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The state now known as Germany was unified as a modern nation-state only in 1871, when the German Empire, dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia, was forged. This was the second German Reich, usually translated as "empire", but also meaning "kingdom", "domain" or "realm." (Königreich means "kingdom", and Reich- as in Reichskanzler was analogous to Royal- or calling the State the Crown in Commonwealth countries. Today the analogous entity is called der Bund, as in Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor).)
The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (843–1806)
The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. From Bildatlas der Deutschen Geschichte by Dr Paul Knötel (1895)
The medieval empire – known for much of its existence as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation but also as the "Holy Roman Empire" – stemmed from a division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which was founded by Charlemagne on 25 December 800, and existed in varying forms until 1806, its territory stretching from the river Eider in the north to the Mediterranean coast in the south. During this period of almost a thousand years, the Germans expanded their influence successfully with the help of the Roman Catholic Church, the Teutonic Order and the Hanseatic League to the East.
Under the reign of the Ottonian emperors (919-1024) the kingdom of the Eastern Franks did not only finally become Germany since the unification of the duchies of Lorraine, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, Thuringia and Bavaria in a common empire was concluded. Also the union of Germany with the Holy Roman Empire, which dominated the German history until 1806, begun with the coronation of Otto I the Great in Rome in 962. Under the reign of the Salian emperors (1024-1125) the Holy Roman Empire reached a new peak of power and expansion, when the threefold empire of Germany, Italy and Burgundy was created. But the fight between the emperors and the papacy revealed already signs of internal weakness.
During the long stays of the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138-1254) in Italy, the German princes became stronger and began a successful colonization of Slavic lands, so the empire increased in size and came to include Pomerania, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia. The princes became virtually independent rulers within their territories. After the Great Interregnum (1256-1273), a period of anarchy in which there was no emperor and German princes vied for individual advantage, followed the death of the last Hohenstaufen king in 1254, princes of miscellaneous Houses were elected emperor and strongly relied on the lands of their own family. The edict of the Golden Bull in 1356 provided the basic constitution of the empire up to its dissolution. Since 1438 for three hundred years, the Emperors exclusively had been elected from the Habsburg family.
In 1530, the attempt of the Protestant Reformation of Catholicism turned out to have failed, and a separate Protestant church was acknowledged as new state religion in many states of Germany. This led to inter-German strife, the Thirty Years War (1618) and finally the Peace of Westphalia (1648), that resulted in a drastically enfeebled and politically disunited Germany, the Habsburg emperors relied more on their role as Austrian archdukes and were challenged by the new kingdom of Prussia since 1740. The empire itself was unable to resist the stroke of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the Imperium was overrun and dissolved (1806).
Restoration and revolution (1814–1871)
Frankfurt Parliament in 1848/49Main article: German Confederation
Following Napoleon's fall and the end of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Congress of Vienna convened in 1814 in order to restructure Europe. In Germany, the German Confederation was founded, a loose league of 39 sovereign states. Disagreement with the restoration politics partly led to the lifestyle called Biedermeier and to intellectual liberal movements, which demanded unity and freedom during the Vormärz epoch each followed by a measure of Metternich repressing the liberal agitation. The Zollverein, a tariff union, profoundly furthered economic unity in the German states.
The states also started to be shaped by the Industrial Revolution, which was the initial step of the growing industrialisation in Europe and contributed to a wave of poverty in it, causing social uprisings. In light of a series of revolutionary movements in Europe, which in France successfully established a republic, intellectuals and common people started the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states. The monarchs initially yielded to the revolutionaries' liberal demands, and an intellectual National Assembly was elected to draw up a constitution for the new Germany, completed in 1849. However, the Prussian king Frederick William IV, who was offered the title of Emperor but with a loss of power, rejected the crown and the constitution. This prompted the demise of the national assembly along with most merits of the revolution. The restoration set in again lasting until 1858.
In 1862, conflict between the Prussian King Wilhelm I and the increasingly liberal parliament erupted over military reforms. The king appointed Otto von Bismarck the new Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck used the desire for national unification to further the interests of the Prussian monarchy. He successfully waged war on Denmark, on Austria and, finally, on France. The lasting effect of the Austro-Prussian War came to be the division between Austria, formerly the leading state of Germany, from the more western and northern parts. After the Franco-Prussian War the new German Empire was created.
German Empire (1871–1918)
Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871. Bismarck is in white in the middleMain article: German Empire
After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich) was proclaimed in Versailles on 18 January 1871. Virtually a result of the wars, the empire was a unification of the scattered parts of Germany but without Austria—Kleindeutschland. Later, colonies were established. After 1888, the Year of Three Emperors, Bismarck was forced to quit by the new emperor, young William II, in 1890 due to political and personal differences. The emperor's foreign policy was opposed to that of Bismarck, who had established a system of alliances in the era called Gründerzeit, securing Germany's position as a great nation and avoiding war for decades. Under Wilhelm II, however, Germany took an imperialistic course, not unlike other powers, but it led to friction with neighbouring countries. Most alliances in which Germany had been previously involved were not renewed, and new alliances excluded the country. Austria and Germany became increasingly isolated.
Although not one of the main causes, the assassination of Austria's crown prince triggered World War I on 28 July 1914, which saw Germany as part of the unsuccessful Central Powers in the second-bloodiest conflict of all time against the Allied Powers. In November 1918, the second German Revolution broke out, and Emperor William II and all German ruling princes abdicated. An armistice was signed on November 11, putting an end to the war. Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, whose unexpectedly high demands were perceived as humiliating in Germany and as a continuation of the war by other means.
Weimar Republic (1919–1933)
The German Revolution of 1918–1919 ended the MonarchyMain article: Weimar Republic.
After the German Revolution in November 1918, a Republic was proclaimed. That year, the German Communist Party was established by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and in January 1919 the German Workers Party, later known as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP, "Nazis"). On 11 August 1919, the Weimar Constitution came into effect. 1920s Berlin was a vibrant and exciting city that flourished with the activity of artists and intellectuals, many of them Jews, during the Weimar Republic; many considered it to be the cultural capital of Europe during this time.
In a climate of economic hardship due to both the world wide Great Depression and the harsh peace conditions dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, and growing tired with a long succession of more or less unstable governments and continuous coalition changes, the political masses in Germany increasingly lacked identification with their political system of parliamentary democracy. This was exacerbated by a wide-spread right-wing (monarchist, völkische, and nazi) Dolchstoßlegende, a political myth which claimed the German Revolution as the main reason why Germany had lost the war, decried the Revolutionists as traitors (Novemberverbrecher = November criminals) and the political system born of the Revolution as illegitimate. On the other hand, radical left-wing communists such as the Spartacist League had wanted to abolish what they perceived as a "capitalist rule" in favor of a "Räterepublik" and were thus also in opposition to the existing form of government.
During the years following the Revolution, German voters increasingly supported anti-democratic parties, both right- (monarchists, Nazis) and left-wing (communists). In the two extraordinary elections of 1932, the Nazis got 37.2% and 33.0%, the communists got 17% in the latter election - half of the parliament were actually anti-democrats, not including smaller parties with questionable credentials in this respect. As a result, democrats like the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) were a minority.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Germany was not far from a civil war. Paramilitary troops, which were set up by several parties, intimidated voters and seeded violence and anger among the public, who suffered from high unemployment and poverty.
On 30 January 1933, President von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.
Third Reich (1933–1945)
On 27 February, the Reichstag was set on fire. Basic rights were abrogated under an emergency decree. An Enabling Act gave Hitler's government full legislative power. A centralised totalitarian state was established, no longer based on the rule of democratic law.
The new regime made Germany a one-party state by outlawing all oppositional parties and repressing the different-minded parts of the public with the party's own organisations SA and SS, as well as the newly founded state security police Gestapo.
Industry was closely regulated with quotas and requirements in order to shift the economy towards a war production base. Massive public work projects and extensive deficit spending by the state helped to significantly lower the high unemployment rate. This and large welfare programmes are said to be the main factors that kept support of the public even late in the war.
Nazi party Rally in Nuremberg, 1936In 1936, German troops entered the demilitarised Rhineland in an attempt to rebuild national self-esteem. Emboldened, Hitler followed from 1938 onwards a policy of expansionism to establish a "Greater Germany", starting with the forced unification with Austria and the annexation of the Sudetes region in Bohemia from Czechoslovakia. The British Prime Minister realised that his policies of appeasement towards Germany had failed. To avoid a two-front war, Hitler concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union. In 1939 Germany launched a Blitzkrieg against Poland, which, following British and French war declarations, began World War II.
Germany quickly gained direct or indirect control of large parts of Europe. In 1941, Hitler broke the pact with the Soviet Union by opening the Eastern Front. Later the United States entered the war in support of the United Kingdom and France, and by 1943 the Soviet Union started to push Germany back, too. On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered after the Red Army occupied Berlin, where Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier.
Before and during the Second World War, Nazi Germany pursued the persecution and genocide of the Jews, as well as other nations they considered subhuman, homosexuals and political prisoners throughout occupied Europe. Persecution of the Jews began from the time the Nazis came to power, and became increasingly severe, as in 1935 the Nürnberger Rassengesetze (Nuremberg race laws) came into force, which deprived Jews of their German citizenship and thus of most rights. This pre-war persecution culminated in the so called Reichskristallnacht on 9 November 1938, a pogrom in which Jews and Jewish-owned businesses were attacked across Germany and Austria.
Following the beginning of the war, Germany began the systematic genocide of the Jews, the Holocaust, which resulted in about six million Jewish deaths, and up to five million non-Jewish people killed. The Holocaust was carried out throughout the areas Germany occupied, and included the use of special killing squads and extermination camps in a massive and centrally-organized effort to murder every possible member of the populations targeted by the Nazis.
Division and reunification (1945–1990)
Occupation zones of Germany in 1945.Main article: History of Germany since 1945.
The war resulted in the death of several million Germans, large territorial losses and the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Germany and other parts of Eastern Europe. All major and many smaller German cities lay in ruins. Germany and Berlin were occupied and partitioned by the Allies into four military occupation zones – French in the south-west, British in the north-west, American in the south, and Soviet in the east.
On 23 May 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was established on the territory of the Western occupied zones, with Bonn as its capital, and declared "fully sovereign" on May 5, 1955. On 7 October 1949 the Soviet Zone was established as the German Democratic Republic (GDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik), with East Berlin as its capital. In English the two states were known informally as "West Germany" and "East Germany" respectively. The former German capital, Berlin, was a special case, being divided into East Berlin and West Berlin, with West Berlin completely surrounded by East German territory.
West Germany was allied with the United States, the UK and France. Established as a liberal parliamentary republic with a "social market economy," the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth following the currency reform of June 1948 and U.S. assistance through the Marshall Plan aid (1948-1951).
East Germany was at first occupied by and later (May 1955) allied with the USSR. An authoritarian country with a Soviet-style command economy, East Germany soon became the richest, most advanced country in the Eastern bloc, but many of its citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity. The flight of growing numbers of East Germans to non-communist countries via West Berlin led on 13 August 1961, to East Germany erecting the Berlin Wall and a fortified border to West Germany.
Relations between East Germany and West Germany remained icy until the Western Chancellor Willy Brandt launched a highly controversial rapprochement with the East European communist states (Ostpolitik) in the 1970s, culminating in the Warschauer Kniefall on 7 December 1970.
The Berlin Wall that had partitioned Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate shortly after the opening of the wall.During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to West Germany via Hungary after Hungary's reformist government opened its borders. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals, especially in Warsaw and Prague. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands of people in several cities – particularly in Leipzig – continued to grow.
Faced with civil unrest, East German leader Erich Honecker was forced to resign in October, and on 9 November, East German authorities unexpectedly allowed East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. This led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with the German reunification that came into force on 3 October 1990.
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