One World
Nations Online
Home  Earth  Continents  Europe  Germany Country Profile  History of the Federal Republic of Germany

___ History of the Federal Republic of Germany

Germany celebrates two important anniversaries in 2009

60 years ago, on 23rd May 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was founded with the promulgation of the Basic Law; 20 years ago, on 9th November 2009 the wall between East and West fell in Berlin.
Below an overview of six German decades.  

The 1950s Economic Miracle - Western Integration - World Cup End and new beginning:

Konrad_Adenauer at the German Bundestag 1955
Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967), German statesman, first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany 1949–63, at the German Bundestag, February 1955.
Image: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
Nazi Germany surrenders unconditionally in May 1945. Twelve years of Nazi dictatorship have plunged Europe into the abyss, led to racial fanaticism and horrific crimes, and cost the lives of almost 60 million people in the war and the extermination camps. The victorious Allies divide Germany into four zones. The western powers foster the development of a parliamentary democracy, while the Soviet Union opens the door for socialism in the east. The Cold War begins. The Federal Republic of Germany is founded in the west with the promulgation of the Basic Law on 23 May 1949. The first Bundestag ­elections are held on 14 August and Konrad Adenauer (CDU) becomes Federal Chancellor. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) is founded in the “eastern zone” on 7 October 1949. Germany is in effect divided into east and west.

The young Federal Republic builds close links with the western democracies. It is one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and one of the six countries that sign the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community – today’s European Union – in Rome in 1957. In 1955, the Federal Republic joins NATO, the western defense alliance. Economic and social stabilization makes rapid progress. In combination with the currency reform of 1948 and the US Marshall Plan, the social market economy leads to an economic upturn that is soon described as an “economic miracle”. At the same time, the Federal Republic acknowledges its responsibility towards the victims of the Holocaust: Federal Chancellor Adenauer and Israel’s Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett sign a reparations agreement in 1952. Social highlights: victory at the 1954 World Cup and the return of the last German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union in 1956.

The 1960s - The Berlin Wall -Student Movement - New Liberality
U.S. President John F. Kennedy speech at the Rathaus Schöneberg, Berlin
U.S. President John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his famous speech at the Rathaus Schöneberg (the town hall of West Berlin) in Berlin on June 26, 1963.

On the far right side Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, on the far left side, the then city mayor Willy Brandt. He later became Federal Chancellor
Image © Press and Information Office of the Federal Government
The Cold War nears its climax: more and more refugees leave the GDR for the west. Accordingly, the “zonal border” is sealed off and on 13 August 1961 the GDR government ends free access to West Berlin. It builds a wall through the city, and the border with the Federal Republic becomes a “death strip”. During the next 28 years many people lose their lives attempting to cross it. President Kennedy affirmed America’s guarantee of the freedom of West Berlin during his famous speech in Berlin in 1963. It is certainly an eventful year. The Élysée Treaty, the Treaty of Friendship between France and Germany, is concluded in January as an act of reconciliation. The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials begin and confront Germans with their Nazi past. In autumn, Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard (CDU), the “father of the economic miracle”, becomes Federal Chancellor, following Adenauer’s resignation.

Three years later, the Federal Republic is governed by a CDU/CSU and SPD Grand Coalition for the first time: Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU) is Federal Chancellor and Willy Brandt (SPD) is Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister. The Federal Republic’s economy flourishes until the mid-1960s and more than two million additional personnel are recruited in southern Europe. Many of these “guestworkers” remain in the country and ask their families to join them. The protest movement of students and intellectuals against “incrusted structures” and strict values make a strong mark on the second half of the decade. It brings about a lasting change in the political culture and society of western Germany. Feminism, new lifestyles, antiauthoritarian education and sexual freedom, long hair, debates, demonstrations, rebellion and new liberality – democracy in the Federal Republic experiments in many directions. The societal changes of this time still continue to have an impact today. An SPD politician becomes Federal Chancellor for the first time in October 1969: Willy Brandt leads a social-liberal government that implements numerous domestic reforms ranging from the expansion of the social welfare system to the improvement of education.

The 1970s - Détente - Economic Crisis - RAF Terrorism
Willy Brandt, Spiegel magazine cover, December, 1970
Willy Brandt (1913–92), German statesman; chancellor of West Germany 1969–74;, Brandt achieved international recognition for his policy of détente and the opening of relations with the countries of the Eastern bloc (Ostpolitik). Nobel Peace Prize (1971).

Image: 7 December 1970, Willy Brandt kneels down at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Spiegel magazine cover, December, 1970, the magazine posed the question, “Should Brandt have kneeled?”.

Willy Brandt kneels down at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is 7 December 1970 and the picture goes round the world. It becomes a symbol of Germany’s appeal for reconciliation, 25 years after the end of the Second World War. On the same day, Brandt signs the Treaty of Warsaw between the Federal Republic and Poland. It lays the foundation for a new peace architecture as one of a series of treaties with eastern Europe. Brandt wants to follow Adenauer’s successful western integration by opening up to eastern Europe: “change through rapprochement”. The first German-German summit between Brandt and Chairman of the GDR Council of Ministers Willi Stoph had already taken place in Erfurt in the GDR in March 1970. In 1971 Willy Brandt is honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his policy of understanding with the countries of eastern Europe. In the same year, with the Four Power Agreement, the Soviet Union in effect recognizes that West Berlin belongs to the economic, social and legal order of the Federal Republic of Germany. It enters into force with the other eastern treaties in 1972 and eases the situation in divided Berlin. In 1973, the Federal Republic and the GDR agree in the Basic Treaty that they will establish “normal neighborly relations” with one another. Also in 1973, both German states become members of the United Nations. Following the unmasking of a GDR spy in his immediate circle, Willy Brandt resigns as Federal Chancellor in 1974. His successor is Helmut Schmidt (SPD). From 1973 the country’s economy is affected by the oil crisis.

The 1970s are a decade of external peace, but internal tension: the Red Army Faction (RAF) around Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof wants to destabilize the government, economy and society with attacks and kidnappings. The terror reaches its climax in 1977 – and concludes with the suicide of the leading terrorists in prison.

The 1980s - The Greens in the Bundestag - Escape from the GDR - Fall of the Wall
It is the decade in which a new political force appears in Germany. The Greens, the party that grew out of the peace movement and environmental groups, is founded in 1980. Just three years later, it enters the Bundestag for the first time – with knitted sweaters and sunflowers. Culture shock for the established parties. Helmut Kohl (CDU) has been Federal Chancellor since 1982. He was elected head of government by the Bundestag when the FDP left the SPD-FDP coalition under Helmut Schmidt (SPD) and formed a new coalition with the CDU/CSU.

Fall of he Berlin Wall
People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on 09 November 1989.

Image: Sue Ream, photographer (San Francisco, California)
However, all the decade’s domestic policy events are outshone by the autumn of its last year: the Berlin Wall falls on 9 November 1989. What Germans in east and west had come to regard as almost impossible now happens: under pressure exerted by its own population, the GDR opens the crossing points to the west. The era of German division comes to an end. This event was preceded by the weeks of the peaceful revolution in the GDR: the reforms of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the movements for democracy in Hungary and Poland have created an atmosphere in which many people in the GDR can also openly express their dissatisfaction with the government: by fleeing via Hungary and Czechoslovakia [today the countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia] – and through participation in the Monday demonstrations that begin in September 1989 in front of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig. Both these events shake GDR structures so powerfully that Erich Honecker resigns as SED General Secretary and Chairman of the State Council on 18 October 1989.

On the evening of 9 November, at a press conference, Politburo member Günter Schabowski surprisingly announces radical relaxations in travel restrictions for private travelers that enter into force “immediately, without delay”. The very same night, thousands of GDR citizens rush to the border with West Berlin, where GDR border guards open numerous crossings without clear orders: the Wall collapses. In December, representatives of the GDR citizens movements negotiate on a democratic restructuring of the GDR. At the same time, however, more and more Germans in the east demand German reunification at demonstrations.

The 1990s - Reunification - Reconstruction East - The Move to Berlin
The first free elections to the GDR People’s Chamber take place on 18 March. The election campaign focused mainly on the shape and speed of unification with the Federal Republic. The election result, a victory for the conservative Alliance for Germany, is a clear vote in favor of the fastest possible unification and the introduction of a social market economy.
Helmut Kohl, German statesman; former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Helmut Kohl (1930– ), German statesman; chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany 1982–90, and of Germany 1990–98. As chancellor, he showed a strong commitment to NATO and to closer ties within the EU.

Image: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
The integration of the GDR into the Federal Republic is practically completed following the creation of an economic, currency and social union in May. In foreign policy terms, the road to German unification requires the consent of the four victorious powers of the Second World War: the United States, the Soviet Union [today Russian Federation], France and the United Kingdom consult with the two German states on the arrangements in the Two Plus Four talks. The Two Plus Four Agreement is signed in Moscow on 12 September 1990. United Germany gains full sovereignty and the Allies territorial rights end on 3 October 1990. Germany’s unity is achieved on the same day following the accession of the GDR in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law. The first all-German Bundestag elections are held in December 1990: Helmut Kohl (CDU) is the first Federal Chancellor of reunified Germany. The foreign policy of the Federal Republic strongly supports the deepening of the European community: in 1995, Germany is among the first countries of the Schengen Agreement, which abolishes border controls between its members.

The 1990s are strongly marked by the economic consequences of unification and the reconstruction in eastern Germany. Federal and State Governments conclude a solidarity pact to even out the differences arising from 40 years of division. Additionally, a Solidarity Tax is levied in east and west to benefit the reconstruction of eastern Germany. Berlin has been Germany’s capital since unification; it also becomes the seat of government following a decision by the Bundestag. The Bundestag, the Federal Government and most of the ministries move from Bonn to Berlin in 1999. Gerhard Schröder (SPD) moves into the new Chancellery: he has been at the head of the first SPD-Green coalition at federal level since the 1998 elections.

The 2000s - Globalization Reforms - World Cup
The first decade of the new millennium presents a number of occasions for the world to look towards Germany. The first World Exposition of the century is held in Hanover: Expo 2000 is the first at which presentations focus on the themes of sustainability and a balance between humankind, nature and technology. That is appropriate in a new era with new coordinates: globalization moves the world closer together, both economically and politically – at the end of the decade it will also present its downside in the form of the global financial crisis.

The 2006 World Cup puts the country into optimistic party mood. The “summer fairytale” changes the image of Germans for many people abroad: they are cordial hosts and know how to relax and celebrate. The European Union also celebrates its 50th birthday in 2007 during the German EU Presidency in Berlin. The Berlin Declaration recalls the accomplishments of the EU and the shared values and roots of the member states. In 2004 and 2007 the community grows by 12 countries to reach a total of 27 member states. The new members are primarily central European countries. In the same year the G8 also meets in Germany: new impetus for global climate protection, Africa policy and cooperation with the newly industrialized countries come from Heiligendamm.

In domestic policy, Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, at the head of a coalition of SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens, sets out to implement reforms of the welfare system and combat unemployment with the Agenda 2010 programme. In foreign policy, during this decade Germany frequently demonstrates its readiness to assume wide-ranging international responsibilities within the framework of the international community to contribute to solving conflicts and promoting civil society. In November 2005, a woman becomes government leader for the first time: Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel governs with the votes of a CDU/CSU and SPD Grand Coalition. SPD politician Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Merkel and Steinmeier are the leading candidates of their respective parties for the Bundestag elections in September 2009.

Janet Schayan

Source: Deutschland magazine
More about Germany:

 Germany's History
Outline of Germany's History.

 The German Federal States (Bundesländer)
Profiles of all German Federal States.

 Map of Germany
Political Map of Germany.

 Administrative Map of Germany
Map of the federal states of Germany.

 Google Map Germany
Searchable map of Germany.

Political Map of Europe

External Links:
Deutschland magazine
Germany's most international periodical provides background analyses and information about topical issues in Germany and Europe.

Wikipedia: History of Germany
Wikipedia article about the History of Germany.
Bookmark/share this page