History of Germany since 1945

History of Germany
Holy Roman Empire
German Confederation
German Empire
Weimar Republic
Nazi Germany
World War II
Since 1945

After the beginning of the Cold War, following Germany's defeat in World War II, Germany was split for about 40 years, representing the focus of the two global blocks in the east and west. Only in 1990 would Germany be reunited.


The division of Germany

At the Potsdam Conference in August 1945, after Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, the Allies divided Germany into four military occupation zones – French in the southwest, British in the northwest, United States in the south, and Soviet in the east. The territories east of the Oder-Neisse line (East Prussia, Eastern Pomerania and Silesia) were removed from Germany and put under Polish administration, effectively shifting Poland westward. A transfer of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary was agreed on, but the countries were urged to stop the transfers at that particular moment.

The intended governing body was called the Allied Control Council. The commanders-in-chief exercised supreme authority in their respective zones and acted in concert on questions affecting the whole country. Berlin, which lay in the Soviet sector, was also divided into four sectors with the Western sectors later becoming West Berlin and the Soviet sector becoming East Berlin, capital of East Germany.

A key item in the occupiers' agenda was denazification; toward this end, the swastika and other outward symbols of the Nazi regime were banned, and a Provisional Civil Ensign was established as a temporary German flag; the latter remained the "official" flag of the country (necessary for reasons of international law as German ships had to carry some sort of identifying marker) until East Germany and West Germany (see below) came into existence, separately, in 1949.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union had agreed at Potsdam to a broad program of decentralization, treating Germany as a single economic unit with some central administrative departments. These plans broke down in 1948 with the emergence of the Cold War. The Western powers were concerned about the deteriorating economic situation in their zones; the American Marshall Plan economic aid was extended to Western Germany and a currency reform introduced the Deutsche Mark and halted rampant inflation there. The Soviets had not agreed to this currency reform and withdrew in March 1948 from the four-power governing bodies and initiated the Berlin blockade in June 1948, blocking all ground transport routes between Western Germany and West Berlin. The Western Allies replied with a continuous airlift of supplies to the western half of the city. The Soviets ended the blockade after 15 months.

In 1949, the Western occupied zones were established as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or West Germany with Bonn as its capital). The Soviet Zone became the German Democratic Republic (GDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or East Germany with East Berlin as its capital). Also in 1949, on September 6, Allied military authorities relinquished control of former German assets back to German control.

West Germany was allied with the United States of America, the UK and France. A western capitalist country with a so-called social market economy, the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth following the currency reform of June 1948 and US assistance through Marshall Plan aid (1948-1951).

East Germany was at first occupied by and later (May 1955) allied with the Soviet Union. An authoritarian country with a Soviet-style economy, East Germany soon became the richest, most advanced country in the Soviet bloc, but many of its citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity.

West Germany

Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Adenauer

The Western Allies turned over increasing authority to German officials and moved to establish a nucleus for a future German government by creating a central Economic Council for their zones. The program later provided for a West German constituent assembly, an occupation statute governing relations between the Allies and the German authorities, and the political and economic merger of the French with the British and American zones.

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

West Germany quickly progressed toward fuller sovereignty and association with its European neighbors and the Atlantic community. The London and Paris agreements of 1954 restored most of the state's sovereignty (with some exceptions) in May 1955 and opened the way for German membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In April 1951, West Germany joined with France, Italy and the Benelux countries in the European Coal and Steel Community (forerunner of the European Union) in March 1957.

The outbreak of war in Korea (June 1950) led to U.S. calls for the rearmament of West Germany in order to defend western Europe from the perceived Soviet threat. But the memory of German aggression led other European states to seek tight control over the West German military. Germany's partners in the Coal and Steel Community decided to establish a European Defence Community (EDC), with an integrated army, navy and air force, composed of the armed forces of its member states. The West German military would be subject to complete EDC control, but the other EDC member states (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) would cooperate in the EDC while maintaining independent control of their own armed forces.

Though the EDC treaty was signed (May 1952), it never entered into force. France's Gaullists rejected it on the grounds that it threatened national sovereignty, and when the French National Assembly refused to ratify it (August 1954), the treaty died. The French had killed their own proposal. Other means then had to be found to allow West German rearmament. In response, the Brussels Treaty was modified to include West Germany, and to form the Western European Union (WEU). West Germany was to be permitted to rearm, and have full sovereign control of its military; the WEU would however regulate the size of the armed forces permitted to each of its member states. Fears of a return to Nazism, however, soon receded, and as a consequence these provisions of the WEU treaty have little effect today.

The three Western Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain responsibilities for Germany as a whole. Under the new arrangements, the Allies stationed troops within West Germany for NATO defense, pursuant to stationing and status-of-forces agreements. With the exception of 45,000 French troops, Allied forces were under NATO's joint defense command. (France withdrew from the collective military command structure of NATO in 1966.)

Political life in West Germany was remarkably stable and orderly. The Adenauer era (1949-63) was followed by a brief period under Ludwig Erhard (1963-66) who, in turn, was replaced by Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-69). All governments between 1949 and 1966 were formed by the united caucus of the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), either alone or in coalition with the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Kiesinger's 1966-69 "Grand Coalition" was between West Germany's two largest parties, the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). This was important for the introduction of new emergency acts - the Grand Coalition gave the ruling parties the two-thirds majority of votes required to see them in. These controversial acts allowed basic constitutional rights such as freedom of movement to be limited in case of a state of emergency.

Rudi Dutschke in 1967
Rudi Dutschke in 1967

During the time leading up to the passing of the laws, there was fierce opposition to them, above all by the Free Democratic Party, the rising German student movement, a group calling itself Notstand der Demokratie (Democracy in Crisis) and the labour unions. Demonstrations and protests grew in number, and in 1967 the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the head and killed by the police. The press, especially the tabloid Bild-Zeitung newspaper, launched a massive campaign against the protesters and in 1968, apparently as a result, there was an attempted assassination of one of the top members of the German socialist students' union, Rudi Dutschke.

In the 1960s a desire to confront the Nazi past came into being. Successfully, mass protests clamored for a new Germany. Environmentalism and anti-nationalism became fundamental values of West Germany. Rudi Dutschke recovered sufficiently to help establish the Green Party of Germany by convincing former student protesters to join the Green movement. As a result in 1979 the Greens were able to reach the 5% limit required to obtain parliamentary seats in the Bremen provincial election. Dutschke died in 1979 due to the epilepsy he had from the attack.

Another result of the unrest in the 1960s was the founding of the Red Army Faction (RAF) which was active from 1968, carrying out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s. Even in the 1990s attacks were still being committed under the name "RAF". The last action took place in 1993 and the group announced it was giving up its activities in 1998.

In the 1969 election, the SPD – headed by Willy Brandt – gained enough votes to form a coalition government with the FDP. Chancellor Brandt remained head of government until May 1974, when he resigned after a senior member of his staff was uncovered as a spy for the East German intelligence service, the Stasi.

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

In October 1982, the SPD-FDP coalition fell apart when the FDP joined forces with the CDU/CSU to elect CDU Chairman Helmut Kohl as Chancellor in a Constructive Vote of No Confidence. Following national elections in March 1983, Kohl emerged in firm control of both the government and the CDU. The CDU/CSU fell just short of an absolute majority, due to the entry into the Bundestag of the Greens, who received 5.6% of the vote.

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

East Germany

Walter Ulbricht on a  issue of
Walter Ulbricht on a 1953 issue of TIME

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

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

East Germany established the structures of a single-party, centralized, communist state. On July 23, 1952, the traditional Länder were abolished and, in their place, 14 Bezirke (districts) were established. Even though other parties formally existed, effectively, all government control was in the hands of the SED, and almost all important government positions were held by SED members.

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

East-West Relations

Erich Honecker – official East German portrait
Erich Honecker – official East German portrait

Under Chancellor Adenauer West Germany declared its right to speak for the entire German nation. The Hallstein Doctrine restricted diplomatic relations to countries that refused to give East Germany the status of state.

The constant stream of East Germans fleeing to West Germany placed great strains on East German-West German relations in the 1950s. East Germany sealed the borders to West Germany in 1952, but people continued to flee from East Berlin to West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, East Germany began building the Berlin Wall around West Berlin to slow the flood of refugees to a trickle, effectively cutting the city in half and making West Berlin an exclave of the Western world in communist territory. The Wall became the symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. Shortly afterwards, the main border between the two Germanys was fortified.

In 1969, Chancellor Brandt announced that West Germany would remain firmly rooted in the Atlantic alliance but would intensify efforts to improve relations with Eastern Europe and East Germany. West Germany commenced this Ostpolitik, initially under fierce opposition from the conservatives, by negotiating nonaggression treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

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

The unification of East and West Germany

International plans for the unification of Germany were made during the early years following the establishment of the two states, but to no avail. In March 1952, the Soviet government proposed holding elections for a united German assembly while making the proposed united Germany a neutral state, as eventually did Austria. The Western Allied governments refused this initiative, while continuing West Germany's integration into the western alliance system. The issue was raised again during the Foreign Ministers' Conference in Berlin in Jan.-Feb. 1954, but the western powers refused making Germany neutral. Following Bonn's adherence to NATO on May 9, 1955, such initiatives were abandoned by both sides.

During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to West Germany via Hungary after the Hungarians decided not to use force to stop them. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands of people in several cities – particularly in Leipzig – continued to grow. On October 7, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Berlin to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of East Germany and urged the East German leadership to pursue reform, without success.

On October 18, Erich Honecker was forced to resign as head of the SED and as head of state and was replaced by Egon Krenz. But the exodus continued unabated, and pressure for political reform mounted. On November 4, a demonstration in East Berlin drew as many as 1 million East Germans. Finally, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, and East Germans were allowed to travel freely. Thousands poured through the wall into the western sectors of Berlin, and on November 12, East Germany began dismantling it.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion of the final settlement cleared the way for unification of East and West Germany. Formal political union occurred on October 3, 1990, technically executed – not without criticism – via Article 23 of West Germany's Basic Law as the accession of the restored five eastern Länder. On December 2, 1990, all-German elections were held for the first time since 1933. In fact, accession meant that East Germany was annexed by West Germany: the new country kept the name Bundesrepublik Deutschland, used the West German "Deutsche Mark" for currency, and the West German legal system and institutions were extended to the east. Berlin would formally become the capital of the united Germany, but the political institutions remained at Bonn for the time being. Only after a heated 1991 debate did the Bundestag conclude on moving itself and most of the government to Berlin as well, a process that took until 1999 to complete, when the Bundestag held its first session at the reconstructed Reichstag building.

Germany today

Missing image
Chancellor Schröder walks with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on Thursday, March 29, 2001.

In the 2000s Germany has been arguably the centerpiece of the European Union (though the importance of France cannot be overlooked in this connection). The German government was a strong supporter of the enlargment of NATO and the European Union. German troops participate in the multinational efforts to bring peace and stability to the Balkans. The nation is doing fairly well economically, being the world's third-richest economy (nominal GDP) (behind the USA and Japan). It is among the top five countries in Internet access worldwide. Many Germans speak English and/or French, in addition to High German and their local dialect of German (of which there are many).

Most of the social issues facing European countries in general -- immigration, aging populations straining social-welfare and pension systems -- are important in Germany. Employment is a particularly sensitive subject in present day Germany - figures released in February 2005 showed an unemployment rate of 12.6% of the working age population, or 5.2 million workers, the highest jobless rate since the 1930s.

In 2001 the discovery that the terrorist cell which carried out the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 was based in Hamburg, sent shock waves through the country. The government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder backed the following U.S. military actions, sending a force of Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to provide security in that country after the ousting of the Taliban.

Germany adopted a far more skeptical attitude toward America's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Most of the public was strongly against the conflict, and any deployment of German troops, either in the invasion or as part of the postwar occupation, was politically out of the question.de:Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1945–1990) fr:Histoire de l'Allemagne depuis 1945 it:Storia della Germania dal 1945


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