Brief history of Germany summarized
A brief tour of the history of Germany, a European country, in a summarized way.
Around the year 55 BC Julius Caesar conquered the Roman province of Gaul. He made the Rhine the border of the new province. It was a natural defensive barrier. Later the Romans also chose the Danube as their border. They also created a ditch and earthen bank with a wooden palisade on top from the Rhine to the Danube.
In AD 9 the people who lived beyond the Rhine inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman army in a battle in the Teutoburg Forest. The Romans lost about 20,000 men and their leader committed suicide.
The battle ensured that the Romans never conquered Germany beyond the Rhine. However, the Romans did occupy southern and western Germany. They founded several cities that still survive (Augsburg, Cologne, Mainz, Regensburg and Trier).
In the late 5th century, a Germanic people called the Franks built an empire in what is now France. (They gave the country its name.) In 496 Clovis, the leader of the Franks became a Christian and his people followed him. In the year 771 Charlemagne became King of the Franks. In 772 he attacked the Saxons. After a battle in 782, more than 4,000 Saxons were beheaded. Charlemagne also annexed Bavaria.
In the year 800 he was crowned emperor. However, Charlemagne’s empire did not long survive his death. In the year 843 it was divided into three kingdoms, west, middle and east. Over time, the eastern kingdom, East Francia, was divided into 5 dukedoms. At the beginning of the 10th century, the ferocious Magyars from Eastern Europe attacked them.
In 911 Conrad, the Duke of Franconia was elected King of Germany. He died in 918 and was succeeded by Duke Henry of Saxony. In 933 Henry defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Riade. Henry also fought against the Slavs. Upon his death in 936, his son Otto became King of Germany.
He is known as Otto the Great. In 955, Otto completely defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld, ending the threat to Germany forever. In 962 the pope crowned Otto emperor. He died in 973.
The Christian thinker Augustine claimed that God created the Roman Empire to bring law and order to mankind. The idea was that there should be a Church with the Pope at its head and a secular empire. Otto and subsequent emperors claimed to be the successors of the old Roman Empire.
So their Germanic empire was called the Roman Empire. In 1157 it was called the Holy Roman Empire. Not surprisingly, other European nations weren’t enthusiastic about the idea, and in any case, the Holy Roman Empire was never a single, cohesive unit. In reality, the power of the emperors over the different areas of the empire was limited.
During the Middle Ages the original five dukedoms broke up and by 1500 the Holy Roman Empire was like a patchwork quilt of different units. It was made up of princely states, which were ruled by princes subservient to the emperor.
There were also bishoprics ruled by bishops and archbishops. They were called ecclesiastical princes. Imperial knights who answered directly to the emperor ruled some areas. There were also some independent cities like Augsburg.
In medieval Germany, lords granted land to their vassals and in return the vassals swore to serve the lord. Most of the population were peasants. Some were free, but many were serfs, halfway between free men and slaves. Serfs had to work on their lord’s land during certain days of the week.
Germany grew rich in the early Middle Ages and the population increased considerably (until the 14th century). Trade and trade boomed and cities grew larger and more numerous. However, life was still rough and tough for most people. They continued to live in small villages scattered through the woods.
Also, in the 11th century there was a conflict between the pope and the emperor over who had the right to appoint bishops. It was important for the emperor to be able to appoint suitable bishops. In those days church and state were closely linked.
Furthermore, the church was rich and powerful and the emperor was eager to have the bishops on his side. The pope naturally resented this interference in church affairs. The argument was not settled by the Concordat of Worms until 1122.
From 1220 to 1250 Frederick II was emperor. He was known as stupor mundi (wonder of the world) because of his brilliant mind. However, in 1254 the central authority collapsed completely. From 1254 to 1273 there was no emperor.
This period was called the Great Interregnum. It ended when Rudolf of Habsburg was elected emperor. In 1356 Carlos IV issued a document called the “golden bull”, which established the rules for the election of emperors.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century conditions in Germany deteriorated. The climate became colder and there were several famines. Worse yet, the Black Death hit Germany in 1349, killing a third of the population. Jews were treated as scapegoats and many were massacred at this time.
In the late 14th and 15th centuries there was a series of peasant uprisings in Germany. Additionally, impoverished noblemen called robber barons roamed the countryside. However, at that time several universities were founded in Germany. Heidelberg was founded in 1386. Leipzig followed in 1409, Tubingen in 1477, and Wittenberg in 1502.
In the Middle Ages the divisions between nations were vague. In the 16th century they were more clearly defined. One sign of this came in 1512, when the empire’s title was changed to ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation’. Then, in 1517, the great Christian scholar Martin Luther started the Reformation when he wrote his Wittenberg thesis.
In 1521 the heads of the different German states met at an Imperial Diet at Worms. Martin Luther was called to account and he stood by his views. The Reformation divided Germany, with some states accepting its teachings and others rejecting them.
In 1531 the Protestant princes formed the Schmalkaldic alliance to defend the Reformation by force if necessary. The emperor fought a war with them in 1546-47. Although he was victorious, he could not back down and Protestantism could not be eradicated. Then, in 1555, the Diet of Augsburg met.
The Peace of Augsburg declared that the princes could decide the religion of their state. Anyone who disagreed with their ruler could emigrate. Meanwhile, Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and the Old Testament in 1534.
Furthermore, in the early 16th century there were a series of peasant uprisings throughout Germany, as the peasants, dissatisfied with their lot, demanded economic and social change. The disturbances culminated in the Peasants’ War of 1525.
However, the princes easily crushed the rebellion and tens of thousands of peasants were killed. However, the late 16th century was a time of relative peace and stability in Germany.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the uneasy peace between Protestants and Catholics was broken. The Protestants formed a military alliance in 1608. In response, the Catholics formed the Catholic League in 1609. At that time, Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Protestant nobles of Bohemia had obtained certain privileges. When Ferdinand II became King of Bohemia in 1617, he tried to undo them. In protest on May 23, 1618, protesters threw royal officials out of a window in Prague.
The Bohemians revolted and appealed to German Protestants for help. However, the emperor led a force of Catholics and defeated the Protestants at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620.
So, a long series of wars began between the Catholic and Protestant states. Other European powers got involved. The Swedes joined the Protestants in 1630 under their king Gustaf Adolphus (although he was killed at the Battle of Lutzen in 1632). France joined the Protestant side in 1635.
The wars dragged on until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Thirty Years’ War was a disaster for Germany. The population was significantly reduced and much of the country was devastated. Germany took decades to recover from the destruction. The war had another effect. It weakened the power of the emperor and increased the power of the princes and kings.
The main development in Germany during the 18th century was the rise of Prussia. In the 17th century, the Hohenzollern family ruled Brandenburg and East Prussia. In 1701 the ruler of both was the elector Frederick III. In that year he crowned himself King of Prussia. Soon the whole kingdom was called Prussia.
However, at first Prussia was an economically backward area. It only achieved greatness under Frederick II “The Great”, who became king in 1740.
Frederick had a very large army and was a capable general, which enabled him to fight wars successfully. In 1740 Prussia invaded Silesia (an Austrian possession). On April 10, 1741, the Prussians defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Mollwitz. At first the battle went well for the Austrians.
His cavalry defeated the Prussian cavalry and Frederick fled from the battle. However, the Prussian infantry stood up and fought. They outmatched both the Austrian cavalry and the Austrian infantry. As a result, Prussia won the battle. Austria made peace in 1742, but the peace did not last long.
The war began again in 1745. The Prussians won a series of battles at Hohenfriedberg on June 4, at Soor on September 30, and at Hennersdorf on November 23. Frederick II ended the war in December 1745 by enlarging his territory.
In 1756 Prussia returned to war when Frederick invaded Saxony. However, this time Frederick II faced a powerful coalition of enemies. However, the Prussians won two victories at Rossback in November 1757 and at Leuthen in December 1757. The Prussians also defeated the Russians at the Battle of Zorndorf in 1758.
However, the tide of war turned against the Prussians and they were defeated at the Battle of Minden in 1759. Fortunately, in January 1762, one of Frederick’s most powerful enemies, Elizabeth of Russia, died and her son made peace. with the Treaty of Saint Petersburg. The war ended in 1763.
Then, in 1772, Prussia, Austria, and Russia agreed to divide part of Poland between them. In 1792 Prussia and Austria went to war with revolutionary France. However, the French won the victories and Prussia made peace in 1795. Meanwhile, the Prussians and the Russians divided up the remaining part of Poland in 1793. Austria made peace with France in 1797, but the war started again in 1799.
However, Austria was defeated and forced to make peace in 1801. France defeated Austria again in 1805. As a result, some German states allied with Napoleon. In July 1806 Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, which was made up of 16 German states. The Holy Roman Empire officially ceased to exist on August 6, 1806.
In September 1806, Prussia went to war with France. However, Napoleon crushed the Prussians at Jena on October 14, 1806. However, in 1812 the French were totally defeated in Russia. In 1813 Prussia joined Russia in the war against the French. Austria also joined and in October 1813 the combined armies defeated the French at the Battle of Leipzig.
After Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna met to decide the fate of Europe. A German confederation was formed to replace the old Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of 38 states.
An assembly called the Bundestag was formed, made up of delegates from the states. Prussia was the biggest winner of the peace. He won the Rhineland and Westphalia. Prussia’s population increased and it gained valuable mineral resources.
Prussia became increasingly important in German affairs. In 1834 the Prussians and other German states formed a customs union called the Zollverein. Also, in the 1830s Germany began to industrialize.
One sign of this was the opening of the first German railway in 1835 from Nuremberg and Furth. As Prussia industrialized, it grew stronger and stronger, while its rival Austria, which remained an agricultural country, grew relatively weaker.
Meanwhile, an Austrian minister named Metternich tried to prevent the ideas of the French Revolution from spreading in Germany. In 1819 there was in the German universities a student body called the Burschenschaften. On March 23, 1819, a member of one of them killed a writer named August von Kotzebue.
Metternich used this as an excuse to introduce press censorship and strict supervision of the universities. His measures were called the Karlsbad decrees. However, it proved impossible to put the genie back in the lamp.
In 1818 Baden and Bavaria introduced liberal constitutions. Also Wurttemberg in 1819 and Hessen-Darmstadt in 1820. Also, in 1830 a revolution in France caused riots in parts of Germany and some German rulers were forced to make concessions.
In 1831 Brunswick, Hesse and Saxony introduced new constitutions. However, in Prussia and Austria all liberal movements were suppressed.
Then, after 1845, there were a series of bad harvests. There was also a recession and a high level of unemployment. Discontent erupted in the revolution of 1848.
In February 1848, another revolution in France sparked demonstrations and riots across Europe, including Germany. At first the rulers were so alarmed that they backed down and made concessions. However, they soon recovered their courage.
In Prussia, on March 18, 1848, the king announced that he was ready to make some reforms. However, Prussian troops fired on some demonstrators in Berlin and in the ensuing fighting many people were killed. Fearful of further unrest, the king decided to appease the protesters.
On March 19, 1848, he ordered the troops to leave Berlin. On March 21, 1848, he toured Berlin dressed in the revolutionary colors of red, gold, and black.
Then, in May 1848, an elected assembly representing all of Germany met in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt parliament discussed German unity. However, the rulers soon regained their confidence and began to crack down on the revolutionaries.
On April 2, 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament offered the King of Prussia the crown of Germany. However, he rejected the offer. The Frankfurt parliament gradually dispersed, its members going home. Meanwhile, in 1849 European rulers began using their armies to put down rebellions. Soon the old order returned.
The unification of Germany
Then, in 1863, the Danish king tried to annex the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Both Prussia and Austria fought a short war against Denmark in 1864. As a result, Prussia and Austria received joint administration of the two dukedoms.
Disagreements with Austria over duchies gave Prussia a pretext to start a war in 1866. It was all over in a short period of time. On July 3, 1866, Prussia won a great victory over the Austrians at Koniggratz.
Subsequently, a peace treaty created the Prussian-dominated North German Federation. Austria was expelled from German affairs. Bismarck, the German chancellor, then quarreled with France over the question of who was to succeed to the Spanish throne.
The French declared war on July 19, 1870. However, the French were totally defeated at the Battle of Sedan on September 2, 1870, and made peace in February 1871.
Meanwhile, the southern German states agreed to become part of a new German empire with the Prussian king as emperor. Wilhelm I was proclaimed emperor on January 18, 1871. At the end of the 19th century, Germany rapidly industrialized.
By the end of the century, it rivaled Great Britain as an industrial power. In 1879 Germany signed the Dual Alliance with Austria – Hungary. The two powers agreed to help each other in the event of war with Russia.
Bismarck, the German chancellor also campaigned against socialism. At the end of the 19th century he was a growing force in Germany. Bismarck tried to take the wind out of the sails of socialism by introducing welfare measures. In 1883 he introduced health insurance.
In 1884 he introduced accident insurance. Then in 1889 he introduced old-age pensions. However, socialism continued to grow in Germany and by 1914 the Social Democratic Party was the largest party in the Reichstag. Bismarck finally resigned in 1890.
Early 20th century
Bismarck always pursued friendly relations with Britain, but under his successors it was different. Beginning in 1898, under the command of Admiral Tirpitz, Germany began to expand its navy. Great Britain, the greatest naval power, was alarmed. Furthermore, Europe was divided into two armed camps, with Germany and Austria – Hungary on one side and Great Britain, France and Russia on the other.
However, they were defeated at the Battle of the Marne in September. Both sides began a “race for the sea”. Both sides reached him at the same time. Trenches were then dug and years of stagnation followed.
In the east, Germany was more successful. They crushed the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg. Russia gradually weakened and finally made peace by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918.
Meanwhile, in 1917 Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare, which meant that the ships of any nation trying to trade with the Allies would be sunk. As a result, the US declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
In March 1918, Germany launched a series of attacks against the British and French lines. However, they failed to break through and on August 8, 1918, the British counter-attacked with tanks. Also, in September, the Americans began an offensive against the Germans.
Slowly the allies advanced and on September 29, 1918, General Hindenburg warned the government that the war could not be won. The Kaiser abdicated on November 9 and the Social Democrats formed a new government. On November 11 they were forced to sign an armistice with the allies.
However, although the Kaiser was the “pillars” of the old regime, the generals, officials and judges remained. A new constitution was drawn up, but it had a fatal weakness. He used a full proportional representation system. So if a party won 2% of the vote, it got 2% of the seats in the Reichstag.
This meant that there were a large number of parties in the Reichstag, none of them ever had a majority of seats, and Germany was governed by weak coalition governments. Worse yet, under Article 48, the President could bypass the Reichstag and pass laws of his own choosing. This was called rule by decree.
In 1919, the German government was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. However, the vast majority of Germans bitterly resented the Treaty of Versailles. Firstly, the Germans were not consulted on the Treaty and resented having it dictated to them. They also resented the “war guilt” clause, which blamed Germany and its allies for causing the war.
Worse still, under the treaty, Germany lost a significant part of its territory and its population. A section of land called the Polish Corridor was given to Poland, so that East Prussia was cut off from the main part of Germany.
Also Memel was handed over to Lithuania. After a referendum Eupen-Malmedy was handed over to Belgium. After another referendum, Northern Schleswig joined Denmark. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France.
In addition, the Rhineland was demilitarized (German soldiers were not allowed to enter). In any case, Germany was not allowed more than 100,000 soldiers. The Germans were not allowed submarines or battleships. They were also not allowed to have an air force.
Worse yet, Germany was forced to pay “reparations” (a form of compensation for war damage). The amount was fixed in 1921. It was a colossal figure of 6,600 million marks and Germany was forced to start paying.
From the beginning there were attempts to overthrow the government. In January 1919 a group of communists called the Spartacists led a rebellion in Berlin. The government fled to Weimar. As a result, the new regime was called the Weimar Republic. (Although he soon returned to Berlin).
The communist uprising in Berlin was crushed by the Freikorps (free corps). They were ex-soldiers carrying weapons. In April 1919 more communists took power in Bavaria. Again the Freikorps crushed them.
Then in March 1920 a group of Freikorps led by Dr. Kapp tried to take control of Berlin. The army refused to put down the rebellion, but the Berlin unions ordered a general strike. As a result, the Kapp coup was defeated.
The early 1920s were years of hardship and near starvation for many people in Germany. Worse, it started a myth that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” in 1918. Some people said that Germany could have fought and won the war. That was nonsense, but it was a powerful myth.
The people who accepted the armistice of 1918 were called “November criminals.” The extreme right murdered some of the so-called November criminals. Matthias Erzberger, who signed the armistice, was assassinated in 1921. Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister, was assassinated in 1922.
Meanwhile, in January 1919 Anton Drexler formed the German Workers’ Party in Munich. In September 1919 he was joined by an Austrian named Adolf Hitler. (He did not become a German citizen until 1932).
The party believed in the myth that Germany was stabbed in the back in 1918. They also wanted all Germans to live together in one great Germany. The party was also blatantly racist and anti-Semitic.
In 1920 the name of the party was changed to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or NAZI. In 1921 Adolf Hitler became their leader. In 1921 Hitler formed a paramilitary organization called the Sturmabteilung or SA. They were also called brown shirts due to their brown uniforms.
In 1923 Hitler and his small party tried to take control of Germany. On November 8, a politician named Gustav von Kahr gave a speech in a beer hall in Bavaria. With him was General Von Lossow. At 8:30 p.m. the SA surrounded the beer hall and Hitler entered with armed men. Kahr and the general were informed that they were under arrest.
However, Kahr agreed to lead Hitler’s attempt to take over Germany and the two men were allowed to go. As soon as they left, they took steps to stop Hitler. When Hitler and his supporters marched through Munich, they were greeted by state troops at Odeonsplatz.
In the skirmish that followed, 4 soldiers and 16 Nazis were killed. The Munich putsch quickly collapsed and Hitler fled the scene. He was arrested two days later.
The year 1923 was a very bad one for Weimar Germany. By then Germany had fallen behind in paying her reparations. In response, in January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany. German workers in the Ruhr went on strike.
They also organized large demonstrations. Striking workers became heroes in Germany and the government printed money to pay them, leading to a rapid rise in inflation. In addition, the production of goods in Germany was drastically reduced. As a result, the price of goods rose very quickly.
These two factors, printed money and food shortages, caused inflation in Germany to skyrocket. Inflation became hyperinflation. In January 1923 a loaf of bread cost 250 marks, but in September it cost 1.5 million marks.
Prices rose so fast that workers had to be paid twice a day and had to bring baskets or suitcases to take their money home. As a result of hyperinflation, people lost their life savings. The money they had in the bank became virtually worthless. On the other hand, anyone in debt saw their debts practically disappear.
Finally, in August 1923, Gustav Stresemann became Chancellor of Germany. He issued a new currency, the Rentenmark, to replace the mark, which had become almost worthless. Stresemann lost the post of Chancellor in November 1923, but became Foreign Minister.
Germany began paying reparations again, and in 1924 Stresemann negotiated the Dawes plan. Germany’s annual repayments were reduced and the US agreed to lend Germany a huge sum of money to rebuild its economy. In 1925 French and Belgian troops left the Ruhr and the years from 1925 to 1929 were relatively prosperous for Germany.
In 1929 Stresemann negotiated the Strong Plan. The amount of reparations was reduced to 1,850 million. Unfortunately, the good times in Germany ended with the Wall Street crash in the United States in 1929.
The depression of the early 1930s was a disaster for Germany. Unemployment was already high in Germany in the 1920s. Even in the peak year of 1928 it was 8.4%. However, it skyrocketed from the end of 1929. By 1933 unemployment in Germany had risen to 33%.
One of the effects of the depression was that the democratic parties lost support. Instead, people turned to radical parties like the Communists or the Nazis. In 1928 the Nazis only obtained 2.6% of the vote.
In September 1930 they obtained 18.3% of the votes. In 1932 they were the largest party in the Reichstag. On January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg asked Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany.
On February 27, the Reichstag caught fire. A Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and confessed to the crime. Hitler claimed that van der Lubbe did not act alone and that it was a communist plot. The following day, President Hindenburg was persuaded to sign a ‘Presidential Decree for the Protection of the People and the State’, which allowed arbitrary detention.
As a result, all the communist leaders were arrested. The last elections in Weimar, Germany, were held on March 5, 1933. The Nazis are still without a majority of the vote. However, on March 23, 1933, Hitler persuaded the Reichstag to pass the enabling law.
This would give Hitler the power to pass new laws without the consent of the Reichstag. The new law meant changing Germany’s constitution and that would require a two-thirds vote of the members of the Reichstags. About 80% of the Reichstag voted in favor of the law, only the Social Democrats voted against it.
Hitler wasted no time in introducing a tyrannical regime in Germany. After 1871 Germany was a federal state. It was made up of units called Lander, which had previously been independent countries. A governor governed each one.
However, in April 1933 Hitler replaced them with Reich governors, all of whom were Nazi loyalists. This helped bring the country even more under Hitler’s control. In May Hitler banned t