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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.

This conception 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 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 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. 

Inter-German Relations

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. 

German Unification

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 elected government. 

Berlin

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 there. 

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 force. 

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 Encyclopedia.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 

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