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History of Germany

History of Germany
Holy Roman Empire
German Confederation
German Empire
Weimar Republic
Nazi Germany
Germany since 1945

The history of Germany is, in places, extremely complicated and depends much on how one defines "Germany."

As a nation-state, Germany did not exist until 1871. Before the 19th century, Germany can only be looked at as a cultural region where many territories, with greatly varying independence, each had their own historical events and it was not entirely clear what area was part of Germany in the first place.

One of the main complications comes with the question of Austria. This state was dominant within the Holy Roman Empire, considered to be synonomous with "Germany" at the time and subsequently regarded by some as the First Reich, but Austria was completely excluded from the Prussian dominated German states founded from 1871 onwards and only incoporated into "Germany" for a brief period of 1938-1945. For the specific history see History of Austria

This article briefly outlines each period of German history only; details are presented in separate articles (see the links in the box and below).


The Germans and the Romans

See also Germania, Germania Inferior, Germania Superior

The most significant battle of the Roman period was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, in which Germanic tribes ambushed and wiped out three Roman Legions. After this the Romans never again seriously tried to expand their empire east of the Rhine river.

Much later in 407 the Germanic tribes who lived along the Rhine river (the Vandals, Burgundians, Alans and Suevi) crossed it and established a number of kingdoms in parts of modern-day France and Spain. However, these kingdoms did not last for long.

The kingdom of the Franks (which was established soon afterwards), however lasted over several centuries under the dynasties of the Merovingians and Carolingians. Under Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor in 800, the kingdom would span over most what is today France and Germany.

Holy Roman Empire

For details, see the main Holy Roman Empire article.

After the death of Frankish king Louis the Pious, the Frankish lands were divided in the Treaty of Verdun (843) into a western part, the basis of later France, an eastern part, the future Holy Roman Empire, and a central region (northern Italy, the Low Countries and Burgundy), which was to form the focus of subsequent Franco-German rivalry.

With the death of the last eastern ruler of Charlemagne's line 911, kingship passed first to Conrad of Franconia and then 919 to Henry the Fowler, founder of the Saxon dynasty, whose son Otto I the Great reclaimed the title of Emperor in 962. This strange empire, later called the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (Heiliges Römisches Reich deutscher Nation), was to survive under its Kaiser (emperor, the German form of "Caesar") until its dissolution in 1806 after the 1789 French Revolution and the military successes of Napoleon I of France.

The rise of Prussia and the German Confederation

After the collapse of the Empire in 1806 and Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, the sovereign German states formed a loose confederation, namely the German Confederation, which competed with the other two dominant players, Austria and Prussia.

In 1848, riots broke out in Berlin, and King Frederick William IV of Prussia was forced to promise the protesters a constitutional monarchy. A National Assembly was elected from all German states, which convened in Frankfurt and decided on a new constitution. By the time this was done, however, King Frederick William refused to take the crown of the new state. After this, Germany would only be united because of the pressure of a military leadership from Prussia.

German Empire (1871–1918)

Prussia's had many military successes, such as the Battle of Königgrätz against Austria and in the Franco-Prussian War. This led to the formation of Germany as a nation-state under its dominant lead. The German Empire was proclaimed in 18 January 1871 in Versailles.

Although it had a parliament, the Chancellor of Germany was appointed by the emperor.

The time of the Empire was one of great economic growth through industrialization, but also rising nationalism and militarism. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I held Germany responsible for its outbreak, and transferred significant area of its territory in the east and west to its neighbours. Germany's colonial possessions were also taken from her.

Weimar Republic (1919–1933)

For details, see the main Weimar Republic article.

The postwar Weimar Republic (1919–1933) was an attempt to establish a peaceful, liberal democratic regime in Germany. However, government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed by economic problems and the inherent organizational weakness of the Weimar constitution.

In the early years, successive revolts from both left and right (1919–1923) and hyperinflation in 1923 had to be defeated. Over the following years conditions improved with the relaxation of reparation payments and improved relations with Germany's former enemies. A succession of coalition governments restored a substantial degree of order and prosperity until the onset of the Great Depression in 1930.

The new economic decline combined with memories of the 1923 hyperinflation and nationalist opposition stemming from the Draconian conditions of the Treaty of Versailles undermined the Weimar government from inside and out. Adolf Hitler and his "National Socialist German Workers' Party" (NSDAP, or Nazis) capitalized on this and on the growing unemployment. Stressing nationalist and racial themes and promising to put the unemployed back to work, the Nazis blamed many of Germany's ills on alleged Jewish conspiracies, even claiming that the first World War was lost because of treason from within (the so-called Dolchstoßlegende).

Nazism's rise and defeat (1933–1945)

For details, see the main Nazi Germany article.

After the NSDAP had gained the relative majority of the popular vote in two 1932 general elections, Adolf Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) by President Paul von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, with the help of monarchists, industrial magnates and conservatives like the Nationalist Party (DNVP). After Hindenburg's death (August 1934), Hitler combined the Presidency and Chancellorship as Führer (leader) of Germany. Once in power, Hitler and his party first undermined then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties as they established their "Third Reich"; see Gleichschaltung for details.

In six years, the Nazi regime prepared the country for World War II and enforced discriminatory laws against Jews and others of alleged non-German origin. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population in Nazi Germany and later in the occupied countries through forced deportation and, ultimately, genocide known as the Holocaust. A similar policy applied to the Roma and Sinti.

After annexing first Austria (March 1938) and then the Sudeten border country of Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and taking over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate) (March 1939), Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 invaded Poland.

By 1945, Germany and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) were defeated – chiefly by the united forces of USA, Britain and the Soviet Union. Much of Europe lay in ruins, tens of millions of people had been killed, most of them civilians, as the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust and many millions of people in the conquered territories. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructures, led to its division, considerable loss of territory in the East and left a humiliating legacy.

Germany since 1945

For details, see the main History of Germany since 1945 article.

Germans frequently refer to 1945 as the Stunde Null (zero hour) to describe the near-total collapse of their country. At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones by the Allies; the three western zones would form the Federal Republic of Germany (commonly known as West Germany), while the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (commonly known as East Germany), both founded in 1949.

Willy Brandt became Chancellor of West Germany in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between West and East Germany. The Red Army Faction carried out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s.

After the fall of Communism in Europe, Germany was reunited on 3 October, 1990; together with France, the new Germany is playing the leading role in the European Union. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defence and security apparatus. The Chancellor recently also claimed a permanent seat for Germany in the UN Security Council, identifying France, Russia and Japan as countries that explicitly backed Germany's bid.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45