Wirtschaftswunder is a German term, meaning "economic miracle" in English.

It refers to the phenomenal recovery of (West) Germany's economy after complete devastation in World War II. In the course of just two decades, the country rose from a pile of rubble to one of the most stable and influential economies in the world. The main part of the Wirtschaftswunder happened in the years between 1955 and 1963.

During the war, the Allies' tactic was to weaken Germany by destroying her industrial base - to put it bluntly, they bombed German factories and cities flat.

For the time after the war there were two plans: The Morgenthau Plan and the Marshall Plan. Fortunately the Allies did not want to repeat the mistakes of Versailles and tried to help Germany rather than punish her. Besides, they needed her as an ally in the upcoming Cold War. The Marshall Plan prevailed, and the US actually gave financial aid to rebuild Germany.

Interestingly, the very fact that most of the country's production capacity had to be rebuilt contributed to its rise: New machines made for higher efficiency and thus for a better competitive position.

Ludwig Erhard's model of a social market economy proved to be a success. The GDP per capita went from 2072 DM in 1950 to 3211 DM in 1954 to 4446 DM in 1958, while unemployment figures plummeted. In 1961 and the following years the rate of unemployment was actually below one percent! Foreign labor had to be imported mainly from Southern Europe. Many of these so called guest workers stayed, which is why there are quite a lot of Germans of eg Turkish descent.

The bulk of society came to enjoy hitherto unknown wealth. In hindsight one can actually observe the different phases of the ensuing buying frenzy. First came the "Fresswelle", the "gorging wave". Then clothes. Then furniture and home appliances. Then vacation trips and cars. In short, it was a time in which the only direction was up!