Germany, a country rich in culture and heritage, yet plagued by the fallout of World War I and World War II, has progressed to become the centerpiece of the European Union and the world's third richest economy. The first German Empire dates back to the Roman Empire starting in the 8 th century AD. During the Middle Ages the German Empire fended off many attacks against their soil from the Hungarians and the Slavs. Fighting and power struggles continued until the 1400's, when the modern world gradually came into existence with intellectual, economic and political changes. During the late 1490's and early 1500's, Maximilian I put into motion his plan to reform the German Empire by creating an Imperial Supreme Court (Reichskammergericht), levying imperial taxes and increasing the power of the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) (Wikipedia). By the mid 1500's Germany was a reforming nation with revolts, uprisings and a general division of the empire based on religious beliefs and resentment.
This division of factions led to the Thirty Year's War which ravaged Germany from 1618 to 1648. The war ended in 1648 with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. As a result, German territory was lost to France and Sweden. In the following years, imperial power declined as states gained more power. This power struggle led to a century of resistance against German rule and persecution. The French revolution sparked a new war between France and its Eastern neighbors.
In 1803 Napoleon relaunched the war against the Roman Empire and abolished almost all the smaller secular states and most of the imperial free cities (Wikipedia). The Roman Empire was formally dissolved on August 6, 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II resigned. At that time the Confederation of the Rhine was established under Napoleon's protection and in 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Following Napoleon's defeat, the territory of the former Roman Empire was broken into a loose union of 39 states with 35 ruling princes and 4 free cities. Germany began to be industrialized in the 19 th century. In 1825 the first steamship sailed on the Rhine and in 1833 the first telegraph was constructed.
Railway lines were built in 1835 and in 1866 Siemens constructed the first dynamo (Wikipedia). The industrialization led to modern warfare techniques and ultimately the nationalism, imperialist competition and militarism were primarily responsible for World War I (K. Joseph & G. Owen). It is known that Germany had been developing plans for invading every other European country since the time of Bismarck. Using the assassination of Austrian archduke Frances Ferdinand and his wife as a catalyst for the invasion of Yugoslavia, Germany formed an alliance with Austria and fuse for World War I was lit.
On August 3 rd, 1914, after Russia refused to demobilize its forces that were protecting Yugoslavia, Germany declared war on France, saying that they had infringed upon Germany's territory. Germany proceeded West, taking over Belgium and mobilizing its forces on Frances eastern border. England entered the war because of the invasion of Belgium and eventually other nations followed as their interests were attacked. On November 11, 1918, the War was officially over with the signing of an armistice. During the course of the following year the Treaty of Versailles was drafted and presented to the German people on May 7, 1919.
The Germans thought the treaty was too harsh and called for too many concessions on both the geographic and economic front. A war-torn Germany already had a disadvantaged post-war economy, and the Treaty of Versailles made things worse. By 1922, the German Mark was only worth 1/100 th of its value in 1914 (K. Joseph & G. Owen). In 1923, in order to attempt to stabilize the declining economy, the basis of the Mark was changed to gold instead of industrial assets.
Germany also received a loan from America of $800 million that was to be used towards rebuilding their economy. The funds were used to modernize the factories and industries and in the next few years Germany's iron production doubled and exports began to rise. Germany's economy was finally showing signs of improvement. During that same time, the German army was developing under a new commander and had formed to be one of the strongest and most skillful armies in Europe. One key difference between this army and past armies was that it was loyal to the state and not the government.
This attribute allowed the nationalist party to easily win the loyalty of the army. Beginning in 1933 the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler began to rise to power. Using his political knowledge and ability to inspire the people, Hitler was able to win a number Nazi seats in the Reichstag and eventually get himself elected as the Chancellor in 1934. Hitler's plans for war began in the early 1930's when he planned for the destruction of the Treaty of Versailles, unification of all German speaking countries and purification of the Aryan race. Part of Hitler's plan was to sign treaties with nations whom he would later attack in the blitzkrieg. Two of these countries were Russia and Poland.
Poland would be used as a stepping stone to attack Russia when the war began. Hitler believed that by signing these treaties he would give those countries a false sense of safety and they would not know what hit them when his troops invaded their countries. Hitler continued to sign these useless treaties as he unified more countries under the German Reich. In 1936, Hitler signed yet another treaty with Japan as they prepared to invade China.
(K. Joseph & G. Owen). World War II officially began when Hitler invaded Poland and the Allied forces declared war on Germany and the Axis forces. Hitler was able to conquer nations ranging from Poland on the east to France on the West.
In 1942 the tide turned in the War and the allies were bombing German cities. When the War ended in 1945, Hitler was in poor health and the resistance forces were poorly equipped and their motivation had diminished. The War resulted in the destruction of Germany's political and economic infrastructures, once again, led to its physical division and a considerable loss of land in the East. More significantly, it left a humiliating legacy on the German people for the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazi party against the Jews and the country's neighbors. Once more, after World War II, Germany was divided at the Potsdam Conference in August of 1945. There were four military occupation zones that made up Germany between 1945 and 1949.
After 1949, Germany was officially divided into East and West Germany, with West Germany being allied with the United States, UK and France and East Germany being allied with Russia. With a divided Germany under two separate and radically different political systems, continued strife and battling among factions in both sides were a problem. In 1989, thousands of East Germans defected to West Germany through Hungary. East Germans were staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in Eastern European cities.
The East Germans were demanding a political change. Giving in to pressure, Erich Honecker resigned as the head of state and was replaced by Egon Krentz. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened and East Germans were allowed to travel freely into West Berlin (Wikipedia). West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl outlined a plan for the unification of the two nations on November 28, 1989.
A formal union of the two political systems occurred in October, 1990. In essence, East Germany was annexed by West Germany and took on its monetary and legal systems. Currently, Germany is quite possibly the centerpiece of the European Union and a strong support of the enlargement of NATO and the EU. Germany's military participate in multinational relief efforts and has backed the United States in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. With annual exports of $900 billion, Germany is the World's leading exporter, well ahead of the United States. Even with its tarnished past and history of war and struggles, Germany is a country that has come a long way in the last two decades with respect to its government, industry and education.
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