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History of Germany

 This article is the top of the
History of Germany series.
 Holy Roman Empire
 German Confederation
 German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
 Germany since 1945

The history of Germany is, in places, extremely complicated and depends much on how one defines "Germany".

As a nation state, Germany did not exist until 1871. Before, Germany can only be looked at as a cultural region where many territories, with greatly varying independence, each had their own historical events and it was not entirely clear what area was part of Germany in the first place.

This article briefly outlines each period of German history only; details are presented in separate articles (see the links in the box and below).

Table of contents
1 Struggle against Rome
2 The Frankish realm
3 Holy Roman Empire
4 Unification, the rise of Prussia, and the German Confederation (1806-1866)
5 German Empire (1871-1918)
6 Weimar Republic (1919-1933)
7 Nazism's rise and defeat (1933-1945)
8 Germany since 1945
9 Related articles

Struggle against Rome

One of the most significant battles of the Roman period was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9 AD, in which Germanic tribes led by Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed and wiped out three Roman Legions. After that the Romans never again seriously tried to expand their empire east of the Rhine.

The Frankish realm

For details, see the main Franks article.

Following a century and a half of growing pressure on the Roman frontier, the tribes (Vandals, Burgundians, Alans and Suevi) along the Rhine crossed the river in 407, subsequently establishing various short-lived Germanic kingdoms in parts of modern-day France and Spain.

The kingdom of the Franks however would endure, in varying shape and form, over several centuries under the dynasties of the Merovingians and Carolingians. Under Charlemagne, who subjugated Bavaria in 788 and Lower Saxony in 804 and was crowned Emperor in 800, the kingdom would span over most what is today France and Germany, forming the nucleus for both future countries.

Holy Roman Empire

For details, see the main Holy Roman Empire article.

After the death of Frankish king Louis the Pious, the Frankish lands were divided in the Treaty of Verdun (843) into a western part, the basis of later France, an eastern part, the future Holy Roman Empire, and a central region (northern Italy, the Low Countries and Burgundy), which was to form the focus of subsequent Franco-German rivalry.

With the death of the last eastern ruler of Charlemagne's line 911, kingship passed first to Conrad of Franconia and then 919 to Henry the Fowler, founder of the Saxon dynasty, whose son Otto I the Great reclaimed the title of Emperor in 962. This strange empire, later called the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (Heiliges Römisches Reich deutscher Nation), was to survive under its Kaiser (emperor, the German form of "Caesar") until its dissolution in 1806 after the 1789 French Revolution and the military successes of Napoleon I of France.

Unification, the rise of Prussia, and the German Confederation (1806-1866)

For details, see the main German Confederation article.

After the collapse of the Empire in 1806 and Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 redrew the map of Europe. A united German state was not formed; instead, the sovereign German states only formed a loose confederation, the German Confederation, which which the two dominant players, Austria and Prussia, competed.

In the following decades, the monarchies in the various states focused on holding back liberal powers at the fear of the French Revolution spilling over to Germany. During that time, liberalism (that is, call for political reform towards democracy) was closely tied with nationalism (the call for a unified Germany). After a long struggle, in 1848, riots broke out in Berlin, and King Frederick William IV of Prussia was forced to promise the protesters a constitutional monarchy. A National Assembly was elected from all German states, which convened in Frankfurt to conclude on a new constitution. By the time this was done, however, the movement had swung back, and King Frederick William refused to take the crown of such a new state. The revolution had failed.

After this, Germany would only be united under the pressure of military leadership through Prussia, in a comparably authoritarian state.

German Empire (1871-1918)

For details, see the main German Empire article.

Prussia's military successes, especially in the Battle of Königgratz in 1866 against Austria and in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), led to the formation of Germany as a nation-state under its dominant lead, with Austria left before the door.

Although, with the Reichstag, it had a parliament that was elected nation-wide, this state was not a democracy since the Chancellor was appointed by the emperor. Of these, the Empire saw three; Wilhelm I (formerly king of Prussia and crowned emperor in Versailles in 1871), Friedrich III (1888, the Year of Three Emperors), followed by Wilhelm II, who resigned after the loss of World War I in 1918.

The time of the Empire is one of great economic growth through industrialization, which was somewhat late in Germany, but also rising nationalism and militarism, that is shown in the idea of Drang nach Osten. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I held Germany responsible for its outbreak, and transferred significant acreage of its territory in the east and west to its neighbors. At this time, revolutionary riots would prepare Germany for its first attempt to establish a democratic republic.

Weimar Republic (1919-1933)

For details, see the main Weimar Republic article.

The postwar Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was an attempt to establish a peaceful, liberal democratic regime in Germany. However, government was severely handicapped and eventually doomed by economic problems and the inherent organizational weakness of the Weimar constitution.

In the early years, successive revolts from both left and right (1919-1923) and hyperinflation in 1923 had to be defeated. Over the following years conditions improved with the relaxation of reparation payments and improved relations with Germany's former enemies. A succession of coalition governments restored a substantial degree of order and prosperity until the onset of the Great Depression in 1930.

The new economic decline combined with memories of the 1923 hyperinflation and nationalist opposition stemming from the draconian conditions of the Treaty of Versailles undermined the Weimar government from inside and out. Adolf Hitler and his "National Socialist German Workers' Party" (NSDAP, or Nazis) capitalized on this and on the growing unemployment. Stressing nationalist and racial themes and promising to put the unemployed back to work, the Nazis blamed many of Germany's ills on alleged Jewish conspiracies, even claiming that the first World War was lost because of treason from within (the so-called Dolchstoßlegende).

Nazism's rise and defeat (1933-1945)

For details, see the main Nazi Germany article.

After the NSDAP had gained the relative majority of the popular vote in two 1932 general elections, Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) by President Paul von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, with the help of monarchists, industrial magnates and conservatives like the Nationalist Party (DNVP). After Hindenburg's death (August 1934), Hitler combined the presidency and chancellorship as Führer (leader) of Nazi Germany. Once in power, Hitler and his party first undermined then abolished democratic institutions and opposition parties as they established their "Third Reich"; see Gleichschaltung for details.

In six years, the Nazi regime prepared the country for World War II and enforced discriminatory laws against Jews and others of alleged non-German origin. The Nazi leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the Jewish population in Nazi Germany and later in the occupied countries through forced deportation and, ultimately, genocide known as the Holocaust. A similar policy applied to the Roma and Sinti.

After annexing first Austria (March 1938) and then the Sudeten border country of Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and taking over the rest of the Czech lands as a "Reich protectorate") (March 1939), Nazi Germany in September 1939 invaded Poland, initiating World War II. The part of occupied Poland were converted into lab of Nazi population policies called General Government.

By 1945, Nazi Germany and its Axis partners (Italy and Japan) were defeated – chiefly by the united forces of USA, Britain and the Soviet Union. Much of Europe lay in ruins, tens of millions of people had been killed, most of them civilians, as the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust and many millions of people in the conquered territories. World War II resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructures, led to its division, considerable loss of territory in the East and left a humiliating legacy.

Germany since 1945

For details, see the main History of Germany since 1945 article.

Germans frequently refer to 1945 as the Stunde Null (zero hour) to describe the near-total collapse of their country. At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones by the Allies; the three western zones would form the Federal Republic of Germany, while the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic, both founded in 1949.

This separation lasted until the end of the Cold War, when in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990.

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