Otto I, greatest of a new Saxon dynasty, united Germany and Italy and was crowned first Holy Roman emperor in 962. The strength of the rising Holy Roman Empire was undercut, however, by the two-pronged involvement in Italy and in Eastern Europe. Successive generations of Germanic emperors and of various ducal families engaged in constant struggles within Germany as well as with the papacy, and dispersed their energies in many ventures beyond the confines of the empire. Frederick I (Barbarossa, r.1152–90), of the Hohenstaufen family, overcame the last of the powerful duchies in 1180. His grandson Frederick II (r.1212–50), the most brilliant of medieval emperors, reigned from Sicily and took little interest in German affairs. Four years after his death, the empire broke up temporarily, and there followed a 19-year interregnum. In 1273, Rudolf of Habsburg was elected emperor, but neither he nor any of his immediate successors could weld the empire into a manageable unit.Hunting and gathering peoples roamed the land now known as Germany for thousands of years before the first farmers appeared in the sixth millennium BC . By the time these Indo-Europeans made contact with the Romans late in the 2nd century BC , the Teutons
of the north had driven most of the Celts westward across the Rhine. During the succeeding centuries, Germanic tribes such as the Alemanni, Burgundians, Franks, Lombards, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths gradually developed in the territory between the Rhine estuary in the west, the Elbe River in the east, and northern Italy in the south. Some of these peoples, whom the Romans called barbarians (from the Latin barbari, meaning "foreigners"), overran Italy and helped destroy the Roman Empire; others settled in Britain, France, and Spain. The area on either side of the Rhine was contested until Charlemagne, king of the Franks (r.768–814), extended his domain to include most of Germany as far as the Elbe; he was crowned emperor at Rome in800. Charlemagne's empire was eventually divided among his three grandsons, and the German sector itself was divided in the latter part of the 9th century.
The Holy Roman Empire's loose and cumbersome framework suffered from lack of strong national authority at the very time when powerful kingdoms were developing in England, France, and Spain. In the ensuing period, the Holy Roman emperors tended to ally themselves against the nobility and with the prosperous German cities and with such potent confederations of towns as the Hanseatic and Swabian leagues. During the 15th century and part of the 16th, Germany was prosperous: commerce and banking flourished, and great works of art were produced. However, the already weak structure of the empire was further undermined by a great religious schism, the Reformation, which began with Martin Luther in 1517 and ended in the ruinous Thirty Years' War (1618–48), which directly and indirectly (through disease and famine) may have taken the lives of up to 2 million people. Thereafter, Germany remained fragmented in more than 300 principalities, bishoprics, and free cities. In the 18th century, Prussia rose to first rank among the German states, especially through the military brilliance of Frederick II ("the Great," r.1740–86).
During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, German nationalism asserted itself for the first time since the Reformation. Although frustrated in the post-Napoleonic era, the nationalist and liberal movements were not eradicated, and they triumphed briefly in the Frankfurt parliament of 1848. Thereafter, a number of its leaders supported the conservative but dynamic Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. After a series of successful wars with Denmark (1864), Austria (the Seven Weeks' War, 1866), and France (the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71), Bismarck brought about the union of German states (excluding Austria) into the Second Empire, proclaimed in 1871.
Germany quickly became the strongest military, industrial, and economic power on the Continent and joined other great powers in overseas expansion. While Bismarck governed as chancellor, further wars were avoided and an elaborate system of alliances with other European powers was created. With the advent of Wilhelm II as German emperor (r.1888–1918), the delicate international equilibrium was repeatedly disturbed in a series of crises that culminated in 1914 in the outbreak of World War I. Despite initial successes, the German armies—leagued with Austria-Hungary and Turkey against the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and eventually the United States—were defeated in 1918. As a consequence of the war, in which some 1,600,000 Germans died, the victorious Allies through the Treaty of Versailles (1919) stripped Germany of its colonies and of the territories won in the Franco-Prussian War, demanded the nation's almost complete disarmament, and imposed stringent reparations requirements. Germany became a republic, governed under the liberal Weimar constitution. The serious economic and social dislocations caused by the military defeat and by the subsequent economic depression, however, brought Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party to power in 1933. Hitler converted the republic into a dictatorship, consolidated Germany's position at home and abroad, and began a military expansion that by 1939 had brought a great part of Europe under German control, either by military occupation or by alliance, leading to World War II.
Germany signed a military alliance with Italy on 22 May 1939 and a nonaggression pact with the former USSR on 23 August. Hitler's army then invaded Poland on 1 September, and France and Britain declared war on Germany two days later. France surrendered on 22 June 1940; the British continued to fight. On 10 December 1941, Germany declared war on the United States, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor by its ally Japan. Hitler's troops were engaged on three major fronts—the eastern front (USSR), the North African front, and the western front (France). Hitler relied heavily on air power and bombed Britain continuously during 1941–42. But by 1943, German forces were on the defensive everywhere, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Nazi offensive thrusts. Finally, on 7 May 1945, after Hitler had committed suicide, the Allies received Germany's unconditional surrender. It is estimated that more than 35 million persons were killed during World War II. Of this number, at least 11 million were civilians. Among them were nearly 6 million Jews, mostly eastern Europeans, killed in a deliberate extermination by the Nazi regime known as the Holocaust; there were also about 5 million non-Jewish victims, including Gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, and the physically and mentally handicapped.
After the surrender in 1945, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, controlled respectively by the former USSR, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Berlin was likewise divided, and from April 1948 through May 1949 the USSR sought unsuccessfully to blockade the city's western sectors; not until the quadripartite agreement of 1971 was unimpeded access of the FRG to West Berlin firmly established. In 1949, pending a final peace settlement, Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, consisting of the former UK, French, and US zones of occupation, and the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, consisting of the former Soviet zone of occupation. Territories in the east (including East Prussia), which were in German hands prior to 1939, were taken over by Poland and the former USSR.
The FRG's first chancellor (1949–63), Konrad Adenauer, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), followed a policy of "peace through strength." During his administration, the FRG joined NATO in 1955 and became a founding member of the EC in 1957. That same year, the Saar territory, politically autonomous under the Versailles Treaty but economically tied to France after 1947, became a German state (Land) after a free election and an agreement between France and the FRG. A treaty of cooperation between those two nations, signed on 22 January 1963, provided for coordination of their policies in foreign affairs, defense, information, and cultural affairs. The cost of this program of cooperation with the West was further alienation from the GDR and abandonment, for the foreseeable future, of the goal of German reunification. Many citizens, including a significant number of skilled and highly educated persons, had been covertly emigrating through Berlin in the West, and on 13 August 1961, East Berlin was sealed off from West Berlin by a wall of concrete and barbed wire. The Western Allies declared that they accepted neither the legality nor the potential practical consequences of the partition and reaffirmed their determination to ensure free access and the continuation of a free and viable Berlin.
On 16 October 1963, Adenauer resigned and was succeeded by former Finance Minister Ludwig Erhard, who is generally credited with stimulating the FRG's extraordinary postwar economic development—the so-called economic miracle. Kurt George Kiesinger of the CDU formed a new coalition government on 17 November 1966 with Willy Brandt, leader of the Social Democratic Party, as a vice-chancellor. Three years later, Brandt became chancellor, and the CDU became an opposition party for the first time. One of Brandt's boldest steps was the development of an "Eastern policy" (Ostpolitik), which sought improved relations with the Socialist bloc and resulted, initially, in the establishment of diplomatic ties with Romania and the former Yugoslavia. On 7 December 1970, the FRG signed a treaty with Poland reaffirming the existing western Polish boundary of the Oder and western Neisse rivers and establishing a pact of friendship and cooperation between the two nations. That August, the FRG had concluded a nonaggression treaty with the former USSR; a ten-year economic agreement was signed on 19 May 1973. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, tensions over the Berlin division in particular and between the two Germanys generally eased markedly, as did, in consequence, the intensity of pressures from both Allied and Soviet sides over the issue of reunification. In an effort to normalize inter-German relations, FRG Chancellor Willy Brandt and GDR Chairman Willi Stoph exchanged visits in March and May 1970, the first such meetings since the states were established. A basic treaty between the two Germanys was reached on 21 December 1972 and ratified by the Bundestag on 17 May 1973; under the treaty, the FRG recognized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the GDR, and the two nations agreed to cooperate culturally and economically. Two years later, the GDR and FRG agreed on the establishment of permanent representative missions in each others' capitals. Relations with Czechoslovakia were normalized by a treaty initialed 20 June 1973. The early 1970s brought an upsurge of terrorism on German soil, including the killing by Palestinians of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The terrorist wave, which also enlisted a number of German radicals, continued into the mid-1970s but declined thereafter.
Brandt remained chancellor until 6 May 1974, when he resigned after his personal aide, Günter Guillaume, was arrested as a spy for the GDR. Helmut Schmidt, Brandt's finance minister, was elected chancellor by the Bundestag on 16 May. Under Schmidt's pragmatic leadership, the FRG continued its efforts to normalize relations with Eastern Europe, while also emphasizing economic and political cooperation with its West European allies and with the United States. Schmidt remained chancellor until the fall of 1982, when his governing coalition collapsed in a political party dispute. General elections in March 1983 resulted in a victory for the CDU, whose leader, Helmut Kohl, retained the chancellorship he had assumed on an interim basis the previous October. In January 1987 elections, Kohl was again returned to power, as the CDU and its coalition allies won 54% of the seats in the Bundestag.
The exodus of East Germans through Hungary in the summer of 1989 as well as mass demonstrations in several East German cities, especially Leipzig, led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic in the fall of 1989. Chancellor Kohl outlined a 10-point plan for peaceful reunification, including continued membership in NATO and free elections in March1990. Following these elections, the two Germanys peacefully evolved into a single state. Four-power control ended in 1991 and, by the end of 1994, all former Soviet forces left the country, although British, French, and American forces remained for an interim period. Berlin became the new capital of Germany, although the shift from Bonn to Berlin took place over several years.
Unification has been accompanied by disillusionment and dissatisfaction with politics and the economy. A falling GDP and rising unemployment have raised concerns that the costs of unification were underestimated. By 1997, the German government had given more than $600 billion to eastern Germany through business subsidies, special tax breaks, and support payment for individuals, while private companies invested $500 million more. Even so, the eastern German economy was fundamentally bankrupt with unemployment at about 20%. Some analysts predict that convergence of the two economies will not be complete for another 10 to 20 years. In the meantime, the financial drain imposed on Bonn by the east threatened to imperil Germany's other convergence project, European economic unification. However, Germany and 11 other EU countries introduced a common European currency, the euro, in January 2002.
By October 1996, Chancellor Helmut Kohl had been in office for 14 years, becoming the longest-serving postwar German chancellor. In 1998, German voters decided it was time for a change. In the September parliamentary elections, Kohl's CDU (Christian Democratic) coalition was defeated by the SPD, and Gerhard Schröder became the first Social Democrat in 18 years to serve as Germany's chancellor. The following month, Schröder formed a center-left coalition with the Green Party. The new coalition inaugurated "Future Program 2000" to tackle the country's economic woes and in June 1999 pushed through the most extensive reform package in German history, which included major cuts in state spending as well as tax cuts. In April 1999, the German government was transferred from Bonn back to its prewar seat in Berlin, where the Bundestag moved into the renovated (and renamed) building formerly known as the Reichstag.
In July 1999 Johannes Rau became the first Social Democrat to be elected president of Germany in 30 years. However, continuing dissatisfaction with the nation's budget deficit and other problems resulted in a disappointing showing for the Social Democrats in local elections in September 1999.
In July 2000 government negotiators reached an agreement on the payment of compensation to persons subjected to forced and slave labor under the Nazi regime. A total of dm10 billion was to be paid out under the auspices of a specially created foundation. Official figures showed that racist attacks increased by 40% in 2000, a worrying trend.
In June 2001, the government and representatives from the nuclear industry signed an agreement to phase out nuclear energy over the next 20 years.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Germany agreed to deploy 4,000 troops to the US-led campaign in Afghanistan directed to oust the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda forces. It was Germany's largest deployment outside Europe since World War II, and in November, Schröder survived a parliamentary confidence vote following his decision to deploy the troops.
Parliamentary elections were held on 22 September 2002. Schröder, unable to campaign on a strong economy, staked out a foreign policy position that ran counter to that of the United States. Throughout 2002, the United States and UK were committing troops to the Persian Gulf region, and, in the event that Iraq would not disarm itself of any weapons of mass destruction it might possess, it was evident that the United States and UK might use those troops to force a regime change in Iraq. Schröder announced Germany unconditionally would not support a war in Iraq, and that Germany was in favor of a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Edmund Stoiber of the CDU was Schröder's opponent in the September elections, and the race between them was exceedingly close. Stoiber took a more nuanced position on the question of Iraq, and accused Schröder of damaging German-American relations. Stoiber was more popular with voters on matters of fighting unemployment (9.8% nationwide), and improving a sluggish economy. The SPD and CDU/CSU each won 38.5% of the vote, but the SPD emerged with 251 to 248 seats in the Bundestag (due to a peculiarity in the German voting system which awards extra seats to a party if it wins more constituency seats than it is entitled to under the party vote), and in coalition with the 55 seats won by the Green Party, formed a government with Schröder remaining chancellor.
The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002, calling upon Iraq to disarm itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons or weapons capabilities, to allow the immediate return of UN and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors, and to comply with all UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. The United States and UK indicated that if Iraq would not comply with the resolution, "serious consequences" might result, meaning military action. The other three permanent members of the Security Council, France, Russia, and China, expressed their reservations with that position. Germany became a two-year (non-veto bearing) member of the Security Council in January 2003, and aligned itself with France, the most vocal opponent of war. The United States and UK abandoned diplomatic efforts at conflict resolution in March, and on 19 March, the coalition went to war in Iraq. Once coalition forces defeated Iraq and plans for reconstruction of the country were being discussed in April, Germany stressed the need for a strong role to be played by the UN in a post-war Iraq.