During Germany’s Inflationszeit (Inflation period) from 1914-1923, inflation rose so high that banknotes for fifty, one hundred,
and five hundred billion Marks were used on a day-to-day basis. This occurred, because in response to initial inflation, the German government simply printed more money without compensating for the Mark’s diminishing value. In August 1923, a kilo of bread cost 69,000 Marks, and by November 1923, currency had become obsolete in Germany.
The area known today as Germany has been inhabited by Germanic tribes since the late Bronze Age, and was partially occupied by the Roman Empire. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Germanic lands were loosely united under the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in the early 19th century. The German Confederation, created in 1815 was a collection of 39 loosely associated states that aimed to organize the economies of each of these German-speaking nations, later replaced in 1866 by the North German Confederation due to the rivalry between Austria and Prussia. Under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, the German Confederation was united into the German Empire, with Kaiser Wilhelm I as emperor. The nationalism of this new German empire, and the young emperor’s desire for Germany’s ‘place in the sun’ in Europe and a spread of influence extending beyond the continent were all contributing factors to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
After the war, the defeated Germany, known as the Weimar Republic, was bitter about the humiliating peace terms enforced by the 1919 Paris Peace Conference amongst the victorious allies of WWI: France, England, The United States, and Italy. Amidst the resentment, the German people sought new political parties to turn to. The Communist party of Germany (KPD) fought against the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP), led by Adolf Hitler, in increasingly violent conflicts. **The Great Depression increased support for both parties, until the NSDAP overthrew the Weimar regime and ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945.
During this period, the terroristic Nazi regime removed the democratic institutions it used to ascend to power replacing them with
dictatorial mandate. In accordance with the ideological beliefs of Hitler and the Nazi party, the regime instituted progressively authoritarian measures directed against ‘subversive’ elements in German society, including political enemies, persons with mental and physical handicaps, homosexuals, Jews, and Romani among others, culminating in a policy directed at their purposeful extermination. The terrors of the Nazi regime were only brought to an end after its defeat by the victorious Allied powers in WWII, begun by the Nazis in 1939. Successive generations of Germans have been forced to grapple with the legacy of the Nazi regime, a process which continues into the present.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Germany was deprived of many of its previous territories in modern-day Poland and occupied by the four victorious powers, France, Britain, and the United States in the west, and the Soviet Union in the east. In 1949 the dual states of East and West Germany were founded, under the aegis of the Soviet Union and the Western Allies respectively.
In 1949, the ally-occupied areas of West Germany were united under a new government into the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), while East Germany remained under the control of the USSR as the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) as a Communist state. However, with the introduction of the Marshall Plan, an American economic plan in which money was brought into a number of European countries following the conclusion of the war in order to rebuild Europe’s economy, West Germany seemed to be thriving, with a higher GDP growth. Many East Germans sought to abandon the Communist political economy of the East, and move to the West. In 1952, East Germany sealed the border between the two regions, as well as dividing the continent between the signatories of the Warsaw pact with the Soviet Union as the leading countries, and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, creating what Winston Churchill famously called the “Iron Curtain”. On August 13th, 1961 officials of East Germany began to build the infamous “Berlin Wall”, a physical concrete wall and militarized zone that would keep the two areas separate, prohibiting the East Germans from fleeing to the West. The tensions between the communist government of the East and capitalistic government of the West were central concerns of the period known as the Cold War, a clash in ideologies that threatened leaders of opposing nations.
Political System Today
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 Bundesländer (federal state), each of them has its own state constitution and government. In the federal German system, the President is the head of state. This is largely a ceremonial position, elected for a maximum of two five-year terms. The President gets elected by the Federal Convention, which consists of all members of the Bundestag and members nominated by the state legislatures. The current President is Joachim Gauck. The head of government is the Chancellor, a position currently occupied by Angela Merkel of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), a center-right party. Every four years after national elections, the newly elected members of the Bundestag vote for the chancellor upon the proposal of the President. Unlike most votes, where the majority of the currently assembled part of the Bundestag is enough, the Chancellor has to be elected by the majority of the whole Bundestag. The Chancellor cannot be dismissed by a vote of no confidence. Surprisingly there have been only eight Chancellors in the six decades of the Bundestag.