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The Merovingian kings of Gaul conquered several German tribes in the sixth century, and placed them under the control of autonomous dukes of mixed Frankish and native blood. Colonists from Gaul were encouraged to move to the newly conquered territories. While the German tribes were allowed to preserve their laws, they were pressured into changing their religion.


The Roman provinces north of the Alps had been Christianised since the 4th century and dioceses such as that of Augsburg were maintained after the end of the Roman Empire. However, from around 600 there was a renewed Christian mission of the pagan Germanic tribes. Irish-Scottish 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.

Frankish Empire

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 camapign against their heathen rivals, the Saxons and the Avars. The Saxons 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. From Bildatlas der Deutschen Geschichte by Dr Paul Knötel (1895)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 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, after fighting between Charlemagne's grandchildren, the Carolingian empire was partitioned into several parts in the Treaty of Verdun. 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 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 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 German 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 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.

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 Germanic east colonization and the chartering of new towns and villages began into largely Slav-inhabited territories east of the Oder, such as Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, Poland, and Livonia (see also Drang nach Osten).

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 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 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 Germany's territorial rulers and prevented all sections of the nation from coming together 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.

Reformation and Thirty Years War
Martin Luther, German reformer and reformer of Germany, 1529Around the beginning of the 16th century there was much discontent in Germany with abuses in the Catholic Church and a desire for reform.

In 1517 the Reformation began: Luther nailed his 95 "theses" against the abuse of indulgences to the church door in Wittenberg.

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.

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.

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 German possessions.

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

The Peace of Westphalia marked the end of the Thirty Years' War. 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), 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, in a loss of something like 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: 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 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 centralised 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 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 Polish relief army led by King Jan Sobieski of Poland while the city itself was defended by German 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 partitions of Poland, occuping 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 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 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 United Kingdom's Duke of Wellington and by Prussia's Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.

German Confederation

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 by 1850.

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, 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 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.

North German Confederation
In 1867 the German Confederation was dissolved. In its place the North German Confederation (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 Confederation was a transitory group that existed from 1867 to 1871, between the dissolution of the German Confederation and the founding of the German Empire. With it, Prussia established control over the 22 states of northern Germany and, via the Zollverein, southern Germany.

German Empire

The rise of Prussian power in the 19th century supported by growing German nationalism eventually ended inter-state fighting and resulted in the formation of the German empire in 1871 under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck. Although authoritarian in many respects the empire eventually permitted the development of political parties and Bismarck was credited with passing the most advanced social welfare legislation of the age. Dynamic expansion of military power however contributed to tensions on the continent.

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 and invaded France in August 1870. After 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 am Main was signed: France was obliged to return Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine to Germany. The loss of formerly conquested territories was not accepted by French nationalism, and was used to create an obstacle to Franco–German understanding.

On 18 January 1871, while the princes were assembled for the ongoing Siege of Paris, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, the Prussian King Wilhelm I had been proclaimed "German Emperor". The German Empire was founded, with 25 states, three of which were Hanseatic free cities. 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. Non-German sections of the population in the German Empire, like the Polish, Danish and French minorities, were discriminated[citation needed] 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), 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.

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 Wilhelm II). 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.

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.

German Empire - Wilhelminian Era
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.

The fragile European balance of power broke down in 1914 and World War I and its aftermath including the Treaty of Versailles led to the collapse of the German empire. Imperialist power politics and the determined pursuit of national interests caused 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, 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 following Germanys 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.


Fascism's Rise and Defeat

The postwar Weimar Republic (1919-33) was an attempt to establish a peaceful liberal democratic regime in Germany. This government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed by economic problems and the inherent weakness of the Weimar state. The inflation of the early 1920s the world depression of the 1930s and the social unrest stemming from the draconian conditions of the Versailles Treaty worked to destroy the Weimar government from inside and out.

The National Socialist (Nazi) Party led by Adolf Hitler stressed nationalist themes and promised to put the unemployed back to work. The party blamed many of Germany's ills on alleged Jewish conspiracies. Nazi support expanded rapidly in the early 1930s. Hitler was asked to form a government as Reich Chancellor in January 1933. After President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934 Hitler assumed that office as well. Once in power Hitler and his party first undermined then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population in Germany and later on in the occupied countries forced emigration and ultimately genocide. Hitler restored Germany's economic and military strength but his ambitions led Germany into World War II. For Germany World War II resulted in the destruction of its political and economic infrastructures led to its division and left a humiliating legacy.

After Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8 1945 the United States the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R. occupied the country and assumed responsibility for its administration. The commanders-in-chief exercised supreme authority in their respective zones and acted in concert on questions affecting the whole country. France was later given a separate zone of occupation.

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

Political Developments In West Germany

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

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

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

The three Western Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain responsibilities for Germany as a whole. Under the new arrangements the Allies stationed troops within the F.R.G. for NATO defense pursuant to stationing and status-of-forces agreements. With the exception of 45 000 French troops Allied forces were under NATO's joint defense command. (France withdrew from the collective military command structure of NATO in1966.)

Political life in the F.R.G. was remarkably stable and orderly. The Adenauer era (1949-63) was followed by a brief period under Ludwig Erhard (1963-66) who in turn was replaced by Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-69). All governments between 1949 and 1966 were formed by the united caucus of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) either alone or in coalition with the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP). Kiesinger's 1966-69 "Grand Coalition" included the F.R.G.'s two largest parties CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In the 1969 election the SPD--headed by Willy Brandt--gained enough votes to form a coalition government with the FDP. Chancellor Brandt remained head of government until May 1974 when he resigned after a senior member of his staff was uncovered as a spy for the East German intelligence service.

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

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

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

Political Developments In East Germany

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

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

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

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

Inter-German Relations

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

In 1969 Chancellor Brandt announced that the F.R.G. would remain firmly rooted in the Atlantic alliance but would intensify efforts to improve relations with Eastern Europe and the G.D.R. The F.R.G. commenced this "Ostpolitik" by negotiating non-aggression treaties with the Soviet Union Poland Czechoslovakia Bulgaria and Hungary.

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

German Unification

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

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

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

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

Four Power Control Ends

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

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

Conclusion of the final settlement cleared the way for unification of the F.R.G. and G.D.R. Formal political union occurred on October 3 1990 with the accession (in accordance with Article 23 of the F.R.G.'s Basic Law) of the five Laender which had been reestablished in the G.D.R. On December 2 1990 all-German elections were held for the first time since 1933.



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