History of Germany

The concept of Germany as a distinct region in Central Europe can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul (France). The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (AD 9) prevented annexation by the Roman Empire, although the Roman provinces of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior were established along the Rhine. Following the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Franks conquered the other West Germanic tribes. When the Frankish Empire was divided among Charles the Great's heirs in 843, the eastern part became East Francia. In 962, Otto I became the first Holy Roman Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.

In the Late Middle Ages, the regional dukes, princes, and bishops gained power at the expense of the emperors. Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation within the Catholic Church after 1517, as the northern and eastern states became Protestant, while most of the southern and western states remained Catholic. The two parts of the Holy Roman Empire clashed in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which was ruinous to the twenty million civilians living in both parts. The Thirty Years' War brought tremendous destruction to Germany; more than 1/4 of the population in the German states were killed by the catastrophic war. The estates of the Holy Roman Empire attained a high extent of autonomy in the Peace of Westphalia, some of them being capable of their own foreign policies or controlling land outside of the Empire, the most important being Austria, Prussia, Bavaria or Saxony. With the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815, feudalism fell away by reforms and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Thereafter liberalism and nationalism clashed with reaction. The German revolutions of 1848–49 failed. The Industrial Revolution modernized the German economy, led to the rapid growth of cities and the emergence of the socialist movement in Germany. Prussia, with its capital Berlin, grew in power. German universities became world-class centers for science and humanities, while music and art flourished. The unification of Germany (excluding Austria and the German-speaking areas of Switzerland) was achieved under the leadership of the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck with the formation of the German Empire in 1871. This resulted in the Kleindeutsche Lösung, ("small Germany solution", Germany without Austria), rather than the Großdeutsche Lösung, ("greater Germany solution", Germany with Austria). The new Reichstag, an elected parliament, had only a limited role in the imperial government. Germany joined the other powers in colonial expansion in Africa and the Pacific.

By 1900, Germany was the dominant power on the European continent and its rapidly expanding industry had surpassed Britain's while provoking it in a naval arms race. Germany led the Central Powers in World War I (1914–1918) against France, the United Kingdom, Russia, (by 1915) Italy and (by 1917) the United States. Defeated and partly occupied, Germany was forced to pay war reparations by the Treaty of Versailles and was stripped of its colonies as well as of home territory to be ceded to Belgium, France, and Poland, and was banned from uniting with German-settled regions of Austria. The German Revolution of 1918–19 put an end to the federal constitutional monarchy, which resulted in the establishment of the Weimar Republic, an unstable parliamentary democracy. In the early 1930s, the worldwide Great Depression hit Germany hard, as unemployment soared and people lost confidence in the government. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. His Nazi Party quickly established a totalitarian regime, and Nazi Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if they were not met. Remilitarization of the Rhineland came in 1936, then annexation of Austria in the Anschluss and German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement in 1938, and further territory of Czechoslovakia in 1939. On 1 September 1939, Germany initiated World War II in Europe with the invasion of Poland. After forming a pact with the Soviet Union in 1939, Hitler and Stalin divided Eastern Europe. After a "Phoney War" in spring 1940, German forces swiftly conquered Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and France, and forced the British army out of Western Europe. In 1941, Hitler's army invaded Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union.

Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the Nazi regime. In Germany, but predominantly in the German-occupied areas, the systematic genocide program known as the Holocaust killed 17 million, including Jews, German dissidents, disabled people, Poles, Romanies, Soviets (Russian and non-Russian), and others. In 1942, the German invasion of the Soviet Union faltered, and after the United States entered the war, German cities became targets for massive Allied bombing raids. It has been estimated that in all about 353,000 German civilians were killed and 9 million left homeless during the Allied bombing raids.[1] Following the Allied invasion of Normandy (June 1944), the German Army was pushed back on all fronts until the final collapse in May 1945. Under occupation by the Allies, German territories were split up, Austria was again made a separate country, denazification took place, and the Cold War resulted in the division of the country into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany, reduced in territory by the establishment of the Oder-Neisse line. Millions of ethnic Germans were deported from pre-war Eastern Germany, Sudetenland, and from all over Eastern Europe, in what is described as the largest scale of ethnic cleansing in history.[2] Germans also fled from Communist areas into West Germany, which experienced rapid economic expansion, and became the dominant economy in Western Europe. West Germany was rearmed in the 1950s under the auspices of NATO but without access to nuclear weapons. The Franco-German friendship became the basis for the political integration of Western Europe in the European Union.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, the Eastern Bloc collapsed, and East Germany was reunited with West Germany in 1990. In 1998–1999, Germany was one of the founding countries of the eurozone. Germany remains one of the economic powerhouses of Europe, contributing about one-quarter of the eurozone's annual gross domestic product. In the early 2010s, Germany played a critical role in trying to resolve the escalating euro crisis, especially concerning Greece and other Southern European nations. In the middle of the decade, the country faced the European migrant crisis as the main receiver of asylum seekers from Syria and other troubled regions.