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Long divided into a number of autonomous states, Germany was slow to achieve unity. This nation of great diversity, which was for a long time marked by feudalism and whose regions still hold considerable powers, is today one of the main spearheads of European unity.


Time Line

Germans and Romans

The earliest evidence of human life on German territory today is the lower jaw bone dating back over 500 000 years of the so-called Homo heidelbergensis , which was discovered near Heidelberg in 1907. The Middle Paleolithic Age (200 000–40 000 BC) is considered the age of the Neanderthal Man. The first “modern people”, the Homo sapiens, who survived on fishing, hunting and gathering, lived during the Late Paleolithic, an epoch of the Stone Age within the last Ice Age. During the Neolithic Era, people began to settle in village-like communities, where they lived for a while, grew plants and began raising animals.

The last prehistoric period, the Iron Age, began around 1000 BC, following the Bronze Age, thus named because that material was widely used to make implements, weapons and jewelry. The Iron Age is divided up into the La Tène Culture and the Hallstatt Culture. Economic and political power started becoming more concentrated, evidence from graves suggests a stratified social system.

In the first millennium before Christ, Germanic tribes began resettling towards Central Europe. The occurrence and extent of this movement was under the auspices of numerous population groups of various origins and cultural levels living in the area between the northern German flatlands and the central mountain ranges. The first written reference to “Germania” is in the works of the Roman author Poseidonius (1C BC). Julilus Caesar, too, used this term in his De Bello Gallico to describe the non-Gallic regions north of the Alps.

The wars conducted by the Kimbers and the Teutons against the Romans around 100 BC were the first military conflicts between German tribes and the Roman civilization. The expansion of the western German tribes was stopped by Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (58–55 BC). The aims of foreign policy until Emperor Augustus also covered the inclusion of Germania into the Roman Empire all the way to the Elbe, an objective that was never met.

During the 1C AD, the Limes was built: A 550km/341.7mi fortified line that sealed the Roman sphere of influence from the Rhine to the Danube. Skirmishes did break out every now and then, but there were also alliances, trade and cultural exchanges. New towns arose where Roman camps stood and at river crossings (e.g. Cologne, Koblenz, Regensburg).

In the 2C–3C AD, large tribes like the Franks, the Saxons and the Alemanni joined forces. The military kingdoms of the age of mass migration gave way to early medieval states.

AD 9 Three Roman legions under General Varus are annihilated by Germanic troops under prince Arminius , resulting in Roman relinquishment of bastions on the Rhine.

314 One year after announcing the Edict of Tolerance, Emperor Constantine establishes the first German bishopric, in Trier.

375 Beginning of the Völkerwanderung , the “movement of the peoples”: The Huns drive the Goths (eastern Germans) to the west. The former Imperium Romanum breaks into partial empires.

800 End of the West Roman Empire brought about by German general Odoaker, who is in turn murdered by the Ostrogoth Theodorich.

The Frankish Empire

The tribal union of the Franks expanded slowly south. Their king, Clovis I, eliminated the remains of the West Roman Empire and adopted Christianity. In the 7C, the Merovingians lost their hegemony to the Carolingians, formerly the highest royal officials under the Merovingians.

Since the 8C, the general term thiutisk developed from a derivation of the word for tribe to describe the peoples speaking Germanic languages. There was still no supra-regional language spoken to the east of the Rhine, the area of the Franks, until the 11C. In the 10C, the term Regnum Teutonicorum appeared for the first time in relation to the Eastern Frankish tribes. During the 11C and 12C it slowly established itself as a term.

751 Pope Zacharias agrees to the deposition of the last of the Merovingian kings, Childeric III, in favor of the palatine Pippin. Three years later the Pope places Rome under the protection of the Frankish kings.

768 Charlemagne becomes ruler. He conquers, among others, the Lombards, divides up Bavaria and defeats the Saxons after a long war.

800 Coronation of Charlemagne in Rome. The emperor legally assumes sovereignty over the former empire.

843 The Treaty of Verdun divides the Carolingian Empire among Charlemagne’s grandchildren. The East Frankish Kingdom is given to Ludwig the German. The final division, determined by the treaties of Mersen (870) and Verdun/Ribemont (879–80), would evolve into Germany and France

911 The East Franks elect the Frankish duke Konrad to become their king, separating themselves from the West Franks.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire consisted of an elective monarchy in which the king was crowned emperor by the Pope. From the 11C onwards, the emperor could rely on being king of not only Germany and Italy, but also of Burgundy. An especially “German” Imperial concept gave way to a Roman-universal idea of an emperor, a fact underscored in 1157 by the additional title sacrum Imperium . During the time of the Staufer dynasty, in the mid-13C, the claim to rule in Italy came to an end. In the 15C, the term “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” was finally established, implying the politically active community of the German Imperial estates, who acted as a counterweight to the emperor.

Ruling this empire, which during the High Middle Ages stretched from Sicily to the Baltic, was difficult without central administration and technical, financial and military wherewithal. By granting land and privileges (e.g. customs rights), administrative responsibility, security and imperial expansion were domains of the aristocracy.

Beginning in the second half of the 11C, the Investiture Controversy pitted the Pope against the Emperor on the issue of the right to invest bishops. This weakened the empire and shook up Christianity. The dispute ended with the Concordat of Worms (1122), declaring that ecclesiastical dignitaries had to be separated from worldly goods. The position of the bishops became similar to that of the princes, since they became vassals of the empire.

These vassals gradually accumulated more power owing to the heredity laws of the fiefs and regalia. In the long term this weakened the empire, paving the way to the rise of numerous territorial states. The regional princely territorial states replaced the personal union state.

962 In Rome, Otto the Great, having been crowned king in 936, is crowned emperor by the Pope. The Ottonian dynasty rules until the death of Henry II in 1024, and is followed by that of the Salians (Franks).

1073 Pope Gregory VII elected. The reformer disputes the role of secular power in the church. The crux of the conflict was the penitent journey to Canossa (1077) by King Heinrich IV to receive absolution from the Pope, who had excommunicated him.

1152–90 Rule of the Staufer emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, who strengthens Imperial power (Restauratio Imperii) and captures the duchies of Bavaria and Saxony from the Guelph duke Henry the Lion . He also strives to limit papal power.

1212–50 Frederick II stays in southern Italy and Sicily for much of his reign, holding little interest in the area north of the Alps. Two Imperial edicts (1220–31) confirm the power over the territories of the secular and religious princes.

1254–73 The years between the death of Konrad IV and the election of Rudolf of Habsburg are known as the Interregnum . It is a time of lawlessness under “foreign” kings and anti-kings, finally eliminating the empire’s power in the High Middle Ages.

The Late Middle Ages

After the Interregnum, the power of the Habsburgs grew. Building up and consolidating family power by the 15C though the Luxembourg, Nassau and Wittelsbach families occasionally won the throne. The emperors tried to have a son elected king during their lifetime in order to maintain the ranking of their own dynasties. But during the Renaissance, the Imperial crown surrendered its holiness.

In the Late Middle Ages, the “Hoftage”, or Imperial meetings, became the Reichstag , a meeting of 350 secular and religious Imperial estates, foreshadowing a sharp dualism between the emperor and his estates. At the Reichstag in Worms (1495), fundamental reforms created the preconditions for transforming the Reich into a unified legal and pacified territory. The proclamation of the Ewiger Landfrieden (eternal peace in the land) prohibited personal feuds, favoring a new legal basis. A Permanent Imperial Chamber Court ensured compliance. After a long debate, financial reform was pushed through raising the Common Penny , a combination of wealth tax, income tax and poll tax. Later Reichstage divided up the empire into administrative units—the Reichskreise, or Imperial districts. In 1663, the Permanent Reichstag was set up in Regensburg .

Inspired by the Humanists, the concept of a “German nation” began to arise politically as well as culturally, legitimized by the rediscovery of literary monuments such as “Germania” by Tacitus. Until around 1500, Europeans spoke of the Deutsche Lande (German lands); after 1500 the term “Deutschland” in the singular became common.

1273 After a warning from the Pope, electors choose as king Count Rudolf of Habsburg (dynastic power in the Breisgau, Alsace and Aargau).

1346–78 Charles IV of Luxembourg emerges as the most important ruler of the Late Middle Ages.

1386 Founding of the University of Heidelberg, Germany’s first.

1414–18 Council of Constance; the largest church meeting of the Middle Ages to date.

1438 After the death of the last Luxembourg emperor, the electors choose the Habsburg duke Albrecht V to become King Albrecht II.

c. 1450 Invention of movable type printing by Johann Gutenberg from Mainz; flourishing and spread of Humanism.

1452 During a military campaign by Frederick III, the last imperial coronation takes place in Rome.

1493 Maximilian I becomes king. As of 1508 he is the “elected Roman Emperor”. His successors adopt the Imperial title immediately after the royal coronation in Aachen, avoiding the difficult and dangerous journey to Rome.

1519–56 Emperor Charles V, Maximilian’s grandchild, gathers more power during his term than any ruler since the Carolingians.

The Reformation and the Thirty Years‘ War

In 1503, Martin Luther (1483–1546) entered the Augustinian monastery of Erfurt. A dedicated cleric, he was tormented by the problem of salvation. Appointed Professor of Theology in Wittenberg (1512–17), he found in the Holy Scriptures his answer: “We cannot earn forgiveness for our sins through our deeds, only God’s mercy justifies us in our faith in it.” Man’s salvation, Luther argued, lies entirely within the grace of God. This concept led him to attack the Church’s dealing in indulgences. On October 31, 1517, he nailed to the doors of Wittenberg Church his “95 Theses” condemning such practices and reminding the faithful of the importance of Christ’s sacrifice and the Grace of God. Luther disagreed with Catholicism’s prescribed acts of atonement (confession, monetary contributions) as the only way to achieve salvation. He condemned the priest’s role as “mediator” between man and God, advocating instead the “direct line” approach: man and God alone.

Luther was denounced in the court of Rome, refused to recant, and in 1520 burned the Papal Bull threatening him with excommunication. Subsequently he attacked the institutions of the Church. He objected to the primacy of the clergy in spiritual matters, arguing the universal priesthood of Christians conferred by baptism.

Refusing again to recant before the Diet of Worms (1521), where he had been summoned by Charles V, Luther was placed under a ban of the Empire and his works were condemned.

The patronage of Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony, enabled the reformer to seek refuge in Wartburg Castle where he translated the Bible from Latin into “everyday” German, making God’s Word available to the German-speaking layperson. Indeed, his translation of the Bible is considered the first literary work in modern German. Luther’s Bible and 95 Theses were a direct cause of the ensuing split of the Protestants from Roman Catholicism.

The Council of Trent (1545-63) resulted in the renewal of Catholicism and the Counter Reformation, which was resolutely supported by the Emperor. The internal struggles of the Protestants and the feud between Rudolf II and his brother Matthias ended the Peace of Augsburg. The Protestant Union led by the Electorate of the Palatinate now faced the Catholic League with the Duchy of Bavaria at its head. The Bohemian Rebellion of 1618 led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years‘ War, which began as a religious conflict and soon engulfed all of Europe.

The war, which was almost exclusively fought on German territory, devastated the land, caused general havoc, left cities in rubble and ruined economic life in the countryside. By the end of the war, only individual territorial states showed some gain in authority; the empire’s significance dwindled.

1530 Invited by Charles V to Augsburg, theologians of the opposing faiths fail to agree. Luther’s assistant, Melanchthon, draws up the “Confession of Augsburg,” the charter of Protestantism.

1555 The Peace of Augsburg establishes a compromise, and Lutheran Protestantism is recognized as equal to Catholicism. The empire loses its sovereignty over religious matters to the territories.

1618 The Bohemian estates refuse to recognize Archduke Ferdinand, the successor of Emperor Matthias, as the Bohemian king. Instead, they elect the Protestant Elector Frederick V from the Palatinate to be their ruler. After the Defenestration of Prague in May (when the Bohemian king’s representatives were thrown out of a window by nobles protesting reduced privileges), the situation intensifiea and leads to the Thirty Years‘ War.

1618–23 The first phase of the war (Bohemian-Palatinate War) is decided by the defeat of Frederick V at the battle of Weißer Berg in 1620 against an army commanded by Tilly.

1625–29 Phase two (the Danish-Dutch War) ends with Denmark’s Protestant soldiers defeated by Imperial troops under Wallenstein.

1630–35 Sweden enters the war on the Protestant side (Swedish War). King Gustav Adolph II dies in battle near Lützen.

1635–48 France, under the leadership of Richelieu, participates in the alliance with Bernhard von Weimar (French-Swedish War).

1648 Peace of Westphalia: peace treaty in Münster and Osnabrück after five years of negotiations.

1688–97 Palatinate War of Succession. Louis XIV lays claim to the left bank of the Rhine; French troops under Louvois devastate the Palatinate.

The Rise of Prussia

In 1415, Burgrave Frederick of Hohenzollern was granted the Electorate of Brandenburg. The Duchy of Prussia, 203 years later, also came under the authority of his dynasty. Frederick William (1640–88), the Great Elector, turned the small country into the strongest, best-governed northern German state thanks to successful power policies, deprivation of the estates’ power, a centralized administration and the creation of a standing army. He also expanded the country, adding eastern Pomerania, which he received in the Peace of Westphalia: two peace treaties which ended the Thirty Years’ War. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France, thousands of Huguenots fled to Brandenburg and built up the economic basis of Berlin.

His grandson, King Frederick William I continued his efforts by laying the foundations to a Prussian military and official state. Fulfillment of one’s duty, industriousness, economy and strict discipline were aspects inspired by the “Soldier King”.

His son, Frederick the Great (1740–86), took the throne in a country with an exemplary administration, and within a few years it became the second imperial power. The Silesian War and the Seven Years‘ War won him Silesia, and the division of Poland extended his power eastwards. This connoisseur of music and literature, the friend and correspondent of Voltaire, was considered an “enlightened ruler” and had a high reputation among European scholars. The rule of “Old Fritz” left Prussia with a well organized administration and a close relationship between the king and the nobles, all cornerstones of Prussian power.

1701 Elector Frederick III is crowned Frederick I King of Prussia in Königsberg.

1740–48 War of Austrian Succession/Silesian Wars: The legality of the Pragmatic Sanction (1713) pronounced by Charles VI is disputed. The war is triggered by Frederick II’s troops marching into Silesia.

1756–63 Prussia joins forces with England against the Emperor during the Seven Years‘ War. By the end of the war, Prussia is the fifth European power; the system of power will guide Europe until World War I.

The Way to a German National State

Since 1792, war had raged between France and the other powers of Europe. The Peace of Lunéville, signed in 1801, resulted in the loss of German territories on the left bank of the Rhine. The Decision of the Deputation of German Estates (1803) destroyed the political and legal foundations of the old Empire. Bavaria, Prussia, Baden and Württemberg benefitted, gaining territory, while the latter two received Elector ranking. Sixteen of the southern and western German states left the Imperial Union and founded the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 in Paris under the protection of France.

At the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) leaders discussed the geographical reorganization, including restoration of the political status quo of 1792, legitimization of the Ancien Régime , and solidarity among the princes in combating revolutionary ideas and movements.

Since the 18C, literature, philosophy, art and music had melded, giving rise to a single German culture that preceded patriotism. The ideals of the French Revolution, the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the experience of French occupation and other reforms led to the growth of a 19C movement toward a free, unified German national state. One important stage on the way to unity was an economic one: the foundation of the German Zollverein (Customs Union) at the behest of Prussia.

On March 31, 1848, a pre-Parliament met in Frankfurt and held a National Convention, which opened on May 18 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. The aim was to pass a liberal constitution and consideration of the future German state. On the table were the Greater German Solution, with the Habsburg empire under Austrian leadership; and the Smaller German Solution, i.e. without Austria, but with a Hohenzollern emperor at the top. The latter was finally voted in. However, Prussian King Frederick William IV refused the Imperial crown brought to him by a delegate from the Paulskirche Parliament.

Otto von Bismarck , appointed Minister-President of Prussia in 1862, needed only eight years to bring about unification under Prussian rule. With the loyalty of an elite bourgeoisie created by the advances of industry and science, and aided by the neutrality of Napoléon III, he pursued a policy of war aggressively. After joining forces with Austria in defeating Denmark in 1864, Prussia declared war on her German ally and defeated the Imperial troops at the battle of Sadowa, thus ending Austrian-Prussian dualism for good. A year later, Bismarck created the North German Alliance, including all German states north of the River Main; Hannover, Hessen and Schleswig-Holstein already belonged to Prussia. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 completed the task of unification.

1806 Napoleon marches into Berlin. Emperor Francis II of Austria surrenders the Imperial Crown ending the Holy Roman Empire going back to Charlemagne.

1813 Prussia commands the Coalition in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, who is defeated in the Battle of Nations at Leipzig.

181415 Congress of Vienna establishes the German Confederation; Holy Alliance between Russia, Prussia and Austria.

1819 The Decisions of Karlsbad include press censorship, prohibitions of fraternities, monitoring of universities.

1833–34 Founding of the German Customs Union ( Zollverein ), an economic unification of most German states—except Austria—led by Prussia.

1835 First German railway line opens between Nuremberg and Fürth.

1848 Unrest in France in February spreads to Mannheim and then, in March, to all German states. But the “March Revolution” quickly turns into a bourgeois reform movement.

The German Empire (1871–1918)

The immediate cause of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 was the claim by the House of Hohenzollern (Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen) to the Spanish throne. Bismarck succeeded in kindling national pride on both sides of the border. France then declared war on Prussia. The southern states united with the states of the North German Union led by Prussia. The German princes all stood against France as they had signed secret alliances with Prussia. After the victory of Sedan (September 2), the southern states opened negotiations with Prussia on the issue of German unification.

The first years following the founding of the German Reich in 1871 were marked by an exceptional economic boom, the Gründerzeit , financed in part by the receipt of five billion francs in French war reparations. The advantages of the larger boundary-free economic area and efforts to standardize coins, measures and weights combined to create rapid growth in the financial, industrial, construction and traffic sectors.

1871 On January 18, William I is crowned German Emperor in the Mirror Room of Versailles. Imperial Germany, enlarged by the acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine, remains in theory a federation, but is in fact under Prussian domination. Germany is transformed from an agricultural to an industrial economy.

1888 William II succeeds his father Frederick III’s brief reign.

1890 After numerous altercations, the Emperor forces Bismarck’s resignation. The Emperor’s unabashed expansionary policies and dangerous foreign policy provokes the enmity of England, Russia and France.

World War I and the Weimar Republic

The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 unleashed an intense international reaction. Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia mobilized the great powers of Europe. Germany launched into wars on two fronts: German troops moved into France, halting only once they reached the River Marne; in the east, German troops invaded large sections of Russian territory.

1914 Germany declares war on France and Russia on August 3.

1917 The armistice agreed with Russia is shattered by revolution. The USA enters the war after Germany declares indiscriminate submarine warfare.

1918 On October 28–29, the sailors of the German naval fleet at Wilhelmshaven raise up in mutiny. Revolution erupts in Germany, with workers’ and soldiers’ councils springing up throughout the land. The revolution is suppressed by the provisional government under Friedrich Ebert with the support of military supreme command. On November 9, William II abdicates and Philipp Scheidemann proclaims the German Republic in Berlin. Two days later, Matthias Erzberger signs the armistice at Compiègne.

After the November revolution, which dwindled in early 1919 due to the unrest caused by the Spartacists, the model of a liberal democratic state with a strong president was established. On August 11, 1919, Germany adopted a Republican Constitution in Weimar, where the National Convention was meeting. This “republic without republicans” shouldered the burden of the Treaty of Versailles, which took effect in 1920: Acceptance of responsibility for the war, diminution of national territory (including important agricultural and industrial areas), loss of colonies, demilitarization and high reparations.

The only truly republican parties accepting the constitution, the SPD (Social Democrats), the Center Party, and the DDP (German Democratic Party) had a parliamentary majority after 1920. The Weimar Republic had 16 government changes, an average of one every eight-and-a-half months. Galloping inflation erupted, brought about by economic crisis, difficulties in relaunching the industrial sector and by high government debt: the bourgeoisie was ruined, and all financial assets except real estate were worthless.

Germany experienced an economic upswing and relative tranquility from 1924 to 1929 in spite of major economic burdens and high unemployment. The Dawes Plan can be credited with those successes; it managed German reparations, ended the French occupation of the Ruhr and committed to capital investment. Germany was even accepted into the League of Nations (1926) during the incumbency of Chancellor and Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann. A year earlier in Locarno, Germany and France signed a pact pledging not to use violent means to revise borders—a corresponding agreement could not be signed for the eastern borders.

However, the world economic crisis hit the Weimar Republic in 1929. High foreign debt, sharp export declines, inflation, and dramatic unemployment all led to the rise of radical political parties, especially the German National Socialist Worker’s Party, after 1930. They presented a theory that solving social problems would require a people’s community, or “Volksgemeinschaft,” based on race. Nazi storm-troops and Communist groups increasingly fought in the street. Social elites and the business community saw in Adolf Hitler a bulwark against Communism: on January 30, 1933, Hitler was named Chancellor of the Reich by President Von Hindenburg; it was the end of the Weimar Republic.

1919 The National Convention meets in Weimar, Friedrich Ebert (SPD) is named its first President (February 11); Versailles Peace Treaty is signed (June 28).

1923 Occupation of the Ruhr region on January 11 by France, because of Germany’s failure to make reparation payments. The NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party) attempts a coup in Munich on November 8-9 led by Adolf Hitler, who had joined the party in 1919. The coup is foiled, Hitler is jailed but released in 1924.

1925 After the death of Friedrich Ebert, former Field Marshall General Paul von Hindenburg is elected President of the Republic.

1930 An electoral defeat in the Reichstag (Parliament) ushers in several presidial cabinets (Brüning, Von Papen, Von Schleicher), i.e. governments without parliamentary majorities.

1932 At the Reichstag elections in July, the NSDAP assumes leadership with almost 38% of the votes. Together with the Communists, the Nazis have an absolute majority, which lets the radical parties block all other parliamentary minorities.

The nazi dictatorship and World War II

No sooner had the NSDAP taken power under Hitler than it began to organize a totalitarian dictatorship and eliminate all democratic rules. In a climate of propaganda, intimidation and terror on the part of the SA, SS and Gestapo, all parties, associations and social organizations were liquidated or dissolved, with the exception of the churches. The NSDAP was declared the sole legal party. Opponents were thrown into concentration camps and murdered. Their power and societal control allowed the party to penetrate every level of state government. Competing authorities and rivalries quietly coexisted, but art and literature were subjected to censorship, forcing numerous artists into exile.

The Nuremberg Laws promulgated at the Reich party rally (September 1935) codified Jewish persecution on racist grounds; prohibitions, loss of civil rights and mass arrests were the instruments of the anti-Semitic ideology. As early as April 1, 1933, the NSDAP had ordered a “boycott of the Jews,” initiating the gradual exclusion of Germany’s 500 000 Jews from public life. In the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis organized a pogrom (Reichskristallnacht) during which synagogues, Jewish homes and shops were damaged or destroyed.

The improved worldwide economic situation helped reduce unemployment as did a program of public works (autobahns, drainage schemes), a policy of rearmament and the recruitment of youth into para-governmental organizations. The National Socialist Reich stood at the zenith of its power: materially speaking and otherwise, many Germans had profited up until that point.

The assault on Poland on September 1, 1939, launched World War II . German preparations for an annihilation war had been underway since 1936 in the hopes of eliminating other peoples and creating a European area dominated by Aryan Eurasians. But the war reached German civilians as soon as the British and the Americans began dropping explosive and incendiary bombs on war-related and residential targets. By the end of the war, Germany lay in ruins, the bulk of the inhabitants suffered from under-nourishment and millions had been driven out of the eastern regions. With the liberation of the concentration camps, the world discovered with what cruelty and meticulousness the Nazis had carried out their policy of genocide against the Jews.

Germany from post-war 1945 to the present

1945 Germany and Berlin are divided into four zones of occupation. According to the agreement, American and British forces pull out of Saxony, Thuringia and Mecklenburg and redeploy in the western sector of Berlin. At the Potsdam Conference the victorious powers decide to demilitarize and democratize Germany and administer it jointly.

1946 Amalgamation of the British and American zones.

1948 End of the Four-Power administration of Germany after the Soviet delegate leaves the Allied Control Council (March 20). Soviet blockade of the western sectors of Berlin, the city is supplied by the airlift.

1949 Creation (May 23) of the Federal Republic in the three western zones. The Soviet zone becomes (October 7) the German Democratic Republic.

Under Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor until 1963, and Ludwig Erhard, Minister of Economic Affairs, the Federal Republic enjoys a spectacular economic rebirth and re-establishes normal international relations.

1952 Soviet leadership offers to create a single, neutral, democratic Germany, a reunification initiative which fails.

1961 Construction of the “Berlin Wall” begins (August 12–13).

1972 Signature of a treaty between the two Germanies (East and West), a milestone in Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of openness toward the East ( Ostpolitik) .


Reunification: the Fall of the Berlin Wall

1989 Citizens of East Germany occupy West German embassies in Prague, Budapest and Warsaw with the aim of traveling to West Germany. The opening of the border between Austria and Hungary launches an East German mass migration. On November 4 the largest demonstration ever brings together over one million people in East Berlin. On the night of November 9–10, the internal German border is opened, the Wall is breached. On December 7, the Round Table meets for the first time as an institution of public control, with representatives from the political parties and the citizens’ movements.

1990 Treaty of reunification drawn up; on October 3 the German Democratic Republic (DDR) joins the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) according to Article 23 of the Basic law. On December 2, the first joint German parliamentary elections take place.

2005 Angela Merkel is elected German Chancellor.

2005 Bavaria-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is elected Pope Benedikt XVI, becoming the first German pope since 1523.

2007 Merkel hosts the world‘s richest industrialized nations at the G8 summit in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm.

Keen to achieve rapid reunification, on November 28, 1989 West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl put forward a ten-point plan providing for the initial constitution of a confederation. On October 3, 1990 (now one of Germany‘s national holidays) parliament sitting in the Reichstag in Berlin ratified the treaty of reunification. Helmut Kohl won the elections in December 1990, and, in 1991, the Bundestag chose Berlin as capital of the reunified country. With the withdrawal of the last Allied troops in 1994, Germany became a sovereign state. It set its sights on the construction of a unified Europe. After the Federal President’s move to Berlin, Parliament followed suit in 1999. On April 19 the new Plenary Room of the Reichstag building, crowned by a dome designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster, was inaugurated.

Reunification caused considerable economic and social problems: a drop in competitiveness, high unemployment in the new Länder and high taxes in the West to finance the modernization of the East fueled growing discontent. These problems eventually led to the loss of Helmut Kohl’s CDU-CSU party in the 1998 elections and the ascendancy of Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder in coalition with the Green Party.

Under Schröder, Germany succeeded in reclaiming a post-World War leadership role within Europe and on the international stage. Germany is considered a leading political and economic force within the European Union, and its military has played an active peace-keeping role in war-torn Kosovo (1999) and also sent troops to Afghanistan.

But while the country has re-emerged as a positive force internationally, economic stresses continued to take their toll in the early 2000s. High unemployment and taxes coupled with decreased competitiveness due to economic globalization helped to oust Schröder’s SPD from office. In its place, the CDU-CSU coalition regained a parliamentary majority in the 2005 federal election, with the role of Chancellor going to Angela Merkel .

Merkel’s election reflected several historical milestones for Germany. She was the country‘s first female chancellor; the first former citizen of East Germany to head a reunified German government; and was the youngest person to be chancellor since World War II.

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