Oooh, the Germans are mad at me. I'm so scared! Oooh, the Germans! Uh oh, the Germans are going to get me!
Germany is a country smack dab in the middle of Europe. Densely populated, with an area of 349,223 square kilometers, it holds within its borders 82 million people, making it the most populous country in western Europe. In addition to this, it is also the richest country in the area, being the 3rd most technologically advanced country in the world, behind the United States of America, and Japan.
It is bordered on the north by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea, on the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands, on the south by Austria and Switzerland, and on the east by Poland and the Czech Republic.
Germany is famous for its beer, its philosophers amongst other things. The thing that made Germany most famous however, were its wars. You see, Germany was the main bad guy in World War I, and then again in World War II. During World War II, Adolf Hitler's Nazi government perpetrated what can arguably be called the most heinous atrocity in the history of man kind. During the Holocaust, they rounded up and killed anyone they deemed undesirable. Anyone from Communists, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and most notably Jews. About 11 million people were slaughtered in the Holocaust, 6 million of them Jews. This represented 60% of Europe's total Jewish population.
After they lost World War II, Germany was split up into two states, the Soviet controlled East Germany, and the NATO member West Germany. The city of Berlin was also split up, although it was surrounded entirely by East Germany. This was one of the almost battlegrounds of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, a concrete wall built up mainly to keep East German citizens from defecting to the west, was one of the symbols of the separation between east and west. When it was torn down in 1989, it was the most visible sign that that the Cold War had ended.
Since then, the country has been reunited, which has been tough at times. The restrictions placed upon the people of East Germany had not exactly been conducive to economic growth, and as a result, the east was impoverished as compared to the west. There have been some growing pains naturally, but for the most part it seems to be working out.
Or so the Germans would have us believe...
The people originally living in the area that now makes up Germany were Indo-Euopeans. They migrated from the area between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, in waves between 3000 and 2000 B.C.E. Living in rather primitive tribes, the early Germans were a warlike people. After three legions of Roman soldiers were defeated by these tribes in 9 C.E., the Roman Empire stopped attempting to expand much east of the Rhine River.
In 275, the Franks swept across the Rhine, conquering Gaul, and they managed to hold onto it for quite some time.
In 375, the Huns started sweeping west toward Rome, from Mongolia. Another one of the Germanic tribes, the Visigoths, fought alongside the Roman soldiers to drive the Huns off. However, afterwords there was a famine in their territory, and their pleas for help fell upon deaf ears, and they were naturally pissed off about this. They started a burnin' and a lootin', and eventually moved against Rome itself. in 378, they defeated the Roman soldiers, and killed the Emperor Valens. This was the start of a back and forth between the two groups, with the Visigoths at times being absorbed into the Roman army, and at times set against it.
Several of the other tribes also set up camp in other areas, including the Vandals, who for a time held onto sections of Spain. They were eventually forced out of there, by the Visigoths, who settled in the area.
Holy Roman Empire
For a while, the Franks in Gaul had been absorbed into the Roman army, but with the "fall" of the Roman Empire in the middle of the 5th century, they were left to their own devices. They gradually spread out, taking most of the area of present day France and Germany. They also converted to Christianity in 496.
The greatest of the Frankish Kings was Charlemagne. Crowned in 768, under his guidance, the Franks conquered Italy, northern Spain, Saxony, and Bavaria. After this, for getting his new subjects to convert to Christianity, he was crowned the head of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III, on Christmas Day 800. This was the first of the German Reichs.
Unfortunately, Charlemagne had to die. His son, Louis the Pious took over for him in 814, but he passed away in 843. After his death, in the Treaty of Verdun the empire was split up in three. The borders roughly corresponded to present day France, Germany, and Italy and a bit of a buffer zone between the other two. The eastern portion retained the right to call itself the Holy Roman Empire. However, Charlemagne's successors were not nearly as good at keeping things together as he had been. The "Empire" soon collapsed into a mishmash of local states, duchies, and independent towns. The "Emperor" was elected by the most powerful of the princes in the realm. With only a few exceptions, this was a member of the Hamburg family. For the most part, these "Emperors" focused upon managing their own territories, which were located in present day Austria.
This trend persisted for quite some time. The destabilization caused by the bubonic plague in the middle of the 14th century, and later by the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century made centralizing power quite hard. The defenestration of a pair of Catholic officials by some Protestant nobles in Prague sparked off the Thirty Years' War, which was fought mostly within and between different parts of the Holy Roman Empire, from 1618 to 1648.
Soon enough, next door in France, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power. He first attacked Germany in 1805, and during the entirety of his military career, spent time tramping his armies back and forth across it. In 1806 Francis II, the last of the Holy Roman Emperors, fearing that his son would not be the one to follow him on the throne, resigned, dissolving the Holy Roman Empire, which had lasted slightly longer than a millennium. After Napoleon was defeated, the remaining German powers formed the German Confederation at the Congress of Vienna, a rather loose group of the states remaining after Napoleon's invasion.
The next major event was the Austro-Prussian war of 1866. Austria, who allied itself with most of the German States, fought off against Prussia, who allied itself with the rest of the states, as well as Italy. Prussia won this war. I mean, they really kicked some ass. This was basically a squabble over control of Germany, and in the end, Austria had to return to Italy a territory it had conquered, and they were told to keep their nose out of German affairs for the time being. Prussia annexed several of the German states, and established a new Northern German Confederation. This group included the rest of the German states, and naturally was controlled by Prussia.
Wilhelm I of Prussia, with his Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, had become the most powerful men in the region, the heads of a very capable military force. This annoyed Napoleon III, of France. Let's just say that one thing led to another, and they get into a little fight. Bismarck lead the Germanic people to victory in the
Franco-Prussian War, winning Alsace and Lorraine from France, and even better, making to work it to unite the rest of the German states. Wilhelm I was proclaimed Kaiser of the new German Empire in 1871. This was the start of the 2nd Reich.
And this is when things get really interesting. Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck from the position of chancellor in 1890. He expanded the Navy, creating a fleet to rival Britain's, and started making alliances, the so called Central powers consisting of Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Germany. This compared to the England, Russia, France alliance. Overall, a rather stable situation. After all, a country is a lot less likely to attack another country if they know that country has allies willing to defend them, right?
Oh... that's not the way it works? Hmmm... Well then maybe we have a problem.
World War I
On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by members of a radical Serbian nationalist group by the name of The Black Hand, while he was touring the Austrian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Naturally, Austria was pissed off, and tried to take it out on Serbia. They sent a list demands to the government. The Serbs were willing to concede to most of them, but not all. They weren't willing to allow their citizens to be tried in an Austrian court. To prepare for the possibility of being attacked, they began mobilizing their troops. Austria, saw this as a sign that they were not going to concede the point, and declared war on Serbia on July 28. Getting ready for some rumbling, all the other European powers mobilized their troops.
The Germans issued an ultimatum to Russia on the last day of July, telling them to demobilize their troops or be prepared to use them. The next day, they declared war on Russia.
The German war plan called not to attack Russia all out to begin with, but instead to try and crush France before Russia could get ready. On August the 2nd, they invaded Luxembourg, and received a message from Belgium, telling them that despite (or because of) Belgium's neutrality, German troops would not be allowed to pass through. But the German army really needed to get to France, so they attacked anyways.
Suffice it to say that things didn't exactly go according to plan. The rather new invention of the machine gun gave the defender on a field of battle a significant advantage. The German war machine ran into the French, and stalled. At the same time, the Russians were attacking from the east, and at sea, they had the British to contend with. The Ottoman empire joined the fight on the side of the Central Powers. Oh, and it turned out that Italy kind of wanted to sit this one out. The Americans just wanted to stay out of it, and if they could, convince everyone else to stop squabling. However, due to the German Navy's habit of using their U-Boat submarines to American ships, they decided to get in on the fight as well.
This was not a fun war. Trench warfare turned the entire affair into a war of attrition. The only way that any side could gain ground was by throwing a whole bunch of men at enemy enbankments, hoping that your enemy could not kill them faster than you could send them over. World War I also saw the first use of chemical weapons, mustard gas, which was quite effective at killing or incapacitating soldiers in the trenches. The war actually went rather well for the Germans on the eastern front, due to the extremely poor equipment used by the Russian forces. They dropped out of the war in 1917, after Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown by Communists in the October Revolution.
However, on the western front, things did not go nearly as well. Progress was slow going at best. Once the United States of America joined the battle, it was really a numbers game, and they weren't in favour of the Germans. They kept getting beaten back, until eventually they surrendered. The war was declared over on November 11, 1918.
10 million dead soldiers later, civilization's first attempt to kill itself was over.
Now all we had to do was mop up.
Treaty of Versailles
The thing is that when all the dust had cleared, the guys who won the war were more than a little pissed off. They had a whole lot of dead citizens, there was a great deal of damage done to France, and everyone had spent a whole load of money to fight them. So, the winners decided that since Germany started the war, they should be the ones left with the tab. So, they wrote up the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed upon Germany heavy reparations to be paid to the Allies, and placed limits upon what they could have for armed forces. It also set up the League of Nations, which was an even more ineffectual version of the United Nations. As well, Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, and the Saar basin, a German area rich in coal and iron, was put under League of Nations control.
The 2nd Reich was dismantled, and replaced with the Weimar Republic. This was an attempt to institute a peaceful democratic government in Germany. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that easy. Crippled by the repayment terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic had a bright idea to just print up more money, and give them that. As we know now, the result of doing this is inflation. And by that, we're talking a couple thousand percent inflation a week. This happened in 1923, and in the years after, they attempted to recover from it. However, in 1930, the Great Depression came along, which plunged the country into even deeper poverty.
Hitler and the Nazis
German pride was at an all time low. And certain people tried to capitalize on this. The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) promised to put the unemployed back to work, and placed the blame for Germany's woes on an unpopular scapegoat, the Jewish people. The Nazis rise to power quite frankly fills many nodes, so I will try to make this sort. Adolf Hitler rose to the top of the Nazi party, stepping on more than one person on his rise to the top. From there, he led the party to victory in the 1932 elections, and was elected Chancellor. In 1934, he combined the posts of Chancellor and President to become the Führer of Germany.
Hitler started pushing the limits of the Treaty of Versailles, by building up Germany's military past the limits it was "allowed" to, and by moving troops into the Rhineland, which was verboten by the treaty. In 1938 they started by annexing Austria, and then Sudeten land in Czechoslovakia. And the oher Europeans powers let them do it. They didn't want to get into another war like the last one. It wasn't that much fun. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in particular is known for his policy of appeasement. The idea was that if you give Hitler what he wants now, maybe he'll be happy with it, and stop there.
I'm thinking that they probably didn't bother to read his autobiography, otherwise they probably would have known better than to think he'd stop. Peace in our time my ass.
World War II
Quite frankly, since there was a rather well done quest about this war, I'm only going to do an overview of this one. You want to know more, read the details here.
So, not content with stopping there, Hitler built up his forces... and then struck. on September 1, 1939, his forces invaded Poland. 2 days later, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and India have declared war on Germany. A week later, Canada joins the war effort. Two weeks later, the Soviet Union also invades Poland, from the east. By the end of the month, Poland has surrendered, and the Nazis and the Red Army have met in the middle. They sign a treaty stating that they will respect each other's new border.
After this, Hitler extends peace offers to France and Britain. These offers are rejected. This time, he's gone too far.
There's a bit of a pause, as both sides ready themselves. In April of the next year, the Nazis invade Denmark and Norway, and the next month they invade France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The Nazis new Blitzkrieg tactic, or lightning war, works quite well. France's defenses had been partially based around their experiences of World War I. This time around, however, airplanes and tanks got throw into the mix quite effectively, bypassing France's defenses and hitting them from behind.
By June, these offenses are over, and it's up to the Nazis to hold on to their territory. They began attacking Britain by air, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) attacking the Royal Air Force over British soil, and also attacking targets on the ground. And they certainly weren't restricting themselves to military targets.
Italy had joined the fight by this time. Unfortunately, they had joined the Germans. And, while all this fighting was going on, the Nazis were enacting what they saw as the final solution to the problem of the Jews. That final solution, of course, was to round up and slaughter as many of them as they could get their hands on.
Meanwhile, in Asia, the Japanese allies of the Germans were tearing it up on the mainland, capturing much of China and Korea. They were also itching for a fight elsewhere, so they decided it'd be a good idea to attack the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. This pissed the Americans off a fair bit, because by golly, they had conquered Hawaii first!
This gave the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt an excuse to enter the war, something it seemed he had wanted to do for a while. But, since they were nice guys and all, the Americans decided to focus on the European theater of war first, instead of the Pacific. Meanwhile, earlier that year, the Nazis had broken their non-agression pact with the Soviet Union, and started eating away at them, getting in deep, capturing Stalingrad, and coming pretty close to Moscow.
Eventually, the allies got their stuff together, and planned a successful invasion of France, specifically the beaches of Normandy. The D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944, aka Operaton Overlord, was the largest combined air, sea, and land operation in history. It successfully opened up a second front to the war. Now Germany was getting pounded from both the east and the west. The fat lady hadn't sung yet, but she was certainly warming up her vocal cords. The real question here was not if Germany was going to lose, it was who would make it there first, the Communists or the Capitalists. They met in the center, and after the war, set up zones of control in Germany. As the Allied troops were closing in on Berlin, Hitler decided it'd be a good idea to shoot himself in the head. It's probably the only thing that I agree with him about. Thus ended the Third Reich.
Oh, and Italy also got shown who's boss, and the sea battle in the Pacific against Japan was going pretty good. The United States decided to skip a long drawn out costly invasion of Japan, and instead dropped a pair of nuclear weapons on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, prompting the Japanese to say "Hey we'd rather that not happen again, so we give up." Except they probably said it in Japanese. But anyways, this writeup is supposed to be about Germany.
In the aftermath of World War II, the rest of the world discovered the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. As a result of this, hundreds of people were put to trial for war crimes, many of them subsequently being sentanced to death by hanging. Some of the most notorious orchestrators of the Holocaust include Rudolf Hess, Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and Hermann Goering.
As mentioned above, Germany was the stage of some of the more frozen aspects of the cold war. When the war was over, the country, and the capital Berlin, were split into four zones of control, one for France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The sections controlled by France, Britain, and the US are soon enough merged into one, which we call West Germany, and they called Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). On the west we had East Germany, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic).
The West German people grew to like their situation. The American government, realized where everyone messed up with the Treaty of Versailles, enacted the Marhsall Plan. THey spent hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Germany's infrastructure. In due time, West Germany regained the manufacturing and economic prowess that it had formerly had. They set up a new consitution, with upper and lower legislative houses, and the chancellor heading up the executive branch. in 1955, they also joined NATO.
On the other side of the border, we had East Germany. East Germany was firmly under the control of the communist party. While officially, the Soviet Union didn't control the country, like many other members of the Warsaw Pact, let's just say that any suggestions from Moscow were rather carefully considered. The standard of living wasn't nearly as high in East Germany as it was in West Germany. Instead of getting free money to fix the place up, they were expetced to work, producing stuff, much of which was shipped out of the country. So in other words, a net drain on an already devastated country.
Needless to say, a lot of the East Germans looked across the border, and thought to themselves, hey, I'd like to get me a piece of that. While the border between East and West Germany itself was rather secure, at time the border between West Berlin and the rest of East Germany was not. At first, the Communists tried to starve the Capitalists out of West Berlin, by blockading the city, not allowing any shipments of food or other supplies to enter the city. In order to get around this, NATO airdropped 10,000 tons of food and supplies into the city on a daily basis. The blockade lasted from June 24, 1948, to May 11, 1949. Eventually, the Soviets saw that their blockade wasn't really doing anything, and gave up.
Since the Soviets were not able to starve NATO out of West Berlin, the people of East Germany still saw them, and their lifestyle as compared to their own, and decided not to stay. People were streaming across from East to West Berlin. So, in 1961, the East German government began erecting a concrete wall around the city, complete with armed guards who would shoot anyone who tried to escape over it. It is estimated that between 1946 and when the wall was built in 1961 that over 2.6 million people defected from East Berlin to West Berlin.
And the situation stayed much the same for decades. The two sister countries would take out their frustrations via sports, especially the Olympics. During the Cold War, the Olympic Games were basically a West vs. East grudge match. The Soviets were good at hockey, the East Germans were good at gymnastics, swimming, weight lifting, figure skating, etc. As well, there was a single East Germany vs. West Germany Football match, in the first round of the 1974 World Cup. East Germany won that game 1-0, but West Germany went on to win the World Cup that year.
Anyhow, this kept going until the late 1980's, when the whole Communism thing suddenly started falling apart. In East Germany, the kicker was in September on 1989, when fellow Warsaw Pact ally Hungary decided to open the border with Austria. Now, it was feasable for East German citizens to travel to Hungary and then to Austria, and from there wherever their little hearts desired.
Obviously, this wasn't good enough, and throughout the rest of the month, and into the beginning of November, demonstrations broke out across the country against the Communist government. Then, on November 9, 1989, a senior Communist Party official was giving a radio address, and announced that the decision had been made to open the checkpoints, effective immediately. The party later claimed that this was not true.
However, by that point there wasn't much they could do. Thousands of East Berliners converged upon the border crossings, demanding to be let across. The guards there had no idea what was going on, but there wasn't much they could do about it. The only way they could have stopped the mob would have been to open fire, and it's unlikely they would have been willing to kill their countrymen en masse at this point. Even if they had, I'm unsure they would have had adequate ammunition to deal with the entire crowd. Quite soon, the guards stepped aside, and even joined the crowd as they streamed across. A load of West Berliners showed up to celebrate with them, and it turned into a party. The police from the East and the West sides got together, and traded hats. Somehow, someone got a crane there, and they ripped out a section of the wall, allowing the people on the other side to stream over even faster. The wall was broken.
The people rejoiced. The West Berlin government allowed all East German citizens to visit the zoos and museums and art galleries of the city. The entire city of East Berlin went on vacation for a couple weeks. It was good times had by all.
After that point, it was clear that the German people were sick of this whole "being two countries" thing. So, negotiations were made, people talked, and stuff was signed. On October 9, 1990, East Germany joined the Federal Republic of Germany, becoming the first of the former Warsaw Pact states to become a member of the European Union. The reunification wasn't easy, as East Germany's economy was really down the toilet. However, over 100 Billion Marks were spent on rebuilding that part of the country, and the area has, if not perhaps caught up with the rest of the country, at least drawn a heck of a lot closer. Much like the Marshall Plan, these efforts have made the former East Germany into a productive part of one of the world's major powers.
Life in Germany has not exactly been hunky-dory, with anything from the growth of popularity of neo-Nazi groups, to somewhat high unemployment rates, but at the very least, things are looking up for this country that has been the focus of a great deal of conflict for the better part of the 20th century.
1: A note to noders: I know there are quite a few aspects of German history that I have either missed, or glossed over, or skipped or whatever. I'm trying to make this a general overview, not a textbook. If there's something you think should absolutely belong in here, /msg Palpz and we can discuss it.
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