Historically, Germany has come together economically, and then politically as a nation, been torn apart, and come together again. The most important dates associated with Germany emerging as a nation, is the formation of the German Empire in 1871. And then in 1991, when East and West Germany reunited as the independent nation we have today.
During the medieval period, the region was embroiled in countless conflicts among local rulers. The ‘Reformation,’ led to religious divisions among the German people that escalated to military strife and violence in the ‘Thirty Years War,’ in Europe from 1618 to 1648. When the Peace of Westphalia ended the war, it resulted in the German speaking Europe being divided into hundreds of states. In the next half century, the demand for German unification grew.
After the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, the German Confederation was formed in 1815. It was an association of 39 German states in Central Europe, created by the ‘Congress of Vienna,’ to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries. Efforts to improve the confederation began in 1834 with the establishment of Zollverein, or a customs union. But in the late 1840s, popular discontent in the German Confederation turned into a revolution. The bourgeois King, Louis-Philippe’s regime was overthrown by an insurrection in Paris, in 1848. This sparked sympathetic revolutions against the government of the German Confederation. Consequently, liberals were appointed to the state ministries, and civic reforms were introduced. But the highlight was the attempt to achieve political unification through a national assembly representing all of Germany.
The revolution of 1848, saw the dream of German unification coming close, but it couldn’t be realized because of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. The monarch was offered the crown of a unified Germany but rejected it to maintain the status quo. Otto von Bismarck, a conservative Prussian statesman, saw this as an opportunity to realize the pre-eminence of Prussia over Austria and Germany and pushed the cause of German unification.
Prussia of 1850, encompassed modern day Lithuania through central Germany. German lands around the Rhine River in the west were also controlled by Prussia. The task at hand for Bismarck, was to bring under Prussian control the small provinces lying between Denmark and Switzerland, if he wanted to see the German Empire come together.
In July 1870, France declared war on Prussia, and fighting began in the Alsace-Lorraine area. With the defeat of France, Alsace-Lorraine was transferred to Germany, and Prussia declared the establishment of the German Empire in January 1871. A host of liberal and regional political groups opposed Prussia’s dominance over Germany, but to no avail, Prussia dominated the German Empire until the end of WW I, in 1918.
Germany entered World War I, looking at a larger Germany, with Belgium and Poland as vassal states, and colonies in Africa. Its defeat foretold the end of the German Empire. The Treaty of Versailles imposed heavy burden on Germany, including the loss of territory, financial reparations, and a diminished military. From 1919 to 1933, the Weimar Republic was established in Germany that provided a parliamentary democracy. But it was a disappointment as far as promising democracy was concerned. Ultimately, it was destroyed by Adolf Hitler, who became the Chancellor in 1933, and with the passing of the Enabling Act, the Nazi Era began.
Very soon, Hitler’s regime was converted into a totalitarian regime, and rearmament was high priority. The government launched economic renewal schemes and the persecution of Jews began. On September 1st, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. Germany surrendered in 1945, as the Western Allies emerged victorious.
After World War II, Germany and the city of Berlin, were divided into four occupational zones, controlled by the British, French, Americans, and the Soviets. In the zones occupied by the United States, United Kingdom, and France, the Federal Republic of Germany was established on May 24th, 1949. Following this announcement, the Soviets acted quickly, and in October 1949, formally announced the German Democratic Republic or East Germany.
For 41 years, East and West Germany served as a symbol of the polarized world, the Eastern Bloc that had the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and the Western Bloc with the United States and its NATO allies. This ‘Cold War’ continued until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Following this, East and West Germany were finally able to reunited into one independent nation…the Germany that we see today.
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