From their first appearance in the history of the world the Germans
represented the principle of unchecked individualism, as opposed to the
Roman principle of an all-embracing authority. German history in the Middle
Ages was strongly influenced by two opposing principles: universalism and
individualism. After Arminius had fought for German freedom in the Teutoburg
Forest the idea that the race was entitled to be independent gradually
became a powerful factor in its historical development.
first took form when the Germanic states grew out of the Roman Empire.
Even Theodoric the Great thought of uniting the discordant barbarian countries
with the aid of the leges gentium into a great confederation of the Mediterranean.
Although in these Mediterranean countries the Roman principle finally prevailed,
being that of a more advanced civilization, still the individualistic forces
which contributed to found these states were not wasted. By them the world-embracing
empire of Rome was overthrown and the way prepared for the national principle.
It was not until after the fall of the Western Empire that a great Frankish
kingdom became possible and the Franks, no longer held in check by the
Roman Empire, were able to draw together the tribes of the old Teutonic
stock and to lay the foundation of a German empire. Before this the Germanic
tribes had been continually at variance; no tie bound them together; even
the common language failed to produce unity. On the other hand, the so-called
Lautverschiebung, or shifting of the consonants, in German, separated the
North and South Germans.
Nor was German mythology a source of union, for
the tribal centres of worship rather increased the already existing particularism.
The Germans had not even a common name. Since the eighth century most probably
the designations Franks and Frankish extended beyond the boundaries of
the Frankish tribe. It was not, however, until the ninth century that the
expression theodisk (later German Deutsch), signifying "popular," or "belonging
to people" made its appearance and a great stretch of time divided this
beginning from the use of the word as a name of the nation.
The work of uniting Germany was not begun by a tribe living in the interior
but by one on the outskirts of the country. The people called Franks suddenly
appear in history in the third century. They represented no single tribe,
but consisted of a combination of Low and High German tribes. Under the
leadership of Clovis (Chlodwig) the Franks overthrew the remains of the
Roman power in Gaul and built up the Frankish state on a Germano-Romanic
foundation. The German tribes were conquered one after another and colonized
in the Roman manner. Large extents of territory were marked out as belonging
to the king, and on these military colonies were founded. The commanders
of these military colonies gradually became administrative functionaries,
and the colonies themselves grew into peaceful agricultural village communities.
For a long time political expressions, such as Hundreds, recalled the original
military character of the people. From that time the Frankish ruler became
the German overlord, but the centrifugal tendency of the Germanic tribes
reacted against this sovereignty as soon as the Merovingian Dynasty began
slowly to decline, owing to internal feuds. In each of the tribes after
this the duke rose to supremacy over his fellow tribesmen. From the seventh
century the tribal duke became an almost independent sovereign. These ducal
states originated in the supreme command of large bodies of troops, and
then in the administration of large territories by dukes.
At the same time
the disintegration was aided by the bad administration of the counts, the
officials in charge of the territorial districts (Gau), who were no longer
supervised by the central authority. But what was most disastrous was that
an unruly aristocracy sought to control all the economical interests and
to exercise arbitrary powers over politics. These sovereign nobles had
become powerful through the feudal system, a form of government which gave
to medieval Germany its peculiar character. Caesar in his day found that
it was customary among the Gauls for a freeman, the "client," voluntarily
to enter into a relation of dependence on a "senior." This surrender (commendatio)
took place in order to obtain the protection of the lord or to gain the
usufruct of land. From this Gallic system of clientship there developed,
in Frankish times, the conception of the "lord's man" (homagium or hominium),
who by an oath swore fealty to his suzerain and became a vassus, or gasindus,
or homo. The result of the growth of this idea was that finally there appeared,
throughout the kingdom, along with royalty, powerful territorial lords
with their vassi or vassalli, as their followers were called from the eighth
century. The vassals received as fief (beneficium) a piece of land of which
they enjoyed the use for life. The struggle of the Franks with the Arabs
quickened the development of the feudal system, for the necessity of creating
an army of horsemen then became evident. Moreover the poorer freemen, depressed
in condition by the frequent wars, could not be required to do service
as horsemen, a duty that could only be demanded from the vassals of the
great landowners. In order to force these territorial lords to do military
service fiefs were granted from the already existing public domain, and
in their turn the great lords granted part of these fiefs to their retainers.
Thus the Frankish king was gradually transformed from a lord of the land
and people to a feudal lord over the beneficiaries directly and indirectly
dependent upon him by feudal tenure. By the end of the ninth century the
feudal system had bound together the greater part of the population.
Real German history begins with Charlemagne (768-814). The war with
the Saxons was the most important one he carried on, and the result of
this struggle, of fundamental importance for German history, was that the
Saxons were brought into connexion with the other Germanic tribes and did
not fall under Scandinavian influence. The lasting union of the Franks,
Saxons, Frisians, Thuringians, Hessians, Alamanni, and Bavarians, that
Charlemagne effected, formed the basis of a national combination which
gradually lost sight of the fact that it was the product of compulsion.
From the time of Charlemagne the above-named German tribes lived under
Frankish constitution retaining their own old laws, the leges barbarorum,
which Charlemagne codified. Another point of importance for German development
was that Charlemagne fixed the boundary between his domain and the Slavs,
including the Wends, on the farther side of the Elbe and Saale Rivers.
In 840 the emperor died near Ingelheim. The quarrels of the sons went
on after the death of the father, and in 841 Lothair was completely defeated
near Fontenay (Fontanetum) by Louis the German and Charles the Bald. The
empire now fell apart, not from the force of national hatreds, but in consequence
of the partition now made and known as the Treaty of Verdun (August, 843),
which divided the territory between the sons of Louis the Pious: Lothair,
Louis the German (843-76), and Charles the Bald, and which finally resulted
in the complete overthrow of the Carlovingian monarchy.
The fame of Henry I was assured by his victory over the Magyars near
Merseburg (933). By regaining Lorraine, that had been lost during the reign
of Conrad, he secured a bulwark on the side towards France that permitted
the uninterrupted consolidation of his realm. The same result was attained
on other frontiers by his successful campaigns against the Wends and Bohemians.
Henry's kingdom was made up of a confederation of tribes, for the idea
of a "King of the Germans" did not yet exist. It was only as the "Holy
Roman Empire of the German Nation" that Germany could develop from a union
of German tribes to a compact nation. As supporters of the supreme power,
as vassals of the emperor, the Germans were united.
The rise of Prussian power in the 19th century, supported by growing
German nationalism, eventually ended in the formation of the German empire
in 1871 under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck. Political parties
developed during the empire, and Bismarck was credited with passing the
most advanced social welfare legislation of the age.
However, Emperor William II's dynamic expansion of military power contributed
to tensions on the continent. The fragile European balance of power, which
Bismarck had helped to create, broke down in 1914. World War I and its
aftermath, including the Treaty of Versailles, ended the German Empire.
Fascism's Rise and Defeat
The postwar Weimar Republic (1919-33) was a peaceful, liberal democratic
regime. This government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed
by economic problems and the rise of the political extremes. The hyperinflation
of 1923, the world depression that began in 1929, and the social unrest
stemming from resentment toward the conditions of the Versailles Treaty
worked to destroy the Weimar government.
The National Socialist (Nazi) Party, led by Adolf Hitler, stressed nationalist
and racist themes while promising to put the unemployed back to work. The
party blamed many of Germany's ills on the alleged influence of Jewish
and non-German ethnic groups. The party also gained support in response
to fears of growing communist strength. In the 1932 elections, the Nazis
won a third of the vote. In a fragmented party structure, this gave the
Nazis a powerful parliamentary caucus, and Hitler was asked to form a government.
He quickly declined. The Republic eroded and Hitler had himself nominated
as Reich Chancellor 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 and then abolished democratic institutions and
opposition parties. The Nazi leadership immediately jailed Jewish opposition
and other figures and withdrew their political rights. The Nazis implemented
a program of genocide, at first through incarceration and forced labor
and then by establishing death camps. Nazi revanchism and expansionism
led to World War II, which resulted in the destruction of Germany's political
and economic infrastructures and led to its division.
After Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, the United States,
the United Kingdom, the U.S.S.R. and, later, France 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.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union agreed at
Potsdam in August 1945 to treat Germany as a single economic unit with
some central administrative departments in a decentralized framework. However,
Soviet policy turned increasingly toward dominating that part of Europe
where their armies were present, including eastern Germany. In 1948, the
Soviets, in an attempt to abrogate agreements for Four-Power control of
the city, blockaded Berlin. Until May 1949, the Allied-occupied part of
Berlin was kept supplied only by an Allied airlift. The "Berlin airlift"
succeeded in forcing the Soviets to accept, for the time being, the Allied
role and the continuation of freedom in a portion of the city, West Berlin.
Political Developments in West Germany
The United States and the United Kingdom moved to establish a nucleus
for a future German government by creating a central Economic Council for
their two zones. The program later provided for a 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. The western portion of the country became the
Federal Republic of Germany.
On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law, which came to be known as the constitution
of the Federal Republic of Germany, was promulgated. Conrad Adenauer became
the first federal Chancellor on September 20, 1949. The next day, the occupation
statute came into force, granting powers of self-government with certain
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
The three Western Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain
responsibilities for Germany as a whole, including responsibility for the
determination of Germany's eastern borders. 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 NATO's military command structure in 1966.)
Political life in the F.R.G. was remarkably stable and orderly. After
Adenauer's chancellorship (1949-63), Ludwig Erhard (1963-66) and Kurt Georg
Kiesinger (1966-69) served as Chancellor. Between 1949 and 1966 the united
caucus of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union
(CSU), either alone or with the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP), formed
the government. Kiesinger's 1966-69 "Grand Coalition" included the F.R.G.'s
two largest parties, CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). After
the 1969 election, the SPD, headed by Willy Brandt, formed a coalition
government with the FDP. Brandt resigned in May 1974, after a senior member
of his staff was uncovered as an East German spy.
Helmut Schmidt (SPD) succeeded Brandt, serving as Chancellor from 1974
to 1982. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a leading FDP official, became Vice Chancellor
and Foreign Minister, a position he would hold until 1992.
In October 1982, the FDP joined forces with the CDU/CSU to make CDU
Chairman Helmut Kohl the Chancellor. Following national elections in March
1983, Kohl emerged in firm control of both the government and the CDU.
He served until the CDU's election defeat in 1997. In 1983, a new political
party, the Greens, entered the Bundestag for the first time.
Political Developments in East Germany
In the Soviet zone, the Communist Party forced the Social Democratic
Party to merge in 1946 to form the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Under Soviet
direction, a constitution was drafted on May 30, 1949, and adopted on October
7 when the German Democratic Republic was proclaimed. On October 11, 1949,
a SED government under Wilhelm Pieck was established. The Soviet Union
and its East European allies immediately recognized the G.D.R. The United
States and most other countries did not recognize the G.D.R. until a series
of agreements in 1972-73.
The G.D.R. established the structures of a single-party, centralized,
communist state. On July 23, 1952, the G.D.R. abolished the traditional
Laender and established 14 Bezirke (districts). Formally, there existed
a "National Front"--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. On July 17, 1953, East Germans
revolted against totalitarian rule. The F.R.G. marked the bloody revolt
by making the date the West German National Day, which remained until reunification.
During the 1950s, East Germans fled to the West by the millions. The
Soviets made the inner German border increasingly tight, but Berlin's Four-Power
status countered such restrictions. Berlin thus became an escape point
for even greater numbers of East Germans. On August 13, 1961, the G.D.R.
began building a wall through the center of Berlin, slowing down the flood
of refugees and dividing the city. 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 nonaggression treaties with the Soviet Union,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Based upon Brandt's policies,
in 1971 the Four Powers concluded a Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin to
address practical questions the division posed, without prejudice to each
party's view of the city's Four Power status.
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 United Nations. 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. Pressures
for political opening throughout Eastern Europe had not seemed to affect
the G.D.R. regime. However, Hungary ended its border restrictions with
Austria, and a growing flood of East Germans began to take advantage of
this route to West Germany. 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 and was replaced by Egon Krenz.
The exodus continued unabated, and pressure for political reform mounted.
Finally, on November 9, the G.D.R. allowed East Germans to travel freely.
Thousands poured through the Berlin Wall into the western sectors of Berlin.
The Wall was opened.
On November 28, F.R.G .Chancellor Kohl outlined a 10-point plan for
the peaceful unification of the two Germanys. In December, the G.D.R. Volkskammer
eliminated the SED's monopoly on power. The SED changed its name to the
Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), and numerous political groups and
parties formed. The communist system had been eliminated. A new Prime Minister,
Hans Modrow, headed a caretaker government that shared power with the new,
democratically oriented parties.
In early February 1990, Chancellor Kohl rejected the Modrow government's
proposal for a unified, neutral Germany. Kohl 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 Lothar de Maiziere (CDU) formed a government
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
Shortly after World War II, Berlin became the seat of the Allied Control
Council, which was to have governed Germany as a whole until the conclusion
of a peace settlement. In 1948, however, the Soviets refused to participate
any longer in the quadripartite administration of Germany. They also refused
to continue the joint administration of Berlin and drove the government
elected by the people of Berlin out of its seat in the Soviet sector and
installed a communist regime in its place. From then until unification,
the Western Allies continued to exercise supreme authority--effective only
in their sectors--through the Allied Kommandatura. To the degree compatible
with the city's special status, however, they turned over control and management
of city affairs to the Berlin Senat (executive) and House of Representatives,
governing bodies established by constitutional process and chosen by free
elections. The Allies and German authorities in the F.R.G. and West Berlin
never recognized the communist city regime in East Berlin or G.D.R. authority
During the years of Berlin's isolation--176 kilometers (110 mi.) inside
the former G.D.R.--the Western Allies encouraged a close relationship between
the Government of West Berlin and that of the F.R.G. Representatives of
the city participated as nonvoting members in the F.R.G. parliament; appropriate
West German agencies, such as the supreme administrative court, had their
permanent seats in the city; and the governing mayor of Berlin took his
turn as President of the Bundesrat. In addition, the Allies carefully consulted
with the F.R.G. and Berlin Governments on foreign policy questions involving
unification and the status of Berlin.
Between 1948 and 1990, major events such as fairs and festivals took
place in West Berlin, and the F.R.G. encouraged investment in commerce
by special concessionary tax legislation. The results of such efforts,
combined with effective city administration and the Berliners' energy and
spirit, were encouraging. Berlin's morale remained high, and its industrial
production considerably surpassed its prewar level.
The Final Settlement Treaty ended Berlin's special status as a separate
area under Four Power control. Under the terms of the treaty between the
F.R.G. and the G.D.R., Berlin became the capital of a unified Germany.
The Bundestag voted in June 1991 to make Berlin the seat of government.
The Government of Germany asked the Allies to maintain a military presence
in Berlin until the complete withdrawal of the Western Group of Forces
(ex-Soviet) from the territory of the former G.D.R. The Russian withdrawal
was completed August 31, 1994. On September 8, 1994, ceremonies marked
the final departure of Western Allied troops from Berlin.
In 1999, the formal seat of the federal government moved from Bonn to
Berlin. Berlin also is one of the Federal Republic's 16 Laender.
Four Power Control Ends
In 1990, as a necessary step for German unification and in parallel
with internal German developments, the two German states and 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. The Alliance was already responding to the changing
circumstances, and, in NATO, issued the London Declaration on a transformed
NATO. On July 16, after a bilateral meeting, Gorbachev and Kohl announced
an agreement in principle to permit a united Germany in NATO. This cleared
the way for the signing of the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect
to Germany" in Moscow on September 12. In addition to terminating Four
Power rights, the treaty mandated the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from
Germany by the end of 1994. This made it 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 3 to 4 years after the Conventional Armed Forces
in Europe (CFE) Treaty, signed in Paris on November 19, 1990, entered into
German unification could then proceed. In accordance with Article 23
of the F.R.G.'s Basic Law, the five Laender (which had been reestablished
in the G.D.R.) acceded to the F.R.G. on October 3, 1990. The F.R.G. proclaimed
October 3 as its new national day. On December 2, 1990, all-German elections
were held for the first time since 1933.
German History Bibliography
* Portions of this text are from the print edition of the 1907 Catholic