The discovery of the lower jaw of Wall 1 shows that prehistoric man was already present in Germany at least 600,000 years ago. The oldest complete hunting weapons in the world were found in a coal mine in Schöningen, where three 380,000-year-old wooden spears were unearthed. The very first non-modern human fossil was discovered in the Neander Valley; the new species of man was named Neanderthal. The fossils of Neanderthal 1 are known to be 40,000 years old. Similarly dated evidence of modern humans was found in caves in the Swabian Alb near Ulm. Discoveries include 42,000-year-old flutes made of bird bone and mammoth ivory, which are the oldest musical instruments ever discovered, the 40,000-year-old Ice Age Lion Man, which is the oldest undisputed human figurative art ever discovered, and the 35,000-year-old Venus from the Hohle Fels, which is the oldest undisputed human figurative art ever discovered. The Nebra Sky Disk is a bronze object from the European Bronze Age attributed to a site near the Nebra River in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.
Germanic tribes and the Frankish Empire
Germanic tribes are thought to date back to the Northern Bronze Age or the pre-Roman Iron Age. From southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, they spread south, east and west from the 1st century BC, coming into contact with the Celtic tribes of Gaul and with Iranian, Baltic and Slavic tribes from central and eastern Europe. Under Augustus, Rome began to invade Germania (an area stretching roughly from the Rhine to the Urals). In 9 AD, three Roman legions led by Varus were defeated by the Bohemian chieftain Arminius. Around 100 AD, when Tacitus wrote the Germania, Germanic tribes had settled along the Rhine and Danube (Limes Germanicus) and occupied most of the territory of present-day Germany; however, Austria, Baden-Württemberg, southern Bavaria, southern Hesse and the western Rhineland were Roman provinces.
In the 3rd century, a number of large West Germanic tribes emerged: Alemanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisii, Sicambri and Thuringii. Around 260, Germanic peoples invaded the territories controlled by the Romans. After the invasion of the Huns in 375 and with the decline of Rome from 395, Germanic tribes moved further southwest. At the same time, several large tribes formed in what is now Germany, displacing or absorbing smaller Germanic tribes. Vast areas known as Austrasia, Neustria and Aquitaine since the Merovingian period were conquered by the Franks, who founded the Frankish Empire and pushed further east to subjugate Saxony and Bavaria. Parts of what is now eastern Germany were inhabited by West Slavic tribes of the Sorbian, Velatian and Obotrite confederations.
East Francia and the Holy Roman Empire
In 800, the Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned emperor and founded the Carolingian Empire, which was then divided among his heirs in 843. For 900 years after the disintegration of the Frankish Empire, the history of Germany was interwoven with the history of the Holy Roman Empire, which then emerged from the eastern part of Charlemagne’s original empire. The area originally called East Francia stretched from the Rhine in the west to the Elbe in the east and from the North Sea to the Alps.
The Ottonian rulers (919-1024) consolidated several large duchies and the German king Otto I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor of these territories in 962. In 996, Gregory V became the first German pope, appointed by his cousin Otto III, whom he soon crowned Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire absorbed Upper Italy and Burgundy during the reign of the Salian emperors (1024-1125), although the emperors lost power in the course of the investiture dispute.
In the 12th century, under the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138-1254), the German princes extended their influence further south and east into areas inhabited by the Slavs and promoted German colonisation in these areas, known as Ostsiedlung. The members of the Hanseatic League, which consisted mainly of towns and villages in northern Germany, flourished through the expansion of trade. In the south, the “Great Ravensburg Trading Company” fulfilled a similar function. Emperor Charles IV’s 1356 edict of the Golden Bull established the basic constitutional structure of the empire and codified the election of the emperor by seven electors who ruled some of the most powerful principalities and archbishoprics.
The population declined in the first half of the 14th century, beginning with the Great Famine of 1315, followed by the Black Death of 1348-50. Despite this decline, German artists, engineers and scientists developed a wide range of techniques similar to those of the Italian artists and designers of the time, who flourished in trading cities such as Venice, Florence and Genoa. Artistic and cultural centres in all German states produced artists such as the Augsburg painters Hans Holbein and his son and Albrecht Dürer. Johannes Gutenberg introduced printing with movable type to Europe, a development that laid the foundation for the spread of learning to the masses.
In 1517, the Wittenberg monk Martin Luther published the Ninety-Five Theses, with which he defied the Roman Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation. The Augsburg Religious Peace of 1555 established Lutheranism as an acceptable alternative to Catholicism, but also decreed that the faith of the prince must be the faith of his subjects, a principle called Cuius regio, eius religio. The Augsburg Convention did not address other faiths: for example, the Reformed faith was still considered heresy and the principle did not deal with the possible conversion of an ecclesiastical ruler, as occurred in the Electorate of Cologne in 1583. From the Cologne War to the end of the Thirty Years’ Wars (1618-1648), religious conflicts ravaged the German lands. These reduced the total population of the German states by about 30 percent, in some places by as much as 80 percent. The Peace of Westphalia ended the religious wars between the German states. After 1648, Germans could choose between Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism or the Reformed faith as their state religion.
In the 18th century, the Holy Roman Empire comprised some 1,800 territories. The elaborate legal system initiated by a series of imperial reforms (c. 1450-1555) created the imperial domains and provided for considerable local autonomy between ecclesiastical, secular and hereditary states, reflected in the Imperial Diet. The House of Habsburg retained the imperial crown from 1438 until the death of Charles VI in 1740. Having no male heirs, he had persuaded the electorate with the pragmatic sanction of maintaining Habsburg hegemony in the imperial office. This question was finally settled by the War of the Austrian Succession; in the Treaty of Aachen Maria Theresa’s husband became Holy Roman Emperor and she ruled the Empire as Empress consort. From 1740 onwards, dualism between the Austrian Habsburg monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia dominated German history.
In 1772 and again in 1793 and 1795, the two dominant German states, Prussia and Austria, and the Russian Empire agreed on the partitions of Poland and divided the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between them. As a result of these partitions, millions of Polish-speaking people came under the rule of the two German monarchies. However, although the annexed territories were incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia and the Kingdom of Habsburg, they were not legally considered part of the Holy Roman Empire.
During the French Revolutionary Wars, with the beginning of the Napoleonic era and the subsequent last session of the Imperial Diet, most of the free secular imperial cities were annexed by dynastic territories; the ecclesiastical territories were secularised and annexed. In 1806, the empire was dissolved; the German states, especially the Rhine states, came under the influence of France. Until 1815, France, Russia, Prussia and the Habsburgs fought for supremacy in the German states during the Napoleonic Wars.
The German Confederation and the Empire
After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna (1814) established the German Confederation, a free association of 39 sovereign states. The appointment of the Emperor of Austria as permanent president of the Confederation reflected the failure of the Congress to accept Prussia’s influence among the German states and ended the long-standing competition between the interests of the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs. Disagreements within the Restoration policy led in part to the rise of liberal movements, followed by further repressive measures by the Austrian statesman Metternich. The Zollverein promoted the economic unity of the German states. The national and liberal ideals of the French Revolution found increasing favour with many Germans, especially the young. The Hambach Festival in May 1832 was a major event in support of German unity, freedom and democracy. Against the backdrop of a series of revolutionary movements in Europe that established a republic in France, intellectuals and commoners in the German states began the revolutions of 1848. King Frederick William IV of Prussia was offered the imperial dignity, but with a loss of power; he rejected the crown and the draft constitution, which was a temporary setback for the movement.
King Wilhelm I appointed Otto von Bismarck as the new Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862. Bismarck successfully concluded the war against Denmark in 1864, which favoured German interests over Danish interests on the Jutland peninsula. The subsequent (and decisive) Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 enabled him to establish the North German Confederation, which excluded Austria from the affairs of the Confederation. After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the German princes proclaimed the founding of the German Empire at Versailles in 1871, uniting all the scattered parts of Germany except Austria. Prussia was the dominant constituent state of the new empire; King Hohenzollern of Prussia ruled as rival emperor and Berlin became its capital.
In the founding period after German unification, Bismarck’s foreign policy as German Chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm I secured Germany’s position as a great power by forging alliances, isolating France through diplomacy and avoiding war. Under Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany, like other European powers, embarked on an imperialist path that led to friction with neighbouring countries. Most of the alliances in which Germany had previously participated were not renewed. The result was the creation of a dual alliance with the multinational domain of Austria-Hungary, which provided for at least benevolent neutrality, if not outright military support. Subsequently, the Triple Alliance of 1882 included Italy, completing a geographical alliance in Central Europe that illustrated the fears of Germany, Austria and Italy of French and/or Russian incursions against them. Similarly, Britain, France and Russia also formed alliances to protect them against Habsburg interference in Russian interests in the Balkans or German interference against France.
At the Berlin Conference of 1884, Germany claimed several colonies, including German East Africa, German Southwest Africa, Togoland and Cameroon. Later, Germany expanded its colonial empire to include German New Guinea, German Micronesia and German Samoa in the Pacific, and Kiauchou Bay in China. In what became the “first genocide of the 20th century”, the German colonial government in South West Africa (now Namibia) ordered the extermination of the local Heroro and Namaqua peoples between 1904 and 1907 as a punitive measure for a rebellion against German colonial rule. In total, about 100,000 people – 80 per cent of the Heroro and 50 per cent of the Namaqua – perished in captivity in concentration camps, where most of them died of disease, abuse and exhaustion, or in the countryside from dehydration and starvation after being deprived of food and water.
The assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria on 28 June 1914 provided the Empire of Austria with the pretext to attack Serbia and trigger the First World War. After four years of war, during which some two million German soldiers were killed, a general armistice on 11 November ended the fighting and German troops returned home. During the German Revolution (November 1918), Kaiser Wilhelm II and all German princes in power resigned from their posts and responsibilities. Germany’s new political leadership signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. In this treaty, Germany, as part of the Central Powers, accepted the defeat of the Allies in one of the bloodiest conflicts of all time. The Germans found the treaty humiliating and unjust, and it was later seen by historians as an influential factor in the rise of Adolf Hitler. After its defeat in the First World War, Germany lost about thirteen per cent of its European territory (mainly areas inhabited by people of Polish, French and Danish origin due to the uprising in Greater Poland, the return of Alsace-Lorraine and the referendums in Schleswig), as well as all colonial possessions in Africa and the South Seas.
The Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany
With the start of the German Revolution in November 1918, Germany was declared a republic. On 11 August 1919, Reich President Friedrich Ebert signed the Weimar Democratic Constitution. In the ensuing power struggle, radical left-wing communists took power in Bavaria, but conservative elements in other parts of Germany also attempted to overthrow the republic in the Kapp Putsch. This attempt was supported by part of the Reichswehr and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist groups. After a turbulent period of bloody street battles in the main industrial centres, the occupation of the Ruhr by Belgian and French troops, and rising inflation culminating in the hyperinflation of 1922-23, a debt restructuring plan and the creation of a new currency in 1924 ushered in the 1920s, an era of increasing artistic innovation and liberal cultural life. But behind this was a current of hostility and frustration over the Treaty of Versailles, which was widely perceived as a stab in the back and the root of much of the anti-Semitism that raged over the following two decades. The economic situation remained unstable. Historians describe the period between 1924 and 1929 as one of “partial stabilisation”. The Great Depression hit Germany in 1929. After the 1930 federal election, the government of Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning was authorised by Reich President Paul von Hindenburg to act without parliamentary approval. Brüning’s government pursued a policy of fiscal austerity and deflation, which led to high unemployment of almost 30% in 1932.
The Nazi party, led by Adolf Hitler, won the special federal election in 1932. After a series of unsuccessful cabinets, Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor of Germany in 1933. After the Reichstag fire, basic civil rights were suspended by decree and within weeks the first Nazi concentration camp opened its doors at Dachau. The Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power; as a result, his government established a centralised totalitarian state, withdrew from the League of Nations after a referendum and began military rearmament.
A government-sponsored economic renewal programme that focused on public works projects, using deficit spending. The public work projects of 1934 immediately put 1.7 million Germans to work, providing them with income and social benefits. The most famous of these projects was the high-speed railway, the Reichsautobahn, known as the German autobahns. Other major construction projects included hydroelectric dams such as the Rurtalsperre, water supplies such as the Zillierbachtalsperre and transport centres such as the Zwickau central station. Over the next five years, unemployment fell and average wages, both per hour and per week, rose.
In 1935, the regime withdrew from the Treaty of Versailles and introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which targeted Jews and other minorities. Germany also regained control of the Saarland in 1935, annexed Austria in 1938 and, despite the Munich Agreement, occupied Czechoslovakia in early 1939.
In August 1939, Hitler’s government negotiated and signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Under this agreement, Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, initiating World War II. In response to Hitler’s actions, Britain and France declared war on Germany. In the spring of 1940, Germany conquered Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, forcing the French government to sign an armistice after German troops occupied most of the country. In the same year, the British repelled German air raids in the Battle of Britain. In 1941, German troops invaded Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union. By 1942, Germany and the other Axis powers controlled most of continental Europe and North Africa, but after the Soviet Union’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Allied reconquest of North Africa and the invasion of Italy in 1943, German forces suffered repeated military defeats. In June 1944, the Western Allies landed in France and the Soviets invaded Eastern Europe. At the end of 1944, despite a final German counter-offensive in the Ardennes Forest, the Western Allies moved into Germany. After Hitler’s suicide in the Battle of Berlin, the German Wehrmacht surrendered on 8 May 1945, ending the Second World War in Europe.
In what later became known as the Holocaust, the German government persecuted minorities and used a network of concentration and death camps across Europe to carry out genocide against what they considered inferior races. In total, more than 10 million civilians were systematically murdered, including 6 million Jews, between 220,000 and 1,500,000 Roma, 275,000 disabled people, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thousands of homosexuals and hundreds of thousands of members of the political and religious opposition in Germany and the occupied countries (Nacht und Nebel). Nazi policies in German-occupied countries led to the deaths of 2.7 million Poles, 1.3 million Ukrainians and an estimated 2.8 million Soviet prisoners of war. German military war losses were estimated at 3.2 to 5.3 million soldiers and up to 2 million German civilians. German territorial losses led to the expulsion of about 12 million ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. Germany surrendered about a quarter of its pre-war territory. Strategic bombing and ground warfare destroyed many cities and cultural heritage sites. After the Second World War, former members of the Nazi regime were convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials.
East and West Germany
After Germany’s surrender, the Allies divided Berlin and the rest of Germany into four military occupation zones. The western sectors controlled by France, Great Britain and the USA were merged to form the Federal Republic of Germany on 23 May 1949; the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic on 7 October 1949. They were unofficially referred to as “West Germany” and “East Germany”. East Germany chose East Berlin as its capital, while West Germany chose Bonn as its provisional capital to underline its position that the two-state solution was an artificial and temporary status quo.
West Germany was founded as a federal parliamentary republic with a “social market economy”. From 1948, West Germany was one of the main recipients of reconstruction aid under the Marshall Plan and used this aid to rebuild its industry. Konrad Adenauer was elected the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 and remained in office until 1963. Under his and Ludwig Erhard’s leadership, the country experienced long-lasting economic growth from the early 1950s onwards, known as the “economic miracle“. West Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957.
The GDR was an Eastern Bloc state under the political and military control of the USSR through the occupying power and the Warsaw Pact. Although East Germany claims to be a democracy, political power is exercised exclusively by the ruling members (Politburo) of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party of Germany, supported by the Stasi, a huge secret service that controls many aspects of society. A Soviet-style command economy was established and the GDR later became a Comecon state. While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of GDR social programmes and the supposed constant threat of West German invasion, many of its citizens looked to the West for freedom and prosperity. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany, became a symbol of the Cold War. It was here that Ronald Reagan gave the speech “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” on 12 June 1987, echoing John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech on 26 June 1963. The fall of the Wall in 1989 became a symbol of the fall of communism, German reunification and “Die Wende”.
Tensions between East and West Germany were eased in the early 1970s by Chancellor Willy Brandt‘s Ostpolitik. In the summer of 1989, Hungary decided to dismantle the Iron Curtain and open its borders, whereupon thousands of East Germans emigrated to West Germany via Hungary. This decision had a devastating effect on the GDR, where regular mass demonstrations became increasingly popular. The GDR authorities relaxed border restrictions and allowed GDR citizens to travel to the West. Originally, the opening of the border was intended to help preserve the GDR as a state, but in fact it led to an acceleration of the process of transformation. This process culminated a year later, on 12 September 1990, in the Two Plus Four Treaty, by which the four occupying powers renounced their rights under the Instrument of Surrender and Germany regained its full sovereignty. This led to the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990 with the accession of the five restored states of the former GDR.
Reunified Germany and EU
Unified Germany is considered an expanded extension of the Federal Republic of Germany and not a successor state. With the Berlin/Bonn Act passed in 1994, Berlin once again became the capital of the reunified Germany, while Bonn was given the unique status of a federal city by retaining certain federal ministries. The relocation of the government was completed in 1999. After the 1998 election, Gerhard Schröder of the SPD became the first Chancellor of a red-green coalition with Bündnis ’90 / Die Grünen.
The modernisation and integration of the East German economy is a long-term process that is expected to last until 2019, with annual transfers from West to East of about $80 billion.
Since reunification, Germany has played a more active role in the European Union. Together with its European partners, Germany signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, created the Eurozone in 1999 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. Germany sent a peacekeeping force to ensure stability in the Balkans and sent a force of German soldiers to Afghanistan as part of NATO’s efforts to ensure security in that country after the fall of the Taliban. These deployments were controversial because under national law Germany was only required to deploy troops for defence purposes.
In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor at the head of a grand coalition. In 2009, the German government passed a €50 billion stimulus package to protect several industries from a downturn.
In 2009, a liberal-conservative coalition led by Merkel took over. In 2013, a grand coalition was formed in a third Merkel cabinet. Germany’s major political projects at the beginning of the 21st century include advancing European integration, the energy turnaround for a sustainable energy supply, the “debt brake” for balanced budgets, measures to significantly increase the birth rate (pronatalism) and high-tech strategies for the future transformation of the German economy, summarised under the keyword Industry 4.0.
Germany was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015, as it became the destination of choice for most migrants arriving in the EU. The country has taken in more than one million refugees and introduced a quota system that redistributes migrants among the federal states according to their tax revenues and existing population density.