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Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Currency unit




East Germany

German Colonies











The German speaking peoples (including the Angles and Saxons) came out of Central Asia and emerged into Europe during the early Roman Empire - perhaps the people the Greeks called Scythians.

One of the factors in the decline of the western Roman Empire was the arrival of wandering Germanic tribes. Of these the Franks, led by Charlemagne, founded the first all-European kingdom, based on his position in France. This Carolingian Empire briefly included modern France, Germany and Italy and the lands between. It is sometimes known as the First Reich. After Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne) was crowned by the Pope in Rome it was known as the Holy Roman Empire. This name was used with ever-decreasing substance until abolished by Napoleon.

Outside this empire Germans expanded to the east into lands occupied by Slavs organised as tribes. This was the origin of Prussia and the German settlements along the shores of the Baltic. These were conquered by the Teutonic Knights who regarded themselves as crusading missionaries in the pagan lands to the east. The Slavs they conquered were the Wends(also known as Sorbs), whose languages are still spoken in the east of the former East Germany, and further east the Poles.

The German half of Charlemagne's empire (after the breakaway of France) did not consolidate into a strong kingdom of the model found in England and France. After Charlemagne there were weaker sovereigns and a number of strong regional Duchies emerged as the main powers. These were Saxony, Bavaria, Schwabia, Franconia and Thuringia. The "Emperor" had less and less power over these regional powers. Eventually, each city, bishopric, and small feudal estate went its own way with ever weakening allegiance to the center. The Golden Bull of 1356 made the Emperor electable by seven princes - Archbishops of Köln, Mainz, Trier, Count of Rheinland-Pfalz, Duke of Saxony, King of Bohemia, Margrave of Brandenburg - and transferred actual power to them. The position came to be held by the Habsburg family, who built their own empire to the east as they annexed former Ottoman territories.

This was completed in the 30 Years War (1618-1648) between the Protestant and Catholic rulers (and also a proxy war between non-German Great powers, such as France and Spain and Sweden). The war weakened Germany considerably, causing a fall in population (from 16 million to 6 million) and great destruction. At its end the Holy Roman Emperor (who was also ruler of the Habsburg Empire) had effectively no power over the 236 individual states, except for his personal estates.

The Peace of Westfalia in 1648 (mainly the work of Cardinal Richelieu, acting in the name of the infant Louis the 14th of France) allowed the individual states to behave independently of the emperor. This condition was the result of France's policy to keep Germany weak to the benefit of French domination, including the annexation of Strassburg (Strasbourg), and was perhaps a cause of the later desire of Germans to conquer France.

The war of 1870 of Prussia against France, and the first and second world wars saw the final stages of this hatred of France.

The most significant development of the 18th century was the rise of Prussia (Preussen). Its king Friedrich-Wilhelm (1688-1740), father of Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse - 1740-1786) built it up as a formidable military power, creating a ferocious militaristic culture that was transferred to the rest of Germany after Graf Otto von Bismarck made Prussia the core of the next German Empire. Friedrich's motive came partly from his own personality which demanded absolute obedience from all his subjects and partly from a reaction to French domination. Prussia early extended far from its core provinces of Brandenburg (around Berlin) and the former Slav lands to the east, into territories in the west of Germany.

In this period there were several medium sized kingdoms: Bavaria (Bayern), Wüurtemburg, Brandenburg, Hanover, Saxony; some Free Cities such as Frankfurt and Hamburg; and a large number of smaller states, some of them not much more than the local prince's private estate (kleinstaat). Napoleon reduced the number of states by abolishing the hundreds of tiny principalities (Liechtenstein is the only modern example) but did not produce a united nation.

Each of these princely states had a palace (often a miniature version of Versaille), a government, with customs officials which had to be paid for by the only productive elements - the Peasants and Merchants. Taxes were high and the farmers were poor. There was no capital for investment in new industry. By the 18th century Germany was famous for music and Porcelain (Saxony) but not for much else. Most of these small states were heavily influenced by France which regarded them as French satellites. There were no assemblies. The princes had manouevered their power into gaining taxes without the assent of the Estates which ceased to meet (following the French example). The ruling families provided a source of royal marriages all over Europe. The ruler of Hanover became king of England (George the first) as a consequence of past marriages. A princess of a small state became Catherine the Great of Russia on marrying a weak emperor. (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was renowned, unofficially, as the "stud-farm of Royal Europe". Queen Victoria's Prince Albert was its most famous export, with king Leopold of Belgium.)

The invasion of Germany by Napoleon changed the whole system, introducing the revolutionary notion of popular participation in government and ending the autonomy of the tiny states.

The post 1814 states were large enough to begin some economic development such as building railways, but the customs borders impeded trade. The German Confederation was an associetion of states with little power. One of the unacknowledged factors holding this system of small states together was the presence of Jews who traded across state borders. The career of Goethe (who revived German literary culture) also shows how intellectuals could cross from one state to another - he was born in the Free City of Frankfurt on Main but flourished in the small state of Weimar.

In the revolutionary year of 1848 there were popular movements in most of Germany, resulting in the election of a parliament to sit in Frankfurt. However, the revolutionaries failed to hold power and the post-Napoleonic states returned after the revolution was suppressed. Out of this came the Communist Manifesto, and an underground desire for an all-German state, which made subsequent events popular.

Only Prussia (Preussen) counted as an important military power. Some of its lands were outside the former Holy Roman Empire, and the post 1814 settlement gave it lands on the Rheinland. Thus it was scattered into several fragments, which Bismarck was to make use of.

Second Reich
Germany became politically re-united only from 1871 after Bismarck, the Minister-President (Prime Minister) of Prussia, fought first Austria in 1866 (over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein) and then France in 1870.

He formed first a Customs Union (Zollverein) of the northern states, then a Federation (Bund) of North Germany before consolidating it as the German Empire, headed by the king of Prussia as Emperor. To do so required first a war with Austria to establish that the Habsburgs' Empire would be outside the new German state. The war with France acquired the disputed lands of Alsace and Lorraine and made possible the incorporation of the southern states of Bayern, Wuertemburg and Baden. The new empire included parts of what are now Poland and Alsace-Lorraine from France. This is sometimes known as the Second Reich. Bismarck was the Chancellor (prime minister) of the new Empire. The third Emperor (Wilhelm the second) dismissed Bismarck and pursued a policy of militarism which led to the first world war. He also tried to acquire an Overseas empire in the form of German colonies.

The first world war broke out as a result of Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary and Turkey (Ottoman Empire) against Russia and its allies Serbia and France. The German war aims were probably to weaken Russia, which was developing fast and also France, still resented after the 17th century humiliations and the Napoleonic occupations.

This Germany was defeated in 1918 and lost some of the eastern provinces to a recreated Poland and to Czechoslovakia; Alsace and Lorraine returned to France. A Republic was proclaimed at Weimar, sometimes known for this reason as the Weimar Republic (but its capital was Berlin). East Prussia was detached from the main body by a Polish Corridor to the Baltic. At French insistence Germany was forbidden to keep armed force in the area west of the Rhein. The Saarland was occupied by France.

Nazi Period (Third Reich)
The defeated Germany suffered economic collapse and in 1923 occurred the classic example of hyperinflation (partly brought on by war reparations demanded by the victorious powers) and unemployment. The 1929 Wall Street Crash repeated it. In the social disturbances an extremist party - the National Socialist German Workers' Party, the Nazis - rose to power led by Adolf Hitler, an Austrian (born in Linz) who had been a Corporal in the German army. He was appointed Chancellor by the President Hindenburg on the advice of other rightwing politicians led by Von Papen, who had thought they could use the votes of his party to maintain their own power against the Social Democrats and Communists but control him. They were mistaken. The state he formed, which he called the Third Reich, was inaugurated in 1933. His party gained a large number of votes but never a majority. After the burning of the Reichstag, allegedly by a Jew, he persuaded Parliament to vote him full powers - the Enabling Act. He then abolished all other parties and their leaders and many of their members were imprisoned in Concentration Camps where they often died of brutality and starvation. It was one of the classic totalitarian states. Hitler became an absolute monarch (Fuehrer=Leader) recognizing no other institution (the Nazi Party was not able to change his policy and Parliament met only to hear Hitler, not to debate or decide). He at once began to increase the numbers of soldiers and military equipment, contrary to the terms of the Versaille treaties which ended the first world war. He used the armies he created to intimidate his neighbors. First he occupied the demilitarized Rheinland and then took over Austria in March 1938. In October he acquired the German speaking parts of western Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) through the Munich Agreement with the British Prime Minister Chamberlain. In March 1939 he occupied the rest of the country. It was his demands of Poland which led to general war. His first demand was for Danzig (now Gdansk), a German-speaking city surrounded by a corridor of Polish land, intended to give Poland access to the sea. Hitler's aim was to rejoin East Prussia to Germany, then to destroy Poland as a state (only re-created in 1919).

The second world war in Europe (1939-1945) began when he attacked Poland in cooperation with the Soviet Union.

After occupying France and all the countries to the west and north (except Sweden and Britain) he attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.

His next move was to the north (Denmark and Norway) and west (France, Belgium, Netherlands). After failing to invade Britain he turned to the east. He then tried to take over all the neighboring land to the east (Baltic States, Soviet Union). His racist doctrine was that only Germans were fully human and therefore it was all right to kill the Jews, Russians, Poles and Gypsies and take over their land. Millions of these were killed. The Nazis rejected common human rules of morality. Six million Jews are estimated from German records to have been killed in the extermination camps (Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz) and other killing places in a plan personally ordered by Hitler and carried out by a large civil service with a transport organization dedicated to the project. (There is no evidence to support the arguments of the so-called "revisionist" - Nazi - historians that the killings did not occur or that "Hitler did not know".) The state of the Concentration Camps after the war was filmed in detail by the British and American troops who first arrived at the camps on liberation.

The Germans were defeated by the combined action of the Soviet Union, America and Britain who called themselves the United Nations. Hitler killed himself in the ruins of Berlin as the Russians occupied the city.

Post war
In 1945 at the end of the second world world war the main part of Germany was split into four occupation zones, one occupied by the Russians, the other three by Britain, France and America. Berlin also was divided between the four powers. Another part - East Prussia - was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union and most of the Germans (10 million) expelled. In 1949 the three western zones united to form the Federal Republic, sometimes known as West Germany. They were divided into states to weaken the power of the central government.

The Russians proclaimed their zone as the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). It seems likely that, despite the Cold War then beginning, both the Russians and the western powers still agreed (following the Potsdam agreement) that it was better for the rest of the world for Germany to be divided. In 1961 East Berlin was walled off from West Berlin which remained as a Western island surrounded by East Germany. Travel between the two states was forbidden by the east. Those who tried to cross the border from east to west were liable to be shot by the guards.

The Federal Republic (West Germany) was allowed to have an army again but the army was integrated into NATO under the control of American and British commanders. The old Prussian military culture seems, at last, to have been extinguished. West Germany became an important industrial power and joined the European Economic Community as a founder member (also intended to prevent Germany developing an independent military capability).

The two states came together in October 1990 to form a reunited Germany when East Germany joined the Federal Republic and was divided into states representing those abolished by Hitler.

Germany is now by far the strongest economic power in the European Union and one of the three strongest powers in the world. Its military forces are however weak as, like Japan, Germans are reluctant to allow further military adventures and the constitution forbids them to send forces outside the NATO area. The agreement with the Soviet Union which allowed reunification allowed East Germany to join NATO but did not allow non-German forces to operate there. The militaristic culture begun by Frederick the Great of Prussia seems at last to have ended in the defeat of 1945.

German troops are serving with the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In 1991 270,000 Soviet troops were still stationed in the former East Germany. The German government agreed to pay for new accommodation to be built for them in Russia. They finally left in August 1994.

The reunited state found it expensive to pay for the rebuilding of the east and there were signs that Nazism was not dead but had some attraction for some of the people. Outsiders hope that rising unemployment will not provide the conditions for its reestablishment.



Hochdeutsch (High German)

Plattdeutsch (low)

Sorb (Wendisch)










Germany is a federal state. The victorious allies in 1945 demanded that the Federal government be weaker than previously in order to prevent war-like behavior and policies. The allies also devised the voting system which is intended to prevent the multitude of small parties which existed in the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). This requires any party to get 5% of the national vote before receiving a seat in the lower house (and a similar provision for State assemblies). There are usually four parties represented in parliament: Conservatives (CDU and CSU), Socialists (SDP), Liberals (FDP) and Greens. Governments are always a coalition of two of these parties. Different combinations of parties can control the States (Länder).

The first governments of West Germany were led by Konrad Adenauer a liberal politician from before the Hitler period, followed by Ludwig Erhardt, the architect of the Wirtschaftswunder - Economic miracle. The ruling party was the CDU, usually allied with the FDP. A Socialist party (SDP) government was formed under Willi Brandt who had been an exile during the Hitler period. This also was allied with the FDP. Thus after a long period without change normal democratic alternation of parties has occurred. The leader at the tine of Reunification was Helmut Kohl who led a CDU/CSU/FDP government. He arranged the integration of the former eastern area.

The united Germany formed in October 1990 consisted of the West German states to which were added the recreated states of East Germany. The states bear the names of some of the states which existed before Bismarck created the Second Reich.

Until September 2005 the SDP and the Greens formed formed the federal government. The remaining supporters of Hitler have been a small and lunatic fringe with no mass appeal (until the riots of Summer 1992). The inheritors of the Communists in the former East Germany are also a small group within the Federal Parliament (the Left Party, is a union of the former Communist party and a left faction that broke away from the SPD, led by Oskar Lafontaine). In 1991 and 1992 there were small scale riots and repeated attacks on refugee centers by neo-Nazi hooligans. There is evidence of a hard core of committed Nazis, part of a Europe-wide network of extreme rightwing parties. They are unlikely to gain enough votes to control the government but mainstream politicians are altering policies towards more hostility to refugees and foreigners. The hooligans mostly come from the unemployed of former east Germany. An economic depression throughout Europe may increase their numbers. If mass migration of Russians occurs, no-one knows what political effect there might be. The 1994 elections saw the CDU reduced to a majority of one and a rise in the vote of the PDS (former Communists) in the east. Since then the SDP has won two elections.

The September 2005 federal election saw the SDP vote decline and the CDU vote increase but neither party with its traditional coalition partners can make a government. A Grand Coalition of CDU and SDP was formed, with the CDU leader Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

In the past Grand Coalition has provoked the growth of extreme parties as a protest, and this seems to be happening, where in the former East Germany the extreme Right National Democratic Party seems to be growing, attracting people who protest against immigration and unemployment.

However, in the next elections in 2009 Angela Merkel won enough seats to avoid having a coalition with the SDP joining instead with FDP (Frei Demokratisch Partei =Liberal in the European sense).

Interesting reading

Alan Bullock - Hitler, a Study in Tyranny

G. Barraclough - Origins of Modern Germany

Die mittelalterlichen Grundlagen des modernen Deutschland
Daniel Goldhagen - Hitler's Willing Executioners

Hitlers willige Vollstrecker: Ganz gewöhnliche Deutsche und der Holocaust

How far did ordinary Germans support Hitler's policies?







At the end of the second world war the German economy was destroyed. The currency was worthless and the factories were in ruins. However, when the Cold War began the Americans decided they needed the strength of Germany and helped rebuild German (and European) industry through the Marshall Plan.

In the western zones in 1948 a new currency, the Deutschemark (DM), was introduced. This then became the strongest currency in Europe, based on the productive capacity of Germany and its trading surplus. In the period from 1949 until the 1980s German growth rate was high and in the earlier period was known as the Economic Miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) as it passed the GDP per head of Britain and France from a very low starting point. But since then the rate of growth has fallen.

All other currencies in the European Monetary System were linked to the DM, before it became merged in the euro.

Germany has the third largest economy in the world (after the United States and Japan) (Probably by now - 2007 it is fourth, if we include China). It has a high rate of investment in research and development and in training, so that Germany has one of the world's best trained work forces.

The biggest economic problem at present is to absorb the former East Germany with its derelict economy. This has absorbed much of the investment effort in the past few years. The investments have been in the roads, railways, telecommunications and other infrastructure which had been neglected by the former communist government. Further investment is in the industries which were unmodernized. Most of them have been closed down creating large scale unemployment in the former eastern Germany. Some of the unemployed are being absorbed into the former western economy. New industries are growing but not enough to absorb all the unemployed workers.

By September 1991 a large program of investment in transport and telecommunications could be observed to be beginning.

There is some danger of inflation, although the independent Central Bank (Bundesbank) maintained a consistently very low inflation rate throughout the post war period, in a reaction to the textbook hyperinflation which occurred in 1923 and destroyed the savings of the middle classes (many of whom turned to Hitler afterwards).

West German industry pays a lot towards social costs. Right wing enthusiasts say this may be making it uncompetitive in comparison with other European countries, such as Britain where there are low social costs and benefits, but perhaps they are wrong.

At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union many thought that Germany might be called upon to finance the reconstruction of eastern Europe and Russia, for fear of what might happen if these areas are allowed to continue their collapse. However, by 1992 it was clear that even paying for former east Germany was a serious burden, and western taxpayers were grumbling at the higher taxes (which the government of Helmut Kohl had assured them would not be necessary). Moreover, there were serious social problems in the east, including a rise in neo-Nazi violence. If Russia had become impoverished, Germany would have been the first to meet the flood of refugees some foresaw.

Since the above was written, the threat of Russian collapse has receded, to be replaced by fear of subservience to Russia's control of gas supplies.

Since the adoption of the euro Germany's economy has been weaker with rising unemployment. Some say this is a result of rigidity of employment law (a euphemism for saying the employees are hard to sack and can claim large benefits). It may also be that the DM joined the euro at a rate that was too high. The Eastern currency was exchanged for the DM at a rate of one for one, when a realistic rate would have been one DM for many Ostmark.

The other big economic problem is shared with the whole of the European-American world - the rise of China as a major manufacturing power and the threat of a worldwide energy shortage. Germany is a leader in installing solar and wind power.

Although Germany was less affected by the 2007-8 financial collapse, its industry also suffered from the worldwide contraction in trade but in 2010 was expanding and ran a surplus based on exports.







West Germany has much heavy industry which has created large areas of polluted land. However, it also has a vigorous Green Party and a public opinion which is forcing the politicians gradually to enact anti-pollution legislation. German companies are planning new types of automobile engine in anticipation of greater control in the future. Germany influences European Union legislation in the same direction. Germany has the world's most vigorous plans for reducing carbon dioxide output (in contrast to Britain, France and the United States which have tried to avoid serious commitment).

The former east Germany had a serious pollution problem, as its previous government had no need to respond to public wishes, because it was a dictatorship. However, much of it was solved by closing down inefficient industries there.






Human Rights

Western norm. However, citizenship can be acquired only through descent; naturalization is almost impossible, although there are 6.5 million resident foreigners, many of them Turks brought in as guest workers during the boom. Some have labeled the citizenship law racist.

Climate effects

Germany has a program of installing solar power on a large scale.

Last revised 24/02/12


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