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History of Germany

Germanic people have occupied the regions of modern-day Germany for thousands of years, but the idea of a unified German state is relatively recent. For much of history the people have been ruled by small, local principalities, duchies, or kingdoms.

As the Catholic Church grew in power, the Holy Roman Empire was created in 962 and much of the territory that this empire ruled over was modern-day Germany. As a whole, the people never seemed to protest this since it put them in a position of great power over their neighbors and the rest of Europe. During this same time, in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis, which began Lutheranism (and Protestantism as a whole). This act and the support of it, led to the Thirty Years War. This war devastated the region and divided the people as most of the northerners and Prussians converted to Lutheranism, while many of the southerners, including Bavaria and Austria maintained Catholicism.

The most significant change over the next couple hundred years was the shifting of power from Germany to Austria as the crown of the Holy Roman Empire passed to the Hapsburgs. Secondly, the protestant reformation and the counter-reformation devastated the country and led to over a century of poverty in many areas.

These religious wars also led to great divisions among the ethnic German populations as there was no united people, but rather multiple groups who rose up to power in some regions, as other regions remained behind in poverty. Prussia, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Bavaria were perhaps the best off as each was slightly distanced from the general dividing line between Protestantism and Catholicism.

In 1740, the Holy Roman Empire was ruled by the Austrian Hapsburgs and as the Holy Roman Empire collapsed, the Hapsburgs continued to rule over much of Germany. However, many other areas ruled themselves, including the Germanic people living in what was known as East Prussia. With the rise of Napoleon and his takeover of much of Europe in the early 1800s, including most of the small German duchies, the region was vastly altered and many of the regions divided further. Some German states sided with Napoleon, while others unified against him. Napoleon rewarded his allies by granting them independent kingdoms, but after Napoleon's fall, many of these kingdoms also fell. Germany was finally unified in 1871 by Otto von Bismarck.

In 1914 World War I (WWI) broke out and Germany naturally sided with Austria-Hungary, but both nations were growing weak and by 1918 the German economy was destroyed and they received peace, but at the expense of paying back all war repatriations to France and other countries. This peace accord (which neither Germany nor Austrian-Hungary were invited to participate in) forced the country into further debt as they already found themselves in a national recession.

As the country was collapsing and was an economic cripple, Adolf Hitler swept into power as many of the people shared his bitterness towards the unfair WWI peace process and the perceived bullying from France. In 1933 Hitler's party, the Nazis took power in the Reichstag and appointed him Chancellor. Hitler's solution to both the poor economic state and the bitterness he held within was to begin a war-time economy. This economic shift resulted in the mass production of arms, tanks, and aircraft.

Once munitions had been built, Hitler took the Rhineland in the west, Austria in the south, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, all of which were occupied by a large percentage of Germanic people. He also began attacks and created unfair laws against the Jews, but even this did little to provoke the west until Hitler took a land he had no legitimate claim to, Poland, in September 1939.

World War II (WWII) began with sweeping Nazi success as they overtook France and Poland and were soon bombing London, Moscow, and Leningrad (St. Petersburg, Russia). However, the war escalated and truly became a world war, which eventually led to the defeat of Hitler's Germany in May 1945.

Unlike after WWI, the peace talks for WWII resulted in Germany paying back none of the damage they caused during WWII and were even absolved of much of their WWI debts. However, it shrunk the country significantly and they became occupied by the Soviets, Americans, Brits, and French; the Soviet zone later becoming East Germany and the other three unifying to become West Germany.

The Cold War was magnified in Germany, specifically Berlin as East Berlin had a wall erected around it overnight in 1961. In 1989 communism collapsed in Germany as the world's favorite analogy of communism, the Berlin Wall, was torn down and in 1990 the two countries were unified.

Since the fall of communism in Germany the country has taken on a leading role in the European Union (EU) and now has open borders with their historic enemy, France. Despite this, the country has struggled at times to advance the east's economy to the level of the west and has undergone the painful re-education of their past, including the Holocaust. These drastic changes in such a short period of time have led to disunity and a lack of identity among many youths, who argue who they truly are.

This page was last updated: March, 2013