Prehistoric Germany

With the discovery of human remains in the Neander valley (Neandertal) near Dusseldorf, scientists were able to say with certainty that humans existed in Germany as early as 100,000 years ago. These early inhabitants appear to have been nomadic hunting groups.

The Celts settled in parts of present day Germany, farming and mastering the refinement of metal ores; they were conquered by the Teutons as well as by the Roman armies.

Romans and Charlemagne

The Germanic/ Teutonic tribes made a forceful entry into the civilised world in 9 A.D. when they defeated three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest (Teutoburger Wald), south-east of modern day Bielefeld. The event was a turning point in history as it halted Roman expansion beyond the river Rhine (Rhein).

Yet, Roman civilisation made an indelible impression upon the Germans who constituted half of the successor empire established by Charlemange. This empire lasted until almost modern times as the Holy Roman Empire.

Charlemagne had managed to unite the Germans and establish a strong central authority at Aachen. He encouraged the building of schools and monasteries and promoted scholarships. After his death, however, fighting broke out among his heirs; in 843 they signed the treaty of Verdun that divided the empire.

The empire remained fragmented into a multitude of pretty principalities each ruled by a member of the German nobility while other European peoples were coalescing into nation states.

In 1241, the formation of the Hanseatic League established a system of laws, banks, courts and legislatures that allowed the cities to develop a network of trading posts.

These Hanseatic cities prospered, but the rest of the German states remained rural and agricultural and fought with each other for the right to collect money by imposing taxes such a toll charges.

Protestant Reformation – Age of Religious Schism

During the 15th century many important changes occurred in Germany that culminated in a revolt against the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther led the reform effort; he and his followers became known as Protestants for their protests against the abuses and restrictions of the Church. Religious dissension was accompanied by social unrest and strife.

By 1555, the Peace of Augsburg was signed, and the princes of Germany had won the right to choose the religion of their own realms. The conflict between the Protestants and Catholics continued and resulted in the Thirty Year’s War. In 1648, the war came to an end with the Peace of Westphalia. Catholic and Protestant areas in Germany were recognised.

19th Century and Unification

The Germans States were a battlefield during the Napoleonic Wars. Thereafter, steps towards unification were taken.

Prussia won the contest for leadership among the states in a series of wars culminating in victory over France in 1870. The German Empire was proclaimed under the Prussian ruler.

1871: the area occupied by Germany consisted of a collection of independent rival states such as Prussia, Saxony, Württemburg and Bavaria.

After the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck united the various States and formed the German Empire (Reich).

For the next four decades Germany dominated the European continent. Commerce and industry expanded rapidly in the unified state. Under the firm control of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Government enacted advanced social legislation, the basis of the social welfare system enjoyed by citizens of the Federal Republic today.

The World Wars and the National Socialist Dictatorship

During the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a powerful navy developed, which was a threat to Britain, and allied to Turkey, also to Austria. Germans still regard the era before 1914 as the “Golden Age”

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (1914) sparked off World War I. After the breach of Belgian neutrality, Britain, France and Russia joined forces against Germany.

1918: the Prussian Empire was defeated, the abdication of Wilhelm II followed. Germany was proclaimed a republic. The fragile democracy that followed it, the Weimar Republic, was unable to cope with the economic problems of the post-war years and the rising extremism. The ultimate collapse of the Weimar Republic began with the world economic crisis in 1929.

The massive slump that followed the war (widespread unemployment and poverty) paved the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi Party. On January 30th, 1933, Hitler became Reich Chancellor. Under a policy of nationalism, industry recovered and, with it, the country’s power as an aggressor.

Germany’s occupation of neighbouring territories, culminating in attack on Poland, led to the outbreak of World War 2.

The turbulent Weimar Republic with Hitler and his allies as political leaders branded German history, especially due to its anti-Semitic programs and the persecution and annihilation of millions of Jews and other minorities. Not only minorities, but as well political opponents had to escape the regime by fleeing abroad.

After a period of European aggression and subjugation of conquered lands, World War 2 followed with Germany suffering a crushing defeat, widespread devastation and occupation by the victorious powers.

Following the unconditional surrender of the German forces on 8th and 9th of May 1945, the last government of the German Reich, headed by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, remained in power for another 2 weeks. Its members were than arrested and, together with other National Socialist leaders, tried by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg for crimes against peace and humanity.

The victorious powers – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and France – assumed supreme authority in the territory of the Reich and their basic objective was to exercise total control over Germany.

A Country Divided

By 1945, Germany was utterly devastated and the country was divided between East and West. The eastern zone became the German Democratic Republic (DDR) and the west became the Federal German Republic (BRD).

Berlin was given special status and was put under a separate four-part control. The quadripartite agreement on West Berlin, which was signed (1971) by the UK, France, the Soviet Union and the USA clarified access rights to West Berlin and allowed West Berliners to visit East Germany.

The first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, presided for 14 years over the transformation of the western half of a defeated, devastated Germany into a dynamic, Democratic Federal Republic.

A drastic monetary reform stabilised the Deutschmark, and the market economy prospered. The early years of the German Democratic Republic were hard for the population.

The standard of living remained very low in East Germany and in 1953 popular discontent led to uprisings in East Berlin and other cities that were suppressed by Soviet troops. The Government’s drive to build heavy industry was modified and an attempt was made to raise living standards. The population declined rapidly with an outflow of refugees to the West. This situation was particularly worrying for the government, since many refugees were from skilled labour force or professions.

In 1961 the GDR (DDR) closed the main outlet for refugees and a wall was built between East and West Berlin. Subsequently the introduction of the ‘New Economic System’ followed in 1963.

East Germany brought about its own economic miracle to emerge as the most dynamic economy of the Eastern Bloc.

American financial aid enabled industries of West Germany to be rebuilt and re-equipped and this, coupled with hard work, made West Germany one of the world’s most advanced industrial nations with a very high standard of living.


Neither Government was prepared for the next change in relations that began may 1989 with the opening of the East German borders. Thousands of East Germans quickly seized advantage of the escape route to West Germany.

By October, those still remaining in East Germany were demonstrating in the streets; President Gorbachov ruled out intervention. In November, masses of jubilant Germans from both sides breached the Berlin Wall. A free East German election in March 1990 was won by the Christian Democrats of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on a pledge of rapid reunification.

With the approval of the four World War 2 powers, the Bonn Government assumed control of the East German economy in July. On October 3, the two Germany’s were formally reunified. On December 2, 1990, Germany voted in the first nationwide election since 1933.

After Reunification

The job of uniting the two Germany’s was a monumental one, and the task is still unfinished.

There are still vast differences in the standards of living between East and West. 40 years of Marxist’ doctrine is difficult to forget, and the work ethic which is so strong in the West is often absent in the East.

Economic disparities have caused tension to grow. Right-wing groups in Germany have captured the attention of the world with their attacks on foreign workers, but sadly, the rise of the extreme right wing groups is a problem of the world and not simply a German phenomenon. Gastarbeiter, unfortunately, have never been absorbed into the German culture, and therefore, are easy targets for extremist groups.

Germany’s challenge in the coming years is to steer a moderate course in Europe and to take the steps towards leadership that its economic and political status dictate and escape the shadow of its past history.

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