Background: As Europe’s largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia), Germany is a key member of the continent’s economic, political, and defense organizations. European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC, which became the EU, and NATO, while the Communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German unification in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring Eastern productivity and wages up to Western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro. In January 2011, Germany assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011-12 term.
Government type: federal republic
Currency: euro (EUR)
Geography of Germany
Location: Central Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, between the Netherlands and Poland, south of Denmark
Geographic coordinates: 51 00 N, 9 00 E
total: 357,021 sq. km
land: 349,223 sq. km
water: 7,798 sq. km
Coastline: 2,389 km
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate and marine; cool, cloudy, wet winters and summers; occasional warm foehn wind
Terrain: lowlands in north, uplands in center, Bavarian Alps in south
lowest point: Freepsum Lake -2 m
highest point: Zugspitze 2,963 m
Natural resources: iron ore, coal, potash, timber, lignite, uranium, copper, natural gas, salt, nickel, arable land
Natural hazards: flooding
Geography – note: strategic location on North European Plain and along the entrance to the Baltic Sea
Unified Germany has an area of 356,959 square kilometers. Extending 853 kilometers from its northern border with Denmark to the Alps in the south, it is the sixth largest country in Europe. At its widest, Germany measures approximately 650 kilometers from the Belgian-German border in the west to the Polish frontier in the east.
The territory of the former East Germany (divided into five new Länder in 1990) accounts for almost one-third of united Germany’s territory and one-fifth of its population. After a close vote, in 1993 the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, voted to transfer the capital from Bonn in the west to Berlin, a city-state in the east surrounded by the Land of Brandenburg. The relocation process is expected to be concluded by about the year 2000, following the transfer of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, the Chancellory, and ten of the eighteen federal ministries.
With its irregular, elongated shape, Germany provides an excellent example of a recurring sequence of landforms found the world over. A plain dotted with lakes, moors, marshes, and heaths retreats from the sea and reaches inland, where it becomes a landscape of hills crisscrossed by streams, rivers, and valleys. These hills lead upward, gradually forming high plateaus and woodlands and eventually climaxing in spectacular mountain ranges.
As of the mid-1990s, about 37 percent of the country’s area was arable; 17 percent consisted of meadows and pastures; 30 percent was forests and woodlands; and 16 percent was devoted to other uses. Geographers often divide Germany into four distinct topographic regions: the North German Lowland; the Central German Uplands; Southern Germany; and the Alpine Foreland and the Alps.
North German Lowland
The North German Lowland is a part of the Great European Plain that sweeps across Europe from the Pyrenees in France to the Ural Mountains in Russia. All of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin, most of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, and parts of Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia are located in this region.
Hills in the lowland only rarely reach 200 meters in height, and most of the region is well under 100 meters above sea level. The lowlands slope almost imperceptibly toward the sea. The North Sea portion of the coastline is devoid of cliffs and has wide expanses of sand, marsh, and mud flats (Watten ). The mud flats between the Elbe estuary and the Netherlands border are believed to have been above sea level during Roman history and to have been inundated when the shoreline sank during the thirteenth century. In the western area, the former line of inshore sand dunes became the East Frisian Islands. The mud flats between the islands and the shore are exposed at very low tides and are crossed by innumerable channels varying in size from those cut by small creeks to those serving as the estuaries of the Elbe and Weser rivers. The mud and sand are constantly shifting, and all harbor and shipping channels require continuing maintenance.
The offshore islands have maximum elevations of fewer than thirty-five meters and have been subject to eroding forces that have washed away whole sections during severe storms. Shorelines most subject to eroding tides were stabilized during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Although the East Frisian Islands are strung along the coast in a nearly straight line, the North Frisian Islands are irregularly shaped and are haphazardly positioned. They were also once a part of the mainland, and a large portion of the mud flats between the islands and the coast is exposed during low tides.
The Baltic Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein differs markedly from its North Sea coast. It is indented by a number of small, deep fjords with steep banks, which were carved by rivers when the land was covered with glacial ice. Farther to the east, the Baltic shore is flat and sandy. Rügen, Germany’s largest island, lies just offshore of Stralsund.
Wherever the region’s terrain is rolling and drainage is satisfactory, the land is highly productive. This is especially true of the areas that contain a very fertile siltlike loess soil, better than most German soils. Such areas, called Börden (sing., Börde ), are located along the southern edge of the North German Lowland beginning west of the Rhine near the Ruhr Valley and extending eastward and into the Leipzig Basin. The Magdeburg Börde is the best known of these areas. Other Börden are located near Frankfurt am Main, northern Baden-Württemberg, and in an area to the north of Ulm and Munich. Because the areas with loess soil also have a moderate continental climate with a long growing season, they are considered Germany’s breadbasket.
Central German Uplands
The Central German Uplands are Germany’s portion of the Central European Uplands; they extend from the Massif Central in France to Poland and the Czech Republic. Germany’s uplands are generally moderate in height and seldom reach elevations above 1,100 meters. The region encompasses all of the Saarland, Hesse, and Thuringia; the north of Rhineland-Palatinate; substantial southern portions of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt; and western parts of Saxony.
In the west, the Central German Uplands begin with the Rheinish Uplands, a massive rectangular block of slate and shale with a gently rolling plateau of about 400 meters in elevation and peaks of about 800 to 900 meters. The Rheinish Uplands are divided by two deep and dramatic river valleys–the Moselle and the Rhine. The high hilly area to the south of the Moselle is the Hunsrück; the one to its north is the Eifel. The Rhine separates these areas from their extensions to the east, the Taunus, and, to the north, the Westerwald. To the north and east of the Westerwald are further distinct areas of the Rheinish Uplands, most notably the small range of hills known as the Siebengebirge, across the Rhine from Bonn, and the larger hilly regions–the Siegerland, Bergishes Land, Sauerland, and the Rothaargebirge. The higher elevations of the Rheinish Uplands are heavily forested; lower-lying areas are well suited for the growing of grain, fruit, and early potatoes.
Because of the low elevations of its valleys (200 to 350 meters), the Uplands of Hesse provide an easily traveled passageway through the Central German Uplands. Although not as dramatic as the Rhine Valley, for hundreds of years this passageway–the so-called Hessian Corridor–has been an important route between the south and the north, with Frankfurt am Main at one end and Hanover at the other, and Kassel on the Weser River in its center. The headwaters of the Weser have created a number of narrow but fertile valleys. The highlands of the Uplands of Hesse are volcanic in origin. The most notable of these volcanic highlands are the Rhön (950 meters) and the Vogelsburg (774 meters).
To the north of the Uplands of Hesse lie two low ranges, the Teutoburger Wald and the Wiehengebirge, which are the northernmost fringes of the Central German Uplands. It is at the Porta Westfalica near Minden that the Weser River breaks through the latter range to reach the North German Lowland.
One of the highest points in the Central German Uplands is at Brocken (1,142 meters) in the Harz Mountains. This range is situated about forty kilometers to the northeast of Göttingen and forms the northwestern boundary of the Leipzig Basin, an extension of the North German Lowland. The Harz are still largely forested at lower levels; barren moors cover higher elevations. An important center for tourism in the 1990s, the range was once an important source for many minerals.
The Thüringer Wald, located in southwestern Thuringia, is a narrow range about 100 kilometers long, with its highest point just under 1,000 meters. Running in a northwesterly direction, it links the Central German Uplands with the Bohemian Massif of the Czech Republic and forms the southwestern boundary of the Leipzig Basin. The basin’s southeastern boundary is formed by the Erzgebirge range, which extends to the northeast at a right angle to the Thüringer Wald. Part of the Bohemian Massif, the Erzgebirge range reaches 1,214 meters at its highest point.
The southeasternmost portion of the Central German Uplands consists of the Bohemian Forest and the much smaller Bavarian Forest. Both ranges belong to the Bohemian Massif. The Bohemian Forest, with heights up to 1,450 meters, forms a natural boundary between Germany and the Czech Republic.
Between the Central German Uplands and the Alpine Foreland and the Alps lies the geographical region of Southern Germany, which includes most of Baden-Württemberg, much of northern Bavaria, and portions of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Main River runs through the northern portion of this region. The Upper Rhine River Valley, nearly 300 kilometers long and about fifty kilometers wide, serves as its western boundary. The Rhine’s wide river valley here is in sharp contrast to its high narrow valley in the Rheinish Uplands. The southern boundaries of the region of Southern Germany are formed by extensions of the Jura Mountains of France and Switzerland. These ranges are separate from those of the Central German Uplands. One of these Jura ranges forms the Black Forest, whose highest peak is the Feldberg at 1,493 meters, and, continuing north, the less elevated Odenwald and Spessart hills. Another Jura range forms the Swabian Alb (see Glossary) and its continuation, the Franconian Alb. Up to 1,000 meters in height and approximately forty kilometers wide, the two albs form a long arc–400 kilometers long–from the southern end of the Black Forest to near Bayreuth and the hills of the Frankenwald region, which is part of the Central German Uplands. The Hardt Mountains in Rhineland-Palatinate, located to the west of the Rhine, are also an offshoot of the Jura Mountains.
The landscape of the Southern Germany region is often that of scarp and vale, with the eroded sandstone and limestone scarps facing to the northwest. The lowland terraces of the Rhine, Main, and Neckar river valleys, with their dry and warm climate, are suitable for agriculture and are highly productive. The loess and loam soils of the Rhine-Main Plain are cultivated extensively, and orchards and vineyards flourish. The Rhine-Main Plain is densely populated, and Frankfurt am Main, at its center, serves both as Germany’s financial capital and as a major European transportation hub.
Alpine Foreland and the Alps
The Alpine Foreland makes up most of Bavaria and a good part of Baden-Württemberg. The foreland is roughly triangular in shape, about 400 kilometers long from west to east with a maximum width of about 150 kilometers north to south, and is bounded by Lake Constance and the Alps to the south, the Swabian and Franconian albs to the north, and the Bavarian Forest to the east. Elevation within the foreland rises gently from about 400 meters near the Danube, which flows along its north, to about 750 meters at the beginning of the Alpine foothills. With the exception of Munich and the small cities of Augsburg, Ingolstadt, and Ulm, the foreland is primarily rural. Soils are generally poor, with the exception of some areas with loess soil, and much of the region is pasture or is sown to hardy crops.
Germany’s portion of the Alps accounts for a very small part of the country’s area and consists only of a narrow fringe of mountains that runs along the country’s border with Switzerland and Austria from Lake Constance in the west to Salzburg, Austria, in the east. The western section of the German Alps are the Algäuer Alps, located between Lake Constance and the Lech River. The Bavarian Alps, the central section, lie between the Lech and Inn rivers and contain Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze (2,963 meters). The Salzburg Alps, which begin at the Inn River and encircle Berchtesgaden, make up the easternmost section of Germany’s Alps.
The greater part of the country drains into the North Sea via the Rhine, Ems, Weser, and Elbe rivers, which flow in a north-northwest direction. In the east, the Oder River and its tributary, the Neisse River, flow northward into the Baltic Sea and mark the border with Poland. With the exception of the Lahn River, which flows southward before joining the Rhine, most of the tributaries of these rivers flow in a west-to-east or east-to-west direction. In an exception to the south-north pattern of major rivers, the Danube River rises in the Black Forest and flows in a southeasterly direction, traversing Bavaria before crossing into Austria at Passau on the long journey to the Black Sea. The Iller, Lech, Isar, and Inn rivers flow from the south into the Danube and drain the Alpine Foreland.
The Rhine, Germany’s longest and most important river, originates in Switzerland, from where it flows into Lake Constance (actually a river basin). At the lake’s west end, it begins a long course (800 kilometers) to the Netherlands, at first marking the boundary between Germany and Switzerland and later that between Germany and France. Of the Rhine’s three most important tributaries, the Moselle River drains parts of the Rheinish Uplands, the Main drains areas between the Central German Uplands and the Franconian Alb, and the Neckar River drains the area between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alb. Because these rivers keep the Rhine high during the winter and because melting snow in the Alps keeps it high during the spring and summer, the river generally has a high steady flow, which accounts for its being the busiest waterway in Europe.
People of Germany
Most inhabitants of Germany are ethnic German. There are, however, more than 7 million foreign residents, many of whom are the families and descendents of so-called “guest workers” (foreign workers, mostly from Turkey, invited to Germany in the 1950s and 1960s to fill labor shortages) who remained in Germany. Germany has a sizable ethnic Turkish population (2.4% at the beginning of 2010). Germany is also a prime destination for political and economic refugees from many developing countries. An ethnic Danish minority lives in the north, and a small Slavic minority known as the Sorbs lives in eastern Germany. Due to restrictive German citizenship laws, most “foreigners” do not hold German citizenship even when born and raised in Germany. However, since the German Government undertook citizenship and immigration law reforms in 2002, more foreign residents have had the ability to naturalize.
Germany has one of the world’s highest levels of education, technological development, and economic productivity. Since the end of World War II, the number of youths entering universities has more than tripled, and the trade and technical schools of the Federal Republic of Germany (F.R.G.) are among the world’s best. Germany is a broadly middle class society. A generous social welfare system provides for universal medical care, unemployment compensation, and other social needs. Millions of Germans travel abroad each year.
With unification on October 3, 1990, Germany began the major task of bringing the standard of living of Germans in the former German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.) up to that of western Germany. This has been a lengthy and difficult process due to the relative inefficiency of industrial enterprises in the former G.D.R., difficulties in resolving property ownership in eastern Germany, and the inadequate infrastructure and environmental damage that resulted from years of mismanagement under communist rule.
Economic uncertainty in eastern Germany is often cited as one factor contributing to extremist violence, primarily from the political right. Confusion about the causes of the current hardships and a need to place blame has found expression in harassment and violence by some Germans directed toward foreigners, particularly non-Europeans. The vast majority of Germans condemn such violence.
Population: 82,282,988 (July 2010 est.)
0-14 years: 13.7% (male 5,768,366/female 5,470,516)
15-64 years: 66.1% (male 27,707,761/female 26,676,759)
65 years and over: 20.3% (male 7,004,805/female 9,701,551)
Population growth rate: -0.061%
Life expectancy at birth: 79.41 years
Total fertility rate: 1.42 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%, other 6.1% (made up largely of Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish)
Religions: Protestant 34%, Roman Catholic 34%, Muslim 3.7%, unaffiliated or other 28.3%
History of Germany
GERMANY WAS UNITED on October 3, 1990. Unification brought together a people separated for more than four decades by the division of Europe into two hostile blocs in the aftermath of World War II. The line that divided the continent ran through a defeated and occupied Germany. By late 1949, two states had emerged in divided Germany: the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany), a member of the Western bloc under the leadership of the United States; and the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany), part of the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union. Although the two German states were composed of a people speaking one language and sharing the same traditions, they came to have the political systems of their respective blocs. West Germany developed into a democratic capitalist state like its Western neighbors; East Germany had imposed on it the Soviet Union’s communist dictatorship and command economy.
Although the leaders of each state were committed to the eventual unification of Germany and often invoked its necessity, with the passage of time the likely realization of unification receded into the distant future. Relations between the two states worsened during the 1950s as several million East Germans, unwilling to live in an increasingly Stalinized society, fled to the West. August 1961 saw the sealing of the common German border with the construction of the Berlin Wall. In the early 1970s, however, diplomatic relations between the two states were regularized by the Basic Treaty, signed in 1972. During the remainder of the decade and during the 1980s, relations improved, and contacts between the citizens of the two states increased greatly. In 1987 Erich Honecker became the first East German leader to make a state visit to West Germany.
As of the late 1980s, however, no well-informed observer foresaw German unification as being likely in the near future. In fact, its prospect seemed so remote that some politicians advocated abandoning unification as a long-term goal. Those who remained committed to Germany’s ultimate unification frankly admitted that decades would probably pass before it happened.
The events leading to unification in October 1990 were unexpected, and they occurred at a frantic pace. In the eleven months between the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and unification, the forty-year-old East German dictatorship collapsed, Western political and economic systems were introduced in the East, new treaties altered long-standing diplomatic relationships between Germany and neighboring states, and two radically different societies began to grow together.
The rapid collapse of the East German regime surprised everyone. East Germany appeared to be the most economically successful of all Eastern-bloc countries. Its citizens enjoyed a modest yet decent standard of living and cradle-to-grave security provided by a government-run welfare system. They traveled to other East European countries for their summer vacations, watched West German television, and hoped for better living conditions and more freedom in the future. Most East Germans acquiesced in the communist regime’s restrictions, having fashioned areas of personal freedom in their private lives. A small opposition movement operated within the shelter of the Protestant church, the country’s sole relatively independent social institution. When opposition figures became too troublesome, the regime dealt with them by depriving them of their livelihood, sending them to prison, or expelling them to West Germany.
The regime’s elderly, hard-line leadership opposed the reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought to make socialism more efficient by introducing capitalist incentives and reducing central control. Encouraged by this liberalization and the application of Gorbachev’s reforms in neighboring Poland and Hungary, the regime’s opponents became bolder during the summer and fall of 1989 and mounted mass demonstrations that doubled and doubled again in size from week to week.
Soviet officials advised the Honecker regime not to expect outside support. Without foreign military assistance for the first time, the GDR leadership decided against the use of force to quell the burgeoning demonstrations. Honecker was ousted in mid-October, and more realistic leaders sought to save the regime by making concessions. In November travel abroad became possible, and East Germans swarmed into West Germany, many intending to remain there. Reforms could no longer satisfy East Germans, however, who wanted the freedoms and living standard of West Germany.
West German chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982- ) seized the political initiative in late November with his Ten-Point Plan for unification. Yet, even he thought several years and an intervening stage, such as a confederational structure, would be necessary before unification of the two Germanys could occur. By early 1990, however, the need to stop the massive flow of East Germans westward made speedy unification imperative. In addition, revolutionary change in other Eastern-bloc counties made solutions that a short time earlier had appeared out of the question suddenly seem feasible. The Treaty on Monetary, Economic, and Social Union between the two German states was signed in May and went into effect in July. The two Germanys signed the Unification Treaty in August. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, the so-called Two-Plus-Four Treaty, was signed in September by the two Germanys and the four victors of World War II–Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The treaty restored full sovereignty to Germany and ended the Cold War era.
When unification occurred on October 3, 1990, it was a happy, yet subdued occasion. The many problems of joining such diverse societies were already apparent. The vaunted East German economy was coming to be seen as a Potemkin’s village, with many of its most prestigious firms uncompetitive in a market economy. East German environmental problems were also proving much more serious than anyone had foreseen; remedies would cost astronomical sums. West Germans had discovered also that their long-lost eastern cousins differed from them in many ways and that relations between them were often rife with misunderstandings. A complete melding of the two societies would take years, perhaps even a generation or two. The legal unification arranged by the treaties of 1990 was only the beginning of a long process toward a truly united Germany.
In its long history, Germany has rarely been united. For most of the two millennia that central Europe has been inhabited by German-speaking peoples, the area called Germany was divided into hundreds of states, many quite small, including duchies, principalities, free cities, and ecclesiastical states. Not even the Romans united Germany under one government; they managed to occupy only its southern and western portions. At the beginning of the ninth century, Charlemagne established an empire, but within a generation its existence was more symbolic than real.
Medieval Germany was marked by division. As France and England began their centuries-long evolution into united nation-states, Germany was racked by a ceaseless series of wars among local rulers. The Habsburg Dynasty’s long monopoly of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire provided only the semblance of German unity. Within the empire, German princes warred against one another as before. The Protestant Reformation deprived Germany of even its religious unity, leaving its population Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist. These religious divisions gave military strife an added ferocity in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), during which Germany was ravaged to a degree not seen again until World War II.
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 left Germany divided into hundreds of states. During the next two centuries, the two largest of these states–Prussia and Austria–jockeyed for dominance. The smaller states sought to retain their independence by allying themselves with one, then the other, depending on local conditions. From the mid-1790s until Prussia, Austria, and Russia defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and drove him out of Germany, much of the country was occupied by French troops. Napoleon’s officials abolished numerous small states, and, as a result, in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, Germany consisted of about forty states.
During the next half-century, pressures for German unification grew. Scholars, bureaucrats, students, journalists, and businessmen agitated for a united Germany that would bring with it uniform laws and a single currency and that would replace the benighted absolutism of petty German states with democracy. The revolutions of 1848 seemed at first likely to realize this dream of unity and freedom, but the monarch who was offered the crown of a united Germany, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, rejected it. The king, like the other rulers of Germany’s kingdoms, opposed German unity because he saw it as a threat to his power.
Despite the opposition of conservative forces, German unification came just over two decades later, in 1871, when Germany was unified and transformed into an empire under Emperor Wilhelm I, king of Prussia. Unification was not brought about by revolutionary or liberal forces, but by a conservative Prussian aristocrat, Otto von Bismarck. Sensing the power of nationalism, Bismarck sought to use it for his own aims, the preservation of a feudal social order and the triumph of his country, Prussia, in the long contest with Austria for preeminence in Germany. By a series of masterful diplomatic maneuvers and three brief and dazzlingly successful military campaigns, Bismarck achieved a united Germany without Austria. He brought together the so-called “small Germany,” consisting of Prussia and the remaining German states, some of which had been subdued by Prussian armies before they became part of a Germany ruled by a Prussian emperor.
Although united Germany had a parliament, the Reichstag, elected through universal male suffrage, supreme power rested with the emperor and his ministers, who were not responsible to the Reichstag. Although the Reichstag could contest the government’s decisions, in the end the emperor could largely govern as he saw fit. Supporting the emperor were the nobility, large rural landowners, business and financial elites, the civil service, the Protestant clergy, and the military. The military, which had made unification possible, enjoyed tremendous prestige. Led by an aristocratic officer corps sworn to feudal values and opposed to parliamentary democracy and the rights of a free citizenry, the military embodied the spirit of the German Empire.
Opposition to this authoritarian regime with its feudal structures was found mainly in the Roman Catholic Center Party, the Socialist Party, and in a variety of liberal and regional political groups opposed to Prussia’s hegemony over Germany. In the long term, Bismarck and his successors were not able to subjugate this opposition. By 1912 the Socialists had come to have the largest number of representatives in the Reichstag. They and the Center Party made governing increasingly difficult for the empire’s conservative leadership.
Despite the presence of these opposition groups, however, a truly representative parliamentary democracy did not exist. As a result, Germans had little opportunity to learn the art of practical politics. With few exceptions, this had also been the case throughout German history. Although Germany’s states were usually well managed by an efficient and honest civil service, they were authoritarian. Government was seen as the business of the rulers; the ruled were to be obedient and silent.
Because they were inexperienced in democratic government, Germans in the nineteenth century were often viewed as political children, incapable of governing themselves. In addition, seeing the excesses of the French Revolution, many thoughtful Germans came to the conclusion that democracy was not suitable for Germany. The success of democratic political institutions in Britain and the United States did not convince these skeptics; they feared that the passions of the ignorant masses could too easily be inflamed. Even many German liberals found the idea that ordinary citizens ought to determine how public business should be conducted too radical a notion. Instead, they recommended that parliaments consisting of the educated and the prosperous should serve as advisory bodies to noble rulers.
Germany’s defeat in World War I in 1918 meant the end of the German Empire. The emperor was forced to abdicate, and a republic–the Weimar Republic–was established with a constitution that provided for a parliamentary democracy in which the government was ultimately responsible to the people. The new republic’s first president and prime minister were convinced democrats, and Germany seemed ready at last to join the community of democratic nations.
The Weimar Republic ultimately disappointed those who had hoped it would introduce democracy to Germany. By mid-1933 it had been destroyed by Adolf Hitler, its declared enemy since his first days in the public arena. Hitler was a political genius who sensed and exploited the worries and resentments of many Germans, knew when to act, and possessed a sure instinct for power. His greatest weapon in his quest for political power, however, was the disdain many Germans felt for the new republic.
Many Germans held the Weimar Republic responsible for Germany’s defeat. At the war’s end, no foreign troops stood on German soil, and military victory still seemed likely. Instead of victory, however, in the view of many, the republic’s Socialist politicians arranged a humiliating peace. Many Germans were also affronted by the spectacle of parliamentary politics. The republic’s numerous small parties made forming stable and coherent coalition governments very difficult. Frequent elections failed to yield effective governments. Government policies also often failed to solve pressing social and economic problems.
These shortcomings undermined the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic. The upper classes, the judiciary, the police, the civil service, educators, the military, and much of the middle class gave the republic only halfhearted support at best. Many members of these groups despised the republic and wanted it replaced with an authoritarian system of government. The early years of the Weimar Republic saw frequent attempts to destroy it by force, mostly from the right, but also from the left.
A modest economic recovery from 1924 to 1929 gave the Weimar Republic a brief respite. The severe social stress engendered by the Great Depression, however, swelled the vote received by extreme antidemocratic parties in the election of 1930 and the two elections of 1932. The government ruled by emergency decree. In January 1933, leading conservative politicians formed a new government with Hitler as chancellor. They intended to harness him and his party, now the country’s largest, to realize their own aim of replacing the republic with an authoritarian government. Within a few months, however, Hitler had outmaneuvered them and established a totalitarian regime. Only in 1945 did a military alliance of dozens of nations succeed in deposing him, and only after his regime and the nation it ruled had committed crimes of unparalleled enormity.
In the aftermath of World War II, Germany came to consist of two states. One, East Germany, never attained real legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and had to use force to prevent them from fleeing to the West. The other, West Germany, was resoundingly successful. Within two decades of defeat, it had become one of the world’s richest nations, with a prosperity that extended to all segments of the population. The economy performed so successfully that eventually several million foreigners came to West Germany to work as well. West German and foreign workers alike were protected from need arising from sickness, accidents, and old age by an extensive, mostly nongovernment welfare system.
Along with this material success, a vigorous democracy developed. To avoid the Weimar Republic’s weak coalition governments, the West German constitution, the Basic Law, permitted only those parties with at least 5 percent of the vote to sit in the Bundestag, the lower house of its parliament. This provision meant that stable parliamentary governments could be formed fairly easily, and efficient government became possible. In contrast to the Weimar Republic, the Basic Law banned political parties opposed to democracy.
From the first national election in 1949, West German politics has been dominated by two large catchall parties (Volksparteien ; sing., Volkspartei ), whose support came from voters formerly allied to many smaller parties. The moderate Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU), allied with its small sister party active in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union–CSU), won the votes of a broad range of Roman Catholic and Protestant voters. For the first time in German history, members of the two religions worked together to attain their political goals. The CDU/CSU also had left and right wings, which had to cooperate if the alliance were to win elections and exercise power. After much debate, the CDU/CSU’s various wings formulated the concept of a social market economy–free-market capitalism combined with an extensive social net. The CDU/CSU alliance has successfully held together its diverse membership and, with the exception of the 1969-82 period, has headed all the Federal Republic’s governments since 1949, when CDU leader Konrad Adenauer became the country’s first chancellor.
The Federal Republic’s other large popular party is the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands–SPD), which receives much of the working-class vote. In the early years of the Federal Republic, the SPD was feared by many voters because of its socialist aims. With time, however, the party moderated its positions; for example, it accepted West German rearmament in the mid-1950s and came to support the social market economy. It also won the trust of suspicious voters by participating in many local and state (Land ; pl., Länder ) governments. After joining with the CDU/CSU to form a coalition government at the national level from 1966 to 1969, the SPD and the small, liberal Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei–FDP) formed a coalition government with SDP leader Willy Brandt as chancellor. The SPD-FDP coalition lasted until 1982. In that year, the FDP and the CDU/CSU formed a new coalition government with Helmut Kohl as chancellor, a coalition still in power in mid-1996.
Many observers maintain that German democracy is in a transition stage. The SPD has lost its most steady source of support as an increasingly advanced economy has reduced the size of the blue-collar working class. An increasingly secular and sophisticated society has also cut into the CDU/CSU stable pool of confessional voters. Thus, since the 1980s, the large catchall parties have been confronted with an increasingly volatile electorate. Both parties have experienced declining memberships. As these parties have worked to woo a more diverse electorate, they have moderated their stances to such a degree that many voters have difficulty telling them apart.
Despite CDU losses in the October 1994 national elections, the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition survived, but with a majority of only ten seats. The SPD’s share of the vote rose in these elections, but not enough to take power at the national level. The SPD has been more successful in elections at the Land level in recent years and has often controlled the Bundesrat, parliament’s upper house. However, it lost its sole control of North Rhine-Westphalia in the elections of May 1995 and did even worse in October 1995 Land elections in Berlin. SPD leader Rudolf Sharping was deposed a month later and replaced by Oskar Lafontaine, who had led the party to defeat in the 1990 national elections. Lafontaine’s resurrection did not appear to solve the party’s long-standing leadership problem because it lost badly in the Land elections of March 1996 in Schleswig-Holstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Baden-Württemberg.
As the two large parties face diminishing pools of secure votes, growing numbers of young and educated voters have come to support the ecological party, Alliance 90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), which, after having elected its first representatives to the Bundestag in 1983, in 1994 became the body’s third-largest party, displacing the FDP. As of mid-1996, the Greens had a skilled leader, Joschka Fischer, who has transformed the party from a group of apolitical idealists into a highly pragmatic, but still principled, political force that examines nearly every facet of German life from a fresh standpoint. Some observers hold that the party represents the future of German politics.
The party displaced by the Greens, the FDP, has been a partner in all coalition governments at the national level since 1969. Pledged to classic European liberal political values, the FDP has distinguished itself by its advocacy of the legal rights of the individual. In recent years, however, the party has struggled for its survival because of leadership problems and because its close embrace of the CDU/CSU has caused it to lose its political identity in the eyes of many voters. By late 1995, the party seemed on the verge of political extinction; it suffered a steep drop in its vote in the national election of October 1994 and a long string of losses in elections at the Land level. In March 1996, however, the FDP increased its vote and won seats in all three Land elections held during the month. Although the FDP was represented in only four Land parliaments as of mid-1996, these election results allow the party to retain its role as a coalition-maker in governments at the national level.
In addition to the Greens, another new party that has altered German politics is the Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus–PDS). Able to win votes only in eastern Germany, the PDS has the support of voters who regret the extent to which or the way in which East Germany was swallowed up by the Federal Republic. Although the PDS is the successor to East Germany’s communist Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands–SED), it does not recommend that the East German regime be restored. Rather, it demands that eastern German interests be given greater respect by western Germans, who are often seen as arrogant and overbearing by eastern Germans. The PDS has thirty seats in the Bundestag and is represented in the parliaments of the eastern Länder , but is not a partner in any coalition. Because the PDS owes its success to the sometimes legitimate anger of easterners at how they have fared in a united Germany, observers believe that the influence of the PDS will wane as these Länder become more integrated into united Germany.
In addition to the above parties, several small right-wing parties are politically active. None have representatives in the Bundestag. The Republikaner, which at about 25,000 members is the largest of these parties, has representatives in the Baden-Württemberg parliament after winning 11 percent of the vote in 1992 and 9 percent of the vote in elections there in March 1996. The campaigns of these right-wing parties are based mainly on a fervid nationalism and a dislike of Germany’s foreign residents. They stop short of clearly espousing Hitlerian doctrines, however, because doing so would mean their being banned and their leaders possibly being imprisoned.
In addition to parties of the extreme right, authorities estimate that a few thousand violent right-wing extremists are active within Germany. Most are disaffected young males with few job prospects. Although comparatively few in number in a country of 80 million, they have received international attention when they have attacked or killed foreign workers living in Germany or vandalized Jewish cemeteries or synagogues. The world’s alarm at such occurrences is easily understandable, given Germany’s history in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet few observers believe that these extreme right-wing elements pose a threat to German democracy or have any chance of gaining political influence, let alone coming to power.
Germans of the late twentieth century differ greatly from those of its first half. The extreme nationalism of the interwar period finds little support in the Germany of the 1990s, for example. Unlike Germany’s failure to achieve victory in World War I, which to many Germans of the interwar period appeared to have been caused by the treachery of Socialist politicians rather than by military defeat, Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945 was obviously unavoidable given the military situation at the war’s end. Moreover, because Hitler clearly started the war, Germany is judged, to some extent at least, to have deserved its terrible consequences. Thus, in contrast to Germans of the interwar period, few postwar Germans have demanded revenge for Germany’s sufferings or advocated the seizure of lost territory. This absence of an aggressive nationalism can be seen in the foreign policy of the Federal Republic. Unlike the diplomacy of the empire and the Hitler regime, this foreign policy has always had as its first principle multilateralism, a principle realized through Germany’s active membership in a great variety of international organizations.
Germans have also become convinced democrats. They understand and appreciate the workings of parliamentary democracy with its loyal opposition, concessions, and the peaceful passing of power from one government to another; they know the importance of an independent judiciary in protecting individual rights; and they value a free and powerful press. Under a democratic system of government, West Germans have experienced the most successful period of German history, and, whatever the system’s failings, they are unwilling to reject it for panaceas of earlier eras. Eastern Germans are now learning Western democratic values after decades of political repression. Having experienced a multitude of political and economic disasters under totalitarian regimes of the right and the left, Germans have matured and become political adults no longer susceptible to the utopian promises of demagogues.
Germany does face some serious challenges in the second half of the 1990s and in the new century. The most immediate challenge is to fully integrate eastern Germany and its inhabitants into the advanced social market economy and society of western Germany.
As of mid-1996, much had already been done to foster the formation of a strong eastern economy and to bring its components up to global standards. In the 1990-95 period, more than US$650 billion had been transferred from western Germany to eastern Germany. This enormous financial infusion has markedly improved eastern living standards, and specialists believe that by the late 1990s, the east’s infrastructure will be the most advanced in Europe. Unemployment in eastern Germany has consistently remained at about 15 percent, however, about one-third above the national level, despite eastern growth rates about three times higher than those in western Germany. Many of the older jobless are not likely to find employment comparable to what they had under the communist system. Yet, many eastern Germans have fared well in the new economy and have adapted well to its demands.
Achieving complete social unification is expected to take a generation or two. Decades of life in diverse societies have created two peoples with different attitudes. Easterners are generally less ambitious and concerned with their careers than their western counterparts. Their more relaxed work ethic sometimes raises the ire of western Germans. Many easterners also take offense at what has seemed to them arrogant or patronizing attitudes of westerners. The “implosion” of East Germany in 1990 prevented a slower, more nuanced introduction of Western institutions and habits of thought to the east that would have resulted in fewer bruised feelings. Polls of recent years have found a growing convergence of beliefs and opinions between the two peoples, however, a trend almost certain to continue.
The most serious problem confronting Germany in the long term is one faced by all advanced, high-wage industrial countries–how to meet the challenges posed by an increasingly globalized economy in which highly skilled workers of lesser developed countries are available at one-tenth the wages of wealthy countries. For Germany these countries are not located only in Asia, but next door in the former Eastern bloc. By the 1990s, German wages were among the world’s highest, some 50 percent higher than those of the United States, for example. Germany’s extensive social safety net is a principal reason for its high wage cost, yet no political party can expect to significantly cut into social programs and retain the favor of voters.
In addition to high wages, the German economy faces structural problems because the areas in which it has long been strongest–the chemical industry and machine production, for example–are not areas in which most future economic growth will occur. Having been so successful in their traditional fields of expertise, German businessmen are somewhat conservative, not given to risky entrepreneurship, and have not invested in new areas such as computers and biotechnology. Economists see little reason to believe that Germany can overtake the leaders in these fields, most notably the United States and Japan.
Germany also faces serious demographic problems. Population growth in recent decades has been slow; in many years, the number of Germans has actually declined because the birth rate has been so low. Given this long-standing trend, specialists wonder how Germans will continue to maintain their generous pension system, an unfunded system that operates on the pay-as-you-go principle, according to which retirees are supported by today’s workers. If present trends continue, by 2030 the ratio of retirees to workers will be one to one.
An obvious solution to this problem is to import workers. However, because Germans do not regard their country as a nation of immigrants, importing workers is not currently seen as a politically acceptable solution. As of the mid-1990s, Germany had about 7 million foreign residents, including 2 million Muslims, and more foreign workers are not wanted. Germany has not yet successfully integrated the foreigners already on its soil: archaic immigration laws make it difficult to became a German citizen, and xenophobic attitudes of many Germans often make foreign residents, even those born and raised in the country and speaking perfect German, feel unwanted. In time, demographic realities may cause Germans to view more favorably the permanent presence of a substantial non-German population and lead them to adopt more liberal notions of citizenship.
Unification and the ending of the Cold War have meant that Germany must adjust itself to a new international environment. The disastrous failures of German foreign policy in the first half of the twentieth century have caused Germans to approach this challenge warily. Until the demise of the Soviet Union, Germans could enjoy the certainties of the Cold War, both they and their neighbors secure in the knowledge that the superpowers would contain any possible German aggression.
Throughout the postwar era, West Germany was a model citizen of the community of nations, content to be the most devoted participant in the movement toward Europe’s economic and social unification. West German politicians shared the fears of their foreign neighbors of a resurgent, aggressive Germany and sought to ensure their country’s containment by embedding it in international organizations. In the mid-1950s, for example, West Germany rearmed, but as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Since the end of the Cold War, however, united Germany has occupied an exposed position in Central Europe, with settled, secure neighbors in the west and unpredictable and insecure neighbors to the east. Because of this exposure, German policy makers wish to extend the European Union and NATO eastward, at a minimum bringing Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary into both organizations. In the German view, these countries could serve as a buffer between Germany and uncertain developments in Russia and other members of the former Soviet Union. At the same time as this so-called widening of West European institutions is being undertaken, Germany is working for their deepening by pressing for increased European unity. As of mid-1996, Helmut Kohl remained the continent’s most important advocate of realizing a common European currency through the European Monetary Union by the turn of the century. However unrealistic this timetable may prove to be, in the postwar era Germany has steadfastly worked to realize German writer Thomas Mann’s ideal of a Europeanized Germany and rejected his nightmare of a Germanized Europe.
Historical Setting: Early History to 1945
PEOPLE HAVE DWELLED for thousands of years in the territory now occupied by the Federal Republic of Germany. The first significant written account of this area’s inhabitants is Germania, written about A.D. 98 by the Roman historian Tacitus. The Germanic tribes he describes are believed to have come from Scandinavia to Germany about 100 B.C., perhaps induced to migrate by overpopulation. The Germanic tribes living to the west of the Rhine River and south of the Main River were soon subdued by the Romans and incorporated into the Roman Empire. Tribes living to the east and north of these rivers remained free but had more or less friendly relations with the Romans for several centuries. Beginning in the fourth century A.D., new westward migrations of eastern peoples caused the Germanic tribes to move into the Roman Empire, which by the late fifth century ceased to exist.
One of the largest Germanic tribes, the Franks, came to control the territory that was to become France and much of what is now western Germany and Italy. In A.D. 800 their ruler, Charlemagne, was crowned in Rome by the pope as emperor of all of this territory. Because of its vastness, Charlemagne’s empire split into three kingdoms within two generations, the inhabitants of the West Frankish Kingdom speaking an early form of French and those in the East Frankish Kingdom speaking an early form of German. The tribes of the eastern kingdom–Franconians, Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians, and several others–were ruled by descendants of Charlemagne until 911, when they elected a Franconian, Conrad I, to be their king. Some historians regard Conrad’s election as the beginning of what can properly be considered German history.
German kings soon added the Middle Kingdom to their realm and adjudged themselves rulers of what would later be called the Holy Roman Empire. In 962 Otto I became the first of the German kings crowned emperor in Rome. By the middle of the next century, the German lands ruled by the emperors were the richest and most politically powerful part of Europe. German princes stopped the westward advances of the Magyar tribe, and Germans began moving eastward to begin a long process of colonization. During the next few centuries, however, the great expense of the wars to maintain the empire against its enemies, chiefly other German princes and the wealthy and powerful papacy and its allies, depleted Germany’s wealth and slowed its development. Unlike France or England, where a central royal power was slowly established over regional princes, Germany remained divided into a multitude of smaller entities often warring with one another or in combinations against the emperors. None of the local princes, or any of the emperors, were strong enough to control Germany for a sustained period.
Germany’s so-called particularism, that is, the existence within it of many states of various sizes and kinds, such as principalities, electorates, ecclesiastical territories, and free cities, became characteristic by the early Middle Ages and persisted until 1871, when the country was finally united. This disunity was exacerbated by the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, which ended Germany’s religious unity by converting many Germans to Lutheranism and Calvinism. For several centuries, adherents to these two varieties of Protestantism viewed each other with as much hostility and suspicion as they did Roman Catholics. For their part, Catholics frequently resorted to force to defend themselves against Protestants or to convert them. As a result, Germans were divided not only by territory but also by religion.
The terrible destruction of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48, a war partially religious in nature, reduced German particularism, as did the reforms enacted during the age of enlightened absolutism (1648-1789) and later the growth of nationalism and industrialism in the nineteenth century. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna stipulated that the several hundred states existing in Germany before the French Revolution be replaced with thirty-eight states, some of them quite small. In subsequent decades, the two largest of these states, Austria and Prussia, vied for primacy in a Germany that was gradually unifying under a variety of social and economic pressures. The politician responsible for German unification was Otto von Bismarck, whose brilliant diplomacy and ruthless practice of statecraft secured Prussian hegemony in a united Germany in 1871. The new state, proclaimed the German Empire, did not include Austria and its extensive empire of many non-German territories and peoples.
Imperial Germany prospered. Its economy grew rapidly, and by the turn of the century it rivaled Britain’s in size. Although the empire’s constitution did not provide for a political system in which the government was responsible to parliament, political parties were founded that represented the main social groups. Roman Catholic and socialist parties contended with conservative and progressive parties and with a conservative monarchy to determine how Germany should be governed.
After Bismarck’s dismissal in 1890 by the young emperor Wilhelm II, Germany stepped up its competition with other European states for colonies and for what it considered its proper place among the great states. An aggressive program of military expansion instilled fear of Germany in its neighbors. Several decades of military and colonial competition and a number of diplomatic crises made for a tense international atmosphere by 1914. In the early summer of that year, Germany’s rulers acted on the belief that their country’s survival depended on a successful war against Russia and France. German strategists felt that a war against these countries had to be waged by 1916 if it were to be won because after that year Russian and French military reforms would be complete, making German victory doubtful. This logic led Germany to get drawn into a war between its ally Austria-Hungary and Russia. Within weeks, a complicated system of alliances escalated that regional conflict into World War I, which ended with Germany’s defeat in November 1918.
The Weimar Republic, established at war’s end, was the first attempt to institute parliamentary democracy in Germany. The republic never enjoyed the wholehearted support of many Germans, however, and from the start it was under savage attack from elements of the left and, more important, from the right. Moreover, it was burdened during its fifteen-year existence with serious economic problems. During the second half of the 1920s, when foreign loans fed German prosperity, parliamentary politics functioned better, yet many of the established elites remained hostile to it. With the onset of the Great Depression, parliamentary politics became impossible, and the government ruled by decree. Economic crisis favored extremist politicians, and Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party became the strongest party after the summer elections of 1932. In January 1933, the republic’s elected president, Paul von Hindenburg, the World War I army commander, named a government headed by Hitler.
Within a few months, Hitler accomplished the “legal revolution” that removed his opponents. By 1935 his regime had transformed Germany into a totalitarian state. Hitler achieved notable economic and diplomatic successes during the first five years of his rule. However, in September 1939 he made a fatal gamble by invading Poland and starting World War II. The eventual defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich in 1945 occurred only after the loss of tens of millions of lives, many from military causes, many from sickness and starvation, and many from what has come to be called the Holocaust.
The Germanic tribes, which probably originated from a mixture of peoples along the Baltic Sea coast, inhabited the northern part of the European continent by about 500 B.C. By 100 B.C., they had advanced into the central and southern areas of present-day Germany. At that time, there were three major tribal groups: the eastern Germanic peoples lived along the Oder and Vistula rivers; the northern Germanic peoples inhabited the southern part of present-day Scandinavia; and the western Germanic peoples inhabited the extreme south of Jutland and the area between the North Sea and the Elbe, Rhine, and Main rivers. The Rhine provided a temporary boundary between Germanic and Roman territory after the defeat of the Suevian tribe by Julius Caesar about 70 B.C. The threatening presence of warlike tribes beyond the Rhine prompted the Romans to pursue a campaign of expansion into Germanic territory. However, the defeat of the provincial governor Varus by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9 halted Roman expansion; Arminius had learned the enemy’s strategies during his military training in the Roman armies. This battle brought about the liberation of the greater part of Germany from Roman domination. The Rhine River was once again the boundary line until the Romans reoccupied territory on its eastern bank and built the Limes, a fortification 300 kilometers long, in the first century A.D.
The second through the sixth centuries was a period of change and destruction in which eastern and western Germanic tribes left their native lands and settled in newly acquired territories. This period of Germanic history, which later supplied material for heroic epics, included the downfall of the Roman Empire and resulted in a considerable expansion of habitable area for the Germanic peoples. However, with the exception of those kingdoms established by Franks and Anglo-Saxons, Germanic kingdoms founded in such other parts of Europe as Italy and Spain were of relatively short duration because they were assimilated by the native populations. The conquest of Roman Gaul by Frankish tribes in the late fifth century became a milestone of European history; it was the Franks who were to become the founders of a civilized German state.
The Merovingian Dynasty, ca. 500-751
In Gaul a fusion of Roman and Germanic societies occurred. Clovis, a Salian Frank belonging to a family supposedly descended from a mythical hero named Merovech, became the absolute ruler of a Germanic kingdom of mixed Roman-Germanic population in 486. He consolidated his rule with victories over the Gallo-Romans and all the Frankish tribes, and his successors made other Germanic tribes subjects of the Merovingian Dynasty. The remaining 250 years of the dynasty, however, were marked by internecine struggles and a gradual decline. During the period of Merovingian rule, the Franks reluctantly began to adopt Christianity following the baptism of Clovis, an event that inaugurated the alliance between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church. The most notable of the missionaries responsible for Christianizing the tribes living in Germany was Saint Boniface (ca. 675-754), an English missionary who is considered the founder of German Christianity.
The Carolingian Dynasty, 752-911
Charlemagne inherited the Frankish crown in 768. During his reign (768-814), he subdued Bavaria, conquered Lombardy and Saxony, and established his authority in central Italy. By the end of the eighth century, his kingdom, later to become known as the First Reich (empire in German), included present-day France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as a narrow strip of northern Spain, much of Germany and Austria, and much of the northern half of Italy. Charlemagne, founder of an empire that was Roman, Christian, and Germanic, was crowned emperor in Rome by the pope in 800.
The Carolingian Empire was based on an alliance between the emperor, who was a temporal ruler supported by a military retinue, and the pope of the Roman Catholic Church, who granted spiritual sanction to the imperial mission. Charlemagne and his son Louis I (r. 814-40) established centralized authority, appointed imperial counts as administrators, and developed a hierarchical feudal structure headed by the emperor. Reliant on personal leadership rather than the Roman concept of legalistic government, Charlemagne’s empire lasted less than a century.
A period of warfare followed the death of Louis. The Treaty of Verdun (843) restored peace and divided the empire among three sons, geographically and politically delineating the approximate future territories of Germany, France, and the area between them, known as the Middle Kingdom. The eastern Carolingian kings ruled the East Frankish Kingdom, what is now Germany and Austria; the western Carolingian kings ruled the West Frankish Kingdom, what became France. The imperial title, however, came to depend increasingly on rule over the Middle Kingdom. By this time, in addition to a geographical and political delineation, a cultural and linguistic split had occurred. The eastern Frankish tribes still spoke Germanic dialects; the language of the western Frankish tribes, under the influence of Gallo-Latin, had developed into Old French. Because of these linguistic differences, the Treaty of Verdun had to be written in two languages.
Not only had Charlemagne’s empire been divided into three kingdoms, but the East Frankish Kingdom was being weakened by the rise of regional duchies, the so-called stem duchies of Franconia, Saxony, Bavaria, Swabia, and Lorraine, which acquired the trappings of petty kingdoms. The fragmentation in the east marked the beginning of German particularism, in which territorial rulers promoted their own interests and autonomy without regard to the kingdom as a whole. The duchies were strengthened when the Carolingian line died out in 911; subsequent kings would have no direct blood link to the throne with which to legitimate their claims to power against the territorial dukes.
The Saxon Dynasty, 919-1024
Because the dukes of the East Frankish Kingdom had wearied of being ruled by a foreign king, they elected a German to serve as their king once the Carolingian line expired. The election of Conrad I (r. 911-18), Duke of Franconia, as the first German king has been marked by some historians as the beginning of German history. Conrad’s successor, Henry I (r. 919-36), Duke of Saxony, was powerful enough to designate his son Otto I (r. 936-73) as his successor. Otto was so able a ruler that he came to be known as Otto the Great. He overpowered other territorial dukes who rebelled against his rule and reversed the particularist trend for a time. But he failed to establish the principle of hereditary succession, and the German dukes continued to elect one of their number as king. But through military successes and alliances with the church, which had extensive properties and military forces of its own, Otto expanded the crown lands, thus laying the foundation of monarchical power. Henry, Otto, and the later Saxon kings also encouraged eastward expansion and colonization, thereby extending German rule to parts of the Slavic territories of Poland and Bohemia. The Magyars’ westward expansion was halted by Otto in 955 at the Battle of Lechfeld in southern Germany.
In 962 Otto, who had also gained control of the Middle Kingdom, was formally crowned king of the Romans. The possessor of this title would, in time, be known as the Holy Roman Emperor. The coronation came to be seen as the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that lasted until 1806 and profoundly influenced the course of German history. The coronation of Otto was a moment of glory for the German monarchy, but its long-term consequences were not beneficial because as German kings sought to exercise the offices of the empire they became involved in Italian affairs, often to such an extent that they neglected the governing of Germany. Because German kings were so often in Italy, the German nobility became stronger. In addition, the presence of German kings in Italy as emperors soon caused them to come into conflict with the papacy, which did not hesitate to seek allies in Italy or Germany to limit imperial power. A last problem was that the succession to the German throne was often uncertain or was hotly contested because it was not inheritable, but could only be attained through election by the German dukes. This circumstance made the formation of an orderly or stable central government nearly impossible. In the opinion of some historians, Otto’s triumph in Rome in 962 ultimately was disastrous for Germany because it delayed German unification by centuries.
The Salian Dynasty, 1024-1125
After the death of the last Saxon king in 1024, the crown passed to the Salians, a Frankish tribe. The four Salian kings–Conrad II, Henry III, Henry IV, and Henry V–who ruled Germany as kings from 1024 to 1125, established their monarchy as a major European power. Their main accomplishment was the development of a permanent administrative system based on a class of public officials answerable to the crown.
A principal reason for the success of the early Salians was their alliance with the church, a policy begun by Otto I, which gave them the material support they needed to subdue rebellious dukes. In time, however, the church came to regret this close relationship. The relationship broke down in 1075 during what came to be known as the Investiture Contest, a struggle in which the reformist pope, Gregory VII, demanded that Henry IV (r. 1056-1106) renounce his rights over the German church. The pope also attacked the concept of monarchy by divine right and gained the support of significant elements of the German nobility interested in limiting imperial absolutism. More important, the pope forbade church officials under pain of excommunication to support Henry as they had so freely done in the past. In the end, Henry journeyed to Canossa in northern Italy in 1077 to do penance and to receive absolution from the pope. However, he resumed the practice of lay investiture (appointment of religious officials by civil authorities) and arranged the election of an antipope.
The German monarch’s struggle with the papacy resulted in a war that ravaged German lands from 1077 until the Concordat of Worms in 1122. This agreement stipulated that the pope was to appoint high church officials but gave the German king the right to veto the papal choices. Imperial control of Italy was lost for a time, and the imperial crown became dependent on the political support of competing aristocratic factions. Feudalism also became more widespread as freemen sought protection by swearing allegiance to a lord. These powerful local rulers, having thereby acquired extensive territories and large military retinues, took over administration within their territories and organized it around an increasing number of castles. The most powerful of these local rulers came to be called princes rather than dukes.
According to the laws of the German feudal system, the king had no claims on the vassals of the other princes, only on those living within his family’s territory. Lacking the support of the formerly independent vassals and weakened by the increasing hostility of the church, the monarchy lost its preeminence. Thus, the Investiture Contest strengthened local power in Germany in contrast to what was happening in France and England, where the growth of a centralized royal power was under way.
The Investiture Contest had an additional effect. The long struggle between emperor and pope hurt Germany’s intellectual life–in this period largely confined to monasteries–and Germany no longer led or even kept pace with developments occurring in France and Italy. For instance, no universities were founded in Germany until the fourteenth century.
The Hohenstaufen Dynasty, 1138-1254
Following the death of Henry V (r. 1106-25), the last of the Salian kings, the dukes refused to elect his nephew because they feared that he might restore royal power. Instead, they elected a noble connected to the Saxon noble family Welf (often written as Guelf). This choice inflamed the Hohenstaufen family of Swabia, which also had a claim to the throne. Although a Hohenstaufen became king in 1138, the dynastic feud with the Welfs continued. The feud became international in nature when the Welfs sided with the papacy and its allies, most notably the cities of northern Italy, against the imperial ambitions of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty.
The second of the Hohenstaufen rulers, Frederick I (r. 1152-90), also known as Frederick Barbarossa because of his red beard, struggled throughout his reign to restore the power and prestige of the German monarchy, but he had little success. Because the German dukes had grown stronger both during and after the Investiture Contest and because royal access to the resources of the church in Germany was much reduced, Frederick was forced to go to Italy to find the finances needed to restore the king’s power in Germany. He was soon crowned emperor in Italy, but decades of warfare on the peninsula yielded scant results. The papacy and the prosperous city-states of northern Italy were traditional enemies, but the fear of imperial domination caused them to join ranks to fight Frederick. Under the skilled leadership of Pope Alexander III, the alliance suffered many defeats but ultimately was able to deny the emperor a complete victory in Italy. Frederick returned to Germany old and embittered. He had vanquished one notable opponent and member of the Welf family, Saxony’s Henry the Lion, but his hopes of restoring the power and prestige of his family and the monarchy seemed unlikely to be met by the end of his life.
During Frederick’s long stays in Italy, the German princes became stronger and began a successful colonization of Slavic lands. Offers of reduced taxes and manorial duties enticed many Germans to settle in the east as the area’s original inhabitants were killed or driven away. Because of this colonization, the empire increased in size and came to include Pomerania, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia. A quickening economic life in Germany increased the number of towns and gave them greater importance. It was also during this period that castles and courts replaced monasteries as centers of culture. Growing out of this courtly culture, German medieval literature reached its peak in lyrical love poetry, the Minnesang , and in narrative epic poems such as Tristan , Parzival , and the Nibelungenlied .
Frederick died in 1190 while on a crusade and was succeeded by his son, Henry VI (r. 1190-97). Elected king even before his father’s death, Henry went to Rome to be crowned emperor. A death in his wife’s family gave him possession of Sicily, a source of vast wealth. Henry failed to make royal and imperial succession hereditary, but in 1196 he succeeded in gaining a pledge that his infant son Frederick would receive the German crown. Faced with difficulties in Italy and confident that he would realize his wishes in Germany at a later date, Henry returned to the south, where it appeared he might unify the peninsula under the Hohenstaufen name. After a series of military victories, however, he died of natural causes in Sicily in 1197.
Because the election of the three-year-old Frederick to be German king appeared likely to make orderly rule difficult, the boy’s uncle, Philip, was chosen to serve in his place. Other factions elected a Welf candidate, Otto IV, as counterking, and a long civil war began. Philip was murdered by Otto IV in 1208. Otto IV in turn was killed by the French at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. Frederick returned to Germany in 1212 from Sicily, where he had grown up, and became king in 1215. As Frederick II (r. 1215-50), he spent little time in Germany because his main concerns lay in Italy. Frederick made significant concessions to the German nobles, such as those put forth in an imperial statute of 1232, which made princes virtually independent rulers within their territories. The clergy also became more powerful. Although Frederick was one of the most energetic, imaginative, and capable rulers of the Middle Ages, he did nothing to draw the disparate forces in Germany together. His legacy was thus that local rulers had more authority after his reign than before it.
By the time of Frederick’s death in 1250, there was little centralized power in Germany. The Great Interregnum (1256-73), a period of anarchy in which there was no emperor and German princes vied for individual advantage, followed the death of Frederick’s son Conrad IV in 1254. In this short period, the German nobility managed to strip many powers away from the already diminished monarchy. Rather than establish sovereign states, however, many nobles tended to look after their families. Their many heirs created more and smaller estates. A largely free class of officials also formed, many of whom eventually acquired hereditary rights to administrative and legal offices. These trends compounded political fragmentation within Germany.
Despite the political chaos of the Hohenstaufen period, the population grew from an estimated 8 million in 1200 to about 14 million in 1300, and the number of towns increased tenfold. The most heavily urbanized areas of Germany were located in the south and the west. Towns often developed a degree of independence, but many were subordinate to local rulers or the emperor. Colonization of the east also continued in the thirteenth century, most notably through the efforts of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, a society of soldier-monks. German merchants also began trading extensively on the Baltic.
The Empire under the Early Habsburgs
The Great Interregnum ended in 1273 with the election of Rudolf of Habsburg as king-emperor. After the interregnum period, Germany’s emperors came from three powerful dynastic houses: Luxemburg (in Bohemia), Wittelsbach (in Bavaria), and Habsburg (in Austria). These families alternated on the imperial throne until the crown returned in the mid-fifteenth century to the Habsburgs, who retained it with only one short break until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
The Golden Bull of 1356, an edict promulgated by Emperor Charles IV (r. 1355-78) of the Luxemburg family, provided the basic constitution of the empire up to its dissolution. It formalized the practice of having seven electors–the archbishops of the cities of Trier, Cologne, and Mainz, and the rulers of the Palatinate, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Bohemia–choose the emperor, and it represented a further political consolidation of the principalities. The Golden Bull ended the long-standing attempt of various emperors to unite Germany under a hereditary monarchy. Henceforth, the emperor shared power with other great nobles like himself and was regarded as merely the first among equals. Without the cooperation of the other princes, he could not rule.
The princes were not absolute rulers either. They had made so many concessions to other secular and ecclesiastical powers in their struggle against the emperor that many smaller principalities, ecclesiastical states, and towns had retained a degree of independence. Some of the smaller noble holdings were so poor that they had to resort to outright extortion of travelers and merchants to sustain themselves, with the result that journeying through Germany could be perilous in the late Middle Ages. All of Germany was under the nominal control of the emperor, but because his power was so weak or uncertain, local authorities had to maintain order–yet another indication of Germany’s political fragmentation.
Despite the lack of a strong central authority, Germany prospered during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its population increased from about 14 million in 1300 to about 16 million in 1500, even though the Black Death killed as much as one-third of the population in the mid-fourteenth century.
Located in the center of Europe, Germany was active in international trade. Rivers flowing to the north and the east and the Alpine passes made Germany a natural conduit conveying goods from the Mediterranean to northern Europe. Germany became a noted manufacturing center. Trade and manufacturing led to the growth of towns, and in 1500 an estimated 10 percent of the population lived in urban areas. Many towns became wealthy and were governed by a sophisticated and self-confident merchant oligarchy. Dozens of towns in northern Germany joined together to form the Hanseatic League, a trading federation that managed shipping and trade on the Baltic and in many inland areas, even into Bohemia and Hungary. The Hanseatic League had commercial offices in such widely dispersed towns as London, Bergen (in present-day Norway), and Novgorod (in present-day Russia). The league was at one time so powerful that it successfully waged war against the king of Denmark. In southern Germany, towns banded together on occasion to protect their interests against encroachments by either imperial or local powers. Although these urban confederations were not always strong enough to defeat their opponents, they sometimes succeeded in helping their members to avoid complete subjugation. In what was eventually to become Switzerland, one confederation of towns had sufficient military might to win virtual independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499.
The Knights of the Teutonic Order continued their settlement of the east until their dissolution early in the sixteenth century, in spite of a serious defeat at the hands of the Poles at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. The lands that came under the control of this monastic military, whose members were pledged to chastity and to the conquest and conversion of heathens, included territory that one day would become eastern Prussia and would be inhabited by Germans until 1945. German settlement in areas south of the territories controlled by the Knights of the Teutonic Order also continued, but generally at the behest of eastern rulers who valued the skills of German peasant-farmers. These new settlers were part of a long process of peaceful German immigration to the east that lasted for centuries, with Germans moving into all of eastern Europe and even deep into Russia.
Intellectual growth accompanied German expansion. Several universities were founded, and Germany came into increased contact with the humanists active elsewhere in Europe. The invention of movable type in the middle of the fifteenth century in Germany also contributed to a more lively intellectual climate. Religious ferment was common, most notably the heretical movement engendered by the teachings of Jan Hus (ca. 1372-1415) in Bohemia. Hus eventually was executed, but the dissatisfaction he felt toward the established church was shared by many others throughout German-speaking lands, as could be seen in the frequent occurrences of popular, mystical religious revivalism after his death.
The Protestant Reformation
On the eve of the Protestant Reformation, the institutions of the Holy Roman Empire were widely thought to be in need of improvement. The Habsburg emperors Frederick III (r. 1440-93) and his son Maximilian I (r. 1493-1519) both cooperated with individual local rulers to enact changes. However, the imperial and local parties had different aims, the former wishing to strengthen the empire, the latter aiming to secure greater independence by formalizing their rights and ensuring regular procedures for the conduct of public business. In 1489 the procedures of the imperial diet, the Reichstag, in which representatives of all states within the empire met, were reorganized. One of the reforms allowed participation in the diet by representatives of the towns. In 1495 Maximilian declared an empirewide peace and made arrangements to reduce the lawlessness and violence that often marked relations among local rulers.
Maximilian’s reforms were not enough to cure the ills of the empire, and relations between it and the princes and ecclesiastical states often were tense. Disputes frequently involved complicated constellations of powers with occasional interference from abroad, most notably France. Charles V (r. 1519-56) was elected emperor in 1519 only after he paid large bribes to the seven electors and agreed to many restrictions on his powers, restrictions he often later ignored.
A changing economy also made for discontent among those unable to profit from new conditions. Some of the empire’s inhabitants had become quite rich, most notably the Fugger family of Augsburg, whose members had replaced the bankers of northern Italy as Europe’s leading financiers. The Fuggers had come to manage the financial affairs of the Habsburg Dynasty, which, in combination with increased trade between south and north, made Germany Europe’s financial center for a few decades. However, other groups in Germany were experiencing hardship. A burgeoning rural population found it difficult to get enough to eat, and many peasants went to the towns to seek a living. Municipal officials responded by seeking to bar rural newcomers. Within towns that were not prospering, relations between the classes became more tense as social mobility was reduced by a declining economy.
On the eve of All Saints’ Day in 1517, Martin Luther, a professor of theology at Wittenberg University in Saxony, posted ninety-five theses on a church door. Luther’s primary concern was the sale of indulgences–papal grants of reduced punishment in the afterlife, including releases from purgatory. First written in Latin, the theses were soon translated into German and widely distributed. Summoned by church authorities to explain his writings, Luther became embroiled in further controversy and in 1520 wrote his three most famous tracts, in which he attacked the papacy and exposed church corruption, acknowledged the validity of only two of the seven sacraments, and argued for the supremacy of faith over good works. In 1521 Luther was summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms. Refusing to recant his writings, he was banned under the Edict of Worms. Secreted away by the ruler of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, Luther retreated to the castle of Wartburg, where he worked on a translation of the New Testament and wrote numerous religious tracts.
Luther’s disagreements with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church set off a chain of events that within a few decades destroyed Germany’s religious unity. Although one of the most influential figures in German history, Luther was only one of many who were critical of the Roman Catholic Church. However, because of the power of his ideas and the enormous influence of his writings, it is he who is regarded as the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. Luther quickly acquired a large following among those disgusted by rampant church corruption and unfulfilled by mechanistic religious services. Many warmed to his contention that religion must be simplified into a close relationship of human beings with God without the extensive mediation of the Roman Catholic Church and its accretion of tradition.
Luther magnified the inherent potency of his ideas by articulating them in a language that was without rival in clarity and force. He strove to make the Scriptures accessible to ordinary worshipers by translating them into vernacular German. This he did with such genius that the German dialect he used became the written language of all of Germany. Without Luther’s translation of the Bible, Germany might have come to use a number of mutually incomprehensible languages, as was the case in the northwestern part of the Holy Roman Empire, where local dialects evolved into what is now modern Dutch. Luther also wrote hymns that are still sung in Christian religious services all over the world.
A less exalted reason for the wide distribution of Luther’s doctrines was the development of printing with movable type. The Reformation created a demand for all kinds of religious writings. The readership was so great that the number of books printed in Germany increased from about 150 in 1518 to nearly 1,000 six years later.
Luther’s ideas soon coalesced into a body of doctrines called Lutheranism. Powerful supporters such as princes and free cities accepted Lutheranism for many reasons, some because they sincerely supported reform, others out of narrow self-interest. In some areas, a jurisdiction would adopt Lutheranism because a large neighboring state had done so. In other areas, rulers accepted it because they sought to retain control over their subjects who had embraced it earlier. Nearly all the imperial cities became Lutheran, despite the fact that the emperor, to whom they were subordinate, was hostile to the movement. Historians have found no single convincing explanation of why one area became Lutheran and another did not, because so many social, economic, and religious factors were involved.
Given the revolutionary nature of Lutheranism and the economic and political tensions of the period, it is not surprising that the Reformation soon became marked by violence and extremism. The Knights’ War of 1522-23, in which members of the lower nobility rebelled against the authorities in southwestern Germany, was quickly crushed. Some of the rampaging knights were ardent supporters of Luther. The Peasants’ War of 1524-25 was more serious, involving as many as 300,000 peasants in southwestern and central Germany. Influenced somewhat by the new religious ideas but responding mostly to changing economic conditions, the peasants’ rebellion spread quickly, but without coordination. It also received support from some dissatisfied city dwellers and from some noblemen of arms who led its ragged armies. Although the peasants’ rebellion was the largest uprising in German history, it was quickly suppressed, with about 100,000 casualties. In the 1530s, the Anabaptists, a radical Christian sect, seized several towns, their objective being to construct a just society. They were likewise brutally suppressed by the authorities.
Luther opposed the peasants’ cause and wrote an impassioned tract demanding their quick suppression. However radical his religious views, Luther was a social and political conservative. He believed that the end of the world was imminent and regarded practical affairs as having little importance compared with the effort to win eternal salvation. Therefore, he counseled obedience to worldly authorities if they allowed freedom of worship. Lutheranism thus became a means of upholding the worldly status quo and the leaders who adopted the new faith. In contrast to England, where Protestantism retained a significant radical social element, German Protestantism became an integral part of the state. Some historians maintain that this integration of state and church has deprived Germany of a deeply rooted tradition of political dissent as found in Britain and the United States.
Resistance to Lutheranism
Although Lutheranism had powerful supporters, its survival was by no means certain. Its main opponent was the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who had inherited Spain, the Netherlands, southern Italy, Sicily, and the Austrian lands as patrimony and who hoped to restore the unity of the German Empire by keeping it Roman Catholic. Charles had been out of Germany between 1521 and 1530, and when he returned he found that the new religion had won too many adherents to be easily uprooted. In addition, he could not devote himself single-mindedly to combating it but also had to struggle with powerful external enemies. One was Francis I (r. 1515-47) of France, who attacked the empire from the west, having resolved to destroy the power of the Habsburgs. Another threat was posed by the Turks, who were attacking the empire from the east. Even the papacy at times conspired against its coreligionist because it feared Charles was becoming too powerful.
Within Germany, forces were also arrayed against Charles. In 1531 Protestant leaders created the League of Schmalkalden to oppose him. By 1545 northeastern and northwestern Germany and large parts of southern Germany had become Protestant. Despite the significant victory over the Protestants at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547, Charles still was not powerful enough to impose his will on the German princes.
The Peace of Augsburg
By the early 1550s, it was apparent that a negotiated settlement was necessary. In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was signed.The settlement, which represented a victory for the princes, granted recognition to both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany, and each ruler gained the right to decide the religion to be practiced within his state. Subjects not of this faith could move to another state with their property, and disputes between the religions were to be settled in court.
The Protestant Reformation strengthened the long-standing trend toward particularism in Germany. German leaders, whether Protestant or Catholic, became yet more powerful at the expense of the central governing institution, the empire. Protestant leaders gained by receiving lands that formerly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, although not to as great an extent as, for example, would occur in England. Each prince also became the head of the established church within his territory. Catholic leaders benefited because the Roman Catholic Church, in order to help them withstand Protestantism, gave them greater access to church resources within their territories. Germany was also less united than before because Germans were no longer of one faith, a situation officially recognized by the Peace of Augsburg. The agreement did not bring sectarian peace, however, because the religious question in Germany had not yet been settled fully.
The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-48
Germany enjoyed a time of relative quiet between the Peace of Augsburg, signed in 1555, and the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618. The empire functioned in a more regular way than previously, and its federal nature was more evident than in the past. The Reichstag met frequently to deal with public matters, and the emperors Ferdinand I (r. 1556-64) and Maximilian II (r. 1564-76) were cautious rulers concerned mostly with strengthening their family’s hold on Austria and adjacent areas. Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612) was an indolent and capricious ruler who generally followed his advisers’ counsel. As a result, some German states were able to expand their territories by annexing smaller neighbors in the absence of an engaged and attentive emperor. Local rivalries engendered tensions that often were based on religious affiliation.
The Counter-Reformation and Religious Tensions
The Peace of Augsburg brought peace but did not settle the religious disagreements in Germany. For one thing, its signatories did not recognize Calvinism, a relatively stringent form of Protestantism that was gaining prominence around the time the Augsburg treaty was signed, in what has been called the Second Reformation. Adherents to both Calvinism and Lutheranism worked to spread their influence and gain converts in the face of the Counter-Reformation, the attempt of the Roman Catholic Church to regroup and reverse the spread of Protestantism. Followers of all three religions were at times successful, but only at the expense of the others.
Fear of religious subversion caused rulers to monitor the conduct of their subjects more closely. Attempting to help the modern reader understand the intensity and pervasiveness of this fear, Mary Fulbrook, a noted British historian of Germany, has likened it to the anxiety prevailing in the first years of the Cold War. An example of the social paranoia engendered by the religious tensions of the period is Protestant Germany’s refusal until 1700 to accept the Gregorian calendar introduced by the papacy in 1582 because the reform entailed a one-time loss of the days between October 5 and 14. Many Protestants suspected that Roman Catholics were attempting somehow to steal this time for themselves.
By the first decades of the seventeenth century, religious controversy had become so obstructive that at times the Reichstag could not conduct business. In 1608, for example, Calvinists walked out of the body, preventing the levying of a tax to fight a war against the Turks. In the same year, the Evangelical Union was established by a few states and cities of the empire to defend the Protestant cause. In 1609 a number of Roman Catholic states countered by forming the Catholic League. Although both bodies were less concerned with a sectarian war than with the specific aims of their member states, their formation was an indication of how easily disputes could acquire a religious aspect.
The Thirty Years’ War resulted from a local rebellion, but the admixture of religion transformed it into a European conflict that lasted for more than a generation and devastated Germany. In 1618 Bohemian nobles opposed the decision of Emperor Matthias (r. 1608-19) to designate his Catholic cousin Ferdinand king of Bohemia. Instead, the nobles elected Frederick of the Palatinate, a German Calvinist, to be their king. In 1620, in an attempt to wrest control from the nobles, imperial armies and the Catholic League under General Johann von Tilly defeated the Protestant Bohemians at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. The Protestant princes, alarmed by the strength of the Catholic League and the possibility of Roman Catholic supremacy in Europe, decided to renew their struggle against Emperor Matthias. They were aided by France, which, although Roman Catholic, was opposed to the increasing power of the Habsburgs, the dynastic family to which Matthias and Ferdinand belonged. Despite French aid, by the late 1620s imperial armies of Emperor Ferdinand II (r. 1619-37) and the Catholic League, under the supreme command of General Albrecht von Wallenstein, had defeated the Protestants and secured a foothold in northern Germany.
In his time of triumph, Ferdinand overreached himself by publishing in 1629 the Edict of Restitution, which required that all properties of the Roman Catholic Church taken since 1552 be returned to their original owners. The edict renewed Protestant resistance. Catholic powers also began to oppose Ferdinand because they feared he was becoming too powerful. Invading armies from Sweden, secretly supported by Catholic France, marched deep into Germany, winning numerous victories. The Catholic general Tilly and Sweden’s Protestant king, Gustavus Adolphus, were killed in separate battles. Wallenstein was assassinated on Emperor Ferdinand’s orders because he feared his general was becoming too powerful. After the triumph of the Spanish army over Swedish forces at the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634, a truce was arranged between the emperor and some of the German princes under the Treaty of Prague. France then invaded Germany, not for religious reasons but because the House of Bourbon, the dynastic family of several French and Spanish monarchs, wished to ensure that the House of Habsburg did not become too powerful. This invasion is illustrative of the French axiom that Germany must always remain divided into small, easily manipulated states. (Indeed, preventing a united Germany remained an objective of French foreign policy even late in the twentieth century.) Because of French participation, the war continued until the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648.
The Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia largely settled German affairs for the next century and a half. It ended religious conflicts between the states and included official recognition of Calvinism. Its signatories altered the boundaries of the empire by recognizing that Switzerland and the Netherlands had become sovereign states outside the empire. Portions of Alsace and Lorraine went to France. Sweden received some territory in northern Germany, which in the long run it could not retain. Brandenburg became stronger, as did Saxony and Bavaria. In addition, states within the empire acquired greater independence with the right to have their own foreign policies and form alliances, even with states outside the empire. As a result of these changes, the Holy Roman Empire lost much of what remained of its power and would never again be a significant actor on the international stage. The Habsburgs would continue to be crowned emperors, but their strength would derive from their own holdings, not from leadership of the empire. Germany was less united in 1648 than in 1618, and German particularism had been strengthened once again.
The Thirty Years’ War had a devastating effect on the German people. Historians have usually estimated that between one-fourth and one-third of the population perished from direct military causes or from illness and starvation related to the war. Some regions were affected much more than others. For example, an estimated three-quarters of Württemberg’s population died between 1634 and 1639. Overall losses were serious enough that historians believe that it took a century after the Thirty Years’ War for Germany’s population to reach the level of 1618.
Germany’s economy was also severely disrupted by the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War. The war exacerbated the economic decline that had begun in the second half of the sixteenth century as the European economy shifted westward to the Atlantic states–Spain, France, England, and the Low Countries. The shift in trade meant that Germany was no longer located at the center of European commerce but on its fringes. The thriving economies of many German towns in the late Middle Ages and first half of the sixteenth century gradually dried up, and Germany as a whole entered a long period of economic stagnation that ended only in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The Age of Enlightened Absolutism, 1648-1789
Although the Holy Roman Empire no longer had a significant role in European politics after the Thirty Years’ War, it remained important in Germany, providing a framework for the many German states’ and cities’ conduct of their public affairs. The Reichstag, which remained in session at Regensburg from 1663 until the empire’s dissolution in 1806, provided a forum for the settlement of disputes. On occasion, votes were taken to remove incompetent or tyrannical rulers of member states. The empire’s most important service was that it provided a measure of security to Germany’s many small states and free cities, without which some would have been swallowed up by larger neighbors. Because of its weakened condition, the empire could no longer dominate Germany, even when headed by ambitious and capable men such as Charles VI (r. 1711-40). During the 1720s, he attempted unsuccessfully to breathe new life into the empire. Later emperors returned to the traditional Habsburg practice of using the imperial throne to benefit their own dynastic holdings.
For nearly a century after the Peace of Westphalia, the main danger to German states came from abroad. France was the chief threat, seizing parts of southwestern Germany in the late 1600s, among them the city of Strasbourg in 1681. French troops also fought on German soil during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). In addition to these military actions, France formed alliances with some German states, most significantly with Bavaria, which sought support against neighboring Austria. The Ottoman Empire also posed a threat. In 1683 its forces besieged Vienna. The Germans ultimately were successful against the Ottoman Empire, and after the Treaty of Passarowitz of 1718, the Turks were no longer a danger.
Austria and Prussia
The most important German power after the Peace of Westphalia was Austria, followed by a few other states with much smaller populations, most notably Brandenburg, Saxony, and Bavaria. Austria retained its preeminence until the second half of the nineteenth century, but in the eighteenth century Brandenburg had become a serious rival, annexing valuable Austrian territory. The rivalry came to form the so-called dualism of the empire, that is, the presence in it of two powerful states, neither of which was strong enough to dominate the empire and for that reason sought the support of smaller states. The smaller states worked to derive their own advantages from German dualism, none being willing to cede sovereignty to either Austria or Prussia.
In 1648 Brandenburg was a small state in northern Germany. It had been ruled by the Hohenzollern Dynasty since the late fifteenth century and consisted of the core region and its capital, Berlin; eastern Pomerania; an area around Magdeburg; the former holdings of the Knights of the Teutonic Order in eastern Prussia; and some smaller holdings in western Germany. Brandenburg became known as Prussia in 1701 when its ruler crowned himself King Frederick I of Prussia. Prussia acquired the rest of Pomerania after defeating Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21). Prussia’s increase in size and influence may be attributed to a succession of capable leaders, all of whom enjoyed long reigns. The first was Frederick William (r. 1640-88), known as the Great Elector. He increased his family’s power by granting favors to the nobility, weakening the independence of the towns, and maintaining a professional standing army. His son Frederick I (r. 1688-1713) established Prussia as a kingdom. Frederick further strengthened the army, but not nearly as much as his son Frederick William I (r. 1713-40), who also modernized the kingdom’s bureaucracy. Frederick II (r. 1740-86), known to posterity as Frederick the Great, continued along the same lines as his father but showed much greater imagination and ruthlessness, transforming his small kingdom into one of the great powers of Europe.
In 1740 Frederick seized Silesia, a wealthy province that belonged to the Habsburgs and had a population of about 1 million inhabitants. Maria Theresa (r. 1740-80), the new Habsburg empress, was unable to regain possession of Silesia, which remained under Prussian control at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). Frederick retained Silesia even after facing a coalition of France, Austria, and Russia during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). Frederick expanded Prussian territory still further in 1772, when, with his erstwhile enemies Russia and Austria, he took part in the First Partition of Poland. This last seizure was highly beneficial to Frederick because it linked eastern Prussia with much of his kingdom’s western holdings.
Although Prussia and Austria were rivals, they had some important characteristics in common. Neither state was populated by a single people, but by numerous peoples speaking different languages and belonging to different religions. Neither state was located entirely within the empire. Both had sizable territories to the east of the empire, and it was there that they hoped mainly to expand. Both states were governed by enlightened monarchs, who, having only to cajole the nobility with occasional concessions, saw government as for the people but not by the people. Hence, both states were governed by the most efficient methods known to the eighteenth century, and both were fairly tolerant according to the standards of the time. Prussia accepted many Protestants expelled from other states, most notably the Huguenots who fled France after the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Austria became one of the first states to allow Jews to settle where they liked within its boundaries and to practice the professions of their choice.
The Smaller States
By the eighteenth century, none of the other states of the empire were strong enough to have territorial ambitions to match those of Prussia and Austria. Some of the larger states, such as Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg, also maintained standing armies, but their smaller size compelled them to seek allies, some from outside the empire. With the exception of the free cities and ecclesiastical states, smaller states, like Austria and Prussia, were governed by a hereditary monarch who ruled either with the consent or help of the nobility and with the help of an increasingly well-trained bureaucracy. Only a few states, such as Württemberg, could boast of an active democracy of the kind evolving in Britain and France. Except in a few free cities, such as Frankfurt, Main and Hamburg, which were active in international trade, Germany’s commercial class was neither strong nor self-confident. Farmers in western Germany were largely free; those in the east were often serfs. However, whether in the east or the west, most who worked the land lived at the subsistence level.
Despite its lack of popular democracy, Germany was generally well governed. The state bureaucracies gained in power and expertise, and efficiency and probity were esteemed. During the eighteenth century, the principles of the Enlightenment came to be widely disseminated and applied. Although there were no political challenges to enlightened absolutism, as was the case in France, all phenomena, including religion, were subject to critical, reasoned examination to determine their rationality. In this more tolerant environment, differing religious views could still create social friction, but ways were found for the empire’s three main religions–Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism–to coexist in most states. The expulsion of about 20,000 Protestants from the ecclesiastical state of Salzburg during 1731-32 was viewed by the educated public at the time as a harking back to less enlightened days.
Several new universities were founded, some soon considered among Europe’s best. An increasingly literate public made possible a jump in the number of journals and newspapers. At the end of the seventeenth century, most books printed in Germany were in Latin. By the end of the next century, all but 5 percent were in German. The eighteenth century also saw a refinement of the German language and a flowering of German literature with the appearance of such figures as Gotthold Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller. German music also reached great heights with the Bach family, George Frederick Handel, Joseph Haydn, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The French Revolution and Germany
The French Revolution, which erupted in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille in Paris, at first gained the enthusiastic approval of some German intellectuals, who welcomed the proclamation of a constitution and a bill of rights. Within a few years, most of this support had dissipated, replaced by fear of a newly aggressive French nationalism and horror at the execution of the revolution’s opponents. In 1792 French troops invaded Germany and were at first pushed back by imperial forces. But at the Battle of Valmy in late 1792, the French army, a revolutionary citizens’ army fighting on its own soil, defeated the professional imperial army. By 1794 France had secured control of the Rhineland, which it was to occupy for twenty years.
During the Rhineland occupation, France followed its traditional policy of keeping Austria and Prussia apart and manipulating the smaller German states. In observance of the Treaty of Basel of 1795, Prussian and German forces north of the Main River ceased efforts against the French. Austria endured repeated defeats at the hands of the French, most notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. At this battle, Russians fought alongside Austrians against the French, who were aided by forces from several south German states, including Bavaria, Baden, and Württemberg.
Prussia reentered the war against France in 1806, but its forces were badly beaten at the Battle of Jena that same year. Prussia was abandoned by its ally Russia and lost territory as a result of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807. These national humiliations motivated the Prussians to undertake a serious program of social and military reform. The most noted of the reformers–Karl vom Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Gerhard von Scharnhorst, along with many others–improved the country’s laws, education, administration, and military organization. Scharnhorst, responsible for military reforms, emphasized the importance to the army of moral incentives, personal courage, and individual responsibility. He also introduced the principle of competition and abandoned the privileges accorded to nobility within the officer corps. A revitalized Prussia joined with Austria and Russia to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in late 1813 and drove him out of Germany. Prussian forces under General Gebhard von Blücher were essential to the final victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Despite Napoleon’s defeat, some of the changes he had brought to Germany during the French occupation were retained. Public administration was improved, feudalism was weakened, the power of the trade guilds was reduced, and the Napoleonic Code replaced traditional legal codes in many areas. The new legal code was popular and remained in effect in the Rhineland until 1900. As a result of these reforms, some areas of Germany were better prepared for the coming of industrialization in the nineteenth century.
French occupation authorities also allowed many smaller states, ecclesiastical entities, and free cities to be incorporated into their larger neighbors. Approximately 300 states had existed within the Holy Roman Empire in 1789; only about forty remained by 1814. The empire ceased to exist in 1806 when Francis II of Austria gave up his imperial title. In its place, Napoleon had created the Confederation of the Rhine, made up of the states of western and southern Germany, under French direction. Austria and Prussia were not members. The confederation was to provide Napoleon with troops for his military campaigns. After his defeat, the confederation was dissolved.
The German Confederation, 1815-66
The Congress of Vienna (1814-15), convened after Napoleon’s defeat, sought to restore order to a Europe disrupted by revolutionary and imperial France. Its members’ objective was a constellation of states and a balance of power that would ensure peace and stability after a quarter-century of revolution and war. In addition to the delegates of many small states, the congress included representatives of five large European states: Austria, Prussia, Russia, Britain, and France. After months of deliberations, the congress established an international political order that was to endure for nearly 100 years and that brought Europe a measure of peace.
The congress made no effort to restore the Holy Roman Empire and its 300-odd states. Instead, it accepted the disappearance of many small states that had occurred since 1789 and created the German Confederation. The confederation consisted of thirty-eight sovereign states and four free cities and included the five large kingdoms of Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg. The confederation met at a diet in Frankfurt, with an Austrian always serving as president.
Prince Clemens von Metternich, who directed Austria’s foreign policy from 1809 until 1848, was the dominant political figure within the confederation. He waged a decades-long campaign to prevent the spread of revolution in Europe by seeking to restore much of the political and social order that had existed before the French Revolution. Metternich’s Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 established a pervasive system of press censorship and regulation of the universities that dampened German intellectual life and hindered the publication of writings advocating the principles of liberalism. In the 1820s, he engineered the formation of the Holy Alliance of the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia to quash political, social, and economic developments within Central and Eastern Europe thought to threaten political stability.
Economic and Political Trends Toward Unification
It was not possible for Metternich and his allies to suppress completely the desire for liberal reforms, including the establishment of constitutional parliamentary government, economic freedom, and civil liberties. Some of these reforms had already been under discussion during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and awareness of their desirability had spread during the Napoleonic era. In addition, the economic reforms introduced into the Rhineland by France had taken hold. The business class that formed after 1815 pressed for abolition of restrictive trade practices favored by traditional handicraft guilds. Businessmen also sought a common currency and system of measurements for Germany, as well as a reduction of the numerous tolls that made road and river travel expensive and slow.
During the 1820s, significant progress was made in reducing customs duties among German states. At Prussian instigation, the Zollverein (Customs Union) began to form, and by the mid-1830s it included all the most important German states except Austria. Prussia saw to it that its chief rival within Germany was excluded from the union. Vienna, for its part, did not realize at this early point the political and economic significance of intra-German trade.
Many of Germany’s liberal intelligentsia–lower government officials, men of letters, professors, and lawyers–who pushed for representative government and greater political freedom were also interested in some form of German unity. They argued that liberal political reforms could only be enacted in a larger political entity. Germany’s small, traditional states offered little scope for political reform.
Among those groups desiring reform, there was, ironically, little unity. Many businessmen were interested only in reforms that would facilitate commerce, and they gave little thought to politics. Political liberals were split into a number of camps. Some wished for a greater degree of political representation, but, given a widespread fear of what the masses might do if they had access to power, these liberals were content to have aristocrats as leaders. Others desired a democratic constitution, but with a hereditary king as ruler. A minority of liberals were ardent democrats who desired to establish a republic with parliamentary democracy and universal suffrage.
The ideal of a united Germany had been awakened within liberal groups by the writings of scholars and literary figures such as Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) and by the achievements of French nationalism after the revolution. France’s easy victories over Germany’s small states made the union of a people with a common language and historical memory desirable for practical reasons alone. Others were impressed by the political and commercial accomplishments of Britain, which made those of the small German states seem insignificant. Some writers warmed to romantic evocations of Germany’s glory during the Middle Ages.
Many members of Germany’s aristocratic ruling class were opposed to national unity because they feared it would mean the disappearance of their small states into a large Germany. Metternich opposed a united Germany because the Habsburg Empire did not embrace a single people speaking one language, but many peoples speaking different languages. The empire would not easily fit into a united Germany. He desired instead the continued existence of the loosely organized German Confederation with its forty-odd members, none equal to Austria in strength. Prussia’s kings and its conservative elite sometimes objected to Austria’s primacy in the confederation, but they had little desire for German unification, which they regarded as a potential threat to Prussia’s existence.
Germany’s lower classes–farmers, artisans, and factory workers–were not included in the discussions about political and economic reform. Germany’s farmers had been freed to some degree from many obligations and dues owed to the landowning aristocracy, but they were often desperately poor, earning barely enough to survive. Farmers west of the Elbe River usually had properties too small to yield any kind of prosperity. Farmers east of the Elbe often were landless laborers hired to work on large estates. Artisans, that is, skilled workers in handicrafts and trades belonging to the traditional guilds, saw their economic position worsen as a result of the industrialization that had begun to appear in Germany after 1815. The guilds attempted to stop factory construction and unrestricted commerce, but strong economic trends ran counter to their wishes. Factory workers, in contrast, were doing well compared with these other groups and were generally content with their lot when the economy as a whole prospered.
The Revolutions of 1848
Europe endured hard times during much of the 1840s. A series of bad harvests culminating in the potato blight of 1845-46 brought widespread misery and some starvation. An economic depression added to the hardship, spreading discontent among the poor and the middle class alike. A popular uprising in Paris in February 1848 turned into a revolution, forcing the French king Louis Philippe to flee to Britain.
The success of the revolution sparked revolts elsewhere in Europe. Numerous German cities were shaken by uprisings in which crowds consisting mainly of the urban poor, but also of students and members of the liberal middle class, stormed their rulers’ palaces and demanded fundamental reform. Berlin and Vienna were especially hard hit by what came to be called the revolutions of 1848. The rulers of both cities, like rulers elsewhere, quickly acceded to the demands of their rebellious subjects and promised constitutions and representative government. Conservative governments fell, and Metternich fled to Britain. Liberals called for a national convention to draft a constitution for all of Germany. The National Assembly, consisting of about 800 delegates from throughout Germany, met in a church in Frankfurt, the Paulskirche, from May 1848 to March 1849 for this purpose.
Within just a few months, liberal hopes for a reformed Germany were disappointed. Conservative forces saw that the liberal movement was divided into a number of camps having sharply different aims. Furthermore, the liberals had little support left among the lower classes, who had supported them in the first weeks of the revolution by constructing barricades and massing before their rulers’ palaces. Few liberals desired popular democracy or were willing to enact radical economic reforms that would help farmers and artisans. As a result of this timidity, the masses deserted the liberals. Thus, conservatives were able to win sizable elements of these groups to their side by promising to address their concerns. Factory workers had largely withheld support from the liberal cause because they earned relatively good wages compared with farmers and artisans.
Once the conservatives regrouped and launched their successful counterattack across Germany, many of the reforms promised in March 1848 were forgotten. The National Assembly published the constitution it had drafted during months of hard debate. It proposed the unification of Germany as a federation with a hereditary emperor and a parliament with delegates elected directly. The constitution resolved the dispute between supporters of “Little Germany,” that is, a united Germany that would exclude Austria and the Habsburg Empire, and those supporting “Large Germany,” which would include both. The constitution advocated the latter.
The Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV (r. 1840-58), was elected united Germany’s first emperor. He refused the crown, stating that he could be elected only by other kings. At that point, the assembly disbanded. A few subsequent rebellions by democratic liberals drew some popular support in 1849, but they were easily crushed and their leaders executed or imprisoned. Some of these ardent democrats fled to the United States. Among them was Carl Schurz, who later fought at the Battle of Gettysburg as a Union officer, served one term as a United States senator from Missouri, and was appointed secretary of the interior by United States president Rutherford B. Hayes.
The German Confederation was reestablished, and conservatives held the reins of power even more tightly than before. The failure of the 1848 revolutions also meant that Germany was not united as many had hoped. However, some of the liberals’ more practical proposals came to fruition later in the 1850s and 1860s when it was realized that they were essential to economic efficiency. Many commercial restrictions were abolished. The guilds, with their desire to turn back the clock and restore preindustrial conditions, were defeated, and impediments to the free use of capital were reduced. The “hungry forties” gave way to the prosperity of the 1850s as the German economy modernized and laid the foundations for spectacular growth later in the century.
Bismarck and Unification
Liberal hopes for German unification were not met during the politically turbulent 1848-49 period. A Prussian plan for a smaller union was dropped in late 1850 after Austria threatened Prussia with war. Despite this setback, desire for some kind of German unity, either with or without Austria, grew during the 1850s and 1860s. It was no longer a notion cherished by a few, but had proponents in all social classes. An indication of this wider range of support was the change of mind about German nationalism experienced by an obscure Prussian diplomat, Otto von Bismarck. He had been an adamant opponent of German nationalism in the late 1840s. During the 1850s, however, Bismarck had concluded that Prussia would have to harness German nationalism for its own purposes if it were to thrive. He believed too that Prussia’s well-being depended on wresting primacy in Germany from its traditional enemy, Austria.
In 1862 King Wilhelm I of Prussia (r. 1858-88) chose Bismarck to serve as his minister president. Descended from the Junker, Prussia’s aristocratic landowning class, Bismarck hated parliamentary democracy and championed the dominance of the monarchy and aristocracy. However, gifted at judging political forces and sizing up a situation, Bismarck contended that conservatives would have to come to terms with other social groups if they were to continue to direct Prussian affairs. The king had summoned Bismarck to direct Prussia’s government in the face of the Prussian parliament’s refusal to pass a budget because it disagreed with army reforms desired by the king and his military advisers. Although he could not secure parliament’s consent to the government’s budget, Bismarck was a tactician skilled and ruthless enough to govern without parlia-ment’s consent from 1862 to 1866.
As an ardent and aggressive Prussian nationalist, Bismarck had long been an opponent of Austria because both states sought primacy within the same area–Germany. Austria had been weakened by reverses abroad, including the loss of territory in Italy, and by the 1860s, because of clumsy diplomacy, had no foreign allies outside Germany. Bismarck used a diplomatic dispute to provoke Austria to declare war on Prussia in 1866. Against expectations, Prussia quickly won the Seven Weeks’ War (also known as the Austro-Prussian War) against Austria and its south German allies. Bismarck imposed a lenient peace on Austria because he recognized that Prussia might later need the Austrians as allies. But he dealt harshly with the other German states that had resisted Prussia and expanded Prussian territory by annexing Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, some smaller states, and the city of Frankfurt. The German Confederation was replaced by the North German Confederation and was furnished with both a constitution and a parliament. Austria was excluded from Germany. South German states outside the confederation–Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria–were tied to Prussia by military alliances.
Bismarck’s military and political successes were remarkable, but the first had been achieved at considerable risk, and the second were by no means complete. Luck had played a part in the decisive victory at the Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Králóve in the present-day Czech Republic); otherwise, the war might have lasted much longer than it did. None of the larger German states had supported either Prussia’s war or the formation of the North German Confederation led by Prussia. The states that formed what is often called the Third Germany, that is, Germany exclusive of Austria and Prussia, did not desire to come under the control of either of those states. None of them wished to be pulled into a war that showed little likelihood of benefiting any of them. In the Seven Weeks’ War, the support they gave Austria had been lukewarm.
In 1870 Bismarck engineered another war, this time against France. The conflict would become known to history as the Franco-Prussian War. Nationalistic fervor was ignited by the promised annexation of Lorraine and Alsace, which had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and had been seized by France in the seventeenth century. With this goal in sight, the south German states eagerly joined in the war against the country that had come to be seen as Germany’s traditional enemy. Bismarck’s major war aim–the voluntary entry of the south German states into a constitutional German nation-state–occurred during the patriotic frenzy generated by stunning military victories against French forces in the fall of 1870. Months before a peace treaty was signed with France in May 1871, a united Germany was established as the German Empire, and the Prussian king, Wilhelm I, was crowned its emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The German Empire–often called the Second Reich to distinguish it from the First Reich, established by Charlemagne in 800–was based on two compromises. The first was between the king of Prussia and the rulers of the other German states, who agreed to accept him as the kaiser (emperor) of a united Germany, provided they could continue to rule their states largely as they had in the past. The second was the agreement among many segments of German society to accept a unified Germany based on a constitution that combined a powerful authoritarian monarchy with a weak representative body, the Reichstag, elected by universal male suffrage. No one was completely satisfied with the bargain. The kaiser had to contend with a parliament elected by the people in a secret vote. The people were represented in a parliament having limited control over the kaiser.
As had been the tradition in Prussia, the kaiser controlled foreign policy and the army through his handpicked ministers, who formed the government and prepared legislation. The government was headed by a chancellor, also selected by the kaiser, who served in this post at the kaiser’s pleasure and could be dismissed by him at any time. The Bundesrat (Federal Council) represented Germany’s princes. About one-third of its seats were held by Prussians. Conceived as an upper house to the Reichstag, the Bundesrat, like the Reichstag, was required to vote on legislation drawn up by the government before it became law. The Reichstag had no power to draft legislation. In addition, the government’s actions were not subject to the Reichstag’s approval, and the government was not drawn from the Reichstag, as is ordinarily the case in parliamentary democracies.
The government needed the approval of the Bundesrat and the Reichstag to enact legislative proposals, and the kaiser and his chancellor had many means of securing this approval. Conservative in nature, the Bundesrat was usually docile and needed little wooing. Compliant in the early years of the empire, the Reichstag, by contrast, became less so with time. The easiest means of controlling the Reichstag was to threaten it with new elections in the hope of getting a legislative body more attuned to the intentions of the government. During elections the government campaigned for the parties it favored, sometimes cynically conjuring up fears of national catastrophe if particular parties won many seats. The government also bargained with parties, granting them what they sought in exchange for votes. A last means of taming the Reichstag was to spread rumors of a possible coup d’état by the army and the repeal of the constitution and universal suffrage. This technique was used repeatedly in imperial Germany and could even frighten the conservative Bundesrat. However little many of the Reichstag members might like the empire’s political order, the prospect of naked despotism pleased them even less.
Although the Reichstag did not wield real power, elections to it were hotly contested, and Bismarck and later chancellors and governments were concerned with their outcome. As more-democratic parties came to dominate in the Reichstag, governing became more difficult for the kaiser and his officials. During the later decades of the reign of Wilhelm II (r. 1888-1918), the empire’s governing system experienced such difficulties that some conservatives advocated scrapping it, and democrats argued for a new, truly parliamentary system. A fear of these drastic choices and their possible effects caused Germany to muddle through with the existing system until the disaster of World War I culminated in that system’s abolition.
Six major political parties were active in imperial Germany: the Conservative Party, the Free Conservative Party, the National Liberal Party, the Progressive Party, the Center Party, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands–SPD). Only the SPD survived both the empire and the Weimar Republic (1918-33) and came to play a vital role in the Federal Republic. Even though the German Empire lacked a genuinely democratic system, the six main parties accurately reflected the interests and hopes of most of its people.
The most right-wing of the six parties was the Conservative Party, which represented Prussian nationalism, aristocracy, and landed property. Many of its members remained opposed to German unification because they feared Prussia’s gradual absorption by the empire. The Conservatives also detested the Reichstag because it was elected by universal suffrage. The Free Conservative Party represented industrialists and large commercial interests. The views of this party most closely matched those of Bismarck. Its members supported unification because they saw it as unavoidable. The National Liberal Party was composed of liberals who had accepted Germany’s lack of full democracy because they valued national unity more. They continued to favor a laissez-faire economic policy and secularization. In time, National Liberals became some of the strongest supporters of the acquisition of colonies and a substantial naval buildup, both key issues in the 1880s and 1890s.
Unlike the members of the National Liberal Party, members of the Progressive Party remained faithful to all the principles of European liberalism and championed the extension of parliament’s powers. This party was in the forefront of those opposed to the authoritarian rule of Bismarck and his successors. The Center Party was Germany’s Roman Catholic party and had strong support in southern Germany, the Rhineland, and in parts of Prussia with significant Polish populations. It was conservative regarding monarchical authority but progressive in matters of social reform. Bismarck’s brutal campaign against the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s–the Kulturkampf (cultural struggle), an attempt to reduce the church’s power over education and its role in many other areas of German society–turned the Center Party against him. By the late 1870s, Bismarck had to concede victory to the party, which had become stronger through its resistance to the government’s persecution. The party remained important during the Weimar Republic and was the forerunner of the Federal Republic’s moderate conservative parties, the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU) and the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union–CSU).
The Marxist SPD was founded in Gotha in 1875, a fusion of Ferdinand Lassalle’s General German Workers’ Association (formed in 1863), which advocated state socialism, and the Social Democratic Labor Party (formed in 1869), headed by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, which aspired to establish a classless communist society. The SPD advocated a mixture of revolution and quiet work within the parliamentary system. The clearest statement of this impossible combination was the Erfurt Program of 1891. The former method frightened nearly all Germans to the party’s right, while the latter would build the SPD into the largest party in the Reichstag after the elections of 1912.
Once Bismarck gave up his campaign against Germany’s Roman Catholics, whom he had seen for a time as a Vatican-controlled threat to the stability of the empire, he attacked the SPD with a series of antisocialist laws beginning in 1878. A positive aspect of Bismarck’s campaign to contain the SPD was a number of laws passed in the 1880s establishing national health insurance and old-age pensions. Bismarck’s hope was that if workers were protected by the government, they would come to support it and see no need for revolution. Bismarck’s antisocialist campaign, which continued until his dismissal in 1890 by Wilhelm II, severely restricted the activities of the SPD. Ironically, the laws may have inadvertently benefited the SPD by forcing it to work within legal channels. As a result of its sustained activity within the political system, the SPD became a cautious, pragmatic party, which, despite its fiery Marxist rhetoric, won increasing numbers of seats in the Reichstag and achieved some improvements in working and living conditions for Germany’s working class.
The Economy and Population Growth
Germany experienced an economic boom immediately after unification. For the first time, the country was a single economic entity, and old impediments to internal trade were lifted. The federal chancellery published a new commercial code and established a uniform currency. The indemnity that France had to pay Germany after losing the 1870-71 war provided capital for railroad construction and building projects. A speculative boom resulted, characterized by large-scale formation of joint-stock companies and unscrupulous investment practices. This period of intense financial speculation and construction, called by Germans the Gründerzeit (founders’ time), ended with the stock market crash of 1873.
Despite the crash and several subsequent periods of economic depression, Germany’s economy grew rapidly. By 1900 it rivaled the more-established British economy as the world’s largest. German coal production, about one-third of Britain’s in 1880, increased sixfold by 1913, almost equaling British yields that year. German steel production increased more than tenfold in the same period, surpassing British production by far.
Industrialization began later in Germany than in Britain, and the German economy was not a significant part of the world economy until late in the nineteenth century. Germany’s industrialization started with the building of railroads in the 1840s and 1850s and the subsequent development of coal mining and iron and steel production, activities that made up what is called the First Industrial Revolution. In Germany, the Second Industrial Revolution, that is, the growth of chemical and electrical industries, followed the enormous expansion of coal and steel production so closely that the country can be said to have experienced the two revolutions almost simultaneously. Germany took an early lead in the chemical and electrical industries. Its chemists became renowned for their discoveries, and by 1914 the country was producing half the world’s electrical equipment. As a result of these developments, Germany became the continent’s industrial giant.
Germany’s population also expanded rapidly, growing from 41.0 million in 1871 to 49.7 million in 1891 and 65.3 million in 1911. The expanding and industrializing economy changed the way this rapidly expanding population earned its livelihood. In 1871 about 49 percent of the workforce was engaged in agriculture; by 1907 only 35 percent was. In the same period, industry’s share of the rapidly growing workforce rose from 31 percent to 40 percent. Urban birth rates were often the country’s highest, but there was much migration from rural areas to urban areas, where most industry was located. Berlin, by far the country’s largest city and a major industrial center, grew from almost 1 million inhabitants in 1875 to 2 million in 1910. Many smaller cities, especially those in areas with much industry–such as the Ruhr region, the upper Rhine Valley, the Neckar Valley, and Saxony–tripled or quadrupled in size during this period.
The Tariff Agreement of 1879 and Its Social Consequences
The crash of 1873 and the subsequent depression began the gradual dissolution of Bismarck’s alliance with the National Liberals that had begun after his triumphs of 1866. In the late 1870s, Bismarck began negotiations with the economically protectionist Conservative Party and Center Party toward the formation of a new government coalition. Conservative electoral gains and National Liberal losses in 1879 brought a conservative coalition to power. Bismarck then abandoned his former allies in the National Liberal Party and put in place a system of tariffs that benefited the landed gentry of eastern Prussia–threatened by imports of cheaper grains from Russia and the United States–and industrialists who were afraid to compete with cheaper foreign manufactured goods and who believed they needed more time to establish themselves.
Bismarck’s alliance with the Prussian landowning class and powerful industrialists and the parties representing their interests had profound social effects. From that point on, conservative groups had the upper hand in German society. The German middle class began to imitate its conservative social superiors rather than attempt to impose its own liberal, middle-class values on Germany. The prestige of the military became so great that many middle-class males sought to enhance their social standing by becoming officers in the reserves. The middle classes also became more susceptible to the nationalistic clamor for colonies and “a place in the sun” that was to become ever more virulent in the next few decades.
Bismarck’s Foreign Policy
Bismarck sincerely regarded the new German Empire as “satiated,” that is, having no desire to expand further and hence posing no threat to its neighbors. The chancellor held that the country had to adjust to its new circumstances and that this would take decades. For this reason, he sought to convince the other European states of Germany’s desire to live in peace, hoping thereby to secure Germany against attack. He aimed to arrange this security through a system of alliances. Believing that France would remain Germany’s enemy because of the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, an action he had opposed because of the enmity it would cause, he turned to other states.
Bismarck arranged an alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879 and one with Italy in 1882. His triumph, however, was a secret alliance he formed by means of the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1887, although its terms violated the spirit of the treaty with Austria-Hungary. However much these agreements contributed to German security, Bismarck’s plunge into the European scramble for overseas colonies ultimately weakened it by awakening British fears about Germany’s long-term geopolitical aims. Subsequent feelers he put out with a view to establishing an understanding with Britain were rebuffed. In 1890 Bismarck was dismissed by young Kaiser Wilhelm over a dispute about antisocialist legislation.
Foreign Policy in the Wilhelmine Era
Foreign policy in the Wilhelmine Era (1890-1914) turned away from Bismarck’s cautious diplomacy of the 1871-90 period. It was also marked by a shrill aggressiveness. Brusque, clumsy diplomacy was backed by increased armaments production, most notably the creation of a large fleet of battleships capable of challenging the British navy. This new bellicosity alarmed the rest of Europe, and by about 1907 German policy makers had succeeded in creating Bismarck’s nightmare: a Germany “encircled” by an alliance of hostile neighbors–in this case Russia, France, and Britain–in an alliance called the Triple Entente.
The first brick to fall out of Bismarck’s carefully crafted edifice was Germany’s Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. Harmed by Prussian trade policies, Russia did not renew the treaty and instead turned to France for economic assistance and military security. The two countries formally allied in early 1893. Britain joined them in 1907, even though France and Britain had nearly gone to war over a colonial dispute in 1898. Britain’s main reason for abandoning its usual posture as an aloof observer of developments on the continent was Germany’s plan to build a fleet of sixty battleships of the formidable Dreadnought class.
The German naval expansion program had many domestic supporters. The kaiser deeply admired the navy of his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Britain, and wanted one as large for himself. Powerful lobbying groups in Germany desired a large navy to give Germany a worldwide role and to protect a growing German colonial empire in Africa and the Pacific. Industry wanted large government contracts. Some political parties promoted naval expansion and an aggressive foreign policy to win votes from a nervous electorate they kept worked up with jingoistic rhetoric.
The chief figure in promoting the naval buildup was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who is considered the founder of the modern German navy. Tirpitz was an effective spokesman for the program and had the ear of the kaiser and his advisers. In 1898, after the Reichstag passed the first Naval Bill, Anglo-German relations deteriorated. The Supplementary Naval Act of 1900 further strained relations with Britain, as did a proposed Berlin-Baghdad railroad through the Ottoman Empire, a project that threatened British as well as Russian interests in the Balkans. Two crises over Morocco, in 1905 and 1911, drove France and Britain closer together and made for a tense international atmosphere. The great powers remained neutral during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), a nationalist rebellion against Ottoman rule, but European tensions were increased still further, and the expectation that there would eventually be war on the continent became more certain.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, set off a series of diplomatic and military decisions that would end peace in Europe. The kaiser gave a so-called blank check to his ally, Austria-Hungary, saying that Germany would support any Habsburg measure taken against Serbia, which had backed the assassination. Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in late July was so harsh that war became inevitable. Within days, a set of interlocking alliances had Europe’s great powers embroiled in what would become World War I.
World War I
Germany’s leadership had hoped for a limited war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. But because Russian forces had been mobilized in support of Serbia, the German leadership made the decision to support its ally. The Schlieffen Plan, based on the assumption that Germany would face a two-front war because of a French-Russian alliance, required a rapid invasion through neutral Belgium to ensure the quick defeat of France. Once the western front was secure, the bulk of German forces could attack and defeat Russia, which would not yet be completely ready for war because it would mobilize its gigantic forces slowly.
Despite initial successes, Germany’s strategy failed, and its troops became tied down in trench warfare in France. For the next four years, there would be little progress in the west, where advances were usually measured in meters rather than in kilometers. Under the command of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, the army scored a number of significant victories against Russia. But it was only in early 1918 that Russia was defeated. Even after this victory in the east, however, Germany remained mired in a long war for which it had not prepared.
Germany’s war aims were annexationist in nature and foresaw an enlarged Germany, with Belgium and Poland as vassal states and with colonies in Africa. In its first years, there was widespread support for the war. Even the SPD supported it, considering it a defensive effort and voting in favor of war credits. By 1916, however, opposition to the war had mounted within the general population, which had to endure many hardships, including food shortages. A growing number of Reichstag deputies came to demand a peace without annexations. Frustrated in its quest for peace, in April 1917 a segment of the SPD broke with the party and formed the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. In July the Reichstag passed a resolution calling for a peace without annexations. In its wake, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg was forced to resign, and Hindenburg and Ludendorff came to exercise a control over Germany until late 1918 that amounted to a virtual military dictatorship.
Military leaders refused a moderate peace because they were convinced until very late in the war that victory ultimately would be theirs. Another reason for their insistence on a settlement that fulfilled expansionist aims was that the government had not financed the war with higher taxes but with bonds. Taxes had been seen as unnecessary because it was expected that the government would redeem these bonds after the war with payments from Germany’s vanquished enemies. Thus, only an expansionist victory would keep the state solvent and save millions of German bondholders from financial ruin.
After the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, Russia and Germany began peace negotiations. In March 1918, the two countries signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The defeat of Russia enabled Germany to transfer troops from the eastern to the western front. Two large offensives in the west were met by an Allied counteroffensive that began in July. German troops were pressed back, and it became evident to many officers that Germany could not win the war. In September Ludendorff recommended that Germany sue for peace. In October extensive reforms democratized the Reichstag and gave Germany a constitutional monarchy. A coalition of progressive forces was formed, headed by SPD politician Friedrich Ebert. The military allowed the birth of a democratic parliament because it did not want to be held responsible for the inevitable armistice that would end the war on terms highly unfavorable to Germany. Instead, the civilian government that signed the truce was to take the blame for the nation’s defeat.
The political reforms of October were overshadowed by a popular uprising that began on November 3 when sailors in Kiel mutinied. They refused to go out on what they considered a suicide mission against British naval forces. The revolt grew quickly and within a week appeared to be burgeoning into a revolution that could well overthrow the established social order. On November 9, the kaiser was forced to abdicate, and the SPD proclaimed a republic. A provisional government headed by Ebert promised elections for a national assembly to draft a new constitution. In an attempt to control the popular uprising, Ebert agreed to back the army if it would suppress the revolt. On November 11, the government signed the armistice that ended the war. Germany’s loses included about 1.6 million dead and more than 4 million wounded.
Signed in June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles limited Germany to an army of 100,000 soldiers. The treaty also stipulated that the Rhineland be demilitarized and occupied by the western Allies for fifteen years and that Germany surrender Alsace-Lorraine, northern Schleswig-Holstein, a portion of western Prussia that became known as the Polish Corridor because it gave Poland access to the Baltic, and all overseas colonies. Also, an Allied Reparations Commission was established and charged with setting the amount of war-damage payments that would be demanded of Germany. The treaty also included the “war guilt clause,” ascribing responsibility for World War I to Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Weimar Republic, 1918-33
The Weimar Constitution
The Weimar Republic, proclaimed on November 9, 1918, was born in the throes of military defeat and social revolution. In January 1919, a National Assembly was elected to draft a constitution. The government, composed of members from the assembly, came to be called the Weimar coalition and included the SPD; the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei–DDP), a descendant of the Progressive Party of the prewar period; and the Center Party. The percentage of the vote gained by this coalition of parties in favor of the republic (76.2 percent, with 38 percent for the SPD alone) suggested broad popular support for the republic. The antirepublican, conservative German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei–DNVP) and the German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei–DVP) received a combined total of 10.3 percent of the vote. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, which had split from the SPD during the war, won 8 percent of the vote. In February the assembly elected Friedrich Ebert as the republic’s first president.
In mid-1919 the assembly ratified the constitution of the new Weimar Republic, so named because its constitution was drafted in the small city where the poets Goethe and Schiller had lived. The constitution established a federal republic consisting of nineteen states (Länder ; sing., Land ). The republic’s government was a mixed strong president and parliamentary system, with the president seen by many as a sort of substitute kaiser. The president was elected by popular direct ballot to a seven-year term and could be reelected. He appointed the chancellor and, pursuant to the chancellor’s nominations, also appointed the cabinet ministers. However, the cabinet had to reflect the party composition of the Reichstag and was also responsible to this body. Election to the Reichstag was by secret ballot and popular vote. Suffrage was universal. Thus, Germany had a truly democratic parliamentary system. However, the president had the right to dismiss the cabinet, dissolve the Reichstag, and veto legislation. The legislative powers of the Reichstag were further weakened by the provision for presidential recourse to popular plebiscite. Article 48, the so-called emergency clause, accorded the president the right to allow the cabinet to govern without the consent of parliament whenever it was deemed essential to maintaining public order.
Problems of Parliamentary Politics
The Weimar Republic was beset with serious problems from the outset that led many Germans either to withhold support from the new parliamentary democracy or to seek actively to destroy it. The extreme left and much of the right provided the republic’s most vitriolic opponents. Its supporters included the bulk of the left, represented by the SPD, and the moderate right, made up of the Center Party and the DDP. However, at key times these supporters failed to behave responsibly because of political inexperience, narrow self-interest, or unrealistic party programs.
The most serious obstacle the new republic faced was the refusal of many Germans to accept its legitimacy. The extreme left regarded it as an instrument of the propertied to prevent revolution, recalling Ebert’s agreement with the military in November 1918 that resulted in the army’s bloody suppression of the left-wing revolts of late 1918 and early 1919. In the face of this SPD-military alliance, elements of the left considered the SPD as great a barrier to their goals as the conservatives. Represented by the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands–KPD), the extreme left felt such an enduring hostility to the Weimar Republic that at times it cooperated with the extreme right in efforts to destroy the republic.
The right posed a graver threat to the Weimar Republic than did the extreme left because it enjoyed the support of most of Germany’s establishment: the military, the financial elites, the state bureaucracy, the educational system, and much of the press. Unlike political parties in well-established democracies, the right-wing parties in the Reichstag could not be considered a loyal opposition because their ultimate aim was to abolish the new system of government. The right opposed democracy and desired to establish a conservative authoritarian regime. The right styled those who were party to the armistice and to the Treaty of Versailles as “November criminals” because of Germany’s loss of territory and sovereignty and the burden of enormous war reparations. The increasing acceptance by many of the “stab in the back” legend, which attributed Germany’s defeat in World War I to the treachery of the SPD and others on the left rather than to the military might of the Allies, intensified the hatred many rightists felt toward the republic. Like some on the extreme left, many on the right used violence, either petty and random or large-scale and concerted, to attain their ends. Throughout the short life of the Weimar Republic, various political groups maintained gangs of youths organized into paramilitary forces.
In addition to venomous political opposition, the republic had to contend with a weak economy plagued by high rates of inflation and unemployment. Inflation was fueled partly by the enormous wartime debts the imperial government had contracted rather than raise taxes to finance the war. Even more inflationary were the enormous war reparations demanded by the Allies, which made economic recovery seem impossible to many objective expert observers. Inflation ruined many middle-class Germans, who saw their savings and pensions wiped out. Unemployment also remained epidemic throughout the 1920s, hurting millions of wage earners and their families. Their economic misery made these groups susceptible to the claims of extremist political parties.
The pervasive social and political discontent growing out of Germans’ grievances, justified or not, soon had consequences. A right-wing coup d’état in March 1920, the Kapp Putsch–named for its leader, Wolfgang Kapp–failed only because of a general strike.The military had refused to intervene, although it did brutally suppress some Communist-inspired uprisings shortly thereafter. The establishment’s tacit support of unlawful right-wing actions such as the Kapp Putsch and violent repression of the left endured to the end of the Weimar Republic. This support could also be seen in the sentences meted out by the courts to perpetrators of political violence. Right-wing terrorists usually received mild or negligible sentences, while those on the left were dealt with severely, even though left-wing violence was but a fraction of that committed by the right.
Dissatisfaction with the republic was also evident in the June 1920 elections, in which the Weimar coalition lost its majority. A combined total vote of 28.9 percent for the DNVP, a descendant of the prewar Conservatives, and the DVP, composed mainly of National Liberals, reflected German middle-class disillusionment with democracy. Both parties wished to abolish the Weimar constitution. SPD strength fell to 21.7 percent, as some workers defected to the extreme left. The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, formed during the war, effectively ceased to exist as some members joined the KPD, formed in December 1918, and the remainder reunited with the SPD.
The Weimar coalition never regained its majority. Because no party ever gained as much as 50 percent of the vote, unstable coalition governments became the rule in the 1920s, and by the end of the decade more than a dozen governments had been formed, none capable of unified action on major problems. The SPD and the Center Party often could agree on questions of foreign policy, such as compliance with the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, but split on domestic issues. Conversely, the Center Party agreed with parties to its right on domestic issues but split with them on foreign policy. Thus, minority governments were formed that often showed little internal coherence during their brief lives.
The year 1923 was one of crisis for the republic. In January French and Belgian troops occupied the highly industrialized Ruhr area because of German defaults on reparations payments. The Weimar government responded by calling upon the Ruhr population to stop all industrial activity. The government also began printing money at such a rate that it soon became virtually worthless; by the fall of 1923, wheelbarrows were needed to carry enough currency for simple purchases as inflation reached rates beyond comprehension. In 1914 US$1 had equaled 4 marks. By mid-1920, US$1 was worth 40 marks, by early 1922 about 200 marks, a year later 18,000 marks, and by November 1923 4.2 trillion marks. In addition, the country was racked by strikes, paramilitary street violence, and rumors of planned uprisings by both the left and the right. In August, in the midst of this chaos, President Ebert asked Gustav Stresemann, head of the DVP, to form a new government to resolve the crisis.
The Stresemann Era
Stresemann was a Vernunftrepublikaner , that is, someone who supported the Weimar Republic because it seemed the best course of action rather than from a firm commitment to parliamentary democracy. During the war, Stresemann had supported imperial aims and desired extensive annexation of foreign territory. After the war, he remained a monarchist and founded the DVP to oppose the republic. In early 1920, he wished for the success of the Kapp Putsch. However, shocked by the assassinations of several prominent politicians, he had gradually come to believe that the effective functioning of the Weimar Republic was the best safeguard against violent regimes of either the left or the right. He also became convinced that Germany’s economic problems and differences with other countries could best be resolved through negotiated agreements.
Chancellor only from August to November 1923, Stresemann headed the “great coalition,” an alliance that included the SPD, the Center Party, the DDP, and the DVP. In this brief period, he ended passive resistance in the Ruhr area and introduced measures to bring the currency situation under control. Because of the failure of several coup attempts–including one by Adolf Hitler in Munich–and a general quieting of the atmosphere after these problems had been solved, the Weimar Republic was granted a period of relative tranquillity that lasted until the end of the decade. Overriding issues were by no means settled, but, for a few years, the republic functioned more like an established democracy.
After his resignation from the chancellorship because of opposition from the right and left, Stresemann served as German foreign minister until his death in 1929. A brilliant negotiator and a shrewd diplomat, Stresemann arranged a rapprochement with the Allies. Reparations payments were made easier by the Reichstag’s acceptance in mid-1924 of the Dawes Plan, which had been devised by an American banker, Charles G. Dawes, to effect significant reductions in payments until 1929. That year, only months before his death, Stresemann negotiated a further reduction as part of the Young Plan, also named for an American banker, Owen D. Young. The Dawes Plan had also provided for the withdrawal of French and Belgian troops from the Ruhr district, which was completed in 1925. In addition, beginning in the mid-1920s, loans from the United States stimulated the German economy, instigating a period of growth that lasted until 1930.
The Locarno treaties, signed in 1925 by Germany and the Allies, were the centerpiece of Stresemann’s attempt at rapprochement with the West. A prerequisite to Germany’s admission to the League of Nations in 1926, the treaties formalized German acceptance of the demilitarization of the Rhineland and guaranteed the western frontier as defined by the Treaty of Versailles. Both Britain and Germany preferred to leave the question of the eastern frontier open. In 1926 the German and Soviet governments signed the Treaty of Berlin, which pledged Germany and the Soviet Union to neutrality in the event of an attack on either country by foreign powers.
The Locarno treaties, the Treaty of Berlin, and Germany’s membership in the League of Nations were successes that earned Stresemann world renown. Within Germany, however, these achievements were condemned by many on the right who charged that these agreements implied German recognition of the validity of the Treaty of Versailles. To them, Stresemann’s diplomacy, as able as Bismarck’s in the opinion of some historians, was tantamount to treachery because Germany was honor bound to take by force that which the rightists felt was owed it. Because of these opinions and continued dissatisfaction on the right with the political system established by the Weimar Constitution, the Center Party and the parties to its right became more right-wing during the latter 1920s, as did even Stresemann’s own party, the DVP.
The Third Reich, 1933-45
Hitler and the Rise of National Socialism
Adolf Hitler was born in the Austrian border town of Braunau am Inn in 1889. When he was seventeen, he was refused admission to the Vienna Art Academy, having been found insufficiently talented. He remained in Vienna, however, where he led a bohemian existence, acquiring an ideology based on belief in a German master race that was threatened by an international Jewish conspiracy responsible for many of the world’s problems. Hitler remained in Vienna until 1913, when he moved to Munich. After serving with bravery in the German army during World War I, he joined the right-wing Bavarian German Workers’ Party in 1919. The following year, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei–NSDAP). Its members were known as Nazis, a term derived from the German pronunciation of “National.” In 1921 Hitler assumed leadership of the NSDAP.
As leader of the NSDAP, Hitler reorganized the party and encouraged the assimilation of other radical right-wing groups. Gangs of unemployed demobilized soldiers were gathered under the command of a former army officer, Ernst Röhm, to form the Storm Troops (Sturmabteilung–SA), Hitler’s private army. Under Hitler’s leadership, the NSDAP joined with others on the right in denouncing the Weimar Republic and the “November criminals” who had signed the Treaty of Versailles. The postwar economic slump won the party a following among unemployed ex-soldiers, the lower middle class, and small farmers; in 1923 membership totaled about 55,000. General Ludendorff supported the former corporal in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923 in Munich, an attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government. The putsch failed, and Hitler received a light sentence of five years, of which he served less than one. Incarcerated in relative comfort, he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in which he set out his long-term political aims.
After the failure of the putsch, Hitler turned to “legal revolution” as the means to power and chose two parallel paths to take the Nazis to that goal. First, the NSDAP would employ propaganda to create a national mass party capable of coming to power through electoral successes. Second, the party would develop a bureaucratic structure and prepare itself to assume roles in government. Beginning in the mid-1920s, Nazi groups sprang up in other parts of Germany. In 1927 the NSDAP organized the first Nuremberg party congress, a mass political rally. By 1928 party membership exceeded 100,000; the Nazis, however, polled only 2.6 percent of the vote in the Reichstag elections in May.
A mere splinter party in 1928, the NSDAP became better known the following year when it formed an alliance with the DNVP to launch a plebiscite against the Young Plan on the issue of reparations. The DNVP’s leader, Alfred Hugenberg, owner of a large newspaper chain, considered Hitler’s spellbinding oratory a useful means of attracting votes. The DNVP-NSDAP union brought the NSDAP within the framework of a socially influential coalition of the antirepublican right. As a result, Hitler’s party acquired respectability and access to wealthy contributors.
Had it not been for the economic collapse that began with the Wall Street stock market crash of October 1929, Hitler probably would not have come to power. The Great Depression hit Germany hard because the German economy’s well-being depended on short-term loans from the United States. Once these loans were recalled, Germany was devastated. Unemployment went from 8.5 percent in 1929 to 14 percent in 1930, to 21.9 percent in 1931, and, at its peak, to 29.9 percent in 1932. Compounding the effects of the Depression were the drastic economic measures taken by Center Party politician Heinrich Brüning, who served as chancellor from March 1930 until the end of May 1932. Brüning’s budget cuts were designed to cause so much misery that the Allies would excuse Germany from making any further reparations payments. In this at least, Brüning succeeded. United States president Herbert Hoover declared a “reparations moratorium” in 1932. In the meantime, the Depression deepened, and social discontent intensified to the point that Germany seemed on the verge of civil war.
In times of desperation, voters are ready for extreme solutions, and the NSDAP exploited the situation. Skilled Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels launched an intensive media campaign that ceaselessly expounded a few simple notions until even the dullest voter knew Hitler’s basic program. The party’s program was broad and general enough to appeal to many unemployed people, farmers, white-collar workers, members of the middle class who had been hurt by the Depression or had lost status since the end of World War I, and young people eager to dedicate themselves to nationalist ideals. If voters were not drawn to some aspects of the party platform, they might agree with others. Like other right-wing groups, the party blamed the Treaty of Versailles and reparations for the developing crisis. Nazi propaganda attacked the Weimar political system, the “November criminals,” Marxists, internationalists, and Jews. Besides promising a solution to the economic crisis, the NSDAP offered the German people a sense of national pride and the promise of restored order.
Three elections–in September 1930, in July 1932, and in November 1932–were held between the onset of the Depression and Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in January 1933. The vote shares of the SPD and the Center Party fluctuated somewhat yet remained much as they had been in 1928, when the SPD held a large plurality of 153 seats in the Reichstag and the Center Party held sixty-one, third after the DNVP’s seventy-three seats. The shares of the parties of the extreme left and extreme right, the KPD and the NSDAP, respectively, increased dramatically in this period, KPD holdings almost doubling from fifty-four in 1928 to 100 in November 1932. The NSDAP’s success was even greater. Beginning with twelve seats in 1928, the Nazis increased their delegation seats nearly tenfold, to 107 seats in 1930. They doubled their holdings to 230 in the summer of 1932. This made the NSDAP the largest party in the Reichstag, far surpassing the SPD with its 133 seats. The gains of the NSDAP came at the expense of the other right-wing parties.
Chancellor Brüning was unable to secure parliamentary majorities for his austerity policy, so he ruled by decree, a right given him by President Hindenburg. Head of the German army during World War I, Hindenburg had been elected president in 1925. Ruling without parliament was a major step in moving away from parliamentary democracy and had the approval of many on the right. Many historians see this development as part of a strategic plan formulated at the time by elements of the conservative establishment to abolish the republic and replace it with an authoritarian regime.
By late May 1932, Hindenburg had found Brüning insufficiently pliable and named a more conservative politician, Franz von Papen, as his successor. After the mid-1932 elections that made the NSDAP Germany’s largest party, Papen sought to harness Hitler for the purposes of traditional conservatives by offering him the post of vice chancellor in a new cabinet. Hitler refused this offer, demanding the chancellorship instead.
General Kurt von Schleicher, a master intriguer and a leader of the conservative campaign to abolish the republic, convinced Hindenburg to dismiss Papen. Schleicher formed a new government in December but lost Hindenburg’s support within a month. On January 30, 1933, Papen again put together a cabinet, this time with Hitler as chancellor. Papen and other conservatives thought they could tame Hitler by tying him down with the responsibilities of government and transferring to themselves his tremendous popularity with a large portion of the electorate. But they proved no match for his ruthlessness and his genius at knowing how–and when–to seize power. Within two months, Hitler had dictatorial control over Germany.
The Consolidation of Power
Hitler rapidly transformed the Weimar Republic into a dictatorship. The National Socialists accomplished their “revolution” within months, using a combination of legal procedure, persuasion, and terror. Because the parties forming the cabinet did not have a parliamentary majority, Hindenburg called for the dissolution of the Reichstag and set March 5, 1933, as the date for new elections. A week before election day, the Reichstag building was destroyed by fire. The Nazis blamed the fire on the Communists, and on February 28 the president, invoking Article 48 of the constitution, signed a decree that granted the Nazis the right to quash the political opposition. Authorized by the decree, the SA arrested or intimidated Socialists and Communists.
The election of March 5 was the last held in Germany until after World War II. Although opposition parties were severely harassed, the NSDAP won only 43.9 percent of the vote. Nonetheless, with the help of political allies, Hitler presented the Reichstag with the proposal for an Enabling Act that, if passed by a two-thirds majority, would allow him to govern without parliament for four years. On March 23, the proposal was passed with the support of the Center Party and others. All Communists and some Social Democrats were prevented from voting.
Hitler used the Enabling Act to implement Gleichschaltung (synchronization), that is, the policy of subordinating all institutions and organizations to Nazi control. First, left-wing political parties were banned; then, in July 1933, Germany was declared a one-party state. The civil service and judiciary were purged of “non-Aryans” (Jews) and leftists. Local and state governments were reorganized and staffed with Nazis. Trade unions were dissolved and replaced with Nazi organizations. Even the NSDAP was purged of its social-revolutionary wing, the SA. The enormous and unruly SA was brought under control by a massacre of its leadership at the end of June 1934 in the “night of the long knives.” Other opponents were also killed during this purge, among them Schleicher. After Hindenburg’s death in early August 1934, Hitler combined the offices of the president and the chancellor. With the SA tamed, Hitler assured the army that he regarded it as Germany’s military force, and the soldiers swore an oath of personal allegiance to Hitler, pledging unconditional obedience. Heinrich Himmler’s Guard Detachment (Schutz-Staffel–SS) replaced the SA as Hitler’s private army.
Once the regime was established, terror was the principal means used to maintain its control of Germany. Police arrests, which had focused originally on Communists and Socialists, were extended to other groups, most particularly to Jews. This systematic use of terror was highly effective in silencing resistance. Some enemies of the regime fled abroad. However, all but a tiny minority of those opposed to Hitler resigned themselves to suppressing their opinions in public and hoping for the regime’s eventual demise.
Like its secular institutions, Germany’s churches were subjected to Nazi pressure. They resisted incorporation into the regime and retained a substantial degree of independence. This situation was tolerated by the regime, provided that the churches did not interfere with its efforts to control public life. When the churches were outraged by such Nazi practices as euthanasia, they protested. The regime responded by more carefully concealing such medical procedures. Otherwise, with the exception of a few brave isolated clergymen, the churches rarely spoke out against the regime. The regime’s chief victims–Jews, Communists, Socialists, labor leaders, and writers–generally had not been close to the churches, and their persecution was witnessed in silence.
Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, contributed to the regime’s consolidation with the establishment of the Reich Cultural Chamber, which extended Gleichschaltung to the educational system, the radio, and the cultural institutions. However, an elaborate system of censorship was not considered necessary to control the press. Non-Nazi party newspapers had already been suppressed. The editors of the remaining newspapers soon were able to figure out what was deemed suitable for public consumption. Goebbels also took an interest in Germany’s substantial film industry, pressuring it to make pleasant, amusing films that would distract the German public in its leisure hours.
The regime soon achieved its desired consolidation. Many Germans supported it, some out of opportunism, some because they liked certain aspects of it such as full employment, which was quickly achieved. The regime also brought social order, something many Germans welcomed after fifteen years of political and economic chaos. Many were won over by Hitler’s diplomatic successes, which began soon after he came to power and continued through the 1930s and which seemed to restore Germany to what they saw as its rightful place in the international community.
Once his regime was consolidated, Hitler took little interest in domestic policy, his sole concern being that Germany become sufficiently strong to realize his long-term geopolitical goal of creating a German empire that would dominate western Europe and extend deep into Russia. In a first step toward this goal, he made a de facto revision to the Treaty of Versailles by ceasing to heed its restrictions on German rearmament. Soon after becoming chancellor, Hitler ordered that rearmament, secretly under way since the early 1920s, be stepped up. Later in 1933, he withdrew Germany from the League of Nations to reduce possible foreign control over Germany. In 1935 he announced that Germany had begun rearmament, would greatly increase the size of its army, and had established an air force. Italy, France, and Britain protested these actions but did nothing further, and Hitler soon signed an agreement with Britain permitting Germany to maintain a navy one-third the size of the British fleet. In 1936 Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, in violation of various treaties. There was no foreign opposition.
In 1936 Germany began closer relations with fascist Italy, a pariah state because of its invasion of Ethiopia the year before. The two antidemocratic states joined together to assist General Francisco Franco in overthrowing Spain’s republican government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). In November 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Berlin-Rome Axis. That same year, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, the three signatories pledging to defend each other against the Soviet Union and international communism.
It was also in 1936 that Hitler informed the regime’s top officials that Germany must be ready for war by 1940. In response, the Four-Year Plan was established. Developed under the direction of Hermann Goering, it set forth production quotas and market guidelines. Efforts to regiment the economy were not without conflict. Some of the economic elite desired that Germany be integrated into the world’s economy. Others advocated autarchy, that is, firmly basing the German economy in Central Europe and securing its raw materials through barter agreements.
In the end, no clear decision on the management of the German economy was made. Large weapons contracts with industrial firms soon had the economy running at top speed, and full employment was reached by 1937. Wages did not increase much for ordinary workers, but job security after years of economic depression was much appreciated. The rearmament program was not placed on a sound financial footing, however. Taxes were not increased to pay for it because the regime feared that this would dissatisfy workers. Instead, the regime tapped the country’s foreign reserves, which were largely exhausted by 1939. The regime also shunned a rigorous organization of rearmament because it feared the social tensions this might engender. The production of consumer goods was not curtailed either, again based on the belief that the morale of the population had to remain high if Germany were to become strong. In addition, because Hitler expected that the wars waged in pursuit of his foreign policy goals would be short, he judged great supplies of weapons to be unnecessary. Thus, when war began in September 1939 with the invasion of Poland, Germany had a broad and impressive range of weapons, but not much in the way of replacements. As in World War I, the regime expected that the defeated would pay for Germany’s expansion.
Through 1937 Hitler’s foreign policy had the approval of traditional conservatives. However, because many of them were skeptical about his long-range goals, Hitler replaced a number of high military officers and diplomats with more pliable subordinates. In March 1938, the German army was permitted to occupy Austria by that country’s browbeaten political leadership. The annexation (Anschluss) of Austria was welcomed by most Austrians, who wished to become part of a greater Germany, something forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In September 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain consented to Hitler’s desire to take possession of the Sudetenland, an area in Czechoslovakia bordering Germany that was inhabited by about 3 million Germans. In March 1939, Germany occupied the Czech-populated western provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia was made a German puppet state.
Immediately after the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, Britain and France finally became convinced of Hitler’s expansionist objectives and announced their intention to defend the sovereignty of Poland. Because Hitler had concluded that he could not hope for British neutrality in the coming war, he formed a formal military alliance with Italy–the Pact of Steel. In August he signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, thus apparently freeing Germany from repeating the two-front war it had fought in World War I.
The Outbreak of World War II
On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. By the end of the month, Hitler’s armies had overrun western Poland. Soviet armies occupied eastern Poland, and the two countries subsequently formally divided Poland between them. In April 1940, German forces conquered Denmark and Norway, and in May they struck at the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. French and British troops offered ineffective resistance against the lightning-like strikes, or blitzkrieg, of German tanks and airplanes. A large part of the French army surrendered, and some 300,000 British and French soldiers were trapped at Dunkirk on the coast of northern France. However, because Hitler, for a combination of political and military reasons, had halted the advance of his armored divisions, the British were able to rescue the men at Dunkirk. France, however, surrendered in June.
For Hitler the war in the west was a sideshow, a prelude to the building of an empire in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Hitler had hoped that Britain would stay out of the war. In his vision of the near future, he foresaw the two countries sharing the world between them–Britain would keep its overseas empire, and Germany would construct a new one to its east. When approached with the suggestion of a separate peace, British prime minister Winston Churchill rejected the offer and rallied his people to fight on.The Third Reich experienced its first military defeat in the Battle of Britain, in which the Royal Air Force, during the summer and fall of 1940, prevented the German air force from gaining the air superiority necessary for an invasion of Britain. Consequently, Hitler postponed the invasion.
Hitler concluded by June 1941 that Britain’s continuing resistance was not a serious impediment to his main geopolitical goal of creating an empire extending east from Germany deep into the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, negating their 1939 nonaggression pact, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Eagerness to realize his long-held dream caused Hitler to gamble everything on a quick military campaign. He had anticipated victory within three months, but effective Soviet resistance and the early onset of winter stopped German advances. A counteroffensive, launched in early 1942, drove the Germans back from Moscow. In the summer of 1942, Hitler shifted the attack to the south of the Soviet Union and began a large offensive to secure the Caucasian oil fields. By September 1942, the Axis controlled an area extending from northern Norway to North Africa and from France to Stalingrad.
Japan’s attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought the United States into the war. In support of Germany’s fellow Axis power, Hitler immediately declared war on the United States. But with the United States involvement, a coalition now existed that, with its vast human and material resources, was almost certain to defeat the Third Reich. To ensure that the alliance not break apart as had happened in 1918 when Russia signed a truce with Germany, the Allies swore to fight Germany until an unconditional surrender was secured. Another reason the Allies wanted the complete military defeat of Germany was that they wished to preclude any possibility of German politicians claiming that “a stab in the back” had caused Germany’s undoing, as they had done after World War I.
The military turning point of the war in Europe came with the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43; some 300,000 of Germany’s finest troops were either killed or captured. By May 1943, Allied armies had driven the Axis forces out of Africa and had landed in Italy. Also of great importance, by 1943 the United States and British navies had succeeded in substantially reducing the German submarine threat to shipping. This cleared the way for the movement of arms and troops to Britain in preparation for a cross-channel invasion of France.
Total Mobilization, Resistance, and the Holocaust
Once it became clear that the war would not be a short one, Germany’s industry was reorganized for a total mobilization. Between February 1942 and July 1944, armaments production increased threefold despite intense Allied bombing raids. Much of the labor for this increase came from the employment of some 7 million foreigners, taken from their homelands and forced to work under terrible conditions. Also contributing to the Nazi war effort was the systematic requisitioning of raw materials and food from occupied territories. As a result, Germans remained fairly well fed for most of the war, in contrast to the hunger endured during World War I.
Despite their comparative physical well-being until late in the war, it gradually became clear to many Germans that the regime’s series of military triumphs had come to an end. Even the most intense, mendacious propaganda could not conceal that Germany’s forces were being beaten back. Sharing this growing awareness that defeat was likely, a group of military officers decided to assassinate Hitler. Although elements of the military had long opposed him, no one had acted to this point. During 1943 and 1944, the conspirators, who included many high-ranking officers and numerous prominent civilians, worked out elaborate plans for seizing power after the dictator’s death. On June 20, 1944, the conspirators ignited a bomb that would probably have killed Hitler except for a stroke of bad luck–the misplacement of the device under a conference room table. The regime struck back and after months of reprisals had killed several thousand people, among them one field marshal and twenty-two generals. Several earlier attempts on Hitler’s life had also failed. Because of these failures, it would be up to the Allies to remove Hitler and his regime from power.
Anti-Semitism was one of the Third Reich’s most faithfully executed policies. Hitler saw the Jews’ existence as inimical to the well-being of the German race. In his youth in Vienna, he had come to believe in a social Darwinist, life-or-death struggle of the races, with that between the German race and the Jews being the most savage. Because of his adherence to these racist notions, he dreamed of creating a German empire completely free of Jews, believing that if the Jewish “bacillus” were permitted to remain within the Teutonic empire, the empire would become corrupted and fail.
Upon taking power, the Nazis began immediately to rid Germany of its Jewish citizens. In the Aryan Paragraph of 1933, the regime decreed that Jews could not hold civil service positions. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 deprived Jews of the right to citizenship and restricted relationships between “Aryans” (racially pure Germans) and Jews. After the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) of November 9, 1938, an organized act of violence perpetrated by Nazis against Jews in all parts of Germany, the persecution of Jews entered a new phase. Random acts of violence, by then commonplace, were replaced by the systematic isolation of the Jewish population in Germany, which had numbered about 600,000 in the early 1930s.
Until 1941 there had been plans to “cleanse” Germany of Jews by gathering them together and expelling them from the Reich. One plan had as its goal the transfer of Germany’s Jews to Madagascar. A contingent of Jews had even been moved to southern France in preparation. However, wartime conditions and the presence of millions of Jews in Poland, the Soviet Union, and other occupied areas in Eastern Europe gradually led to the adoption of another plan: the systematic extermination of all Jews who came under German control. Techniques that had been developed for the regime’s euthanasia program came to be used against Jews. Discussions in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference on the outskirts of Berlin led to the improved organization and coordination of the program of genocide.
Killing came to be done in an efficient, factorylike fashion in large extermination camps run by Himmler’s Special Duty Section (Sonderdienst–SD). The tempo of the mass murder of Jewish men, women, and children was accelerated toward the end of the war. Hitler’s preoccupation with the “final solution” was so great that the transport of Jews was at times given preference over the transport of war matériel. Authorities generally agree that about 6 million European Jews died in the Holocaust. A large number (about 4.5 million) of those killed came from Poland and the Soviet Union; about 125,000 German Jews were murdered.
In June 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces invaded France, driving the Germans back and liberating Paris by August. A German counteroffensive in the Ardennes began in late December was beaten back after heavy fighting in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. Soviet troops, meanwhile, advanced from the east. Western forces reached the Rhine River in March 1945; simultaneously, Soviet armies overran most of Czechoslovakia and pressed on toward Berlin. Although faced with certain defeat, Hitler insisted that every German city, every village, and “every square meter” be defended or left behind as “scorched earth.” The Western Allies and the Soviet forces made their first contact, in Saxony, on April 27. Three days later, Hitler committed suicide in a Berlin bunker. Berlin fell to the Soviet forces on May 2; on May 7, the Third Reich surrendered unconditionally. It is estimated that about 55 million people died in the European theater during World War II. About 8 million of these dead were German.
Historical Setting: 1945 to 1990
GERMANY WAS UNITED ON OCTOBER 3, 1990. This event came after forty-five years of division that had begun with the partition of Germany into four occupation zones following its defeat in 1945 by the Four Powers–the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Once a powerful nation, Germany lay vanquished at the end of World War II. The war’s human cost had been staggering. Millions of Germans had died or had suffered terribly during the conflict, both in combat and on the home front. Intensive Allied bombing raids, invasions, and subsequent social upheaval had forced millions of Germans from their homes. Not since the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War had Germans experienced such misery. Beyond the physical destruction, Germans had been confronted with the moral devastation of defeat.
Germans refer to the immediate aftermath of the war as the Stunde Null (Zero Hour), the point in time when Germany ceased to exist as a state and the rebuilding of the country would begin. At first, Germany was administered by the Four Powers, each with its own occupation zone. In time, Germans themselves began to play a role in the governing of these zones. Political parties were formed, and, within months of the war’s end, the first elections were held. Although most people were concerned with mere physical survival, much was accomplished in rebuilding cities, fashioning a new economy, and integrating the millions of refugees from the eastern areas of Germany that had been lost after the war.
Overshadowing these events within Germany, however, was the gradual emergence of the Cold War during the second half of the 1940s. By the decade’s end, the two superpowers–the United States and the Soviet Union–had faced off in an increasingly ideological confrontation. The Iron Curtain between them cut Germany in two. Although the Allies’ original plans envisioned that Germany would remain a single state, Western and Eastern concepts of political, social, and economic organization gradually led the three Western zones to join together, becoming separate from the Soviet zone and ultimately leading to the formation in 1949 of two German states. The three Western occupation zones became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany), and the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany).
During the next four decades, the two states led separate existences. West Germany joined the Western community of nations, while East Germany became the westernmost part of the Soviet empire. The two German states, with a common language and history, were separated by the mutual suspicion and hostility of the superpowers. In the mid-1950s, both German states rearmed. The FRG’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, became a vital part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The GDR’s National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee–NVA) became a key component of the Warsaw Pact. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 by the GDR further divided the two states.
In West Germany, by the early 1950s a system of parliamentary democracy with free and contending political parties was firmly established. The Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU), along with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union–CSU), led the coalitions that governed West Germany at the national level for two decades until late 1969. In that year, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands–SPD) formed the first of a series of coalition governments with the Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei–FDP) that governed the country until 1982. Late that year, the SPD was ousted from power when the CDU/CSU and the FDP formed a new coalition government. These parties ruled for the rest of the 1980s. As successful, however, as West Germany’s adoption of democratic politics had been after 1945, the country’s economic recovery was so strong that it was commonly referred to as the “economic miracle ” (Wirtschaftswunder ). By the 1960s, West Germany was among the world’s wealthiest countries, and by the 1990s, Germany’s economy and central bank played the leading role in Europe’s economy.
East Germany was not so fortunate. A socialist dictatorship was put in place and carefully watched by its Soviet masters. As in the Soviet Union, political opposition was suppressed, the press censored, and the economy owned and controlled by the state. East Germany’s economy performed modestly when compared with that of West Germany, but of all the socialist economies it was the most successful. Unlike West Germany, East Germany was not freely supported by its citizens. Indeed, force was needed to keep East Germans from fleeing to the West. Although some consolidation of the GDR was assured by the construction of the Berlin Wall, the GDR remained an artificial entity maintained by Soviet military power. Once this support was withdrawn, the GDR collapsed.
During the four decades of division, relations between the two German states were reserved and sometimes hostile. Despite their common language and history, the citizens of the two states had limited direct contact with one another. At times, during the 1960s, for example, contact was reduced to a minimum. During the 1970s, however, the two peoples began to mix more freely as their governments negotiated treaties that made relations between the two states more open. During the 1980s, although relations continued to improve and contacts between the two peoples became more frequent, persons attempting to flee from East Germany still died along its mined borders, GDR officials continued to harass and arrest dissidents, and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands–SED) rigidly controlled political life.
A key reason for the collapse of the GDR was the poor performance of its state-owned and centrally directed economy. The efforts of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, beginning in the mid-1980s, to liberalize the Soviet Union and reform its economy were met with hostility by the GDR’s top leadership. Word of these measures nevertheless reached East German grassroots opposition groups. Encouraged by the waves of reform in the Soviet Union and in neighboring socialist states, opposition in the East German population grew and became more and more vocal, despite increased state repression. By the second half of 1989, the East German opposition consisted of a number of groups with a variety of aims and was strong enough to stage large demonstrations.
The massive flow of East Germans to the West through neighboring socialist countries in the summer and fall of 1989, particularly through Hungary, was telling evidence that the GDR did not have the support of its citizens. Public opposition to the regime became ever more open and demanding. In late 1989, confronted with crushing economic problems, unable to control the borders of neighboring states, and told by the Soviet leadership not to expect outside help in quelling domestic protest, the GDR leadership resigned in the face of massive and constantly growing public demonstrations. After elections in the spring of 1990, the critics of the SED regime took over the government. On October 3, 1990, the GDR ceased to exist, and its territory and people were joined to the FRG. The division of Germany that had lasted decades was ended.
Postwar Occupation and Division
On May 8, 1945, the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) was signed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in Berlin, ending World War II for Germany. The German people were suddenly confronted by a situation never before experienced in their history: the entire German territory was occupied by foreign armies, cities and infrastructure were largely reduced to rubble, the country was flooded with millions of refugees from the east, and large portions of the population were suffering from hunger and the loss of their homes. The nation-state founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 lay in ruins.
The Establishment of Occupation Zones
The total breakdown of civil administration throughout the country required immediate measures to ensure the rebuilding of civil authority. After deposing Admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler’s successor as head of state, and his government, the Allies issued a unilateral declaration on June 5, 1945, that proclaimed their supreme authority over German territory, short of annexation. The Allies would govern Germany through four occupation zones, one for each of the Four Powers–the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.
The establishment of zones of occupation had been decided at a series of conferences. At the conference in Casablanca, held in January 1943, British prime minister Winston Churchill’s proposal to invade the Balkans and East-Central Europe via Greece was rejected. This decision opened the road for Soviet occupation of eastern Germany. At the Tehran Conference in late 1943, the western border of postwar Poland and the division of Germany were among the topics discussed. As a result of the conference, a commission began to work out detailed plans for the occupation and administration of Germany after the war. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, participants decided that in addition to United States, British, and Soviet occupation zones in Germany, the French were also to have an occupation zone, carved out of the United States and British zones.
The relative harmony that had prevailed among the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union began to show strains at the Potsdam Conference, held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. In most instances, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was successful in getting the settlements he desired. One of his most far-reaching victories was securing the conference’s approval of his decision to compensate Poland for the loss of territory in the east to the Soviet Union by awarding it administrative control over parts of Germany. Pending the negotiation of a peace treaty with Germany, Poland was to administer the German provinces of Pomerania, Silesia, and the southern portion of East Prussia. The forcible “transfer” to the west of Germans living in these provinces was likewise approved.
The movement westward of Germans living east of a line formed by the Oder and western Neisse rivers resulted in the death or disappearance of approximately 2 million Germans, while an estimated 12 million Germans lost their homes. The presence of these millions of refugees in what remained German territory in the west was a severe hardship for the local populations and the occupation authorities.
The conferees at Potsdam also decided that each occupying power was to receive reparations in the form of goods and industrial equipment in compensation for its losses during the war. Because most German industry lay outside its zone, it was agreed that the Soviet Union was to take industrial plants from the other zones and in exchange supply them with agricultural products. The Allies, remembering the political costs of financial reparations after World War I, had decided that reparations consisting of payments in kind were less likely to imperil the peace after World War II.
The final document of the Potsdam Conference, the Potsdam Accord, also included provisions for demilitarizing and denazifying Germany and for restructuring German political life on democratic principles. German economic unity was to be preserved.
The boundaries of the four occupation zones established at Yalta generally followed the borders of the former German federal states (Länder ; sing., Land ). Only Prussia constituted an exception: it was dissolved altogether, and its territory was absorbed by the remaining German Länder in northern and northwestern Germany. Prussia’s former capital, Berlin, differed from the rest of Germany in that it was occupied by all four Allies–and thus had so-called Four Power status. The occupation zone of the United States consisted of the Land of Hesse, the northern half of the present-day Land of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and the southern part of Greater Berlin. The British zone consisted of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and the western sector of Greater Berlin. The French were apportioned the Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Saarland–which later received a special status–the southern half of Baden-Württemberg, and the northern sector of Greater Berlin. The Soviet Union controlled the Länder of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and the eastern sector of Greater Berlin, which constituted almost half the total area of the city.
The zones were governed by the Allied Control Council (ACC), consisting of the four supreme commanders of the Allied Forces. The ACC’s decisions were to be unanimous. If agreement could not be reached, the commanders would forego unified actions, and each would confine his attention to his own zone, where he had supreme authority. Indeed, the ACC had no executive authority of its own, but rather had to rely on the cooperation of each military governor to implement its decisions in his occupation zone. Given the immense problems involved in establishing a provisional administration, unanimity was often lacking, and occupation policies soon varied.
The French, for instance, vetoed the establishment of a central German administration, a decision that furthered the country’s eventual division. Because they had not participated in the Potsdam Conference, the French did not feel bound to the conference’s decision that the country would remain an economic unit. Instead, the French sought to extract as much as they could from Germany and even annexed the Saar area for a time.
The Soviet occupiers likewise sought to recover as much as possible from Germany as compensation for the losses their country had sustained during the war. Unlike the French, however, they sought to influence Germany as a whole and hoped to hold an expanded area of influence. In their own zone, the Soviet authorities quickly moved toward establishing a socialist society like their own.
The United States had the greatest interest in denazification and in the establishment of a liberal democratic system. Early plans, such as the Morgenthau Plan to keep Germans poor by basing their economy on agriculture, were dropped as the Soviet Union came to be seen as a threat and Germany as a potential ally.
Britain had the least ambitious plans for its zone. However, British authorities soon realized that unless Germany became economically self-sufficient, British taxpayers would bear the expense of feeding its population. To facilitate German economic self-sufficiency, United States and British occupation policies soon merged, and by the beginning of 1947 their zones had been joined into one economic area–the Bizone.
The Nuremberg Trials and Denazification
The Allies agreed that Germany should never again have the opportunity to destroy European peace as it had in the two world wars. A principal aim of the Allies was to prevent the resurgence of a powerful and aggressive Germany. As a first step toward demilitarizing, denazifying, and democratizing Germany, the Allies established an international military tribunal in August 1945 to jointly try individuals considered responsible for the outbreak of the war and for crimes committed by the Hitler regime. Nuremberg, the city where the most elaborate political rallies of the Hitler regime had been staged, was chosen as the location for the trials, which began in November 1945.
On trial were twenty-two men seen as principally responsible for the National Socialist regime, its administration, and the direction of the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht. Among the defendants accused of conspiracy, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes were Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer. Although many Germans considered the accusation of conspiracy to be on questionable legal grounds, the accusers were successful in unveiling the background of developments that had led to the outbreak of World War II, as well as the extent of the atrocities committed in the name of the Hitler regime. Twelve of the accused were sentenced to death, seven received prison sentences, and three were acquitted.
The trials received wide publicity in Germany and throughout the world. Although many Germans maintained that it would have been better if the defendants had faced a German tribunal rather than one imposed by the war’s foreign victors, they agreed that the trials made public much information about the mass murders and other crimes that otherwise might not have come to light. The German people and the rest of the world reacted with horror and dismay to the revelations. The trials of these more prominent figures of the Hitler regime were followed by the trials of thousands of lesser offenders.
The Allies did not seek merely to punish the leadership of the National Socialist regime, but to purge all elements of national socialism from public life. One phase of the denazification process dealt with lower-level personnel connected with the Nazi regime. Their pasts were reviewed to determine if the parts they had played in the regime were sufficiently grievous to warrant their exclusion from roles in a new Germany’s politics or government. Germans with experience in government and not involved in the Nazi regime were needed to cooperate with occupation authorities in the administration of the zones.
The process of denazification was carried out diversely in the various zones. The most elaborate procedures were instituted in the United States zone, where investigated individuals were required to complete highly detailed questionnaires concerning their personal histories and to appear at hearings before panels of German adjudicators. In the British and French zones, denazification was pursued with less vigor because the authorities thought it more important to reestablish a functioning bureaucracy in their sectors.
Denazification was most rigorous in the Soviet sector. Civil servants, teachers, and legal officials with significant Nazi pasts were thoroughly purged. Denazification was also used as an instrument for seizing the resources of the so-called “class enemy”: former Nazis who owned factories or estates were denounced and their property confiscated. After participating in the social transformation, some former Nazis were pardoned and even gained high positions within the new communist ruling class.
The denazification process mandated that simpler cases involving lesser offenders be tried before more complicated cases involving officials higher up in the Nazi regime. With time, however, prosecution became less severe, and the United States came to be more concerned with the Cold War. When denazification ended in March 1948, the more serious cases had not yet been tried. As a result, numerous former Nazi functionaries escaped justice, much to the regret of many Germans.
Political Parties and Democratization
The reintroduction of democratic political parties in Germany was one of the primary concerns of the Allies during the final phase of the war. The Soviet authorities were the first to reestablish political parties in their zone. They ordered the formation of political parties on June 10, 1945, well before such a directive was issued in the Western zones. In addition to seeking to control their own zone, they hoped to influence the emerging political constellations in the Western zones by the early mobilization of a strong leftist movement.
On June 11, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands–KPD) was reestablished in the Soviet zone under a German leadership that, for the most part, had lived for years in Moscow. Wilhelm Pieck was its chairman. Shortly thereafter, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands–SPD) was also reconstituted, under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl. When it became obvious that the SPD would emerge as the most popular leftist party in the Soviet zone, the Soviet authorities forced the merger of the KPD and the SPD in April 1946 and subsequently, from this merger, the formation of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands–SED). The Communists clearly had the upper hand in SED leadership. Vigorous resistance to the merger of the two leftist parties came from Social Democrats in the Western zones, led by Kurt Schumacher, a veteran Social Democratic politician and member of the Reichstag during the Weimar Republic and a political prisoner during the Third Reich. As a result of this principled opposition to Communist control, the rebuilding of the SPD in the Western zones took a separate course.
The SED sought to retain the image of a political force open to the masses, and it governed through the active participation of its members. It also competed with other parties in regional elections. After the Land elections of October 1946 in which the SED failed to obtain an absolute majority, the party resorted to different tactics in order to secure its grip on the electorate. SED leaders created an Anti-Fascist Bloc consisting of all political parties that was to guarantee the introduction of an antifascist and democratic order in the Soviet zone. From the very beginning, the SED could veto any proposal from any other bloc party not in accordance with its ideals for a socialist society. As a result, the two other political parties authorized in the Soviet zone were purged of their leadership, and their party programs were realigned in support of SED goals. The two other parties were the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU), which represented middle-class interests, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands–LDPD), which represented the liberal political tradition that dated back to the late 1840s.
Two additional bloc parties were established in 1948 in the Soviet zone to represent groups still without a specific political party. The Democratic Peasants’ Party of Germany (Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands–DBD) was formed to prepare farmers for the planned land reform, which would involve extensive nationalizations. The second party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands–NDPD), was to work at reintegrating into a socialist society approximately 2 million people of right-wing views. The group included veterans and a relatively large number of former members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (National-Sozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei–NSDAP), Adolf Hitler’s party.
The Social Democratic Party that operated in the Western zones was, in contrast to the Eastern SPD, markedly anticommunist. This attitude reflected a continuation of its bitter hostility to the Communists during the Weimar Republic. The reestablished party, headed by Kurt Schumacher and, after his death, by Erich Ollenhauer, could look back on a distinguished history of creating better living conditions for the working class within the context of parliamentary democracy. Although anticommunist, the SPD’s leadership still regarded the party as Marxist and remained committed to working for a socialist economy. As such, the SPD envisioned a neutral socialist Germany located between the capitalist economies of the West and the Soviet dictatorship of the East. The SPD was able to build on its extensive working-class membership, which predated Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.
For the conservative forces, the political beginning after 1945 appeared more difficult because of past fragmentation on regional and denominational lines. The persecution and suppression suffered during the Third Reich by conservative Catholics and Protestants alike gave rise to a unified Christian conservative party, which would represent all who opposed communism and socialism and who held traditional Christian middle-class values. At first, several regional political organizations formed in Berlin, Cologne, and Frankfurt am Main. On December 16, 1945, it was agreed that their collective designation should be called the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU).
During the initial phase of development, members of the Christian labor unions strongly influenced the program of the conservative movement. Although they did not dispute the concept of private ownership of property, they advocated state control for many principal industries. During the 1950s, a market-oriented policy that was combined with a strong social component came to dominate the party.
The Bavarian Christian conservative organization, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union–CSU), founded in October 1946, remained a separate party organization and kept its name even after the foundation of the FRG. It followed a more pronounced conservative ideological party line than the CDU.
Even more difficult than the political unification of Christian conservatives was the consolidation of the liberal movement in postwar Germany. Traditionally, the liberals had been divided into a conservative national liberal wing and a more leftist-oriented liberal movement. There was also a reservoir of voters who understood themselves to be truly liberal in that they did not commit themselves to any ideology. Common to all of the party groupings, however, was the rejection of a planned economy. A number of independent liberal party groups existed for a time in southwestern Germany and in Hesse, Hamburg, and Berlin. In November 1948, most of them united in the Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei–FDP), whose main figure, Theodor Heuss, became the first federal president of the FRG.
The Creation of the Bizone
By early 1946, the Western Allies–the United States and Britain in particular–had become convinced that Soviet expansionism had to be contained. The Soviet Union’s seizure of Polish territory and the drawing of the Oder-Neisse border (which gave formerly German territory to Poland), its antidemocratic actions in other countries occupied by Soviet forces, and its policies toward areas such as Greece and Turkey persuaded Western leaders that the Soviet Union was aiming for communist domination of Europe. Churchill’s use of the expression “Iron Curtain” to describe the Soviet cordoning off of a sphere of influence in Europe illustrated a basic change in attitude toward Soviet intentions on the part of Western leaders. As a result of this change, Germany came to be seen more as a potential ally than as a defeated enemy.
The change in attitude led United States officials to take a more active role in Germany. A notable early example of this policy change was a speech given in Stuttgart in September 1946 by the United States secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, proposing the transfer of administrative functions from the existing military governments to a single civilian German administration. Byrnes stated that the United States had not defeated the Nazi dictatorship to keep Germans suppressed but instead wanted them to become a free, self-governing, and prosperous people. The speech was the first significant indication that Germany was not to remain an outcast but was, according to Byrnes, to have “an honorable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world.”
Neither the Soviet Union nor France desired a revitalized Germany, but after intensive negotiations, a unified economic zone, the Bizone, consisting of the United States and British zones, was proclaimed on January 1, 1947. After a difficult beginning, the Bizone proved itself a success, and its population of 40 million began to benefit from an improving economy. Only in the spring of 1949, after a period of sustained economic growth, did the French occupation zone join the Bizone, creating the Trizone.
In mid-1947 the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan as it is more widely known, was announced. The plan’s aim was to stimulate the economies on the continent through the infusion of large-scale credits for the promotion of trade between Europe and the United States. The United States stipulated only that Europe’s economy was to be united and that Europeans were to participate actively in the administration of the program. The Soviet Union suspected that the proposal was a means to prevent it from harvesting the fruits of the victory over fascism. Deeming the proposal a direct affront to its communist ideology by “American economic imperialism,” the Soviet Union promptly rejected participation in the program, as did the East European states, obviously acting on Soviet orders.
To fulfill the precondition of economic cooperation in Europe, sixteen Western countries joined the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation in early 1948. In April 1948, the United States Congress approved the Foreign Assistance Act, which arranged the provision of aid. Shortly thereafter, industrial products, consumer goods, credits, and outright monetary gifts started to flow into the impoverished economies of Western Europe. Cities, industries, and infrastructure destroyed during the war were rapidly rebuilt, and the economies of the war-torn countries began to recover. In the Western zones, aid from the Marshall Plan laid the foundations for the West German “economic miracle” of the 1950s.
A functioning currency system was also needed for a growing economy. The war economy of the National Socialist government had created an oversupply of currency not matched by a supply of goods. To combat the resulting black-market economy, especially noticeable in large cities, and to aid economic recovery in western Germany, a central bank was founded and a currency reform was proclaimed on June 19, 1948. The reform introduced the deutsche mark. In exchange for sixty reichsmarks, each citizen received DM40. Additionally, controls over prices and basic supplies were lifted by authorities, thus abruptly wiping out the black market.
The swift action of the Western powers took the Soviet authorities by surprise, and they quickly implemented a separate currency reform for their zone and all of Berlin. The Western powers, however, had already ordered the distribution of deutsche marks in their sectors of the city. This measure, which for the Soviet Union represented the culmination of the Western policy to undermine Soviet efforts to build a socialist society in its zone, produced a sudden dramatic reaction, the Soviet blockade of Berlin.
On June 24, 1948, Soviet troops blocked all road and rail connections to West Berlin. Within a few days, shipping on the Spree and Havel rivers was halted; electric power, which had been supplied to West Berlin by plants in the Soviet zone, was cut off; and supplies of fresh food from the surrounding countryside were suddenly unavailable. The Four Power status of Berlin, agreed upon by the Allied victors, had not included any provisions regarding traffic by land to and from Berlin through the Soviet zone. It had, however, established three air corridors from the Western zones to the city.
The three Western powers acted swiftly: an airlift of unprecedented dimensions was organized to supply the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Western sectors of Berlin with what they needed to survive. The United States military governor in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, successfully coordinated the airlift, which deployed 230 United States and 150 British airplanes. Up to 10,000 tons of supplies were flown in daily, including coal and other heating fuels for the winter. Altogether, about 275,000 flights succeeded in keeping West Berliners alive for nearly a year.
The Soviet Union had not expected such Western resolve. Failing in its attempt to starve the Western Allies out of Berlin, it lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. The Western Allies, led by the United States, had stood their ground without provoking armed conflict. Although the blockade had ended, its effects on Berlin were lasting. By June 16, 1948, realizing that it would not achieve its goal of a socialist Germany, the Soviet Union withdrew from the ACC, prompting the Western Allies to create a separate administration for their sectors. At the end of 1948, two municipal administrations existed, and Berlin had become a divided city. A more significant effect was perhaps that, in Western eyes, Berlin was no longer seen as the capital of Hitler’s Germany but rather as a symbol of freedom and the struggle to preserve Western civic values.
Birth of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic
The Federal Republic of Germany
Participants at the Potsdam Conference had agreed that the foreign ministers of the four victorious powers should meet to implement and monitor the conference’s decisions about postwar Europe. During their fifth meeting, held in London in late 1947, prospects for concluding a peace treaty with Germany were examined. Following lengthy discussions on the question of reparations, the conference ended without any concrete decisions.
The tense atmosphere during the talks and the uncooperative attitude of the Soviet participants convinced the Western Allies of the necessity of a common political order for the three Western zones. At the request of France, the Western Allies were joined by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg at the subsequent Six Power Conference in London, which met in two sessions in the spring of 1948.
The recommendations of this conference were contained in the so-called Frankfurt Documents, which the military governors of the Western zones issued to German political leaders, the minister presidents of the Western Länder on July 1, 1948. The documents called for convening a national convention to draft a constitution for a German state formed from the Western occupation zones. The documents also contained the announcement of an Occupation Statute, which was to define the position of the occupation powers vis-à-vis the new state.
The minister presidents initially objected to the creation of a separate political entity in the west because they feared such an entity would cement the division of Germany. Gradually, however, it became apparent that the division of the country was already a fact. To emphasize the provisional nature of the document they were to draft, the minister presidents rejected the designation “constitution” and agreed on the term “Basic Law” (Grundgesetz). Final approval of the Basic Law, whose articles were to be worked out by a parliamentary council, was to be given by a vote of the Land diets, and not by referendum, as suggested in the Frankfurt Documents. Once the Allies had accepted these and other modifications, a constitutional convention was called to draft the Basic Law.
The convention met in August 1948 in Bavaria at Herrenchiemsee. After completing its work, the Parliamentary Council, consisting of sixty-five delegates from the respective Land diets and chaired by leading CDU politician Konrad Adenauer, met in Bonn in the fall of 1948 to work out the final details of the document. After months of debate, the final text of the Basic Law was approved by a vote of fifty-three to twelve on May 8, 1949. The new law was ratified by all Land diets, with the exception of the Bavarian parliament, which objected to the emphasis on a strong central authority for the new state. After approval by the Western military governors, the Basic Law was promulgated on May 23, 1949. A new state, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany), had come into existence.
The members of the Parliamentary Council that fashioned the articles of the Basic Law were fully aware of the constitutional deficiencies that had brought down the Weimar Republic. They sought, therefore, to approve a law that would make it impossible to circumvent democratic procedures, as had occurred in the past. The powers of the lower house, the Bundestag, and the federal chancellor were enhanced considerably at the expense of the federal president, who was reduced to a figurehead. Prime consideration was given to the basic rights and the dignity of the individual. The significance of the Länder was enhanced by their direct influence on legislation through representation in the upper house, the Bundesrat. The Basic Law also safeguarded parliamentary government by protecting the federal chancellor from being forced from power through a simple vote of no-confidence. Instead, a constructive vote of no-confidence was required, that is, the vote’s sponsors were required to name a replacement able to win the necessary parliamentary support. The Basic Law also supported the principle of a free market, as well as a strong social security system. In summary, the new Basic Law showed striking similarities to the constitution of the United States. To underscore its provisional character, Article 146 of the Basic Law stated that the document was to be replaced as soon as all German people were free to determine their own future.
According to the Basic Law, the Federal Constitutional Court could ban a political party that aimed at obstructing or abolishing the system of democracy. The activities of a number of openly antidemocratic parties during the Weimar Republic had inspired the authors of the Basic Law to include this strong provision. In 1952 the Socialist Reich Party (Sozialistische Reichspartei–SRP), a successor to the NSDAP, became the first party to be banned. The SRP had maintained that the Third Reich still existed legally, and it had denied the legitimacy of the FRG as a state. A few years later, the KPD was also suspended. Although the KPD was at first represented in all Land parliaments, it gradually lost support. After 1951 the leadership of the KPD began to pursue an openly revolutionary course and advocated the overthrow of the government. After five years of deliberations, the Federal Constitutional Court declared the KPD unconstitutional.
The German Democratic Republic
As with the birth of the FRG, the formation of a separate nation-state in the Soviet zone also took only a few years. In late 1947, the SED convened the “German People’s Congress for Unity and a Just Peace” in Berlin. To demonstrate the SED’s claim of responsibility for the political future of all Germans, representatives from the Western zones were invited. The congress demanded the negotiation of a peace treaty for the whole of Germany and the establishment of a German central government. An SED-controlled organization was founded to win support for the realization of these demands in all occupation zones.
The Second People’s Congress, held in March 1948, proposed a referendum on German unity, rejected the Marshall Plan, and recognized the Oder-Neisse border, which separated the Soviet zone from territory that was administered by Poland but that had once been part of Germany. Thereafter, few Western politicians had any doubts about the goals of the SED-sponsored congress. The congress elected a People’s Council and created a constitutional committee to draft a constitution for a “German Democratic Republic,” which was to apply to all of postwar Germany. The constitutional committee submitted the new constitution to the People’s Council, and it was approved on March 19, 1949.
The Third People’s Congress, its membership chosen by the SED, met in May 1949, just after the ending of the Berlin blockade. Apparently reacting to current events in the Western zones, where the Basic Law establishing the West German government in Bonn had just been approved, the congress approved the draft constitution of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany).
A new People’s Council, elected during the Third People’s Congress, was convened for the first time on October 7, 1949, and the constitution of the GDR went into effect the same day. The Soviet military administration was dissolved, and its administrative functions were transferred to East German authorities. The People’s Council was renamed and began its work as the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), the parliament of the GDR. A second parliamentary chamber, the Länderkammer (Provincial Chamber), consisting of thirty-four deputies, was constituted by the five Land diets on October 11, 1949. Wilhelm Pieck became the first president of the GDR on the same day, and the newly formed cabinet, under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl, was installed on October 12, 1949.
According to the first constitution of the GDR, its citizens enjoyed certain basic rights, even the right to strike. In reality, however, there was little freedom. According to the constitution, both the Council of State (Staatsrat) and the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat) were elected by and responsible to the Volkskammer. All parties and mass organizations represented in this body were united in the National Front, under the ideological leadership of the SED. The Volkskammer was a mere forum for speeches and mock debates. In reality, all policy matters were decided by the Politburo of the SED, on which most important functionaries of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers had a seat.
The party structure of the SED had been reorganized in the image of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union even before the foundation of the GDR, and the system of nomenklatura, with its strict system of ideological education and selection of candidates for all functions in party and state, was introduced. Within a few months, East Germany became a model for all other satellites of the Soviet Union.
West Germany and the Community of Nations
At the end of World War II, Germany was a defeated nation occupied by foreign powers. It had lost its national sovereignty, and the world saw it as a pariah, guilty of crimes without parallel in history. In addition to rebuilding their shattered country in a physical sense, most leading German politicians saw their main goals in the coming decades as restoring their country’s reputation, regaining its sovereignty, and becoming once again a member in good standing in the community of nations.
The figure who dominated West Germany’s politics in its first two decades was Konrad Adenauer, a politician totally committed to restoring his country to an honored place among nations. He saw little likelihood that the Soviet occupation of East Germany would soon end; hence, he sought to build a strong West Germany firmly attached to the Western community of parliamentary democracies. As president of the Parliamentary Council, Adenauer had played a leading role in the process of finalizing and passing the Basic Law in 1949.
Even before he participated in fashioning the country’s constitution, Adenauer had had a long and eventful political career. Born in 1876 in Cologne, he studied law and economics and became active in local politics. As a member of the Catholic-based Center Party, he became the mayor of his home town in 1917. The National Socialists deposed him in 1933, and, after the attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944, he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. After the war, the United States reinstalled him as mayor of Cologne. The British military authorities, however, fired him from this position because of alleged incompetence. In March 1946, Adenauer became chairman of the CDU in the British occupation zone and, after having shown extraordinary leadership in the deliberations on the Basic Law, became the first chancellor of the newly formed state.
One of Adenauer’s main goals was regaining his country’s sovereignty. Although the Basic Law gave full legislative, executive, and judicial powers to the new FRG and its Länder , certain powers were reserved for the occupying authorities. The Occupation Statute, drawn up in April 1949 by the foreign ministers of the Four Powers, gave the occupation authorities the right to supervise the new state’s foreign policy, trade, and civil aviation, as well as the right, under special circumstances, to assume complete control over their own occupation zones.
By means of another statute, the Ruhr Statute, likewise concluded in April 1949, the administration of the resources and industrial potential of the Ruhr area was also kept under foreign control. In the past, the area had been a key element in the building of Germany’s military machine. France, in particular, sought safeguards against future threats to its national security by arranging the creation of the International Authority for the Ruhr, which, under the direction of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, controlled the distribution of the area’s resources.
Although the Ruhr Statute was designed to prevent Germany from ever again becoming a threat to its neighbors, it later served as the first instrument of economic cooperation for the region. In conformity with the Petersberg Agreement of November 1949 with the Western Allies, the FRG became a member of the International Authority for the Ruhr and was granted the right to establish consular relations with foreign countries. Furthermore, the dismantling of German industrial plants in the Ruhr area was largely stopped, and Germany was allowed to again build merchant ships. The winning of these important concessions was Adenauer’s first major success as chancellor.
In the spring of 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman recommended the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to revive European economic cooperation and prevent future conflict between France and Germany. According to Schuman’s plan, countries willing to place their coal and steel industries under an independent authority could join.
Once again, Adenauer seized the opportunity to further integrate West Germany into Western Europe. Against the SPD’s strong opposition, the FRG entered into negotiations with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy on the formation of the ECSC. Negotiations were successfully concluded in June 1952. The ECSC superseded the International Authority for the Ruhr and laid the foundations of the future European Community. Adenauer’s conciliatory but resolute foreign policy also secured the admission in 1951 of the FRG into the Council of Europe, a body established in May 1949 to promote European ideals and principles.
Another important step for the FRG on its path toward reentry into the community of nations was Adenauer’s unwavering position on restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes. Of particular significance was the normalization of relations with Israel and with the Jewish people in general. Although the terrible atrocities that had occurred during the war could not be undone, material restitution could at least improve the lot of the survivors. In 1952 a reparations agreement with Israel was arranged that called for the payment of DM3 billion to the Jewish state over the next twelve years. Additional agreements with Jewish organizations provided for restitution to Jewish victims throughout the world. Through such actions, the FRG sought to meet its obligations as the legal successor to the German Reich, a position it had accepted since the FRG’s founding.
Rearmament and the European Defense Community
The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 convinced Western leaders of the growing threat of international communism. The United States began to encourage the Europeans–the FRG in particular–to contribute to their own defense. For Germany, five years after having lost the most devastating of all wars, this meant forming an army, a step unthinkable for many Germans. Germany’s rearmament was also anathema to some of its neighbors, especially France. As the Korean War continued, however, opposition to rearmament lessened within the FRG, and China’s entry in the war caused France to revise its negative position toward German rearmament.
To contain a newly armed Germany, French officials proposed the creation of the European Defense Community (EDC) under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Adenauer quickly agreed to join the EDC because he saw membership as likely to increase his country’s sovereignty. The treaties establishing the EDC were signed in May 1952 in Bonn by the Western Allies and the FRG. Although the Bundestag ratified the treaties, the EDC was ultimately blocked by France’s parliament, the National Assembly, because it opposed putting French troops under foreign command. The French veto meant that a new formula was needed to allay French fears of a strong Germany.
The negotiations surrounding the planned rearmament of the FRG and the creation of the EDC provoked a Soviet countermeasure. After a second East German proposal for talks on a possible unification of the two Germanys failed because of the FRG’s demands for free elections in the GDR, the Soviet Union put forth a new proposal to the Western Allies in March 1952. The Soviet Union would agree to German unification if the Oder-Neisse border were recognized as final and if a unified Germany were to remain neutral. If the proposal were accepted, Allied troops would leave Germany within one year, and the country would obtain its full sovereignty.
Although the offer was directed to the Western Allies, its content was aimed directly at the West German public and aroused lively discussion about the country’s future. Adenauer was convinced, however, that even if the Soviet proposal were serious, an acceptance of the plan would mean Germany’s exclusion from the community of Western democracies and an uncertain future. Together with the Western Allies, which did not wish to act without his consent, Adenauer continued to demand free elections supervised by the United Nations (UN) in all of Germany as a precondition for negotiations. The Soviet Union declined and abandoned its proposal. Adenauer was harshly criticized by the opposition for not having seized this opportunity for unification. As his impressive victory in the Bundestag elections of 1953 clearly demonstrated, however, Adenauer had acted according to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of West Germans.
Adenauer’s decision to turn down the Soviet proposal was convincing evidence that the FRG intended to remain firmly anchored in the Western defense community. After plans for the EDC had failed because of the French veto, negotiations were successfully concluded on the Treaties of Paris in May 1954, which ended the Occupation Statute and made the FRG a member of the Western European Union and of NATO. On May 5, 1955, the FRG declared its sovereignty as a country and, as a new member of NATO, undertook to contribute to the organization’s defense effort by building up its own armed forces, the Bundeswehr.
The FRG contributed to NATO’s defense effort by building up the Bundeswehr, an undertaking that met with considerable opposition within the population. For many, the memories of the war were still too vivid. To avoid separating the army from the country’s civilian and political life, as was the case during the Weimar Republic, laws were passed that guaranteed civilian control over the armed forces and gave the individual soldier a new status. Members of the conscription army were to be “citizens in uniform” and were encouraged to take an active part in democratic politics. Although West Germans generally remained less than enthusiastic about their new army, the majority accepted the responsibility of sharing the burden of defense with the United States and the other members of NATO.
By 1955 the Soviet Union had abandoned efforts to secure a neutralized Germany, having become convinced of the FRG’s firm position within the Western Alliance. Following the Four Power Conference in Geneva in July 1955, Chancellor Adenauer accepted an invitation to visit Moscow, seeking to open new lines of communication with the East without compromising the FRG’s firm commitment to the West. In Moscow in September, he arranged for the release of 10,000 German war prisoners. In addition, without having recognized the division of Germany or the Oder-Neisse line as permanent, West German negotiators also established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union had recognized the GDR as a state in 1954, and the two countries maintained diplomatic relations with one another. The FRG had not, however, recognized the GDR. And to dissuade other countries from recognizing East Germany, Adenauer’s foreign policy adviser, Walter Hallstein, proposed that the FRG break diplomatic relations with any country that recognized the GDR. The proposal was based on the FRG’s claim, as a democratic state, to be the only legitimate representative of the German people. The Hallstein Doctrine was adopted as a principle of West German foreign policy in September 1955 and remained in effect until the late 1960s.
Another important development in the FRG’s relations with its neighbors was that the Saarland rejoined the FRG in 1957. After World War II, France had attempted to separate this region economically and politically from the rest of Germany. In 1947 the Saarland received its own constitution and was virtually autonomous. During negotiations leading to the Treaties of Paris, the FRG and France agreed, in the Saar Statute, that the Saarland should become a territory under the control of the Council of Europe. However, in the referendum of October 1955, which was supposed to confirm the Saar Statute, Saarland voters rejected the statute by a two-thirds majority, an indication that they wished their region to become part of the FRG. On January 1, 1957, the Saarland became a West German Land .
In addition to his success in building a close and firm relationship with the United States, another of Adenauer’s great foreign policy achievements was reconciliation with France, with which Germany had been locked in rivalry and conflict for centuries. In spite of remaining disagreements on the areas of European integration and NATO, a basis for the development of more normal relations between their two countries was forged upon a good personal understanding between Adenauer and French president Charles de Gaulle, who had assumed the French presidency in 1958.
The German-French Friendship Treaty (Élysée Treaty), which went into effect in January 1963, called for regular consultations between the two governments, semiannual meetings of the chiefs of state, and a youth exchange program. The treaty was seen by many as a positive step in the history of a difficult relationship between the two countries. Of greater importance to the majority of West Germans, however, was the country’s relationship with the United States and its secure place within the Western defense community.
Social Market Economy
Germany’s economic growth during the first decades after the war at times overshadowed its marked success at joining the international community. In 1945 the country’s economy was shattered. A good part of what survived was later dismantled and carried off by the victorious Allies. Within Germany there was much argument about how to rebuild the economy and what its nature should be. Socialist politicians argued for a central distribution system, extensive state controls, and the nationalization of banks and industry. Their main opponent was Ludwig Erhard, a liberal economist appointed to head the office of economic affairs in the Bizone, who later became minister for economics and ultimately FRG chancellor (1963-66), succeeding Adenauer.
Erhard’s concept of a socially responsive market economy based on free trade and private enterprise, aided by the infusion of capital through the Marshall Plan, proved to be the ideal basis for the strong recovery of the West German economy, culminating in the economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder ) of the 1950s. In some areas, for instance in housing and in agriculture, prevailing circumstances required the introduction of price controls and subsidies. Controls to prevent the formation of cartels and to foster monetary stability also remained the state’s responsibility. The state likewise furthered the accumulation of private capital and protected ordinary citizens by establishing a generous system of social services that included statutory health, unemployment, and pension insurance programs.
West Germany’s economy functioned very well for several decades, and the country became one of the world’s wealthiest. Thanks to the strong social welfare component and the system of codetermination, which gave workers in factories some say about their management, West German industry enjoyed a long period of labor peace. The export-oriented economy received another boost with the creation of the European Economic Community by the Treaty of Rome in March 1957. West Germany was one of the EEC’s founding members.
Ludwig Erhard and the Grand Coalition
Konrad Adenauer assumed the chancellorship of the newly founded FRG in 1949, at the age of seventy-three. From the beginning, his primary foreign policy goals had been the achievement of German reunification through a policy of strength, the building of strong relations with the United States, and reconciliation with France.
Until the elections of 1961, Adenauer had enjoyed the support of a healthy CDU/CSU majority in the Bundestag. Various domestic issues and very likely also the Berlin crisis, however, reduced the CDU/CSU’s strength in the Bundestag and forced the formation of a coalition government with the FDP. The work of this government was impeded by differences of opinion from the outset. Following the resignation of FDP cabinet members in protest over a controversy surrounding the arrest of Rudolf Augstein, editor of the newsmagazine Der Spiegel , for allegedly having reported classified material concerning NATO exercises, the working climate of the coalition deteriorated. Forced to accept the resignation of his powerful minister of defense, Franz Josef Strauss, who had had Augstein arrested, and facing an erosion of support within the CDU, Adenauer resigned on October 15, 1963.
Ludwig Erhard succeeded Adenauer as chancellor. Under Erhard’s leadership, the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition remained in power until 1966. Erhard’s more liberal economic policy toward the East European states that maintained diplomatic relations with East Germany made maintaining the Hallstein Doctrine difficult. In addition, his position of favoring close coordination of German foreign policy with the United States was resisted by the “Gaullists,” even those in his own party, who favored a continuation of Adenauer’s close relations with France.
The CDU/CSU did well in the elections of 1965, but relations with the FDP had deteriorated. A recession and a budget crisis caused the FDP to drop out of the coalition. Erhard ruled with a minority government for a short time, but after the opposition’s significant gains in several Land elections, his party formed a new coalition government with the SPD. Erhard resigned as chancellor in November 1966, less successful in that position than he had been as the “father of the economic miracle.”
When the CDU/CSU entered into a coalition with the SPD in December 1966, West Germany was experiencing unprecedented economic troubles. High unemployment, a relatively high budget deficit, and an unexpected rise in support for right-wing groups, such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands–NPD), brought West Germany’s largest parties together to form what was called the Grand Coalition. Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU), who had served as minister president of Baden-Württemberg, was appointed chancellor; Willy Brandt (SPD), the governing mayor of Berlin, became vice chancellor and minister of foreign affairs; and Karl Schiller (SPD) was appointed minister for economics. Considered by many as “unnatural” because the coalition partners came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the coalition was seen as a temporary solution needed to gain the cooperation of the trade unions and stabilize the economy.
The Ulbricht Era, 1949-71
Soviet dictator Stalin died in March 1953. In large portions of the East German population, particularly among workers suffering under the high production quotas set by the SED, Stalin’s death gave rise to hopes for an improvement in living conditions and for an easing of political terror. In an attempt to stave off increasing unrest among the population as living standards were worsening and production quotas were being raised, the East German leadership, headed by General Secretary Walter Ulbricht, announced new economic policies that would end price hikes and increase the availability of consumer goods. Ulbricht refused, however, to lower production goals for industry and construction, which had been increased by 10 percent on May 28, 1953.
On the new parade grounds at East Berlin’s Stalin Allee, a symbol of communist pride, enraged workers assembled in protest on June 16. The following day, demonstrations were held in most industrial cities of the GDR. Demands were made for comprehensive economic reforms and political changes, including Ulbricht’s resignation and free elections. Overwhelmed by such widespread opposition to their policies, the East German authorities were unable to quell the protests. Soviet military units stationed in East Germany were called in and, with the help of East German police units, suppressed the unrest within two days. Order was restored at a cost of an estimated several dozen deaths and 1,000 arrests. Ulbricht, the figure largely responsible for the causes of the demonstrations, had triumphed, but the uprising demonstrated the frailty of the East German regime and signaled the East German population’s “will to freedom.”
Born in Leipzig in 1893, Ulbricht had served on the Western Front in World War I and had joined the KPD in 1919. He advanced quickly in the party hierarchy, becoming Reichstag deputy in 1928. After Hitler’s seizure of power, Ulbricht went into exile. From 1937 to 1945, he worked for the party in Moscow. After the war, he returned to Berlin to build up the KPD under the protection of the Soviet Union. By 1950 he was chairman of the SED and through a variety of positions ruled the East German state with an iron fist for the next two decades by successfully eliminating every potential competitor within the SED leadership.
Consolidation of the New State
The most important instrument employed by East German authorities to guarantee their absolute rule was the State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst, commonly referred to as the Stasi). Founded in early 1950 as the secret service branch of the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit–MfS), the Stasi came to exercise almost complete control over the population of the GDR. During the first five years of its existence, Stasi personnel were trained by Soviet instructors. In addition to its surveillance of the East German population–which was carried out with sinister thoroughness up until the final days of the GDR–the Stasi conducted extensive espionage activities in the West, particularly in the FRG.
Aside from its approximately 100,000 full-time employees, the Stasi could also rely on the assistance of nearly 2 million civilian spies, or so-called informal employees (Informelle Mitarbeiter –IM), who reported regularly from domestic listening posts or from abroad. Experts agree that before its dissolution in 1990, the Stasi had developed the most perfect spying system ever devised to watch over its own citizens. It had truly realized the idea of the “glass-citizen,” whose every activity was known to and controlled by the state. In Stasi headquarters in East Berlin, detailed information on individual citizens was collected in huge archives, which survived, largely intact, the downfall of the East German state.
An equally important role in building a permanent power base for the SED was played by mass organizations. One of the most important was the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend–FDJ), founded in March 1946, in which young people between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five were to be indoctrinated as members of a new socialist society. Together with its suborganization for youngsters from six to fourteen years of age, the Young Pioneers–later called the Pioneer Organization “Ernst Thälmann,” in memory of the chief of the KPD during the Weimar Republic, who was killed in a concentration camp–the FDJ soon became an effective instrument for influencing the coming generations. An important part of its influence was that membership in the FDJ soon determined access to institutions of higher learning, recreation and sports facilities, and ultimately career opportunities.
Another important mass organization was the Free German Trade Union Federation (Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund–FDGB), which attempted to motivate the workforce to achieve production goals and also provided members with opportunities for inexpensive vacations at FDGB-owned seashore resorts. Similarly, the interests of women were served by the Democratic Women’s Federation of Germany.
By the end of 1947, all facets of society were organized in associations and groupings under the control of the SED. The GDR authorities also sought to deprive potential enemies within the state of the traditions and institutions upon which the state and society had been founded. A primary target for complete transformation was the court system. Judges and attorneys soon came to be used as mere instruments to carry out Marxist-Leninist goals. The legality of actions was determined by the political leadership.
The SED also declared the traditional administrative division of East Germany into five Länder an obstacle to “efficient” governance. The five Länder , all grown out of long historical traditions, were abolished and fourteen administrative districts established. This measure gave the central government in East Berlin much greater control over the activities in these districts, which were now much smaller, and, equally important, allowed it to break with another aspect of Germany’s despised bourgeois history.
In the GDR, as in the other new “people’s republics,” the authorities’ goal of abolishing private property and every trace of capitalism was to be implemented in several steps. By taking possession of all resources, as well as of the means of production and distribution, the socialist state hoped to be able to compete successfully with the capitalist West and finally demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system.
Patterned on the Soviet model, the East German economy was transformed into a state-controlled, centrally planned production and distribution system by 1948. Beginning in 1945, large tracts of real estate and factories were taken over by the state under reform programs for agriculture and industry. After the foundation of the GDR, these reforms were pursued with vigor. In 1949 the new state became a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), which included all other Soviet satellite states and had been created in order to coordinate economic planning in socialist states worldwide.
The concept of multiyear plans was introduced with the First Five-Year Plan of 1951. It was intended to make up war losses and also make possible reparations payments to the Soviet Union. For this purpose, heavy industry was built up on a large scale. Production goals could not be reached, however, because of a chronic shortage of raw materials. The manufacture of consumer products was neglected completely.
The Second Five-Year Plan, started in 1956, aimed to complete the nationalization of all industrial concerns and the collectivization of agricultural enterprises. By the early 1960s, Kombinate (collective farms) accounted for about 90 percent of all farm production. Private farmers who resisted collectivization were arrested.
When production began to decline in the early 1960s, the SED introduced the so-called New Economic System of decentralized planning, which delegated some production decisions previously the prerogative of the central planning authorities to the Association of Publicly Owned Enterprises (Vereinigung Volkseigener Betriebe–VVB). The VVB was to foster specialized production within individual branches of industry, including the previously neglected production of consumer goods. Production declined even further, however, and it became increasingly evident to many East Germans that their “planned economy” had lost the economic battle with the capitalist West.
The Warsaw Pact and the National People’s Army
The Warsaw Pact, which included the Soviet Union and all its satellite states in Eastern Europe, was created on May 14, 1955, just days after the FRG joined NATO. Like NATO, its Western counterpart, the Warsaw Pact guaranteed mutual military assistance to its members in the event of an attack and coordination of all member forces in a unified command. The existence of this command, which was situated in Moscow, allowed the Soviet Union to station troops on its allies’ territories. Each member state was also obligated to establish its own armed forces. In the GDR, the People’s Police (Volkspolizei, or Vopo) had created paramilitary units in 1952. The Soviet Union had unofficially helped form East German naval and air force units beginning in 1950.
On March 1, 1956, the National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee–NVA) was officially created by transferring the existing paramilitary units of the People’s Police to the NVA. The new army was officially under the leadership of the SED and under the direction of the newly created Ministry for National Defense. Initially, the NVA was to be staffed by volunteers only, but in 1962, when recruitment presented increasing difficulties for the SED and its support organizations, conscription was introduced. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall, conscription had been seen as impossible to enforce.
As early as the 1950s, the NVA became the most effective and best-equipped fighting force in the Warsaw Pact aside from the Soviet army. By the early 1980s, the NVA had an active strength of 167,000, of which approximately 60,000 were professional soldiers; there were approximately 3 million reservists. Most weapons were of Soviet origin.
The Berlin Wall
Besides its increasing economic difficulties, by the end of the 1950s the GDR encountered another problem that began to threaten its existence: large numbers of people were leaving East Germany for the West. Nearly half of those who fled the GDR were under twenty-five years of age. Although crossing the border between the two German states had become dangerous after new security measures were introduced in the early 1950s and severe penalties for the crime of “flight from the republic” (Republikflucht ) were introduced by GDR authorities in 1957, a relatively safe escape route remained via West Berlin, which could be reached from East Berlin using the city’s public transportation network. Once in West Berlin, refugees were registered and then transported to the FRG by air.
Alarmed by the continuous population drain, the East German Politburo ordered the erection of a wall along the border between West Berlin and East Berlin. On Sunday morning, August 13, 1961, workers began building a three-meter-high concrete wall along the border of the Soviet sector of the city. Within a few hours, public transportation lines were cut, and West Berlin was sealed off from East Germany. Chancellor Adenauer and West Berlin’s governing mayor, Willy Brandt, sought to calm the outraged West Berliners. The Western Allies did not react with force because they were unwilling to endanger world peace. Up to that date, nearly 3.5 million had left the GDR for West Germany. After the building of the wall, the stream of refugees decreased to a mere trickle.
Despite the construction of the Berlin Wall, many East Germans still tried to escape. Several hundred of those attempting to leave the GDR were killed; others were captured, perhaps after being wounded by automatic guns or mines along the border, and sentenced to long prison terms. With the sealing off of East Berlin, the East German regime had solved the refugee situation.
The “Socialist State of the German Nation”
The building of the Wall effectively halted large-scale emigration from the GDR. Although the SED failed to gain the active support of the majority of the population, young people, especially, began to tolerate the regime, at least passively. In the absence of any alternatives, they fulfilled their routine duties in youth organizations, schools, and workplaces. By the mid-1960s, the regime could afford to lessen internal pressures on its citizens, who, encouraged by increased production of consumer goods, had largely given up their open resentment against the SED and had turned their attention to improving their standard of living.
Ulbricht’s state visit to Egypt in 1965 ended the GDR’s political isolation. A previously unknown pride in East German achievements and a feeling of distinct GDR identity began to develop, first among ruling party functionaries and then gradually among segments of the population. In 1967 the GDR leadership, encouraged by these developments, attempted to gain official recognition of its autonomy from the FRG. When the FRG refused to grant recognition, the GDR government proclaimed a separate GDR citizenship and introduced a visa requirement for West Germans traveling to West Berlin and to the GDR. With these measures, the GDR began to practice a policy of new assertiveness and ideological delimitation (Abgrenzung ) in response to the FRG’s policy of recognizing only one German citizenship.
Membership in the UN was a primary foreign policy goal of the GDR in the late 1960s. A veto by the Western powers in the UN Security Council blocked the GDR’s bid, however. The GDR did gain admission to the International Olympic Committee, which permitted East German athletes to participate in the Olympic games as a separate team. For the GDR, however, the ultimate breakthrough in the area of foreign policy–a treaty with the FRG–came only after international political tensions began to ease under the new spirit of détente.
Following the conclusion of the Treaty of Moscow between the FRG and the Soviet Union in January 1970, a new era of communication began between the two German states that culminated in the signing of the Basic Treaty in December 1972. The next year, both states became members of the UN, and most countries came to recognize the GDR. Permanent diplomatic representations, in lieu of embassies, were established, respectively, by the FRG in East Berlin and by the GDR in Bonn, demonstrating the new climate of mutual respect and cooperation between the two German states.
In this new setting, there was no longer room for Walter Ulbricht, who had maintained a policy of confrontation with the West for many years. The Soviet Union, which had demonstrated considerably more flexibility than the GDR leadership during its negotiations with the FRG, was also irritated by the failure of Ulbricht’s economic program and by his attempts to demonstrate ideological independence by adhering to conservative Marxist principles. In 1971 the Soviet authorities ordered that Ulbricht be relieved of power. His replacement was Erich Honecker, who, as secretary of the Central Committee of the SED for security matters, had been directly responsible for the building of the Berlin Wall.
The Social Democratic-Free Democratic Coalition, 1969-82
In the West German Bundestag elections of September 1969, the CDU/CSU remained the largest political group, holding eighteen more seats than the SPD. With the help of the FDP, which had earlier supported the candidacy of the SPD minister of justice Gustav Heinemann for the federal presidency, Willy Brandt was able to form an SPD-FDP coalition government, with himself as federal chancellor. The SPD-FDP coalition lasted until late 1982 and was noted for its accomplishments in the area of foreign policy. The formation of this new coalition forced the CDU/CSU into opposition for the first time in the history of West Germany.
Willy Brandt became the first democratically elected Social Democrat to hold the chancellorship. Born in Lübeck in 1913, Brandt first joined the SPD in 1930 and later joined a smaller leftist grouping, the Socialist Workers Party (Sozialistiche Arbeiterpartei–SAP). After Hitler came to power, Brandt emigrated to Norway, where he became a citizen and worked as a journalist. After Germany occupied Norway in 1940, he fled to Sweden. Brandt returned to Germany after the war as a news correspondent and later as a Norwegian diplomat in Berlin. After he had again assumed German citizenship, Brandt rejoined the SPD in 1947. He became mayor of Berlin in 1957 and was the SPD candidate for the chancellorship in 1961. In the late 1950s, Brandt was a principal architect of the SPD’s rejection of its Marxist past and adoption of the Bad Godesburg Program, in which the party accepted the free-market principle. The triumph of the CDU/CSU in the 1957 national elections and widespread and increasing prosperity made such a step necessary if the SPD were to win the electorate’s favor. In 1964 Brandt became the chairman of the SPD. From 1966 to 1969, he served as minister for foreign affairs and vice chancellor in the Grand Coalition.
When Brandt became chancellor in 1969, he proposed a new policy toward the communist states of Eastern Europe; this policy later became known as Ostpolitik (policy toward the East). In recognition of his efforts toward détente in Europe, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971. In the early 1970s, Brandt also engineered a package of treaties that normalized the FRG’s relations with the Soviet Union and with Poland, the GDR, and other Soviet-bloc nations. He successfully withstood a vote of no-confidence in the Bundestag in April 1972 and won the Bundestag elections in November 1972 with an impressive relative majority of nearly 45 percent. Brandt resigned in May 1974, shocked by the discovery that one of his personal assistants, Günter Guillaume, was a spy for the GDR.
In domestic policy, Brandt and his FDP coalition partners initiated legal reforms, including the passage of more liberal laws regarding divorce and abortion, the latter reform generating intense public discussion. Education reforms calling for new types of schools and for overhauling administration of the universities were only partially carried out. Brandt and his coalition partners were more successful in realizing their foreign policy goals than in achieving their domestic aims.
West Germany’s relations with the East European states had virtually stagnated since the establishment of the Hallstein Doctrine in the mid-1950s. In 1970, in an attempt to lessen tensions in Europe, Brandt and his FDP minister for foreign affairs, Walter Scheel, agreed to negotiate with the communist bloc. For the first time since 1948, the top politicians of the FRG and the GDR held talks, with Brandt and the East German prime minister, Willi Stoph, meeting in Erfurt in East Germany and Kassel in West Germany. Although the talks produced no concrete results because Brandt refused to recognize the GDR as a sovereign state, communication lines were reopened.
After coordinating policy goals with the United States, the FRG also entered negotiations with the Soviet Union on a treaty normalizing relations, in which both countries renounced the use of force. The FRG agreed to make no territorial claims, and it recognized de facto the Oder-Neisse border and the border between the FRG and the GDR. FRG negotiators, however, insisted that such agreements did not alter the West German position on future reunification of the country and that the responsibilities of the Four Powers in Germany remained unchanged by the treaty. They also linked the signing of the treaty to a Soviet promise to open talks on normalizing the Berlin situation. After the Soviet Union had agreed to these conditions, the Treaty of Moscow was signed in August 1970. The agreement opened the road to negotiations with other countries of the Soviet bloc.
In December 1970, after ten months of complicated negotiations, the FRG and Poland signed the Treaty of Warsaw. The treaty contained essentially the same points as the Treaty of Moscow on the question of Poland’s western border, the renunciation of territorial claims by the FRG, and the ongoing responsibilities of the Four Powers. In return, Poland agreed to allow ethnic Germans still in Poland to emigrate to the FRG. During the subsequent debates on the ratification of the two treaties, the CDU/CSU and part of the FDP made their consent contingent on the formulation of a strong statement by the Bundestag underscoring Germany’s right to reunification in self-determination and of the Allies’ responsibilities for Germany and Berlin.
Concurrent with the negotiations on the treaties of Moscow and Warsaw, the Four Powers undertook to end disagreement about the status of Berlin in talks that ultimately led to the Four Power Agreement (also known as the Quadripartite Agreement) of September 1971. The talks, which began in March 1970, got off to a difficult start because the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were deeply divided over their basic interpretation of the “status of Berlin.” After they “agreed to disagree” on this point, progress was finally made, and all sides concurred that the status quo of Berlin should not be changed unilaterally.
The Soviet Union made two very important concessions: traffic to and from West Berlin would be unimpeded in the future, and the existing ties of West Berlin to the FRG were given de facto recognition. Soviet officials, however, insisted that West Berlin was not to be considered a territory belonging to the FRG and therefore was not to be governed by it. Furthermore, the Soviet Union made the conclusion of the agreement among the Four Powers contingent on the signing of the Treaty of Moscow between the FRG and the Soviet Union, which was still under negotiation. They thereby established the same linkage that the FRG had demanded, but in reverse.
The Four Power Agreement charged the governments of West Berlin and the GDR with negotiating an accord that would regulate access to and from West Berlin from the FRG and secure the right of West Berliners to visit East Berlin and the GDR. The Transit Agreement of May 1972 arranged these matters and also secured the rights of GDR citizens to visit the FRG, but only in cases of family emergency.
Following the negotiations on traffic between the FRG and the GDR, both sides recognized the feasibility of arriving at a more comprehensive treaty between the two German states. Talks began in August 1972 and culminated in December 1972 with the signing of the Basic Treaty. In the treaty, both states committed themselves to developing normal relations on the basis of equality, guaranteeing their mutual territorial integrity as well as the border between them, and recognizing each other’s independence and sovereignty. They also agreed to the exchange of “permanent missions” in Bonn and East Berlin to further relations.
After the bitterly contested approval of the Basic Treaty by the SPD-FDP-controlled Bundestag in May 1973, a political decision that the CDU/CSU had warned against for decades became a reality: West Germany’s de facto recognition of East Germany as a separate state. To many conservatives, the Basic Treaty represented the failure of the Hallstein Doctrine and a final blow to the possibility of Germany’s reunification. Bavaria filed a suit in the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe to prevent the treaty’s implementation, but the court held the treaty to be compatible with the provisions of the Basic Law. As a result of the treaty, the FRG and the GDR became members of the UN in June 1973.
Among the states to the east, Czechoslovakia remained the only neighbor with which West Germany had not yet normalized diplomatic relations. Negotiations with this country proved to be considerably more difficult than those with the Soviet Union or Poland. The main obstacle was a difference in interpreting the Munich Agreement of September 1938. On the one hand, the FRG maintained that the accord itself had to be considered legally valid but that the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 had voided its provisions. Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, insisted that the accord be considered void from the very beginning. Both sides finally agreed that the accord was to be considered void, but that all legal proceedings in the occupied territory between 1938 and 1945 were to be upheld. Once this basic understanding had been reached, the treaty with Czechoslovakia, known as the Treaty of Prague, similar in content to the Treaty of Warsaw, was signed in December 1973, and diplomatic relations were established. Shortly thereafter, West Germany exchanged ambassadors with Hungary and Bulgaria.
Following Brandt’s resignation in May 1974, the SPD-FDP coalition partners unanimously agreed that Minister of Finance Helmut Schmidt should head the new government. At fifty-five, Schmidt became the youngest chancellor of the FRG. Born in Hamburg in 1918, he served as an officer in World War II. After the war, he joined the SPD and served in Hamburg’s municipal government, where he acquired a national reputation as a top-notch manager because of his competence in dealing with a severe flood in 1962. He was the SPD faction leader in the Bundestag and minister of defense in the first SPD-FDP cabinet. Schmidt gradually became recognized at home and abroad as a pragmatic politician and an expert in economic and defense matters. His first cabinet included the FDP’s Hans-Dietrich Genscher as minister of foreign affairs. Genscher replaced Walter Scheel, who had been elected federal president in 1974.
Schmidt was confronted with a number of serious problems. The economic turbulence caused by the oil crisis of 1973 had affected the FRG, and a ban on the use of automobiles on Sundays had been introduced to preserve scarce fuel reserves. Perhaps as a result of the crisis, Germans began to recognize limitations to economic growth and simultaneously to become aware of ecological dangers to the environment inherent in their lifestyle. As a result, environmental movements sprang up throughout the FRG.
Worries about the environment and about long-term economic growth became widespread in the next few years, and the almost limitless optimism of the postwar period began to give way to a mood of uncertainty about the future. Unemployment was also on the rise, and labor unions, traditionally reliable allies of the SPD, began to depart from their position of solidarity with the SPD-FDP government. In this increasingly difficult economic and political environment, Schmidt tried to steer a steady course, one often too conservative for his party and from which necessary support was at times lacking.
The Student Movement and Terrorism
In addition to troubling economic and environmental problems for which no easy solutions were available, West Germany and its politicians had to contend with two new sources of social unrest: the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and left-wing terrorism, which originated in the late 1960s, but which had its greatest impact in the 1970s.
Inspired by the student movement in the United States and by the international movement opposing the war in Vietnam, as well as by rising opposition to the traditional administration of German universities, students organized protest movements at a number of German universities in the late 1960s. Sit-ins, disruption of lectures, and attacks against buildings housing major publishing companies, such as the Axel Springer Group, were staged by a minority of student groups, primarily those with Marxist ties. Protesters claimed that an “extra-parliamentary opposition” was needed to ensure representation of the people in a state that was governed largely by two major parties. The student protest movement had little support among the population, however, and was finally absorbed by the established parties.
Terrorism was also a concern during this period. A few radical student elements sought to realize their aims through political terrorism. Small groups launched violent attacks against “symbols of capitalism.” They fire-bombed department stores in several cities, broke into police stations, robbed banks, and attacked United States military installations.
One terrorist group, notorious for its brutality, became known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, named after its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Calling themselves the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion–RAF), their aim was to assassinate the “levers of the imperialist power structure,” thereby provoking the state to abandon lawful methods of fighting terrorism. The arrest and imprisonment in 1972 of the main RAF leaders led to an intensification of terrorist acts by the group, which culminated in 1977 in the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the Federation of German Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände–BDA) and in the hijacking six weeks later of a Lufthansa passenger airplane to Mogadishu, Somalia.
The aim of both these terrorist actions was the release of Baader and the other RAF prisoners. In a spectacular rescue action, the Lufthansa airplane was stormed by a special unit of the West German Federal Border Force, ending a five-day odyssey through the Middle East. Failing in their coup, Baader and three other RAF leaders committed suicide in their prison cells, and Schleyer was subsequently murdered by his kidnappers. The police had been successful in discovering hideouts, strategy papers, and caches of weapons, however, which led to the severe weakening of the organization of the RAF.
Nevertheless, supported by various international terrorist groups, including the GDR’s Stasi, the RAF maintained a small network committed to assassinating prominent public figures. In 1989 they were responsible for the murder of Alfred Herrhausen, a top executive of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, and in 1991 for the murder of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, president of the Treuhandanstalt, the agency that managed the privatization of property in the former GDR.
In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1973, regional political groups concerned with environmental issues began to put up candidates in communal and regional elections. In 1980 a number of ecological groups, alternative action movements, and various women’s rights organizations banded together on the national level to form the political party that came to be called the Greens (Die Grünen).
Although the political views of the various groups in the new party were widely diverse, all agreed that the continuous expansion of the economy was detrimental to the environment and that disarmament was imperative if mankind were to survive. The Greens’ support for radical peace movements and their demand that the FRG withdraw from NATO prevented many West Germans from taking the Greens seriously as a political force. In the Bundestag elections of 1980, they could muster only 1.5 percent of the vote, not enough to win any parliamentary seats. In the 1983 elections, however, they broke the 5 percent barrier and won twenty-seven seats in the Bundestag.
Differing ideological orientations within the Greens soon began to undermine the party’s effectiveness in the political process. Two different factions emerged: the dogmatic fundamentalists (Fundis), who were unwilling to make any compromises on policy in order to win political allies; and the realists (Realos), who were ready to enter into a coalition with the SPD on the communal and Land level in order to put environmentalist ideas into practice.
Another cause of disagreement within the party organization of the Greens was the principle of rotation of seats in the Bundestag and in Land diets. This policy required deputies to give up their seats after only half a term so that other Green candidates would have an opportunity to participate in the political process. As a result, experienced representatives who understood the workings of parliament were forced to relinquish their seats and were relegated to subordinate work in the party. Such unrealistic policies persuaded numerous talented Green politicians to withdraw from active politics, or to leave the party altogether. In 1984 a party leadership consisting only of women was elected, giving the Greens an image of practicing reverse discrimination.
Although the Realos among the Greens subsequently participated in Land governments as cabinet members, the party remained on the periphery of politics during the remainder of the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Greens positively influenced the views of the traditional political parties concerning the ecology and the preservation of natural resources.
The Christian Democratic/Christian Socialist-Free Democratic Coalition
The SPD-FDP coalition formed in 1969 became increasingly strained in the early 1980s, leading to concerns among the FDP leadership about its stability. The SPD had become deeply divided because many of its members found Chancellor Schmidt’s policies too conservative. Particularly troublesome was his position on NATO’s Dual-Track Decision, which required the stationing of new missiles in West Germany if Soviet missiles were not withdrawn. FDP chairman Genscher feared that Schmidt would lose the backing of the SPD as its left wing became more influential. As a result of these fears, Genscher began to urge a change in the political constellation governing West Germany and the formation of a coalition with the CDU/CSU.
The SPD-FDP coalition broke apart in September 1982 when the FDP minister of economics, Otto Lambsdorff, advocated cutting social welfare expenditures. Schmidt countered by threatening to fire Lambsdorff. The threat prompted the resignation of all FDP cabinet members. Schmidt presided over a minority government for a few days until the FDP, together with the CDU/CSU, raised a constructive vote of no-confidence against the government. Schmidt lost the vote, and Helmut Kohl, head of the CDU, formed a new coalition government composed of the CDU, its sister party the CSU, and the FDP. Kohl himself became chancellor on October 1, 1982.
Born in 1930 in Ludwigshafen in the heavily Roman Catholic and conservative Rhineland-Palatinate, Kohl was a founding member and leader of the CDU youth organization in his hometown. He served as minister president of the Rhineland-Palatinate from 1969 to 1976, and in the 1976 national elections he ran unsuccessfully against SPD candidate Chancellor Schmidt for the office of chancellor.
In the 1980 national elections, Franz Josef Strauss was the CDU/CSU candidate for chancellor. Strauss, Bavaria’s minister president and head of the CSU, was one of Germany’s most influential and colorful politicians. He believed the CDU/CSU could come to power in Bonn without the help of the FDP. After Strauss lost the elections and Schmidt remained chancellor, however, Kohl began to steer toward an eventual coalition with the FDP because he did not think that conservatives could win an absolute majority at the national level.
New elections for the Bundestag were held in 1983, several months after Kohl had assumed the chancellorship. The results gave Kohl’s government a clear majority and confirmed him as chancellor. Throughout his career, Kohl demonstrated a strong determination, extraordinary political skills, and a keen sense for the political will of the German people. His key role in the German reunification process has deservedly earned him a position of distinction in German history.
In the first half of the 1980s, West German politics were dominated by the heated discussion of NATO’s Dual-Track Decision. The peace movement mounted numerous demonstrations to protest the possible stationing of United States missiles in West Germany should the Soviet Union not remove its newly stationed SS-20 missiles from Eastern Europe.
In the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union had decided to modernize its intermediate-range missile arsenal by the introduction and stationing of the advanced ground-based SS-20 systems. With a range of approximately 5,000 kilometers, the SS-20 was capable of delivering a 150-kiloton nuclear warhead within a target radius of 400 meters–a capability that could not be matched by any NATO weapon. It was clear that the missile’s target area was Central Europe. Chancellor Schmidt had been among the first to warn of the danger posed by this new Soviet weapon system. The United States reacted quickly by developing two new weapon systems–the Pershing II inter-mediate-range rocket and the cruise missile. Although the Pershing II possessed a considerably shorter range and a much smaller warhead than the SS-20, it was capable of hitting its potential target with almost absolute accuracy.
At the NATO conference of foreign and defense ministers held in December 1979, officials decided to deploy 108 Pershing II rockets and 464 cruise missiles in Europe by the end of 1983. They also agreed to enter negotiations as soon as possible with the Soviet Union on the stationing of medium-range missiles in Europe. If Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Central Europe, United States missiles would not be positioned in West Germany. The United States-Soviet Union talks began in Geneva in November 1981 and continued for two years, but without achieving results.
NATO’s Dual-Track Decision met with mounting opposition from the West German and European peace movement, and numerous rallies were held in the early 1980s. In the fall of 1983, protest demonstrations throughout the FRG were aimed at influencing the imminent decision of the Bundestag on deployment. Demonstrators feared that if missiles were stationed on German soil, the German population would be wiped out in the event of a possible nuclear exchange, while the Soviet Union would remain unaffected. With time, however, the peace movement became increasingly divided, and after 1983 it began to have less influence on public opinion. Most West Germans saw the Soviet Union as responsible for the escalation of the arms race by their deployment of the SS-20 and, in addition, mistrusted the Soviet Union’s apparently keen interest in the peace movement in Western Europe.
Chancellor Kohl and his new government were determined to stand by West Germany’s commitment to its NATO partners. After a lengthy debate in the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU-FDP majority coalition voted for deployment, with the SPD and the Greens opposing. Stationing of the missiles began immediately, and the Soviet Union withdrew from the Geneva negotiations. By the mid-1980s, as international tensions began to ease, public attention turned to new prospects for détente between West and East.
The Honecker Era, 1971-89
Ulbricht’s successor in East Germany was Erich Honecker. Born in 1913 in the Saarland, Honecker joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands–KPD) in 1929. As a full-time functionary of the party, he continued his work in the underground movement after Hitler came to power in 1933 and until arrested by the Nazis in 1935. Imprisoned until the end of World War II, Honecker resumed his career in 1945 as a leading KPD functionary, becoming Ulbricht’s assistant on the latter’s return to Germany from the Soviet Union in 1945. From 1946 to 1955, Honecker served as chairman of the youth organization, the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend–FDJ). He became a member of the SED Politburo in 1958. As secretary for security matters of the SED Central Committee, Honecker was directly responsible for the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. When Ulbricht was removed from power in 1971, Honecker succeeded him in his party functions and became chief of the SED. Honecker was head of state of the GDR from 1976 until his resignation in 1989. After his fall from power, Honecker found refuge in the Embassy of Chile in Moscow until his extradition to Berlin in 1992, where he was brought to trial. He was released from custody in 1993 for health reasons and went to Chile, where he died in 1994. Although less rigid than Ulbricht, as evidenced by his willingness to sign agreements with the West that opened the GDR somewhat and made the lives of its citizens easier, Honecker remained a convinced communist until his death.
The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Keen to gain international recognition of its sphere of interest and believing that such recognition would solidify its grip on its East European satellite states, the Soviet Union, beginning in the early 1970s, sponsored an initiative calling for the convening of a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. For the West, such meetings meant the possibility of tying the Soviet Union and its satellites to an international security system, thereby lessening tensions, furthering economic cooperation, and obtaining humanitarian improvements for the people of Eastern Europe. The first of the series of conferences opened in July 1973 in Helsinki and was attended by the foreign ministers of the thirty-five member states. At the conference’s final meeting in 1975, the heads of state of all member countries were in attendance for the signing of the Final Act, or the Helsinki Accords.
As subsequent CSCE conferences showed, Soviet officials had totally underestimated the effect of the provisions for the exchange of information, which allowed for the unscrambled reception of Western media broadcasts within the geographic area of the Warsaw Pact countries. East Germans benefited especially from access to West German radio and television programs, which furnished previously unobtainable news about world events. Television viewers in the East also became aware of an obviously far superior standard of living in the West and developed a new awareness of the deficiencies of the communist regime, an awareness that fifteen years later led to the events that brought down that regime.
The New East German Constitution and the Question of Identity
Although the GDR had finally achieved its goal of international recognition with the signing of the Basic Treaty in December 1972, renewed concerns about the stability and identity of the GDR as a second German state drove the SED Politburo toward a policy of reaffirming the socialist nature of the state. As early as 1971, Honecker had launched a campaign to foster a socialist identity among East Germans and to counter West German emphasis on the historical unity of the German nation. In 1974 the GDR constitution was even amended to increase a sense of separate development. All references in the document to the “German nation” and to German national heritage were deleted.
The SED had long revised German history to make it conform to socialist purposes. Symbols of Prussian heritage in Berlin, such as the equestrian statue of Prussian king Frederick the Great, had been removed. And in 1950, Ulbricht had ordered the 500-year-old palace of the Hohenzollern Dynasty demolished because it was a symbol of “feudal repression.”
Just as the SED was striving to develop a separate GDR consciousness and loyalty, however, the new access to Western media, arranged by the CSCE process and formalized in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, was engendering a growing enthusiasm among East Germans for West Germany’s Ostpolitik. Honecker sought to counter this development by devising a new formula: “citizenship, GDR; nationality, German.” After the SED’s Ninth Party Congress in May 1976, Honecker went one step further: figures of Prussian history, such as the reformers Karl vom Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, and the founder of Berlin University,Wilhelm von Humboldt, were rehabilitated and claimed as historical ancestors of the GDR. Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck were also restored to prominence. Even Martin Luther was judged a worthy historical figure who needed to be understood within the context of his times.
These concessions did not alter the regime’s harsh policy toward dissidents, however. Primary targets were artists and writers who advocated reforms and democratization, including Wolf Biermann, a poet-singer popular among East German youth who was expelled from the GDR in 1976. A wave of persecution of other dissident intellectuals followed. Some were imprisoned; others were deported to West Germany. Nonetheless, political statements by East German intellectuals, some going so far as to advocate reunification, continued to appear anonymously in the West German press.
Relations Between the Two Germanys
Although Honecker pursued a tough policy against internal dissidents and carefully guarded the GDR’s unique identity as the state in which the old Marxist dream of socialism had become a reality, he was keenly aware of the necessity for communication and reasonable working relations with the FRG. His dream of being received at the White House as a guest of state by United States president Ronald Reagan was never realized, but Honecker opened more lines of communication to Western politicians than had his predecessors.
As a consequence of the Helsinki Accords, the reception of Western news media broadcasts was tacitly allowed in the GDR. In the early 1980s, it also became possible for citizens of the GDR who were not yet pensioners to visit relatives in the West in cases involving urgent family matters. Under a new regulation, refugees who had gone to the West before 1981 and had therefore automatically lost their GDR citizenship could now enter the GDR with their West German passport. These measures benefited East Germans and, together with access to Western television, helped to create a new relaxed atmosphere in the GDR.
On the economic side, the GDR fully utilized the advantages of the Interzone Trading Agreement, which allowed special consideration for the export of goods from the GDR to the FRG and other EC member states, as well as the import of vital industrial products from the West. Diplomatic relations with the EC were established in 1988, a reversal of the former policy that saw the organization as a threat to the GDR’s sovereignty. The annual Leipzig Industrial Fair also provided a convenient forum for meeting Western politicians and industrialists.
The severe shortage of Western currency in the GDR, one of the key concerns of the SED leadership, was alleviated by agreements with the FRG that tripled the bulk contributions to the East German postal administration by the FRG. Similar agreements, financially advantageous to the GDR, improved the highway links to West Berlin. More significant, however, was the granting of bank credits amounting to DM2 billion to the GDR during 1983 and 1984. The CSU leader and minister president of Bavaria, Franz Josef Strauss, was the principal negotiator of these credit agreements.
At first, the credits appeared to yield positive results along the inner-German border, where mines and automatic guns, which had so long posed a deadly threat to East Germans attempting to flee to the FRG, were dismantled. Later, however, it became clear that these devices had been replaced by nearly impenetrable electronic warning systems and with trained dogs at certain sectors along the border. The order to shoot at refugees was not rescinded but remained in effect almost until the end of the GDR regime. Also remaining in effect were strict controls for West German citizens at GDR border crossings and on transit routes to and from West Berlin, although there were no further reports of people being abused at border checkpoints.
However much relations improved between the two states in some areas, the stance of the SED leadership toward the FRG’s NATO membership remained hostile. Harsh attacks in the East German press labeling the FRG as an “American missile launcher” became more frequent during the debates on the stationing of Pershing II and cruise missiles. On occasion, high-level official visits were canceled to signal the GDR’s opposition to Western military policies. The FRG responded in kind. For example, Federal President Karl Carstens (1979-84) did not attend as planned the East German celebrations on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther in 1983.
In October 1987, when the two superpowers were striving for détente and disarmament and the relations between the two Germanys were cordial, Honecker visited Bonn as the GDR head of state. The visit, postponed several times, was in response to Chancellor Schmidt’s visit to East Germany in 1981. Honecker was in the West German capital for an “official working meeting.” He signed agreements for cooperation in the areas of science and technology, as well as environmental protection. Honecker’s statement that the border dividing the two Germanys would one day be seen as a line “connecting” the two states, similar to the border between the GDR and Poland, attracted thoughtful public attention in the West. Honecker was cordially received by members of the government, in the words of Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker (1984-94), as a “German among Germans.” However, at various stages of the visit–which subsequently took him to several federal states, including his native Saarland–large numbers of demonstrators chanted, “The wall must go.”
The East German media coverage of the visit provided the opportunity for Chancellor Kohl to speak to “all the people in Germany” and to call for the breaking down of barriers “in accordance with the wishes of the German people.” Although the visit yielded no immediate concrete results and Honecker’s hopes of increased political recognition for the GDR were not realized, a dialogue had begun that could make the division of Germany more bearable for the people involved. As of late 1987, however, there was still little hope of overcoming the division itself.
The Peace Movement and Internal Resistance
The GDR leadership welcomed protests against weapons and war as long as they occurred in the FRG. However, when a small group of East German pacifists advocating the conversion of “swords into plowshares” demonstrated in 1981 against the presence of Soviet missiles on GDR soil, as well as against the destruction of the environment by the dumping of industrial waste and the use of nuclear power generally, they were arrested, prosecuted, and in some cases expelled from the GDR. Church organizations in the GDR–considered subversive by their mere existence–and individual pastors who protected and defended demonstrators at risk to their own safety became targets of increased surveillance by the Stasi, as did individual churchgoers, who by 1988 were frequently arrested and interrogated.
The mounting nervousness of the GDR leadership became evident in June 1987 when large crowds of East Berlin youth gathered on their side of the Wall, along with young people from all over the GDR, to hear two rock concerts being held in West Berlin near the Reichstag building. When the crowd broke into frenzied cries for freedom and unification, police cleared the area, arresting and forcibly removing Western news reporters filming the incident.
In the local elections of May 17, 1989, the “united list” led by the SED received 98.9 percent of the vote, obviously the result of massive manipulation, which enraged large segments of the population who had previously remained silent. In the next months, persistent public complaints against the prevailing living conditions and lack of basic freedoms, voiced by church groups and by opposition groups, inspired the population to take to the streets in large numbers. The largest of the new opposition groups was the New Forum, founded in September 1989 by Bärbel Bohley, Jens Reich, and others.
During the fall of 1989, mass demonstrations of several hundred thousand people were taking place, first in what soon became traditional Monday demonstrations in Leipzig and later in Berlin and other large cities. For the first time, GDR rulers realized that they were losing control: the demonstrations were too massive to be quelled by intimidation or even mass arrests; and shooting at the demonstrators was out of the question because of the sheer size of the crowds and the absence of Soviet support for draconian measures.
Beginning in the summer of 1989, the regime was threatened by another development. Among the thousands of GDR citizens that traveled by car on “vacation” to the socialist “brother country” Hungary, some 600 were successful in crossing illegally into Austria, where they were enthusiastically welcomed before traveling on to the FRG. Others wanting to escape the GDR took refuge in the embassies of the FRG in Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw. On September 11, Hungary legalized travel over the border to Austria for GDR citizens heading for the FRG, enabling 15,000 to take this route within a few days. Eventually, the GDR leadership was forced to allow special trains to carry thousands of GDR refugees who had received permission to emigrate to the West after taking sanctuary in the FRG’s embassies in Prague and Warsaw. As the trains traveled through the GDR, many more refugees tried to climb aboard, so the government refused to further allow such transports.
The Last Days of East Germany
In January 1988, Honecker paid a state visit to France. By all indications, the long stretch of international isolation appeared to have been successfully overcome. The GDR finally seemed to be taking its long-sought place among the international community of nations. In the minds of the GDR’s old-guard communists, the long-awaited international political recognition was seen as a favorable omen that seemed to coincide symbolically with the fortieth anniversary of the East German state.
In spite of Honecker’s declaration as late as January 1989 that “The Wall will still stand in fifty and also in a hundred years,” the effects of glasnost and perestroika had begun to be evident in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe. Although the GDR leadership tried to deny the reality of these developments, for most East Germans the reforms of Soviet leader Gorbachev were symbols of a new era that would inevitably also reach the GDR. The GDR leadership’s frantic attempts to block the news coming out of the Soviet Union by preventing the distribution of Russian newsmagazines only strengthened growing protest within the population.
In Berlin, on October 7, the GDR leadership celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the East German state. In his address, Honecker sharply condemned the FRG for interfering in the GDR’s internal affairs and for encouraging protesters. Still convinced of his mission to secure the survival of the GDR as a state, he proclaimed: “Socialism will be halted in its course neither by ox, nor ass.” The prophetic retort by Gorbachev, honored guest at the celebrations, as quoted to the international press, more accurately reflected imminent realities: “He who comes too late will suffer the consequences of history.”
The consequences of not having held in check the earlier large demonstrations against the regime’s inflexibility came two days later when 70,000 protesters shouting “We are the people” demonstrated in Leipzig. When the police took no action during these historic hours of October 9, 1989, it became clear to everyone that the days of the GDR were numbered. After the crowds in Leipzig reached over 100,000 protesters on October 16, the Central Committee of the SED–previously kept in the background by Honecker and his comrades in the party leadership–took control. Honecker resigned from his offices as head of state and party leader on October 18.
Egon Krenz, longtime member of the Politburo and FDJ chairman, became Honecker’s successor as general secretary of the SED. On October 24, Krenz also assumed the chairmanship of the Council of State. On his orders, all police actions against demonstrators were discontinued. On November 4, the largest demonstration in GDR history took place, with over 1 million people in East Berlin demanding democracy and free elections. Confronted with this wave of popular opposition, the GDR government, under Prime Minister Willi Stoph, resigned on November 7. The Politburo followed suit on November 8. Finally, on the evening of November 9, Politburo member Günter Schabowski announced the opening of the border crossings into the FRG.
Opening of the Berlin Wall and Unification
November 9, 1989, will be remembered as one of the great moments of German history. On that day, the dreadful Berlin Wall, which for twenty-eight years had been the symbol of German division, cutting through the heart of the old capital city, was unexpectedly opened by GDR border police. In joyful disbelief, Germans from both sides climbed up on the Wall, which had been called “the ugliest edifice in the world.” They embraced each other and sang and danced in the streets. Some began chiseling away chips of the Wall as if to have a personal hand in tearing it down, or at least to carry away a piece of German history. East Germans immediately began pouring into West Germany. Within a few days, over 1 million persons per day had seized the chance to see their western neighbor firsthand.
On November 13, Hans Modrow was elected minister president of the GDR. After Chancellor Kohl had presented his Ten-Point Plan for the step-by-step unification of Germany to the Bundestag on November 28, the Volkskammer struck the leadership role of the SED from the constitution of the GDR on December 1. The SED Politburo resigned on December 3, and Krenz stepped down as chairman of the Council of State on December 6. One day later, the Round Table talks started among the SED, the GDR’s other political parties, and the opposition. On December 22, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was opened for pedestrian traffic.
During January 1990, negotiations at the Round Table continued. Free elections to the Volkskammer were scheduled for March 18. The conservative opposition, under CDU leadership, waged a joint campaign under the banner of the Alliance for Germany, consisting of the CDU, the German Social Union (Deutsche Soziale Union–DSU), a sister party of the CSU, and the Democratic Awakening (Demokratischer Aufbruch–DA). The elections on March 18 produced a clear majority for the Alliance for Germany. On April 12, a CDU politician, Lothar de Maizière, was elected the new minister president.
The unusually poor showing of the SPD in these final East German elections may be explained by the party’s reluctance to support German unification and also by the fact that the public was aware of the close contacts that the SPD leadership had maintained with the SED over the years. The success of the conservative parties was repeated in the communal elections on May 6, which were seen as a correction to the manipulated vote of the previous year.
As a precondition for German unity, the Two-Plus-Four Talks among the two German governments and the four victorious powers of World War II began on May 5. Held in four sessions, the last of which was on September 12, the talks culminated in the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (the Two-Plus-Four Treaty). These talks settled questions relating to the eastern border of Germany, the strength of Germany’s military forces, and the schedule of Allied troop withdrawal from German soil.
During a visit to Moscow in early February, Chancellor Kohl had received assurances from Gorbachev that the Soviet Union would respect the wishes of both Germanys to unite. Kohl realized that in order to seize this historic opportunity for Germany, swift action and final determination were crucial. In a cordial meeting between Gorbachev and Chancellor Kohl on July 16, unified Germany’s membership in NATO and its full sovereignty were conceded by the Soviet president.
The first concrete step toward unification was the monetary, economic, and social union of West Germany and East Germany on July 1, as had been agreed in May in a treaty between the two German states. The monetary union introduced the deutsche mark into East Germany. Although there had been concern about the GDR’s precarious financial situation, the full extent of the disastrous consequences of forty years of communist rule only came to light in the summer of 1990. It was soon clear that the first massive aid package for the East German economy, comprising DM115 billion, was just the beginning of a long and expensive rebuilding of a country reduced to shambles by the SED.
Divided by futile discussions about the speed of unification, the new government coalition in East Berlin had begun to fall apart during July 1990, when its SPD members resigned. Persuaded by the mounting economic and social problems that unification was necessary, the Volkskammer finally agreed on October 3, 1990, as the date of German unification.
On the occasion of the first free elections in the GDR, Chancellor Kohl took the opportunity to publicly express his gratitude to the United States, which had been Germany’s most reliable ally during the process of unification. Once the first prerequisite for future unification had been established, namely, the willingness of Gorbachev to consider negotiations on unification in light of the dramatic events of the fall of 1989, the consent of the other victorious powers had to be secured.
Statements voicing concerns and even fears of a reemergence of an aggressive unified Germany suddenly appeared in the international press and media, as well as in unofficial remarks made by political figures throughout Europe. Even the FRG’s major NATO partners in Europe–Britain and France–had become rather comfortable with the prevailing situation, that is, being allied with an economically potent, but politically weak, semisovereign West Germany.
Although lip service in support of future unification of Germany was common in the postwar era, no one dreamed of its eventual realization. When the historic constellation allowing unification appeared, swift and decisive action on the part of Chancellor Kohl and the unwavering, strong support given by the United States government for the early completion of the unification process were key elements in surmounting the last hurdles during the final phase of the Two-Plus-Four Talks.
The unification treaty, consisting of more than 1,000 pages, was approved by a large majority in the Bundestag and the Volkskammer on September 20, 1990. After this last procedural step, nothing stood in the way of formal unification. At midnight on October 3, the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany. Unification celebrations were held all over Germany, especially in Berlin, where leading political figures from West and East joined the joyful crowds who filled the streets between the Reichstag building and Alexanderplatz to watch a fireworks display. Germans celebrated unity without a hint of nationalistic pathos, but with dignity and in an atmosphere reminiscent of a country fair. Yet the world realized that an historic epoch had come to a peaceful end.
The German economy–the fifth-largest in the world in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms and Europe’s largest–is a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and household equipment and benefits from a highly skilled labor force. Like its Western European neighbors, Germany faces significant demographic challenges to sustained long-term growth. Low fertility rates and declining net immigration are increasing pressure on the country’s social welfare system and have compelled the government to undertake structural reforms. The modernization and integration of the eastern German economy–where unemployment can exceed 20% in some municipalities–continues to be a costly long-term process, with total transfers from west to east amounting to roughly $3 trillion so far.
GDP contracted by nearly 5% in 2009, which was the steepest dropoff in output since World War II. The turnaround has been swift: Germany’s export-dependent economy is expected to grow by 3.5% in 2010 and a further 2% in 2011, with exports to emerging markets playing an increasingly important role. The German labor market also showed a strong performance in 2010, with the unemployment rate dropping to 7.5%, its lowest level in 17 years. Economists attribute the decrease in unemployment to the extensive use of government-sponsored “short-time” (Kurzarbeit) work programs, as well as to structural reforms implemented under the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Thanks to stronger-than-expected tax revenues, Germany’s deficit will reach €50 billion (U.S. $68.5 billion) in 2010, or roughly 4% of GDP, significantly less than previously forecast. The European Union (EU) has given Germany until 2013 to get its consolidated budget deficit below 3% of GDP, and a new constitutional amendment limits the federal government to structural deficits of no more than 0.35% of GDP per annum as of 2016. The government’s 4-year fiscal consolidation program worth approximately €80 billion (U.S. $109.6 billion) is intended to meet both targets. Positive economic trends make it likely that Germany may achieve its goals ahead of schedule.
GDP:$2.951 trillion (2010 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 3.3%
GDP – per capita: $35,900
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture:0.8%, industry: 27.9%, services: 71.3%
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
0.8% (1999 est.), 2% (2000 est.), 2.4% (2001), 1% (2010 est.)
Labor force: 41.9 million (2001), 43.35 million (2010 est.)
Labor force – by occupation:agriculture: 2.4%, industry: 29.7%, services: 67.8%
Unemployment rate: 10.5% (1999 est.), 9.4% (2001), 7.1% (2010 est.)
Industries: among the world’s largest and most technologically advanced producers of iron, steel, coal, cement, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, machine tools, electronics, food and beverages, shipbuilding, textiles
Agriculture – products: potatoes, wheat, barley, sugar beets, fruit, cabbages; cattle, pigs, poultry
Exports – commodities: machinery, vehicles, chemicals, metals and manufactures, foodstuffs, textiles
Exports – partners: France 10.2%, US 6.7%, Netherlands 6.7%, UK 6.6%, Italy 6.3%, Austria 6%, China 4.5%, Switzerland 4.4% (2009)
Imports – commodities: machinery, vehicles, chemicals, foodstuffs, textiles, metals
Imports – partners: Netherlands 8.5%, China 8.2%, France 8.2%, US 5.9%, Italy 5.9%, UK 4.9%, Belgium 4.3%, Austria 4.3%, Switzerland 4.2% (2009)
Exchange rates: euros per US dollar – 0.7715 (2010)