War
Around the beginning of the 16th century there was much discontentment in Germany with abuses in the Church and a desire for reform. Popular piety mingled with superstition.
In 1521 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. The following year saw Luther in conflict with the Anabaptists and the Iconoclasts, while the Reformist faith continued to spread.
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 the War of the Schmalkaldic League in 1546/1547, the Emperor Charles V defeated the Protestant rulers.
In 1556 Charles V abdicated. The Habsburg Empire was divided, as Spain was separated from the German possessions.
From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years War ravaged Germany. 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), Gustav II Adolph 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, in a loss of something like a third of its population, and in a general impoverishment.
The war ended 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, signed in Münster and Osnabrück: German territory was lost to France and Sweden and the Netherlands left the Holy Roman Empire. The imperial power declined further as the states' rights were increased.
End of the Holy Roman Empire
From 1640, Brandenburg-Prussia had started to rise under the Great Elector, Frederick William. The Peace of Westphalia strengthened it further, through the acquisition of East Pomerania. A system of rule based on absolutism was established.
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 benefitted 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 German-Polish army commanded by Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine, and King Jan Sobieski of Poland. 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.
The French Revolution sparked a new war between the France several of its Eastern neighbours, including Prussia and Austria. Following the Peace of Basle in 1795 with Prussia, the left 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 August 6, 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.
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.
Restauration and Revolution
After the fall of Napoleon, European monarchs and statesmen convened in the 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 territory 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 organisations. 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 proved abortive: 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.
North German Confederation
Main article: North German Confederation
In 1862 Prince Bismarck was nominated chief minister of Prussia - against the opposition of liberals and socialists, who saw in him a reactionary.
In 1864 it came to disputes between Prussia and Denmark 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 the Prussians, joined by Austria, defeated the Danes. 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 both duchys provoked growing tensions between Austria and Prussia, which ultimately led to the Austro-Prussian War (1866). The war was decided in favour of the Prussians, who carried the decisive victory at the Battle of Königgratz, under the command of Helmuth von Moltke.
In 1867 the German Confederation was dissolved. In its place the North German Confederation 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 19th century was also the time when Germany industrialized. In 1825 the first steamship sailed on the Rhine. In 1833 Gauss and Weber constructed the first telegraph. In 1835 the first German railway line, between Nürnberg and Fürth, was opened. In 1866 Siemens constructed the first dynamo.
From 1850 the number joint-stock companies increased. The middle classes began to assert themselves, economically, politically and socially. But at the same time, the difficulties and discontents arose in the working classes.
Main article: German Empire
Age of Bismarck
Differences between France and Prussia over the accession to the Spanish throne of a German candidate - whom France opposed - led to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Following a French declaration of war, joint southern-German and Prussian troops, under the command of Moltke, invaded France in 1870. The French army was finally forced to capitulate by the fortress of Sedan. French Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner and the Second French Empire collapsed. Following the capitulation of Paris, the Peace of Frankfurt am Main was signed: France was obliged to cede Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine to Germany. The territorial cessions deeply hurt the French national feeling, creating an obstacle to Franco-German understanding.
On January 18th 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, the Prussian King Wilhelm I was proclaimed "Emperor of Germany". The German Empire was founded, with 25 states, three of which were Hanseatic cities. It was a "Little German" solution, since Austria had been excluded.
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 Catholic Church and of its political arm, the Catholic Centre Party, through various measures - like the introduction of civil marriage -, but without much success.
The other perceived threat was the rise of the Socialist Workers' Party (later known as the Social Democratic Party of Germany), the declared aim of which was the establishment of a new socialist order through the transformation of the existing political and social conditions. From 1878, Bismarck tried to repress the social democratic movement by outlawing the party's organisation, 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. However, Bismarck achieved none of these goals.
Bismarck's lasting reputation as a great statesman ultimately rests on the field of foreign policy. His priority was to protect the security of Germany through a system of alliances. 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.
During the Balkan crisis of 1875-78, Bismarck acted as "honest broker" at the Congress of Berlin (1878), trying to mediate between the great powers Austria-Hungary, Russia, the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire, so to secure the maintenance of peace in Europe.
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 Emperor Wilhelm I's aspirations of making Germany a world power through the acquisition of German colonies ("a place in the sun"). Bismarck wanted at all cost to avoid tensions between the European great powers that would threaten the security of Germany. 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.
Bismarck's unification accelerated the industrialization of Germany. In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and C.F. Benz each constructed a petrol engine independently of one another. In 1893 Rudolf Diesel developed the diesel engine. In 1893, the Kiel Canal was opened between the North Sea and the Baltic, and in 1907, the first flight of the dirigible airship built by Graf Zeppelin occurred at Friedrichshafen.
In 1888 Kaiser Wilhelm I died. The young and ambitious Wilhelm II acceded to the throne.
Soon it came to political and personal differences between Bismarck and the new monarch, who wanted to be "his own chancellor". This eventually caused Bismarck to resign in 1890.
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.
The incident which sparked off the war was the assassination, on June 28th 1914, of the Austrian heir apparent Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina by a Serbian nationalist. The underlying causes were 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 and the Ottoman Empire against Russia, France, Great Britain and Italy. Several smaller European states were also involved. Fighting also spread to the Near East and the German colonies.
In the west, Germany fought a war of position with bloody battles. After a quick surrender of Belgium, German troops were halted on the Marne, north of Paris. The armies remained in this position until the end of the war. In the east, no decisive victories against the Russian army. 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 marked a decisive turning-point.
On November 7th/8th 1917 (October 25th/26th, according to the Russian calendar) the Russian Revolution broke out. On March 3rd 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed between Germany and Russia. Put under pressure by the Central Powers (Germany and its allies), Russia agreed to the independence of Finland and the Ukraine, and to the cession of Estonia, Livonia, Courland, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia and the Armenian territories.
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 3rd, 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 9th, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a Republic. On November 11th, an armistice was signed at Compiègne. The first world war was over.
Main article: Weimar Republic
On June 28th 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed, supplanting the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Germany was to cede Alsace and Lorraine, Eupen-Malmédy, North Schleswig, Posen, West Prussia, the Memel area, and Upper Silesia. All German colonies were to be handed over to the Allies. The left and the right bank of the Rhine was to be permanently demilitarised. The industrially important Saar 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, 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.
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.
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, in so far 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.
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 8th, 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 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 only 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 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 6000,000.
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.
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 30th 1933, pressured by former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservatives, President Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler Chancellor.
In order to secure a majority for his NSDAP in the Reichstag, Hitler called for new elections. On the evening of February 27th 1933, a fire was laid in the Reichstag building. Hitler was swift to paint an alleged Communist uprising on the wall, and convinced President Hindenburg to sign the so-called Emergency Decree for the Protection of the People and the State. This decree, which would remain in force until 1945, repealed important basic rights of the Weimar constitution.
Despite the terror and propaganda, the national elections of March 5th 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 majority government. With false promises, Hitler succeeded in convincing a required two-thirds of Parliament to pass an enabling law that gave his government full legislative power. Only the Social Democrats voted against the law. The enabling law formed the basis for the 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 rule of law. Germany left the League of Nations.
But 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.
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 re-introduced universal military service. The open rearmament was in flagrant breach of the Treaty of Versailles. However, neither the United Kingdom, nor France and Italy, went beyond issueing 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 Olympic Games, which were held in the same year in Berlin and in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and which proved a great propagandistic 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 March 12th 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 Germany. Hitler thereby fulfilled the old idea of a German Reich with the inclusion of Austria - the "greater German" solution that Bismarck had shunned when, in 1871, he united the German 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 Germany by the Czechoslovaks. Hitler thereupon declared that all of Germany's territorial claims had been fulfilled. But hardly six months after the Munich Agreement, in March 1939, Hitler used the smoldering quarrel between Slowaks 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 in 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 Roma and Sinti.
After annexing the Sudeten border country of Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and taking over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate (March 1939), Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 invaded Poland.
By 1945, Germany and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) were defeated – chiefly by the united forces of USA, Britain and the Soviet Union. Much of Europe lay in ruins, tens of millions of people had been killed, most of them civilians, as the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust and many millions of people in the conquered territories. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructures, led to its division, considerable loss of territory in the East and left a humiliating legacy.
Germany since 1945
For details, see the main History of Germany since 1945 article.
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; 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. 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.
Willy Brandt became chancellor of West Germany in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between West and East Germany. The Red Army Faction carried out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s.
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc Europe, Germany was reunited on 3 October, 1990; together with France and other EU states, the new Germany is playing the leading role in the European Union. 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.
Post-war education had helped put Germany among countries in Europe with the least number of people subscribing to Nazi ideas.
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