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, 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 U.S.S.R. 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.
In August of 1989, Hungary opened its borders between the East and West of Europe, catalyzing what would eventually lead to the reunification of Germany. On November 9th 1989, the wall “fell,” and the borders between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany were opened to all. After months of renegotiation and discussion between the two regions, Germany was reunified into one German republic on October 3, 1990. Some argue that it was the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Wall that brought the end of the Cold War.
The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is located in central Europe, bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark. With a population of over 81 million, Germany is the world’s 16th most populous country and second most populous in Europe (after the Russian Federation), while being smaller than the total area of Montana.
Since the first wind turbines were built at the beginning of the 90s, power generation from wind energy has seen dynamic growth thanks to state-supported programmes. With more than a third of the world's installed capacity, no other country has more wind turbines than Germany.
Exports play an important and ever-increasing role in the German wind industry. The export rate lies at 71 percent and the revenue from foreign business amounts to nearly 3.5 billion euros. One reason for the increasing international demand for wind turbines is their increasing cost-efficiency. The costs for this eco-friendly method of energy generation have more than halved since the beginning of the 90s.
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 Bundesländer (federal states); 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 Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 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.
With 82.67 million people, Germany has the largest population in the European Union.
Karl Marx was born in Trier, in the Kingdom of Prussia in 1818. His work in economics and philosophy revolutionized socialism and greatly impacted our modern understanding of labor and its relationship with capital.
Many know Albert Einstein as the theoretical physicist who came up with the theory of relativity. Here at Brandeis, he is known as one of the founders of the university. Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany and grew up in Munich. In 1921, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”
Germany has had a female political leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, since 2005. She is Germany’s first female chancellor.
Fashion king Karl Lagerfeld was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in Hamburg, Germany.
Baseball legend Babe Ruth was the grandson of German-American immigrants. His maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, came from Oberarlberg in Rheinland-Pfalz.
November 9, 2019 marked 30 years since the Berlin wall fell. This monumental day in history eventually led to the reunification of Germany. For additional information about the history surrounding the event, pictures and commemorative activities, please visit German Mission in the United States.
CGES Director Sabine von Mering shares her story about where she was when the wall fell.
The complex story of the renascence of Jewish communities in Germany and Europe has been one major focus of this exploration, since it can provide models for the evolution of a new tolerant European pluralism. Given that Europe’s most important millennial frontier may be creating such pluralism through conciliating new diversity with peaceful and creative social unity, CGES has also recently nourished debate on the integration of immigrant communities, in particular those of Muslims in Europe.
The increasing inter-dependence among European nations following recent EU development and enlargement has enhanced the EU’s capacities to “act as a global partner.” (German Foreign Minister Steinmeier). In any foreseeable future, EU Europe, with Germany at its heart, will stand as a huge united market of more than 500 million prosperous consumers and productive workers. It will also continue as the U.S.’s largest single trading partner — EU-U.S. commercial trade of over 4 trillion dollars still exceeds the U.S.’s trade with China.
European nations and the EU are, and will continue to be, key partners of the U.S. in efforts to shape globalization in humane and sustainable ways. The European region thus remains a central and vital source of economic and cultural innovation and an important collective advocate for global progress, dignity and peace. The redesign of the transatlantic agenda currently under way thus should include strong commitment to the study of political, economic and cultural developments on both sides of the ocean. It should also contribute to the energetic resumption of the kinds of multilateralism that modern Germany and Europe have consistently advocated.