The rise of Prussian power in the 19th century, supported by growing German nationalism, eventually ended inter-state fighting and resulted in the formation of the German empire in 1871 under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck. Although authoritarian in many respects, the empire eventually permitted the development of political parties, and Bismarck was credited with passing the most advanced social welfare legislation of the age. Dynamic expansion of military power, however, contributed to tensions on the continent. The fragile European balance of power broke down in 1914, and World War I and its aftermath, including the Treaty of Versailles, led to the collapse of the German empire. The Weimar Republic
The postwar Weimar Republic (1919-33) was an attempt to establish a peaceful, liberal democratic regime in Germany. This government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed by economic problems and the inherent weakness of the Weimar state. The inflation of the early 1920s, the world depression of the 1930s, and the social unrest stemming from the draconian conditions of the Versailles Treaty worked to destroy the Weimar Government from inside and out.
The National Socialist (Nazi) Party, led by Adolf Hitler, stressed nationalist themes and promised to put the unemployed back to work. The party blamed many of Germany's ills on alleged Jewish conspiracies. Nazi support expanded rapidly in the early 1930s. Hitler was asked to form a government as Reich Chancellor in January 1933. After President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler assumed that office as well. Once in power, Hitler and his party first undermined then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties.
The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate all non-German peoples in Germany by forced migration and, ultimately, genocide. Hitler restored Germany's economic and military strength, but his ambitions led Germany into World War II. For Germany, World War II resulted in the destruction of its political and economic infrastructures, led to its division, and left a humiliating legacy.
After Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.S.R. occupied the country and assumed responsibility for its administration. The commanders-in-chief exercised supreme authority in their respective zones and acted in concert on questions affecting the whole country. France was later given a separate zone of occupation.
Although the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union agreed at Potsdam in August 1945 to a broad program of decentralization, treating Germany as a single economic unit with some central administrative departments, these plans failed. The turning point came in 1948, when the Soviets withdrew from the Four Power governing bodies and blockaded Berlin. Until May 1949, West Berlin was kept supplied only by an allied airlift.
Political Developments In West Germany
The United States and the United Kingdom moved to establish a nucleus for a future German government by expanding the size and powers of the German Economic Council in their two zones. The program provided for a West German constituent assembly, an occupation statute governing relations between the Allies and the German authorities, and the economic merger of the French with the British and American zones.
On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law, or constitution, of the Federal Republic of Germany (F.R.G.) was promulgated. The first federal government was formed by Konrad Adenauer on September 20, 1949. The next day, the occupation statute came into force, granting powers of self-government with certain exceptions.
The F.R.G. quickly progressed toward fuller sovereignty and association with its European neighbors and the Atlantic community. The London and Paris agreements of 1954 restored full sovereignty (with some exceptions) to the F.R.G. in May 1955 and opened the way for German membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Western European Union (WEU).
The three Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain responsibilities for Germany as a whole. Under the new arrangements, the Allies stationed troops within the F.R.G. 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 the F.R.G. 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" included the F.R.G.'s two largest parties, CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). 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 convicted of spying for the East German intelligence service.
Finance Minister Helmut Schmidt (SPD) 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 U.S.A."
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. 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 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 49% of the vote in 1983 to 44%. 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%, its best showing since 1980. The Greens' share rose to 8% from their 1983 share of 6%.
Political Developments In East Germany
In the Soviet zone, the Social Democratic Party was forced to merge with the Communist Party in 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, which was celebrated as the day when the German Democratic Republic was proclaimed. The People's Chamber (Volkskammer)--the lower house of the G.D.R. parliament--and an upper house--the States Chamber (Laenderkammer)--were created. (The Laenderkammer was abolished in 1958.) On October 11, 1949, the two houses elected Wilhelm Pieck as president, and a SED government was set up. The Soviet Union and its East European allies immediately recognized the G.D.R., although it remained largely unrecognized by non- communist countries until 1972-73.
The G.D.R. established the structures of a single-party, centralized, communist state. On July 23, 1952, the traditional Laender were abolished and, in their place, 14 Bezirke (districts) were established. 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 G.D.R. elections was not secret. As in other Soviet bloc countries, electoral participation was consistently high, with nearly unanimous candidate approval.
The constant stream of East Germans fleeing to West Germany placed great strains on F.R.G.-G.D.R. relations in the 1950s. On August 13, 1961, the G.D.R. began building a wall through the center of Berlin to divide the city and slow the flood of refugees to a trickle. The Berlin Wall became the symbol of the East's political debility and the division of Europe.
In 1969, Chancellor Brandt announced that the F.R.G. would remain firmly rooted in the Atlantic alliance but would intensify efforts to improve relations with Eastern Europe and the G.D.R. The F.R.G. commenced this Ostpolitik by negotiating non-aggression treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.
The F.R.G.'s relations with the G.D.R. posed particularly difficult questions. Though anxious to relieve serious hardships for divided families and to reduce friction, the F.R.G. under Brandt was intent on holding to its concept of "two German states in one German nation." Relations improved, however, and in September 1973, the F.R.G. and the G.D.R. were admitted to the UN. The two Germanys exchanged permanent representatives in 1974, and, in 1987, G.D.R. head of state Erich Honecker paid an official visit to the F.R.G..
During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in the G.D.R., which ultimately led to German unification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to the F.R.G. 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 F.R.G. diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals. The exodus generated demands within the G.D.R. for political change, and mass demonstrations 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 the G.D.R. and urged the East German leadership to pursue reform.
On October 18, Erich Honecker resigned 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, 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, the G.D.R. began dismantling it.
On November 28, F.R.G. Chancellor Kohl outlined a 10-point plan for the peaceful unification of the two Germanys based on free elections in the G.D.R. and a unification of their two economies. In December, the G.D.R. Volkskammer eliminated the SED monopoly on power, and the entire Politburo 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 G.D.R. 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 the G.D.R., and a government led by Lothar de Maiziere (CDU) was formed under a policy of expeditious unification with the F.R.G. The freely elected representatives of the Volkskammer held their first session on April 5, and the G.D.R. peacefully evolved from a communist to a democratically elected government. Free and secret communal (local) elections were held in the G.D.R. on May 6, and the CDU again won. On July 1, the two Germanys entered into an economic and monetary union.
Four Power Control Ends
During 1990, in parallel with internal German developments, the Four Powers--the United States, U.K., France, and the Soviet Union-- 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 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 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 were 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 three to four 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 the F.R.G. and G.D.R. Formal political union occurred on October 3, 1990, with the accession (in accordance with Article 23 of the F.R.G.'s Basic Law) of the five Laender which had been reestablished in the G.D.R. On December 2, 1990, all-German elections were held for the first time since 1933.
Here is an incredible wealth of historical documents relating to German history.
German History Links
History of the great Munich festival.
Travels Through Germany
Please e-mail the webmaster with all broken links or suggestions:
Copyright © Travels Through Europe All rights reserved.