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Germany Modern History

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II in 1945, Germany and Berlin were divided into four occupation zones. Of the American, British and French zones, West Germany was formed in 1949, while the Soviet occupation zone became East Germany. West Germany became democratic and economically successful, but East Germany stagnated in political repression. Millions of East Germans fled west before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. The East German system gradually disintegrated, and popular demands for freedom led to the Berlin Wall being opened in 1989. A year later, the two states reunited in a united Germany.

After the defeat in World War II in 1945, Germany and Berlin were divided into four occupation zones. The areas east of the rivers Oder and Neisse were placed under Polish and Soviet administration, and the German population - a total of several million people - was expelled from there.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Germany. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Of the American, British and French zones, the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) or West Germany was formed in 1949. The Soviet occupation zone became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany. In Berlin, the four zones were formally retained, but in practice West Berlin served as a West German state and East Berlin was proclaimed the East German capital.

During the Cold War between the United States and the USSR superpowers of the 1950s and onwards, the two German states became increasingly attached to each other's block of power. West Germany became a market economy democracy. East Germany was incorporated into communist Eastern Europe.

In West Germany, the Christian Democratic Parties (CDU / CSU) dominated political life for two decades. Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor 1949–1963) and Ludwig Erhard (Chancellor 1963–1966) sought to strengthen Western European cooperation and West Germany's ties to the United States.

Contemporary History of GermanyIn April 1951, West Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) formed the European Coal and Steel Community. The aim was to make it impossible for the legacy enemies of France and Germany to go to war through joint control over the coal and steel industries of the member states and thus over possible upgrading. In 1957, West Germany also helped to form the European Economic Community (EEC), which developed into the EU.

West Germany joined the Western Defense Alliance NATO in 1955 and the Western European Union, a defense organization originating in a Franco-British pact against Germany.

During the Adenauera, West Germany grew from a shattered loser to an economic superpower. The preconditions for "the German wonder" were, among other things, financial aid from the United States, the so-called Marshall Aid, access to cheap labor, newly built industry and a currency reform in 1948. A strict fiscal policy laid the foundations for an export-oriented economy.

East Germany is linked to the Soviet Union

The GDR had a much more difficult financial start. The Soviet Union seized existing industries and took out damages from production once it got underway. Eastern Germany was not allowed to receive Marshall aid.

While West Germany claimed to represent all of Germany that existed prior to Hitler's annexation of Austria in 1938, the GDR considered itself an immaculate new formation, "the first German worker and peasant state". This was tied to the Soviet Union in an "irrevocable friendship alliance", which meant that East German freedom of action was extremely limited. In 1950, the GDR joined the Eastern Economic Cooperation Organization SEV (Comecon) and in 1955 in the Warsaw Pact's defense cooperation.

The transformation of the East German economy to the Soviet model meant that the state took control of industry and crafts, and that agriculture was collectivized. Multi-year plans were drawn up with guidelines for production, prices, wages, finances and foreign trade. However, the economic outcome was disappointing. Both industrial and agricultural production declined, with a significant shortage of goods as a result. High production quotas and increasingly stringent labor standards in June 1953 led to strikes and riots. The discontent began in East Berlin but spread to other cities. They were defeated by the Soviet military. During the 1960s, the East German economy stabilized and the citizens of the GDR got better for a few years.

In addition to economic centralization, political and police measures were taken to consolidate the Communist Party's monopoly of power in the GDR. The schools were commissioned to educate citizens for the communist reconstruction work. The administration was filled with party-loyal people. An extensive control apparatus was built up for all sides of social life and both the media and cultural life were placed in the service of propaganda.

The residents showed what they thought by "voting with their feet". At least 2.6 million East Germans are estimated to have moved west before the Berlin Wall largely stopped this emigration. The wall began to be built on August 13, 1961 and then the East Germans were trapped. Up to the fall of the wall in 1989, about 200 people lost their lives in escape attempts at the wall.

Agreement between West and East Germany

In West Germany, the government passed in 1969 to the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Liberal Party (FDP). The new Chancellor Willy Brandt pursued the policy of relaxation in relations with Eastern Europe that had been initiated during the "great coalition" between CDU / CSU and SPD 1966-1969.

The first formal talks between West and East Germany were held in 1970. In the same year, a non-aggression agreement was concluded with the Soviet Union and a treaty with Poland, where West Germany recognized the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's western border. Relations with other communist states were also regulated. In 1971, the four-power treaty on Berlin was signed, which facilitated West German communications with West Berlin. The basic treaty between West and East Germany in 1972 meant in practice a West German recognition of the GDR. The treaty opened the way for the two German states to join the UN in 1973.

East Germany's party chief Walter Ulbricht had been forced to resign in 1971 because he defied the Soviet leadership's desire for the GDR to approach the West in line with the relaxation policy. The successor, Erich Honecker, followed the Soviet Union's desire for relations with West Germany, but within it he pursued a hard-line policy aimed at minimizing citizens' contacts to the west. During Honecker's 18 years in power, the economy also deteriorated.

Willy Brandt resigned as Chancellor in 1974 after finding out that one of his closest advisers was an East German agent. Despite the agreements with the GDR and the Soviet Union, tensions continued to increase during the reign of Helmut Schmidt's reign, especially after the 1979 decision to allow NATO to station nuclear-armed medium-range rockets in West Germany. The decision contributed to alternative movements, including the Greens, getting air under the wings. In the second half of the 1970s, the extreme left-wing Red Army faction (Baader-Meinhof League) also committed numerous acts of terrorism in West Germany.

After 13 years of SPD rule, the government took over the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl in 1982 since the FDP decided to form a coalition with CDU / CSU.

In the GDR, elections were also held at regular intervals, but there the voters could not choose between different government alternatives. The parties alongside the Communist Party led a shadowy existence as the regime's support parties. At the elections, voters were allowed to say yes or no to unit lists drawn up by the Communist Party. The distribution of seats in Parliament (the People's Chamber) was firm.

The fall of the Berlin Wall

When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev carried out his reform policy from the mid-1980s, the GDR continued in old ways. But the GDR system was rocking during the summer and autumn of 1989, when thousands of East Germans who had entered Western German embassies in several Eastern European countries were allowed to travel to West Germany and even more could get west via Hungary, which abandoned the exit control. At the same time, large demonstrations were held in the GDR demanding democratic reforms.

Honecker was forced to resign in October. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened and in December the Communist Party gave up its power monopoly.

The GDR's first and last free parliamentary elections, held on March 18, 1990, became a victory of Christian Democratic and Liberal parties advocating a rapid reunification. The West German government must also hasten the reunification, as the emigration from the GDR continued.

In February 1990, the foreign ministers of the Second World War's four victorious powers agreed with their German counterparts to begin negotiating a German agreement. In July 1990, Soviet Union leader Gorbachev agreed that the Germans should decide on their own alliance, while Germany promised to contribute to the financing of the Soviet troop uprising from the GDR. At the final meeting on September 12, 1990, the Soviet Union, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, as well as the two German states, signed a treaty that in effect replaced the peace treaty that was never concluded after the Second World War.

On the night of October 3, 1990, the GDR ceased to exist and was in the Federal Republic of Germany. The reunification marked the end for the rights of the victors throughout Germany. The loser of World War II Germany regained its full sovereignty.

The reunification gave CDU / CSU and Helmut Kohl wind in the sails ahead of the first All-German elections held in December 1990. CDU / CSU became the largest party, while the SPD made its worst choice in over 30 years. The race was attributed, among other things, to the party's pending attitude towards the reunification.

Economic problems

Gradually, a growing dissatisfaction with the reunion began to manifest itself. High expectations in the East were replaced in disappointment with the economic hardship that followed the transition from planning economy to market economy. Many unprofitable companies were closed down. The social problems that followed the high unemployment led, among other things, to rising crime and increased xenophobia.

At the same time, a settlement took place with those who were guilty of human rights violations and other abuses during the communist era. Documents were found in the archives of East German security service Stasis, which revealed that prominent East German politicians, officials and church representatives had cooperated with the security service. Among those brought to trial were Honecker, Stasi chief Erich Mielke and spy chief Markus Wolf. However, Honecker was too ill for trial and died in exile in Chile in 1994. Two years later, Honecker's successor Egon Krenz was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison as one of the politically responsible for the killing of refugees along the wall against West Germany.

Germany's economic situation became increasingly strained after the reunification and the government was forced to initiate a austerity policy. The large transfers of resources to eastern Germany, which were funded by a special "solidarity tax", became increasingly unpopular among the former West Germans. The greatly reduced support for Helmut Kohl among disappointed voters in the east contributed to the loss of his party after 16 years in the 1998 general election.

New Chancellor became Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, whose party the SPD formed government together with the Greens. Schröder started a tough budget cleanup with cuts in the welfare system and tax cuts. At the same time, energy taxes were raised and in 2001 it was decided that nuclear power would be discontinued.

The austerity policy led to the defeat of the SPD in several state elections. At the same time, the opposition was in crisis since disclosures about illegal campaign contributions to the CDU led to Helmut Kohl's resignation in 1999 as party leader. He was succeeded by East German Angela Merkel.

In the federal election in 2002, the government continued to gain confidence, but weak economic growth and rising unemployment led to the SPD's opinion support falling and once again the party lost several state elections. To get through its reform package Agenda 2010, with, among other things, lower job security and reduced social security contributions, Schröder had to threaten to resign. The setbacks in the state elections continued and in the spring of 2005, the SPD lost in North Rhine-Westphalia as well, after almost 40 years in power there. Chancellor Schröder saw the election result as a statement of disbelief, and new elections for the Bundestag were announced in September, a year earlier than planned.

Angela Merkel becomes Chancellor

Although the opinion polls before the election showed a great civil victory, the CDU / CSU received only slightly more votes than the SPD. In the absence of alternative government partners, both parties eventually had to agree with each other, and a joint new large coalition was formed. Chancellor became Angela Merkel, who thus became Germany's first female head of government. Schröder chose to leave politics. New party leader for SPD became Kurt Beck.

The Coalition Government adopted a program for better budget balance with, among other things, increased VAT, higher taxation for high-income earners and reduced corporate tax. A health insurance reform became a prolonged battle issue. The SPD lost opinion on government cooperation and voters moved to the left (see Political system), which led to internal disputes and eventually Beck had to resign as party leader. Former SPD leader Franz Müntefering was re-elected in the autumn 2008 post.

However, the SPD's low voter support also retained its election to the Bundestag in September 2009. While Merkel's CDU went ahead with some mandates, the SPD made its worst choice since World War II. Müntefering chose to step down as SPD leader and instead Sigmar Gabriel took over the helm. CDU / CSU initiated government negotiations with FDP. The parties soon agreed to form a coalition government and Angela Merkel was again appointed Chancellor. Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister was Guido Westerwelle from the FDP. Despite some tensions between the government parties, they managed to agree on a tight budget policy with substantial savings in the public sector.

euro crisis

In early 2010, Greece's difficult financial situation put severe pressure on the German government. Merkel feared that German voters would punish her party CDU if the government allowed German multibillion-dollar loans to the next bankrupt Greece route. But in May of that year, the government promised to provide one-fifth of the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) emergency loans to Greece. The decision drew strong criticism from many Germans. A few days later, the CDU and FDP suffered a heavy electoral defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia, where they lost power to the left opposition. It also meant that the government coalition lost its majority in the Federal Council (Parliament's upper chamber; see Political system) and forced agreements with the opposition to get through important political proposals.

However, the government continued to work to rescue crisis-hit euro area countries at the beginning of the 2010s, and was supported, among other things, by the Bundestag for support packages to the indebted Greece, the EU's financial pact on strengthening economic governance in the euro zone and to strengthen the EU crisis fund. However, tens of thousands of Germans reported the financial pact and the crisis fund to the German Constitutional Court, which concluded that these did not contravene the Constitution, but that a ceiling should be set for German contributions to the crisis fund.

The government's decision in autumn 2010 to postpone the planned nuclear decommissioning by 2034 also led to popular protests and falling support for the government. Already half a year later, after the nuclear disaster in Japan in early 2011, the government made a complete reversal and decided that all reactors should be closed in 2022.

It was a personal hardship for Merkel when Christian Wulff was forced to resign as president in early 2012 following corruption charges from which he was later released. Merkel had put a lot of effort into supporting Wulff's candidacy for the presidential post after another CDU politician, Horst Köhler elected to resign as president in 2010. Köhler was questioned following a controversial statement that military efforts may be necessary to defend German economic interests (see Foreign Policy and Defense). In March 2012, the party-politically independent East German pastor and civil rights activist Joachim Gauck was elected new president.

The 2013 election

Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity among the Germans was the Christian Democrats' biggest trump card for the Bundestag election in September 2013. Merkel, as a testament to the government's success, was able to show Germany's good economy, at a time when many other European countries were struggling with heavy debt burdens and other post-crisis problems.

The election was a victory for Merkel and CDU / CSU, which received about 42 percent of the vote and 311 out of 631 seats, which was almost enough for the party to get its own majority on the Bundestag. It was the Christian Democrats' best choice for over two decades. The SPD also increased its voter support and received 26 percent of the vote, while the Greens and the Left both went back to just over 8 percent each.

For the Christian Democrats' FDP, things went much worse; the party was voted for the first time in its history from the covenant day. Merkel therefore turned to the Social Democratic SPD and a decision was made to form a new large coalition. In the new coalition, Angela Merkel became the Chancellor of the SPD with the SPD's leader Sigmar Gabriel as Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Industry.

With 4.7 percent of the vote, the newly formed, Eurocritic and populist Party Alternative for Germany (AFD) was close to passing the five percent barrier to Bundestag. In the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014, it got seven seats and the same autumn it was elected in three state parliaments. With its bourgeois conservatism, the AFD mainly attracted votes from the Christian Democrats. Many leading members of the AFD were former CDU members who left the CDU out of dissatisfaction with the leftist orientation of politics that Merkel stood for in recent years, including through a no to nuclear power and increased social contributions. There was also some German opposition to continued fierce opposition to the euro co-operation and an anger that German taxpayers' money was being used to rescue indebted countries that had survived their assets. These moods favored the AFD.

 
 

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