Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and Germany, Divided Again
The struggle for power continued, with radical-left Communists seizing power in Bavaria. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) placed a majority of the blame and economic burden of the First World War on Germany. This spawned a period of hyperinflation and crippling economic burden. 1924 ushered in the Golden Twenties, an era of increasing artistic innovation, liberal cultural life. The Great Depression hit Germany in 1929. Growing unrest led to disapproval of the Weimar government. In the special federal election of 1932 the Nazi Party won the majority. Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 in order to regain support. Following the Reichstag, the Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power, his government established a centralized totalitarian state, withdrew from the League of Nations, and began military rearmament. Austria was annexed in 1938 and Czechoslovakia occupied in early 1939. Hitler’s government signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact with Stalin and in late 1939 Germany invaded Poland along with the Soviets.
Following Hitler’s suicide and the Battle of Berlin, the German armed forces surrendered on May 8, 1945. After the surrender of Germany, the remaining German territory and Berlin were partitioned by the Allies into four military occupation zones. The western sectors, controlled by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were merged on May 23, 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany. West Germany was established as a federal parliamentary republic with a “social market economy”. Starting in 1948 West Germany became a major recipient of reconstruction aid under the Marshall Plan and used this to rebuild its industry (you’re welcome, Germany). East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was an Eastern Bloc state under political and military control by the USSR via occupation forces and the Warsaw Pact. While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of the GDR’s social programs and the alleged constant threat of a West German invasion, many of its citizens looked to the West for freedom and prosperity.
The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to stop East Germans from escaping to West Germany, became a symbol of the Cold War, hence its fall in 1989 became a symbol of the Fall of Communism, German Reunification and Die Wende. Tensions between East and West Germany were reduced in the early 1970s by Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. In summer 1989, Hungary decided to dismantle the Iron Curtain and open the borders, causing the emigration of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Hungary. This culminated in the Two Plus Four Treaty a year later on 12 September 1990, under which the four occupying powers renounced their rights under the Instrument of Surrender, and Germany regained full sovereignty. This permitted German reunification on October 3, 1990, with the accession of the five re-established states of the former GDR.
The united Germany is considered to be the enlarged continuation of the Federal Republic of Germany and not a successor state. As such, it retained all of West Germany’s memberships in international organizations. The relocation of the government back to Berlin was completed in 1999. Following the 1998 elections, SPD politician Gerhard Schröder became the first Chancellor of a red–green coalition with the Alliance ’90/The Greens party. Since reunification, Germany has taken a more active role in the European Union. Together with its European partners Germany signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, established the Eurozone in 1999, and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany as the leader of a grand coalition.
Today, Germany is one of the most influential countries in the world, and, more than likely, the designated leader and spokesperson of Europe. From its humble beginnings as a mishmash of kingdoms, city-states, and free cities, Germany has become a solidified and unified nation which others look to for guidance and support. Despite the horrors that the German people have experienced, they remain resilient and steadfast in their resolve to make Germany an example for all other nations.
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