History of Germany

The concept of Germany as a distinct region in Central Europe can be traced to 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.

The period of the High Middle Ages saw several important developments within the German-speaking areas of Europe. The first was the establishment of the trading conglomerate known as the Hanseatic League, which was dominated by a number of German port cities along the Baltic and North Sea coasts. The second was the growth of a crusading element within German christendom. This led to the establishment of the State of the Teutonic Order, established along the Baltic coast of what is today Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This crusader state led to the Christianization of these regions, as well as an extension of Germanic culture and language eastward. Also during this period, German Emperors became embroiled in conflicts with the Catholic Church over various political issues, resulting in the Investiture Controversy.

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 and 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 the Allied Powers. Defeated and partly occupied, Germany was forced to pay war reparations by the Treaty of Versailles and was stripped of its colonies and significant territory along its borders. The German Revolution of 1918–19 put an end to the German Empire and established the Weimar Republic, an ultimately unstable parliamentary democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, used the economic hardships of the Great Depression along with popular resentment over the terms imposed on Germany at the end of World War I to establish a totalitarian regime. This Nazi Germany made racism, especially antisemitism, a central tenet of its policies, and became increasingly aggressive with its territorial demands, threatening war if they were not met. Germany quickly remilitarized, then annexed of Austria and the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia in 1938. After seizing the rest of Czechoslovakia, Germany launched an invasion of Poland, which quickly grew into World War II. During the war, the Nazi regime established a systematic genocide program known as the Holocaust which killed 17 million people, including 6 million Jews (representing 2/3rd of the European Jewish population of 1933),[1] Following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June, 1944, the German Army was pushed back on all fronts until the final collapse in May 1945. Under occupation by the Allies, Austria was again made a separate country, denazification efforts took place, large populations under former German-occupied territories were displaced, German territories were split up by the victorious powers. Germany spent the entirety of the Cold War era divided into the NATO-aligned West Germany and Warsaw Pact-aligned East Germany. Germans also fled from Communist areas into West Germany, which experienced rapid economic expansion, and became the dominant economy in Western Europe.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, the Eastern Bloc collapsed, and East Germany was reunited with West Germany in 1990. The Franco-German friendship became the basis for the political integration of Western Europe in the European Union. 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.


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