A History of Germany

Written by HOST GFS Susanne

There was no nation called Germany until after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 when the German Empire (second Reich) was established with unification of its states on January 18, 1871. Before that year, the word German was used to refer only to German speaking Kingdoms, Duchies, Provinces, and Independent Cities. Let's take a look at the history of what we now know as Germany.

In 911 the Duke of Franconia became head of the Franks, which were the dominant tribe in the region. His power grew and he was soon named King of the Roman Empire. In the 11th century the Empire became known as the Holy Roman Empire, and in the 15th century grew into the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (the First German Reich (Realm). Its tribes were called Saxons and they controlled Prussia, Austria, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Switzerland, northern Italy, and Siebengurgen (Transylvania in Hungary). The Teutonic Knights, an order of German tribes formed to fight in the Crusades, took control in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Livonia and Courland.

Religious conflicts began to develop between the Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, bringing on the Thirty Years War from 1618-1648. It had a devastating effect on the Holy Roman Empire of German States leaving France as the major power. Because it was a religious war, many of the churches were burned, and records destroyed. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 dissolved the Empire into as many as 350 different German states. France won back Alsace-Lorraine. In 1806, with France has a major power, Napoleon began his march in conquest of Europe. Prussia, Russia, and Austria formed a coalition to fight, and defeated Napoleon.

The German Empire began to rebuild with the first German Confederation established on June 8, 1815. It united 38 German states under Prince Clemens von Metternich of Austria. But Austria and Prussia were in conflict over governing control. A new union was organized in 1834 with 23 states under Prussian leadership, but this time Austria and its followers refused to join. In 1848 the leaders of the Union of German States met in Frankfurt to draft a constitution for the new Germany. They declared that Frederick William IV of Prussia should be king. Frederick refused without Austria, and the unification was crushed.

Control of the Kingdoms of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg was taken by Denmark. Austria and Prussia put aside their conflicts and fought together to win the territories back from Denmark. But they could not agree on who would control them, and so the Austro-Prussian War broke out in 1866. Prussia, with its powerful army, under Otto von Bismarck, defeated Austria. Bismarck then created the North German Confederation from 22 German states, with Prussia having full control. In 1870 Bismarck pushed France into war with Prussia. The Southern German states, with their fear and hatred of France, now joined with the North Confederation to fight. Together the Northern and Southern German States were able to win Alsace and much of Lorraine from France. The German Empire (the Second Reich) was born, and William I of Prussia was proclaimed its Emperor.

The German States and Free Cities were....

  1. Prussia (with 13 provinces)
    1. Brandenburg
    2. OstpreuBen (East Prussia)
    3. Hannover
    4. Hessen-Nassau(Hesse- Nassau)
    5. Hohenzollern
    6. Pommern (Pomerania)
    7. Posen(Poznan)
    8. Provinz Sachsen (Province of Saxony)
    9. Rheinprovinz (Rhine Province)
    10. Schleswig- Holstein
    11. Schlesien (Silesia)
    12. Westfalen (West Phalia)
    13. WestpreuBen (West Prussia)
  2. Bayern (Bavaria)
    1. Frankekn(Franconia)
    2. Pfalz(Palatinate),
    3. Oberpfalz(Upper Palatinate)
    4. Schwaben(Swabia)
  3. Baden-Wurttemberg (Wuerttemberg)...Capital Stuttgart
  4. Berlin (Free City)
  5. Brandenburg....Capital Potsdam
  6. Bremen (Free City)
  7. Hamburg (Free City)
  8. Hessen (Hesse)...Capital Wiesbaden
  9. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Pomerania)...Capital Schwerin
  10. Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony)...Capital Hannover
  11. Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhein)....Capital Dusseldorf
  12. Rheinland-Pfalz...Capital Mainz
  13. Saarland....Capital Saarbrucken
  14. Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony)...Capital Dresden
  15. Schleswig-Holstein....Capital Kiel
  16. Thuringen....Capital Erfurt
From 1871-1918, Germany was an Imperial Monarchy under William I and William II. It grew in territory, economical strength, and the standard of living improved. Berlin became its capital. Bismarck formed what was to be called the Triple Alliance of Austria, Germany, and Italy. William II tried to further colonize, and built up his navy. This angered the British and brought about the formation of the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia. Tensions grew.

June 28, 1914, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife of the Austria-Hungarian Empire were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian. Austria declared war on Serbia; Germany declared war with Russia and France; and Britain was forced to declare war with Germany. The United States entered in April of 1917. Internal revolutions broke out in Germany with the Soldiers and Workers organizing as Social Democrats, demanding the chancellor give the government over to the people. He surrendered control on November 9, 1918, and the new Republic signed an armistice with the Allies. William II fled to the Netherlands.

The government of Germany now became the Weimar Republic from 1919-1933 with its capital in Berlin. At the Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost one-eighth of its territories, ceding parts of Poland and Lithuania and returning Alsace-Lorraine to France. Czechoslovakia became a new nation. The German economy was in ruins, and social unrest was prevalent. In this period of upheaval, the Nazi Party began to grow in strength. In 1932 Adolf Hitler became president of the party, and on January 30, 1933, he became Chancellor of Germany. The Weimar constitution was dissolved and the German Totalitarian State, the Third Reich (Empire) was born.

From 1933-1945 Germany remained under total dictatorship. Anti-Semitic policies grew, all political and worker parties were outlawed. Only the Nazi Party was allowed to exist. In 1935, compulsory enrollment for military service was enforced. Hitler's army grew and he marched into the Rhineland in 1936. 1938 saw an alliance with Austria and, in March, 1939, Germany took control over Czechoslovakia.

The Second World War began when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Britain and France declared war. Germany continued its territorial march, taking Poland, France, Norway, Denmark, and the Balkans. But in 1941, when it tried to take Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States entered the war. The German army was stopped. Hitler committed suicide in April of 1945 as the Soviet Union and United States converged on Berlin. The Third Reich fell on May 8, 1945.

Germany was once again in ruins. The Potsdam Conference in 1945 between the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France divided the country into four parts in order to finally destroy German military power. The capital of Berlin was also divided. But Germany was actually divided into two parts with the United States, Britain and France in the West, creating The Federal Republic of West Germany with its capital in Bonn; and the Soviet Union in the East, under the German Democratic Republic of East Germany with its capital in Berlin.

The Berlin Wall was completed on August 13, 1961, physically dividing the country. It was not until November 9, 1989, with the new political policy of Glasnost in the Soviet Union, that the wall would be torn down. Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990 under the Federal Republic of Germany. Berlin would once again be the only capital in Germany.

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