Early Germanic expansion from southern Scandinavia around 1st century BC.


750 BCE Jan 1
, Denmark

The ethnogenesis of the Germanic tribes remains debated. However, for author Averil Cameron "it is obvious that a steady process" occurred during the Nordic Bronze Age, or at the latest during the Pre-Roman Iron Age. From their homes in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany the tribes began expanding south, east and west during the 1st century BC, and came into contact with the Celtic tribes of Gaul, as well as with Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic cultures in Central/Eastern Europe.

Marius as victor over the invading Cimbri.

Rome encounters Germanic tribes

113 BCE Jan 1
, Magdalensberg

According to some Roman accounts, sometime around 120–115 BC, the Cimbri left their original lands around the North Sea due to flooding. They supposedly journeyed to the south-east and were soon joined by their neighbours and possible relatives the Teutones. Together they defeated the Scordisci, along with the Boii, many of whom apparently joined them. In 113 BC they arrived on the Danube, in Noricum, home to the Roman-allied Taurisci. Unable to hold back these new, powerful invaders on their own, the Taurisci called on Rome for aid.

The Cimbrian or Cimbric War (113–101 BC) was fought between the Roman Republic and the Germanic and Celtic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutons, Ambrones and Tigurini, who migrated from the Jutland peninsula into Roman controlled territory, and clashed with Rome and her allies. Rome was finally victorious, and its Germanic adversaries, who had inflicted on the Roman armies the heaviest losses that they had suffered since the Second Punic War, with victories at the battles of Arausio and Noreia, were left almost completely annihilated after Roman victories at Aquae Sextiae and Vercellae.

Julius Caesar erects the first known bridges across the Rhine | ©Peter Connolly


55 BCE Jan 1
, Alsace

In the mid-1st century BC, Republican Roman statesman Julius Caesar erected the first known bridges across the Rhine during his campaign in Gaul and led a military contingent across and into the territories of the local Germanic tribes. After several days and having made no contact with Germanic troops (who had retreated inland) Caesar returned to the west of the river. By 60 BC, the Suebi tribe under chieftain Ariovistus, had conquered lands of the Gallic Aedui tribe to the west of the Rhine. Consequent plans to populate the region with Germanic settlers from the east were vehemently opposed by Caesar, who had already launched his ambitious campaign to subjugate all Gaul. Julius Caesar defeated the Suebi forces in 58 BC in the Battle of Vosges and forced Ariovistus to retreat across the Rhine.

Sack of Rome by the Visigoths on 24 August 410. | ©Angus McBride

Migration Period

375 Jan 1 - 568
, Europe

The migration period was a period in European history marked by large-scale migrations that saw the fall of the Western Roman Empire and subsequent settlement of its former territories by various tribes. The term refers to the important role played by the migration, invasion and settlement of various tribes, notably the Franks, Goths, Alemanni, Alans, Huns, the early Slavs, Pannonian Avars, Magyars, and Bulgars within or into the former Western Empire and Eastern Europe. The period is traditionally taken to have begun in AD 375 (possibly as early as 300) and ended in 568. Various factors contributed to this phenomenon of migration and invasion, and their role and significance are still widely discussed.

Historians differ as to the dates for the beginning and ending of the Migration Period. The beginning of the period is widely regarded as the invasion of Europe by the Huns from Asia in about 375 and the ending with the conquest of Italy by the Lombards in 568, but a more loosely set period is from as early as 300 to as late as 800. For example, in the 4th century a very large group of Goths was settled as foederati within the Roman Balkans, and the Franks were settled south of the Rhine in Roman Gaul. Another pivotal moment in the Migration Period was the Crossing of the Rhine in December of 406 by a large group of tribes including Vandals, Alans and Suebi who settled permanently within the crumbling Western Roman Empire.

Clovis I leading the Franks to victory in the Battle of Tolbiac. | ©Ary Scheffer


481 Jan 1 - 843
, France

The Western Roman Empire fell in 476 with the deposition of Romulus Augustus by the Germanic foederati leader Odoacer, who became the first King of Italy. Afterwards, the Franks, like other post-Roman Western Europeans, emerged as a tribal confederacy in the Middle Rhine-Weser region, among the territory soon to be called Austrasia (the "eastern land"), the northeastern portion of the future Kingdom of the Merovingian Franks. As a whole, Austrasia comprised parts of present-day France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Unlike the Alamanni to their south in Swabia, they absorbed large swaths of former Roman territory as they spread west into Gaul, beginning in 250. Clovis I of the Merovingian dynasty conquered northern Gaul in 486 and in the Battle of Tolbiac in 496 the Alemanni tribe in Swabia, which eventually became the Duchy of Swabia.

By 500, Clovis had united all the Frankish tribes, ruled all of Gaul and was proclaimed King of the Franks between 509 and 511. Clovis, unlike most Germanic rulers of the time, was baptized directly into Roman Catholicism instead of Arianism. His successors would cooperate closely with papal missionaries, among them Saint Boniface. After the death of Clovis in 511, his four sons partitioned his kingdom including Austrasia. Authority over Austrasia passed back and forth from autonomy to royal subjugation, as successive Merovingian kings alternately united and subdivided the Frankish lands.

The Merovingians placed the various regions of their Frankish Empire under the control of semi-autonomous dukes – either Franks or local rulers. While allowed to preserve their own legal systems, the conquered Germanic tribes were pressured to abandon the Arian Christian faith. In 718 Charles Martel waged war against the Saxons in support of the Neustrians. In 751 Pippin III, Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian king, himself assumed the title of king and was anointed by the Church. Pope Stephen II bestowed him the hereditary title of Patricius Romanorum as protector of Rome and St. Peter in response to the Donation of Pepin, that guaranteed the sovereignty of the Papal States.

Charles the Great (who ruled the Franks from 774 to 814) launched a decades-long military campaign against the Franks' heathen rivals, the Saxons and the Avars. The campaigns and insurrections of the Saxon Wars lasted from 772 to 804. The Franks eventually overwhelmed the Saxons and Avars, forcibly converted the people to Christianity, and annexed their lands to the Carolingian Empire.

Sachsenspiegel depicting the Ostsiedlung. A Lokator receives the foundation charter from the landlord and acts as village judge. Settlers clear forests and build houses.


700 Jan 1 - 1400
, Hungary

Ostsiedlung is the term for the High Medieval migration period of ethnic Germans into the territories at the eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire that Germans conquered before and beyond; and the consequences for settlement development and social structures in the immigration areas. Generally sparsely and only recently populated by Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples, the area of colonization, also known as Germania Slavica, encompassed Germany east of the Saale and Elbe rivers, part of states of Lower Austria and Styria in Austria, the Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Transylvania in Romania.

The majority of settlers moved individually, in independent efforts, in multiple stages and on different routes as there existed no imperial colonization policy, central planning or movement organization. Many settlers were encouraged and invited by the Slavic princes and regional lords.

Groups of migrants first moved to the east during the early Middle Ages. Larger treks of settlers, which included scholars, monks, missionaries, craftsmen and artisans, often invited, in numbers unverifiable, first moved eastwards during the mid 12th century. The military territorial conquests and punitive expeditions of the Ottonian and Salian emperors during the 11th and 12th centuries are not attributable to the Ostsiedlung, as these actions didn't result in any noteworthy settlement establishment east of the Elbe and Saale rivers. The Ostsiedlung is considered to have been a purely Medieval event as it ended in the beginning of the 14th century. The legal, cultural, linguistic, religious and economic changes caused by the movement had a profound influence on the history of Eastern Central Europe between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathians until the 20th century.

Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne. | ©Friedrich Kaulbach

Holy Roman Emperor

800 Dec 25
, St. Peter's Basilica

In 800 Pope Leo III owed a great debt to Charlemagne, the King of the Franks and King of Italy, for securing his life and position. By this time, the Eastern Emperor Constantine VI has been deposed in 797 and replaced as monarch by his mother, Irene. Under the pretext that a woman cannot rule the empire, Pope Leo III declared the throne vacant and crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum), the successor of Constantine VI as Roman emperor under the concept of translatio imperii. He is considered the father of the German monarchy. The term Holy Roman Emperor would not be used until a few hundred years later.

From an autocracy in Carolingian times (AD 800–924) the title by the 13th century evolved into an elective monarchy, with the emperor chosen by the prince-electors. Various royal houses of Europe, at different times, became de facto hereditary holders of the title, notably the Ottonians (962–1024) and the Salians (1027–1125). Following the Great Interregnum, the Habsburgs kept possession of the title without interruption from 1440 to 1740. The final emperors were from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, from 1765 to 1806. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by Francis II, after a devastating defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz.

Louis the Pious (right) blessing the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 into West Francia, Lotharingia, and East Francia; from the Chroniques des rois de France, fifteenth century

Division of the Carolingian Empire

843 Aug 10
, Verdun

The Treaty of Verdun divides the Frankish empire into three separate kingdoms including East Francia (which would later become the Kingdom of Germany) among the surviving sons of the emperor Louis I, the son and successor of Charlemagne. The treaty was concluded following almost three years of civil war and was the culmination of negotiations lasting more than a year. It was the first in a series of partitions contributing to the dissolution of the empire created by Charlemagne and has been seen as foreshadowing the formation of many of the modern countries of western Europe.

King Arnulf defeats the Vikings in 891

King Arnulf

887 Nov 1
, Regensburg

Arnulf took the leading role in the deposition of Charles the Fat. With the support of the Frankish nobles, Arnulf called a Diet at Tribur and deposed Charles in November 887, under threat of military action. Arnulf, having distinguished himself in the war against the Slavs, was then elected king by the nobles of East Francia.

In 890 he was successfully battling Slavs in Pannonia. In early/mid-891, Vikings invaded Lotharingia and crushed an East Frankish army at Maastricht. In September 891, Arnulf repelled the Vikings and essentially ended their attacks on that front. The Annales Fuldenses report that there were so many dead Northmen that their bodies blocked the run of the river.

As early as 880 Arnulf had designs on Great Moravia and had the Frankish bishop Wiching of Nitra interfere with the missionary activities of the Eastern Orthodox priest Methodius, with the aim of preventing any potential for creating a unified Moravian state. Arnulf failed to conquer the whole of Great Moravia in wars of 892, 893, and 899. Yet Arnulf did achieve some successes, in particular in 895, when the Duchy of Bohemia broke away from Great Moravia and became his vassal state. In his attempts to conquer Moravia, in 899 Arnulf reached out to Magyars who had settled in the Carpathian Basin, and with their help he imposed a measure of control over Moravia.

Battle of Pressburg. Magyars annihilate the East Francian army | ©Peter Johann Nepomuk Geiger

Conrad I

911 Nov 10 - 918 Dec 23
, Germany

The east Frankish king passes away in 911 without a male successor. Charles III, the monarch of the west Frankish realm, is the sole heir apparent to the Carolingian dynasty. The eastern Franks and the Saxons chose the duke of Franconia, Conrad, as their king. Conrad was the first king not of the Carolingian dynasty, the first to be elected by the nobility and the first to be anointed.

Exactly because Conrad I was one of the dukes, he found it very hard to establish his authority over them. Duke Henry of Saxony was in rebellion against Conrad I until 915 and the struggle against Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria, cost Conrad I his life. Arnulf of Bavaria called on Magyars for assistance in his uprising, and when defeated, fled to Magyar lands.

Conrad's reign was a continuous and generally unsuccessful struggle to uphold the power of the king against the growing power of the local dukes. His military campaigns against Charles the Simple to regain Lotharingia and the Imperial city of Aachen were failures. Conrad's realm was also exposed to the continuous raids of the Magyars since the disastrous defeat of the Bavarian forces at the 907 Battle of Pressburg, leading to a considerable decline in his authority.

King Henry I’s cavalry defeats Magyar raiders at Riade in 933, ending Magyar attacks for the next 21 years.

Henry the Fowler

919 May 24 - 936 Jul 2
, Central Germany

As the first non-Frankish king of East Francia, Henry the Fowler established the Ottonian dynasty of kings and emperors, and he is generally considered to be the founder of the medieval German state, known until then as East Francia.

Henry was elected and crowned king in 919. Henry built an extensive system of fortifications and mobile heavy cavalry across Germany to neutralize the Magyar threat and in 933 routed them at the Battle of Riade, ending Magyar attacks for the next 21 years and giving rise to a sense of German nationhood.

Henry greatly expanded German hegemony in Europe with his defeat of the Slavs in 929 at the Battle of Lenzen along the Elbe river, by compelling the submission of Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia through an invasion of the Duchy of Bohemia the same year and by conquering Danish realms in Schleswig in 934. Henry's hegemonic status north of the Alps was acknowledged by the kings Rudolph of West Francia and Rudolph II of Upper Burgundy, who both accepted a place of subordination as allies in 935.

Battle of Lechfeld 955.

Otto the Great

962 Jan 1 - 973
, Aachen

The eastern portion of Charlemagne's vast kingdom is revived and expanded under Otto I, often known as Otto the Great. Otto used the same strategies in his campaigns against the Danes in the north and the Slavs in the east, much like Charlemagne did when he employed a mix of force and Christianity to conquer the Saxons on his border.

In 895/896, under the leadership of Árpád, Magyars crossed the Carpathians and entered the Carpathian Basin.  Otto successfully defeats the Magyars of Hungary in 955 on a plain near the river Lech, securing the eastern frontier of what is now known as the Reich (the German "empire"). Otto invades northern Italy, just like Charlemagne, and declares himself king of the Lombards. He receives a papal coronation in Rome, much like Charlemagne.

Otto III from the Gospels of Otto III

Otto III

996 May 21 - 1002 Jan 23
, Elbe River

From the beginning of his reign, Otto III faced opposition from the Slavs along the eastern frontier. Following the death of his father in 983, the Slavs rebelled against imperial control, forcing the Empire to abandon its territories east of the Elbe river. Otto III fought to regain the Empire's lost territories throughout his reign with only limited success. While in the east, Otto III strengthened the Empire's relations with Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary. Through his affairs in Eastern Europe in 1000, he was able to extend the influence of Christianity by supporting mission work in Poland and through the crowning of Stephen I as the first Christian king of Hungary.

Henry IV begging forgiveness of Pope Gregory VII at Canossa, the castle of the Countess Matilda, 1077

Investiture Controversy

1076 Jan 1 - 1122
, Germany

The Investiture Controversy was a conflict between the church and the state in medieval Europe over the ability to choose and install bishops (investiture) and abbots of monasteries and the pope himself. A series of popes in the 11th and 12th centuries undercut the power of the Holy Roman Emperor and other European monarchies, and the controversy led to nearly 50 years of conflict.

It began as a power struggle between Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV (then King, later Holy Roman Emperor) in 1076. Gregory VII even enlisted Normans under Robert Guiscard(the Norman ruler of Sicily, Apulia, and Calabria) in the struggle. The conflict ended in 1122, when Pope Callixtus II and Emperor Henry V agreed on the Concordat of Worms. The agreement required bishops to swear an oath of fealty to the secular monarch, who held authority "by the lance" but left selection to the church.

As an aftermath of this struggle, the papacy grew stronger, and the laity became engaged in religious affairs, increasing its piety and setting the stage for the Crusades and the great religious vitality of the 12th century. Though the Holy Roman Emperor retained some power over imperial churches, his power was damaged irreparably because he lost the religious authority that previously belonged to the office of the king.

Frederick Barbarossa

Germany under Frederick Barbarossa

1155 Jan 1 - 1190 Jun 10
, Germany

Frederick Barbarossa, also known as Frederick I, was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death 35 years later. He was elected King of Germany in Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March 1152. Historians consider him among the Holy Roman Empire's greatest medieval emperors. He combined qualities that made him appear almost superhuman to his contemporaries: his longevity, his ambition, his extraordinary skills at organization, his battlefield acumen and his political perspicacity. His contributions to Central European society and culture include the reestablishment of the Corpus Juris Civilis, or the Roman rule of law, which counterbalanced the papal power that dominated the German states since the conclusion of the Investiture controversy.

During Frederick's long stays in Italy, the German princes became stronger and began a successful colonization of Slavic lands. Offers of reduced taxes and manorial duties enticed many Germans to settle in the east in the course of the Ostsiedlung. In 1163 Frederick waged a successful campaign against the Kingdom of Poland in order to re-install the Silesian dukes of the Piast dynasty. With the German colonization, the Empire increased in size and came to include the Duchy of Pomerania. A quickening economic life in Germany increased the number of towns and Imperial cities, and gave them greater importance. It was also during this period that castles and courts replaced monasteries as centers of culture.

From 1165 on, Frederick pursued economic policies to encourage growth and trade. There is no question that his reign was a period of major economic growth in Germany, but it is impossible now to determine how much of that growth was owed to Frederick's policies. He died on route to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.

Modern, faithful painting of the Adler von Lübeck – the world's largest ship in its time

Hanseatic League

1159 Jan 1 - 1669
, Lübeck

The Hanseatic League was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 12th century, the League ultimately encompassed nearly 200 settlements across seven modern-day countries; at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries, it stretched from the Netherlands in the west to Russia in the east, and from Estonia in the north to Kraków, Poland in the south.

The League originated from various loose associations of German traders and towns formed to advance mutual commercial interests, such as protection against piracy and banditry. These arrangements gradually coalesced into the Hanseatic League, whose traders enjoyed duty-free treatment, protection, and diplomatic privileges in affiliated communities and their trade routes. Hanseatic Cities gradually developed a common legal system governing their merchants and goods, even operating their own armies for mutual defense and aid. Reduced barriers to trade resulted in mutual prosperity, which fostered economic interdependence, kinship ties between merchant families, and deeper political integration; these factors solidified the League into a cohesive political organization by the end of the 13th century.

During the peak of its power, the Hanseatic League had a virtual monopoly over maritime trade in the North and Baltic seas. Its commercial reach extended as far as the Kingdom of Portugal to the west, the Kingdom of England to the north, the Republic of Novgorod to the east, and the Republic of Venice to the south, with trading posts, factories, and mercantile "branches" established in numerous towns and cities across Europe. Hanseatic merchants were widely renowned for their access to a variety of commodities and manufactured goods, subsequently gaining privileges and protections abroad, including extraterritorial districts in foreign realms that operated almost exclusively under Hanseatic law. This collective economic influence made the League a powerful force, capable of imposing blockades and even waging war against kingdoms and principalities.

Prussian Crusade

Prussian Crusade

1217 Jan 1 - 1273
, Kaliningrad Oblast

The Prussian Crusade was a series of 13th-century campaigns of Roman Catholic crusaders, primarily led by the Teutonic Knights, to Christianize under duress the pagan Old Prussians. Invited after earlier unsuccessful expeditions against the Prussians by Polish duke Konrad I of Masovia, the Teutonic Knights began campaigning against the Prussians, Lithuanians and Samogitians in 1230.

By the end of the century, having quelled several Prussian uprisings, the Knights had established control over Prussia and administered the conquered Prussians through their monastic state, eventually erasing the Prussian language, culture and pre-Christian religion by a combination of physical and ideological force.

In 1308, the Teutonic Knights conquered the region of Pomerelia with Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk). Their monastic state was mostly Germanised through immigration from central and western Germany, and, in the south, it was Polonised by settlers from Masovia.

The order, emboldened by imperial approval, quickly resolved to establish an independent state, without the consent of duke Konrad. Recognizing only papal authority and based on a solid economy, the order steadily expanded the Teutonic state during the following 150 years, engaging in several land disputes with its neighbors.

The seven prince-electors voting for Henry, Balduineum picture chronicle, 1341

Great Interregnum

1250 Jan 1
, Germany

In the Holy Roman Empire, the Great Interregnum was a period of time following the death of Frederick II where the succession of the Holy Roman Empire was contested and fought over between pro- and anti-Hohenstaufen factions. Starting around 1250 with the death of Frederick II, marks virtual end of central authority and acceleration of empire's collapse into independent princely territories. This period saw a multitude of emperors and kings be elected or propped up by rival factions and princes, with many kings and emperors having short reigns or reigns that became heavily contested by rival claimants.

Imperial Diet in Metz during which the Golden Bull of 1356 was issued.

Golden Bull of 1356

1356 Jan 1
, Nuremberg

The Golden Bull, issued in 1356 by Charles IV, defines the new character that the Holy Roman empire had been adopting. By simply denying Rome the ability to accept or reject the choice of the electors, it puts an end to papal involvement in the election of a German monarch. In exchange, Charles gives up his imperial rights in Italy, with the exception of his title to the Charlemagne-inherited kingdom of Lombardy, according to a separate arrangement with the pope.

A new version of the title, sacrum Romanum imperium nationis Germanicae, which was accepted in 1452, reflects that this empire would now primarily be a German one (Holy Roman empire of the German nation).

The Golden Bull also clarifies and formalizes the process of election of a German king. The choice has traditionally been in the hands of seven electors, but their identity has varied. The group of seven is now established as three archbishops (of Mainz, Cologne and Trier) and four hereditary lay rulers (the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg and the king of Bohemia).

Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I (reigned: 1493–1519), the first Renaissance monarch of the Holy Roman Empire, by Albrecht Dürer, 1519

German Renaissance

1450 Jan 1
, Germany

The German Renaissance, part of the Northern Renaissance, was a cultural and artistic movement that spread among German thinkers in the 15th and 16th centuries, which developed from the Italian Renaissance. Many areas of the arts and sciences were influenced, notably by the spread of Renaissance humanism to the various German states and principalities. There were many advances made in the fields of architecture, the arts, and the sciences. Germany produced two developments that were to dominate the 16th century all over Europe: printing and the Protestant Reformation.

One of the most important German humanists was Konrad Celtis (1459–1508). Celtis studied at Cologne and Heidelberg, and later travelled throughout Italy collecting Latin and Greek manuscripts. Heavily influenced by Tacitus, he used the Germania to introduce German history and geography. Another important figure was Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) who studied in various places in Italy and later taught Greek. He studied the Hebrew language, aiming to purify Christianity, but encountered resistance from the church.

The most significant German Renaissance artist is Albrecht Dürer especially known for his printmaking in woodcut and engraving, which spread all over Europe, drawings, and painted portraits. Important architecture of this period includes the Landshut Residence, Heidelberg Castle, the Augsburg Town Hall as well as the Antiquarium of the Munich Residenz in Munich, the largest Renaissance hall north of the Alps.

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, where he refused to recant his works when asked to by Charles V. (painting from Anton von Werner, 1877, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart)


1517 Oct 31
, Wittenberg

The Reformation was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority, arising from what were perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Catholic Church. The Reformation was the start of Protestantism and the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church. It is also considered to be one of the events that signified the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period in Europe.

Prior to Martin Luther, there were many earlier reform movements. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, he was not excommunicated by Pope Leo X until January 1521. The Diet of Worms of May 1521 condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas. The spread of Gutenberg's printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of religious materials in the vernacular. Luther survived after being declared an outlaw due to the protection of Elector Frederick the Wise. The initial movement in Germany diversified, and other reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin arose. In general, the Reformers argued that salvation in Christianity was a completed status based on faith in Jesus alone and not a process that requires good works, as in the Catholic view.

Twelve Articles of the Peasants pamphlet of 1525

German Peasants' War

1524 Jan 1 - 1525
, Alsace

The German Peasants' War was a widespread popular revolt in some German-speaking areas in Central Europe from 1524 to 1525. Like the preceding Bundschuh movement and the Hussite Wars, the war consisted of a series of both economic and religious revolts in which peasants and farmers, often supported by Anabaptist clergy, took the lead. It failed because of intense opposition from the aristocracy, who slaughtered up to 100,000 of the 300,000 poorly armed peasants and farmers. The survivors were fined and achieved few, if any, of their goals. The German Peasants' War was Europe's largest and most widespread popular uprising before the French Revolution of 1789. The fighting was at its height in the middle of 1525.

In mounting their insurrection, peasants faced insurmountable obstacles. The democratic nature of their movement left them without a command structure and they lacked artillery and cavalry. Most of them had little, if any, military experience. Their opposition had experienced military leaders, well-equipped and disciplined armies, and ample funding.

The revolt incorporated some principles and rhetoric from the emerging Protestant Reformation, through which the peasants sought influence and freedom. Radical Reformers and Anabaptists, most famously Thomas Müntzer, instigated and supported the revolt. In contrast, Martin Luther and other Magisterial Reformers condemned it and clearly sided with the nobles. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, Luther condemned the violence as the devil's work and called for the nobles to put down the rebels like mad dogs. The movement was also supported by Ulrich Zwingli, but the condemnation by Martin Luther contributed to its defeat.

"Winter's King", Frederick V of the Palatinate, whose acceptance of the Bohemian Crown sparked the conflict

Thirty Years' War

1618 May 23 - 1648 Oct 24
, Central Europe

The Thirty Years' War was a religious war principally fought in Germany, where it involved most of the European powers. The conflict began between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, but gradually developed into a general, political war involving most of Europe. The Thirty Years' War was a continuation of the France-Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, and in turn led to further warfare between France and the Habsburg powers.

Its outbreak is generally traced to 1618 when Emperor Ferdinand II was deposed as king of Bohemia and replaced by the Protestant Frederick V of the Palatinate in 1619. Although Imperial forces quickly suppressed the Bohemian Revolt, his participation expanded the fighting into the Palatinate, whose strategic importance drew in the Dutch Republic and Spain, then engaged in the Eighty Years' War. Since rulers like Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden also held territories within the Empire, this gave them and other foreign powers an excuse to intervene, turning an internal dynastic dispute into a European-wide conflict.

The first phase from 1618 until 1635 was primarily a civil war between German members of the Holy Roman Empire, with support from external powers. After 1635, the Empire became one theatre in a wider struggle between France, supported by Sweden, and Emperor Ferdinand III, allied with Spain.

The war concluded with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, whose provisions reconfirmed "German liberties", ending Habsburg attempts to convert the Holy Roman Empire into a more centralised state similar to Spain. Over the next 50 years, Bavaria, Brandenburg-Prussia, Saxony and others increasingly pursued their own policies, while Sweden gained a permanent foothold in the Empire.

Frederick William The Great Elector transforms a fragmented Brandenburg-Prussia into a powerful state.

Rise of Prussia

1648 Jan 1 - 1915
, Berlin

Germany, or more exactly the old Holy Roman Empire, in the 18th century entered a period of decline that would finally lead to the dissolution of the Empire during the Napoleonic Wars. Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Empire had been fragmented into numerous independent states (Kleinstaaterei).

During the Thirty Years' War, various armies repeatedly marched across the disconnected Hohenzollern lands, especially the occupying Swedes. Frederick William I, reformed the army to defend the lands and starts to consolidate power. Frederick William I acquires East Pomerania via the Peace of Westphalia.

Frederick William I reorganized his loose and scattered territories and managed to throw off the vassalage of Prussia under the Kingdom of Poland during the Second Northern War. He received the Duchy of Prussia as a fief from the Swedish king who later granted him full sovereignty in the Treaty of Labiau (November 1656). In 1657 the Polish king renewed this grant in the treaties of Wehlau and Bromberg. With Prussia, the Brandenburg Hohenzollern dynasty now held a territory free of any feudal obligations, which constituted the basis for their later elevation to kings. In order to address the demographic problem of Prussia's largely rural population of about three million, he attracted the immigration and settlement of French Huguenots in urban areas. Many became craftsmen and entrepreneurs.

In the War of the Spanish Succession, in return for an alliance against France, the Great Elector's son, Frederick III, was allowed to elevate Prussia to a kingdom in the Crown Treaty of 16 November 1700. Frederick crowned himself "King in Prussia" as Frederick I on 18 January 1701. Legally, no kingdoms could exist in the Holy Roman Empire except for Bohemia. However, Frederick took the line that since Prussia had never been part of the empire and the Hohenzollerns were fully sovereign over it, he could elevate Prussia to a kingdom.

The charge of the Polish winged hussars at the Battle of Vienna

Great Turkish War

1683 Jul 14 - 1699 Jan 26
, Austria

After the last-minute relief of Vienna from a siege and the imminent seizure by a Turkish force in 1683, the combined troops of the Holy League, that had been founded the following year, embarked on the military containment of the Ottoman Empire and reconquered Hungary in 1687. The Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Republic of Venice and since 1686 Russia had joined the league under the leadership of Pope Innocent XI. Prince Eugene of Savoy, who served under emperor Leopold I, took supreme command in 1697 and decisively defeated the Ottomans in a series of spectacular battles and manoeuvres. The 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz marked the end of the Great Turkish War and Prince Eugene continued his service for the Habsburg monarchy as president of the War Council. He effectively ended Turkish rule over most of the territorial states in the Balkans during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–18. The Treaty of Passarowitz left Austria to freely establish royal domains in Serbia and the Banat and maintain hegemony in Southeast Europe, on which the future Austrian Empire was based.

Siege of Namur (1695) | ©Jan van Huchtenburg

Wars with Louis XIV

1688 Sep 27 - 1697 Sep 20
, Alsace

Louis XIV of France waged a series of successful wars in order to extend the French territory. He occupied Lorraine (1670) and annexed the remainder of Alsace (1678–1681) that included the free imperial city of Straßburg. At the start of the Nine Years' War, he also invaded the Electorate of the Palatinate (1688–1697). Louis established a number of courts whose sole function was to reinterpret historic decrees and treaties, the Treaties of Nijmegen (1678) and the Peace of Westphalia (1648) in particular in favor of his policies of conquest. He considered the conclusions of these courts, the Chambres de réunion as sufficient justification for his boundless annexations. Louis' forces operated inside the Holy Roman Empire largely unopposed, because all available imperial contingents fought in Austria in the Great Turkish War. The Grand Alliance of 1689 took up arms against France and countered any further military advances of Louis. The conflict ended in 1697 as both parties agreed to peace talks after either side had realized, that a total victory was financially unattainable. The Treaty of Ryswick provided for the return of the Lorraine and Luxembourg to the empire and the abandoning of French claims to the Palatinate.

Augustus II the Strong | ©Baciarelli

Saxony-Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania

1697 Jun 1
, Dresden

On 1 June 1697, Elector Frederick Augustus I, "the Strong" (1694–1733) converted to Catholicism and was subsequently elected King of Poland and Grand duke of Lithuania. This marked a personal union between Saxony and the Commonwealth of Two Nations that lasted almost 70 years with interruptions. The conversion of the Elector raised fears among many Lutherans that Catholicism would now be re-established in Saxony. In response, the Elector transferred his authority over Lutheran institutions to a government board, the Privy Council. The Privy Council was composed exclusively of Protestants. Even after his conversion, the Elector remained the head of the Protestant body in the Reichstag, despite an unsuccessful attempt by Brandenburg-Prussia and Hanover to take over the position in 1717–1720.

Battle of Riga, the first major battle of the Swedish invasion of Poland, 1701

Saxon Pretensions

1699 Jan 1
, Riga

In 1699 Augustus makes a secret alliance with Denmark and Russia for a joint attack on the Swedish territories round the Baltic. His personal objective is to conquer Livonia for Saxony. In February 1700 Augustus marches north and besieges Riga.

The triumphs of Charles XII over Augustus the Strong over the following six years are catastrophic. In the summer of 1701, the Saxon danger to Riga is removed as they are forced back across the Daugava river. In May 1702, Charles XII travels to and enters Warsaw. Two months later, at the Battle of Kliszow, he defeats Augustus. The humiliation of Augustus is complete in 1706 when the Swedish king invades Saxony and imposes a treaty.

Prussian grenadiers overrunning Saxon forces during the Battle of Hohenfriedberg, as depicted by Carl Röchling

Silesian Wars

1740 Dec 16 - 1763 Feb 15
, Central Europe

The Silesian Wars were three wars fought in the mid-18th century between Prussia (under King Frederick the Great) and Habsburg Austria (under Archduchess Maria Theresa) for control of the Central European region of Silesia (now in south-western Poland). The First (1740–1742) and Second (1744–1745) Silesian Wars formed parts of the wider War of the Austrian Succession, in which Prussia was a member of a coalition seeking territorial gain at Austria's expense. The Third Silesian War (1756–1763) was a theatre of the global Seven Years' War, in which Austria in turn led a coalition of powers aiming to seize Prussian territory.

No particular event triggered the wars. Prussia cited its centuries-old dynastic claims on parts of Silesia as a casus belli, but Realpolitik and geostrategic factors also played a role in provoking the conflict. Maria Theresa's contested succession to the Habsburg monarchy under the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 provided an opportunity for Prussia to strengthen itself relative to regional rivals such as Saxony and Bavaria.

All three wars are generally considered to have ended in Prussian victories, and the first resulted in Austria's cession of the majority of Silesia to Prussia. Prussia emerged from the Silesian Wars as a new European great power and the leading state of Protestant Germany, while Catholic Austria's defeat by a lesser German power significantly damaged the House of Habsburg's prestige. The conflict over Silesia foreshadowed a wider Austro-Prussian struggle for hegemony over the German-speaking peoples, which would later culminate in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Rejtan at Sejm 1773 | ©Jan Matejko

Partitions of Poland

1772 Jan 1 - 1793
, Poland

During 1772 to 1795 Prussia instigated the partitions of Poland by occupying the western territories of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Austria and Russia resolved to acquire the remaining lands with the effect that Poland ceased to exist as a sovereign state until 1918.

French victory at the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792 validated the Revolutionary idea of armies composed of citizens

French Revolution

1789 Jan 1
, France

German reaction to the French Revolution was mixed at first. German intellectuals celebrated the outbreak, hoping to see the triumph of Reason and The Enlightenment. The royal courts in Vienna and Berlin denounced the overthrow of the king and the threatened spread of notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity. By 1793, the execution of the French king and the onset of the Terror disillusioned the Bildungsbürgertum (educated middle classes). Reformers said the solution was to have faith in the ability of Germans to reform their laws and institutions in peaceful fashion.

Europe was racked by two decades of war revolving around France's efforts to spread its revolutionary ideals, and the opposition of reactionary royalty. War broke out in 1792 as Austria and Prussia invaded France, but were defeated at the Battle of Valmy (1792). The German lands saw armies marching back and forth, bringing devastation (albeit on a far lower scale than the Thirty Years' War, almost two centuries before), but also bringing new ideas of liberty and civil rights for the people. Prussia and Austria ended their failed wars with France but (with Russia) partitioned Poland among themselves in 1793 and 1795.

Alexander I of Russia, Francis I of Austria, and Frederick William III of Prussia meeting after the battle

Napoleonic Wars

1803 Jan 1 - 1815
, Germany

France took control of the Rhineland, imposed French-style reforms, abolished feudalism, established constitutions, promoted freedom of religion, emancipated Jews, opened the bureaucracy to ordinary citizens of talent, and forced the nobility to share power with the rising middle class. Napoleon created the Kingdom of Westphalia (1807–1813) as a model state. These reforms proved largely permanent and modernized the western parts of Germany. When the French tried to impose the French language, German opposition grew in intensity. A Second Coalition of Britain, Russia, and Austria then attacked France but failed. Napoleon established direct or indirect control over most of western Europe, including the German states apart from Prussia and Austria. The old Holy Roman Empire was little more than a farce; Napoleon simply abolished it in 1806 while forming new countries under his control. In Germany Napoleon set up the "Confederation of the Rhine", comprising most of the German states except Prussia and Austria.

Under Frederick William II's weak rule (1786-1797) Prussia had undergone a serious economic, political and military decline. His successor king Frederick William III tried to remain neutral during the War of the Third Coalition and French emperor Napoleon's dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and reorganisation of the German principalities. Induced by the queen and a pro-war party Frederick William joined the Fourth Coalition in October 1806. Napoleon easily defeated the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena and occupied Berlin. Prussia lost its recently acquired territories in western Germany, its army was reduced to 42,000 men, no trade with Britain was allowed and Berlin had to pay Paris high reparations and fund the French army of occupation. Saxony changed sides to support Napoleon and joined the Confederation of the Rhine. Ruler Frederick Augustus I was rewarded with the title of king and given a part of Poland taken from Prussia, which became known as the Duchy of Warsaw.

After Napoleon's military fiasco in Russia in 1812, Prussia allied with Russia in the Sixth Coalition. A series of battles followed and Austria joined the alliance. Napoleon was decisively defeated in the Battle of Leipzig in late 1813. The German states of the Confederation of the Rhine defected to the Coalition against Napoleon, who rejected any peace terms. Coalition forces invaded France in early 1814, Paris fell and in April Napoleon surrendered. Prussia as one of the winners at the Congress of Vienna, gained extensive territory.

1812 saw Bavaria supply the Grande Armee with VI Corps for the Russian campaign and elements fought at the battle of Borodino but following the disastrous result of the campaign they finally decided to desert Napoleon's cause just before the battle of Leipzig.

Kingdom of Bavaria

1805 Jan 1 - 1916
, Bavaria

The Kingdom of Bavaria foundation dates back to the ascension of prince-elector Maximilian IV Joseph of the House of Wittelsbach as King of Bavaria in 1805. The 1805 Peace of Pressburg allowed Maximilian to raise Bavaria to the status of a kingdom. The King still served as an elector until Bavaria seceded from the Holy Roman Empire on 1 August 1806. The Duchy of Berg was ceded to Napoleon only in 1806. The new kingdom faced challenges from the outset of its creation, relying on the support of Napoleonic France. The kingdom faced war with Austria in 1808 and from 1810 to 1814, lost territory to Württemberg, Italy, and then Austria. In 1808, all relics of serfdom were abolished, which had left the old empire.

During the French invasion of Russia in 1812 about 30,000 Bavarian soldiers were killed in action. With the Treaty of Ried of 8 October 1813 Bavaria left the Confederation of the Rhine and agreed to join the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon in exchange for a guarantee of her continued sovereign and independent status. On 14 October, Bavaria made a formal declaration of war against Napoleonic France. The treaty was passionately backed by the Crown Prince Ludwig and by Marshal von Wrede. With the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 ended the German Campaign with the Coalition nations as the victors.

With the defeat of Napoleon's France in 1814, Bavaria was compensated for some of its losses, and received new territories such as the Grand Duchy of Würzburg, the Archbishopric of Mainz (Aschaffenburg) and parts of the Grand Duchy of Hesse. Finally, in 1816, the Rhenish Palatinate was taken from France in exchange for most of Salzburg which was then ceded to Austria (Treaty of Munich (1816)). It was the second largest and second most powerful state south of the Main, behind only Austria. In Germany as a whole, it ranked third behind Prussia and Austria.a

Battle of Fleurus by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1837)

Dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire

1806 Aug 6
, Austria

The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire occurred de facto on 6 August 1806, when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, abdicated his title and released all imperial states and officials from their oaths and obligations to the empire. Since the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire had been recognized by Western Europeans as the legitimate continuation of the ancient Roman Empire due to its emperors having been proclaimed as Roman emperors by the papacy. Through this Roman legacy, the Holy Roman Emperors claimed to be universal monarchs whose jurisdiction extended beyond their empire's formal borders to all of Christian Europe and beyond. The decline of the Holy Roman Empire was a long and drawn-out process lasting centuries. The formation of the first modern sovereign territorial states in the 16th and 17th centuries, which brought with it the idea that jurisdiction corresponded to actual territory governed, threatened the universal nature of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Empire finally began its true terminal decline during and after its involvement in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Although the empire defended itself quite well initially, war with France and Napoleon proved catastrophic. In 1804, Napoleon proclaimed himself as the Emperor of the French, which Francis II responded to by proclaiming himself the Emperor of Austria, in addition to already being the Holy Roman Emperor, an attempt at maintaining parity between France and Austria while also illustrating that the Holy Roman title outranked them both. Austria's defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805 and the secession of a large number of Francis II's German vassals in July 1806 to form the Confederation of the Rhine, a French satellite state, effectively meant the end of the Holy Roman Empire. The abdication in August 1806, combined with a dissolution of the entire imperial hierarchy and its institutions, was seen as necessary to prevent the possibility of Napoleon proclaiming himself as Holy Roman Emperor, something which would have reduced Francis II to Napoleon's vassal.

Reactions to the empire's dissolution ranged from indifference to despair. The populace of Vienna, capital of the Habsburg monarchy, were horrified at the loss of the empire. Many of Francis II's former subjects questioned the legality of his actions; though his abdication was agreed to be perfectly legal, the dissolution of the empire and the release of all its vassals were seen as beyond the emperor's authority. As such, many of the empire's princes and subjects refused to accept that the empire was gone, with some commoners going so far as to believe that news of its dissolution was a plot by their local authorities. In Germany, the dissolution was widely compared to the ancient and semi-legendary Fall of Troy and some associated the end of what they perceived to be the Roman Empire with the end times and the apocalypse.

Austrian chancellor and foreign minister Klemens von Metternich dominated the German Confederation from 1815 until 1848.

German Confederation

1815 Jan 1
, Germany

During the 1815 Congress of Vienna the 39 former states of the Confederation of the Rhine joined the German Confederation, a loose agreement for mutual defense. It was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806. Attempts of economic integration and customs coordination were frustrated by repressive anti-national policies. Great Britain approved of the union, convinced that a stable, peaceful entity in central Europe could discourage aggressive moves by France or Russia. Most historians, however, concluded, that the Confederation was weak and ineffective and an obstacle to German nationalism. The union was undermined by the creation of the Zollverein in 1834, the 1848 revolutions, the rivalry between Prussia and Austria and was finally dissolved in the wake of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, to be replaced by the North German Confederation during the same year.

The Confederation had only one organ, the Federal Convention (also Federal Assembly or Confederate Diet). The Convention consisted of the representatives of the member states. The most important issues had to be decided on unanimously. The Convention was presided over by the representative of Austria. This was a formality, however, the Confederation did not have a head of state, since it was not a state.

The Confederation, on the one hand, was a strong alliance between its member states because federal law was superior to state law (the decisions of the Federal Convention were binding for the member states). Additionally, the Confederation had been established for eternity and was impossible to dissolve (legally), with no member states being able to leave it and no new member being able join without universal consent in the Federal Convention. On the other hand, the Confederation was weakened by its very structure and member states, partly because most important decisions in the Federal Convention required unanimity and the purpose of the Confederation was limited to only security matters. On top of that, the functioning of the Confederation depended on the cooperation of the two most populous member states, Austria and Prussia which in reality were often in opposition.

1803s lithograph of Johann F. Cotta.Cotta played an important role in the development of the south German customs agreement and also negotiated the Prussian Hessian Customs agreements.


1833 Jan 1 - 1919
, Germany

The Zollverein, or German Customs Union, was a coalition of German states formed to manage tariffs and economic policies within their territories. Organized by the 1833 Zollverein treaties, it formally started on 1 January 1834. However, its foundations had been in development from 1818 with the creation of a variety of custom unions among the German states. By 1866, the Zollverein included most of the German states. The Zollverein was not part of the German Confederation (1815-1866).

The foundation of the Zollverein was the first instance in history in which independent states consummated a full economic union without the simultaneous creation of a political federation or union.

Prussia was the primary driver behind the creation of the customs union. Austria was excluded from the Zollverein because of its highly protected industry and also because Prince von Metternich was against the idea. By the founding of the North German Confederation in 1867, the Zollverein covered states of approximately 425,000 square kilometres, and had produced economic agreements with several non-German states, including Sweden–Norway. After the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the Empire assumed the control of the customs union. However, not all states within the Empire were part of the Zollverein until 1888 (Hamburg for example). Conversely, though Luxembourg was a state independent of the German Reich, it remained in the Zollverein until 1919.

Origin of the Flag of Germany: Cheering revolutionaries in Berlin, on March 19, 1848

German revolutions of 1848–1849

1848 Feb 1 - 1849 Jul
, Germany

The German revolutions of 1848–1849, the opening phase of which was also called the March Revolution, were initially part of the Revolutions of 1848 that broke out in many European countries. They were a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, including the Austrian Empire. The revolutions, which stressed pan-Germanism, demonstrated popular discontent with the traditional, largely autocratic political structure of the thirty-nine independent states of the Confederation that inherited the German territory of the former Holy Roman Empire after its dismantlement as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. This process began in the mid 1840s.

The middle-class elements were committed to liberal principles, while the working class sought radical improvements to their working and living conditions. As the middle class and working class components of the Revolution split, the conservative aristocracy defeated it. Liberals were forced into exile to escape political persecution, where they became known as Forty-Eighters. Many emigrated to the United States, settling from Wisconsin to Texas.

Battle of Dybbøl


1864 Feb 1
, Schleswig-Holstein

In 1863–64, disputes between Prussia and Denmark over Schleswig escalated, which was not part of the German Confederation, and which Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate into the Danish kingdom. The conflict led to the Second War of Schleswig in 1864. Prussia, joined by Austria, easily defeated Denmark and occupied Jutland. The Danes were forced to cede both the Duchy of Schleswig and the Duchy of Holstein to Austria and Prussia. The subsequent management of the two duchies led to tensions between Austria and Prussia. Austria wanted the duchies to become an independent entity within the German Confederation, while Prussia intended to annex them. The disagreement served as a pretext for the Seven Weeks War between Austria and Prussia, that broke out in June 1866. In July, the two armies clashed at Sadowa-Königgrätz (Bohemia) in an enormous battle involving half a million men. Prussian superior logistics and the modern breech-loading needle guns superiority over the slow muzzle-loading rifles of the Austrians, proved to be elementary for Prussia's victory. The battle had also decided the struggle for hegemony in Germany and Bismarck was deliberately lenient with defeated Austria, that was to play only a subordinate role in future German affairs.

Battle of Königgrätz | ©Georg Bleibtreu

Austro-Prussian War

1866 Jun 14 - Jul 22
, Germany

The Austro-Prussian War was fought in 1866 between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, with each also being aided by various allies within the German Confederation. Prussia had also allied with the Kingdom of Italy, linking this conflict to the Third Independence War of Italian unification. The Austro-Prussian War was part of the wider rivalry between Austria and Prussia, and resulted in Prussian dominance over the German states.

The major result of the war was a shift in power among the German states away from Austrian and towards Prussian hegemony. It resulted in the abolition of the German Confederation and its partial replacement by the unification of all of the northern German states in the North German Confederation that excluded Austria and the other Southern German states, a Kleindeutsches Reich. The war also resulted in the Italian annexation of the Austrian province of Venetia.

Heinrich XVII, Prince Reuss, on the side of the 5th Squadron I Guards Dragoon Regiment at Mars-la-Tour, 16 August 1870. Emil Hünten, 1902

Franco-Prussian War

1870 Jul 19 - 1871 Jan 28
, France

The Franco-Prussian War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. The conflict was caused primarily by France's determination to reassert its dominant position in continental Europe, which appeared in question following the decisive Prussian victory over Austria in 1866. According to some historians, Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to induce four independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—to join the North German Confederation; other historians contend that Bismarck exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. All agree that Bismarck recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

France mobilised its army on 15 July 1870, leading the North German Confederation to respond with its own mobilisation later that day. On 16 July 1870, the French parliament voted to declare war on Prussia; France invaded German territory on 2 August. The German coalition mobilised its troops much more effectively than the French and invaded northeastern France on 4 August. German forces were superior in numbers, training, and leadership and made more effective use of modern technology, particularly railways and artillery.

A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France, culminating in the Siege of Metz and the Battle of Sedan, resulted in the capture of the French Emperor Napoleon III and the decisive defeat of the army of the Second Empire; a Government of National Defense was formed in Paris on 4 September and continued the war for another five months. German forces fought and defeated new French armies in northern France, then besieged Paris for over four months before it fell on 28 January 1871, effectively ending the war.

Following an armistice with France, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed on 10 May 1871, giving Germany billions of francs in war indemnity, as well as most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen).

The war had a lasting impact on Europe. By hastening German unification, the war significantly altered the balance of power on the continent; with the new German nation state supplanting France as the dominant European land power. Bismarck maintained great authority in international affairs for two decades, developing a reputation for adept and pragmatic diplomacy that raised Germany's global stature and influence.

Die Proklamation des Deutschen Kaiserreiches by Anton von Werner (1877), depicting the proclamation of Emperor William I (18 January 1871, Palace of Versailles).

German Empire and Unification

1871 Jan 2 - 1918
, Germany

The German Confederation ended as a result of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 between the constituent Confederation entities of the Austrian Empire and its allies on one side and Prussia and its allies on the other. The war resulted in the partial replacement of the Confederation in 1867 by a North German Confederation, comprising the 22 states north of the river Main. The patriotic fervor generated by the Franco-Prussian War overwhelmed the remaining opposition to a unified Germany (aside from Austria) in the four states south of the Main, and during November 1870, they joined the North German Confederation by treaty.

During the Siege of Paris on 18 January 1871, William was proclaimed Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and subsequently the Unification of Germany occurred.

Although nominally a federal empire and league of equals, in practice, the empire was dominated by the largest and most powerful state, Prussia. Prussia stretched across the northern two-thirds of the new Reich and contained three-fifths of its population. The imperial crown was hereditary in the ruling house of Prussia, the House of Hohenzollern. With the exception of 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of Prussia. With 17 out of 58 votes in the Bundesrat, Berlin needed only a few votes from the smaller states to exercise effective control.

The evolution of the German Empire is somewhat in line with parallel developments in Italy, which became a united nation-state a decade earlier. Some key elements of the German Empire's authoritarian political structure were also the basis for conservative modernization in Imperial Japan under Meiji and the preservation of an authoritarian political structure under the tsars in the Russian Empire.

Bismarck in 1890

Iron Chancellor

1871 Mar 21 - 1890 Mar 20
, Germany

Bismarck was the dominant personality not just in Germany but in all of Europe and indeed the entire diplomatic world 1870–1890. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck determined the political course of the German Empire until 1890. He fostered alliances in Europe to contain France on the one hand and aspired to consolidate Germany's influence in Europe on the other. His principal domestic policies focused on the suppression of socialism and the reduction of the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church on its adherents. He issued a series of anti-socialist laws in accord with a set of social laws, that included universal health care, pension plans and other social security programs. His Kulturkampf policies were vehemently resisted by Catholics, who organized political opposition in the Center Party. German industrial and economic power had grown to match Britain by 1900.

With Prussian dominance accomplished by 1871, Bismarck skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany's position in a peaceful Europe. To historian Eric Hobsbawm, Bismarck "remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers". However, the annexation of Alsace–Lorraine gave new fuel to French revanchism and Germanophobia. Bismarck's diplomacy of Realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the Iron Chancellor. German unification and rapid economic growth were foundational to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position.

Bismarck became a hero to German nationalists, who built many monuments honouring him. Many historians praise him as a visionary who was instrumental in uniting Germany and, once that had been accomplished, kept the peace in Europe through adroit diplomacy.

Cartoon of the Berlin satirical journal Lustige Blätter. In the Triple Alliance, an adult German drags the Austrian boy along, while the Italian child throws a tantrum to stay with the French cockerel.

Triple Alliance

1882 May 20 - 1915 May 3
, Central Europe

The Triple Alliance was a military alliance formed on 20 May 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy and renewed periodically until it expired in 1915 during World War I. Germany and Austria-Hungary had been closely allied since 1879. Italy was looking for support against France shortly after it lost North African ambitions to the French. Each member promised mutual support in the event of an attack by any other great power. The treaty provided that Germany and Austria-Hungary were to assist Italy if it was attacked by France without provocation. In turn, Italy would assist Germany if attacked by France. In the event of a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Italy promised to remain neutral. The existence and membership of the treaty were well known, but its exact provisions were kept secret until 1919.

When the treaty was renewed in February 1887, Italy gained an empty promise of German support of Italian colonial ambitions in North Africa in return for Italy's continued friendship. Austria-Hungary had to be pressured by German chancellor Otto von Bismarck into accepting the principles of consultation and mutual agreement with Italy on any territorial changes initiated in the Balkans or on the coasts and islands of the Adriatic and Aegean seas. Italy and Austria-Hungary did not overcome their basic conflict of interest in that region despite the treaty. In 1891, attempts were made to join Britain to the Triple Alliance, which, though unsuccessful, were widely believed to have succeeded in Russian diplomatic circles.

On 18 October 1883 Carol I of Romania, through his Prime Minister Ion C. Brătianu, had also secretly pledged to support the Triple Alliance, but he later remained neutral in the First World War due to viewing Austria-Hungary as the aggressor. On 1 November 1902, five months after the Triple Alliance was renewed, Italy reached an understanding with France that each would remain neutral in the event of an attack on the other.

When Austria-Hungary found itself at war in August 1914 with the rival Triple Entente, Italy proclaimed its neutrality, considering Austria-Hungary the aggressor. Italy also defaulted on the obligation to consult and agree to compensations before changing the status quo in the Balkans, as agreed in 1912 renewal of the Triple Alliance. Following parallel negotiation with both Triple Alliance (which aimed to keep Italy neutral) and the Triple Entente (which aimed to make Italy enter the conflict), Italy sided with the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary.

"Battle of Mahenge", Maji-Maji rebellion, painting by Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert, 1908.

German colonial empire

1884 Jan 1 - 1918
, Africa

The German colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies, dependencies and territories of the German Empire. Unified in the early 1870s, the chancellor of this time period was Otto von Bismarck. Short-lived attempts at colonization by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but Bismarck resisted pressure to construct a colonial empire until the Scramble for Africa in 1884. Claiming much of the left-over uncolonized areas of Africa, Germany built the third-largest colonial empire at the time, after the British and French. The German Colonial Empire encompassed parts of several African countries, including parts of present-day Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, as well as northeastern New Guinea, Samoa and numerous Micronesian islands. Including mainland Germany, the empire had a total land area of 3,503,352 square kilometers and population of 80,125,993 people.

Germany lost control of most of its colonial empire at the beginning of the First World War in 1914, but some German forces held out in German East Africa until the end of the war. After the German defeat in World War I, Germany's colonial empire was officially dissolved with the Treaty of Versailles. Each colony became a League of Nations mandate under the supervision (but not ownership) of one of the victorious powers. Talk of regaining their lost colonial possessions persisted in Germany until 1943, but never became an official goal of the German government.

Wilhelm II, German Emperor | ©T. H. Voigt

Wilhelminian Era

1888 Jun 15 - 1918 Nov 9
, Germany

Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918. Despite strengthening the German Empire's position as a great power by building a powerful navy, his tactless public statements and erratic foreign policy greatly antagonized the international community and are considered by many to be one of the underlying causes of World War I.

In March 1890, Wilhelm II dismissed the German Empire's powerful longtime Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and assumed direct control over his nation's policies, embarking on a bellicose "New Course" to cement its status as a leading world power. Over the course of his reign, the German colonial empire acquired new territories in China and the Pacific (such as Kiautschou Bay, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands) and became Europe's largest manufacturer. However, Wilhelm often undermined such progress by threatening and making tactless statements towards other countries without first consulting his ministers. Likewise, his regime did much to alienate itself from other great powers by initiating a massive naval build-up, contesting French control of Morocco, and building a railway through Baghdad that challenged Britain's dominion in the Persian Gulf. By the second decade of the 20th century, Germany could rely only on significantly weaker nations such as Austria-Hungary and the declining Ottoman Empire as allies.

Wilhelm's reign culminated in Germany's guarantee of military support to Austria-Hungary during the crisis of July 1914, one of the immediate causes of World War I. A lax wartime leader, Wilhelm left virtually all decision-making regarding strategy and organisation of the war effort to the German Army's Great General Staff. By August 1916, this broad delegation of power gave rise to a de facto military dictatorship that dominated national policy for the rest of the conflict. Despite emerging victorious over Russia and obtaining significant territorial gains in Eastern Europe, Germany was forced to relinquish all its conquests after a decisive defeat on the Western Front in the fall of 1918. Losing the support of his country's military and many of his subjects, Wilhelm was forced to abdicate during the German Revolution of 1918–1919. The revolution converted Germany from a monarchy into an unstable democratic state known as the Weimar Republic.

World War I

Germany during World War I

1914 Jul 28 - 1918 Nov 11
, Central Europe

During World War I, the German Empire was one of the Central Powers. It began participation in the conflict after the declaration of war against Serbia by its ally, Austria-Hungary. German forces fought the Allies on both the eastern and western fronts. A tight blockade in the North Sea (lasting until 1919) imposed by the Royal Navy reduced Germany's overseas access to raw materials and caused food shortages in the cities, especially in the winter of 1916–17, known as the Turnip Winter.

In the west, Germany sought a quick victory by encircling Paris using the Schlieffen Plan. But it failed due to Belgian resistance, Berlin's diversion of troops, and very stiff French resistance on the Marne, north of Paris. The Western Front became an extremely bloody battleground of trench warfare. The stalemate lasted from 1914 until early 1918, with ferocious battles that moved forces a few hundred yards at best along a line that stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border.

More wide open was the fighting on the Eastern Front. In the east, there were decisive victories against the Russian army, the trapping and defeat of large parts of the Russian contingent at the Battle of Tannenberg, followed by huge Austrian and German successes. The breakdown of Russian forces – exacerbated by internal turmoil caused by the 1917 Russian Revolution – led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Bolsheviks were forced to sign on 3 March 1918 as Russia withdrew from the war. It gave Germany control of Eastern Europe.

By defeating Russia in 1917, Germany was able to bring hundreds of thousands of combat troops from the east to the Western Front, giving it a numerical advantage over the Allies. By retraining the soldiers in new storm-trooper tactics, the Germans expected to unfreeze the Battlefield and win a decisive victory before the American army arrived in strength. However, the spring offensives all failed, as the Allies fell back and regrouped, and the Germans lacked the reserves necessary to consolidate their gains.

Food scarcity became a serious problem by 1917. The United States joined with the Allies in April 1917. The entry of the United States into the war – following Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare – marked a decisive turning-point against Germany. At the end of the war, Germany's defeat and widespread popular discontent triggered the German Revolution of 1918–1919 which overthrew the monarchy and established the Weimar Republic.

The "Golden Twenties" in Berlin: a jazz band plays for a tea dance at the hotel Esplanade, 1926

Weimar Republic

1918 Jan 2 - 1933
, Germany

The Weimar Republic, officially named the German Reich, was the government of Germany from 1918 to 1933, during which it was a constitutional federal republic for the first time in history; hence it is also referred to, and unofficially proclaimed itself, as the German Republic. The state's informal name is derived from the city of Weimar, which hosted the constituent assembly that established its government.

Following the devastation of the First World War (1914–1918), Germany was exhausted and sued for peace in desperate circumstances. Awareness of imminent defeat sparked a revolution, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, formal surrender to the Allies, and the proclamation of the Weimar Republic on 9 November 1918.

In its initial years, grave problems beset the Republic, such as hyperinflation and political extremism, including political murders and two attempted seizures of power by contending paramilitaries; internationally, it suffered isolation, reduced diplomatic standing, and contentious relationships with the great powers. By 1924, a great deal of monetary and political stability was restored, and the republic enjoyed relative prosperity for the next five years; this period, sometimes known as the Golden Twenties, was characterised by significant cultural flourishing, social progress, and gradual improvement in foreign relations. Under the Locarno Treaties of 1925, Germany moved toward normalising relations with its neighbours, recognising most territorial changes under the Treaty of Versailles and committing to never go to war. The following year, it joined the League of Nations, which marked its reintegration into the international community. Nevertheless, especially on the political right, there remained strong and widespread resentment against the treaty and those who had signed and supported it.

The Great Depression of October 1929 severely impacted Germany's tenuous progress; high unemployment and subsequent social and political unrest led to the collapse of the coalition government. From March 1930 onwards, President Paul von Hindenburg used emergency powers to back Chancellors Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen and General Kurt von Schleicher. The Great Depression, exacerbated by Brüning's policy of deflation, led to a greater surge in unemployment. On 30 January 1933, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor to head a coalition government; Hitler's far-right Nazi Party held two out of ten cabinet seats. Von Papen, as Vice-Chancellor and Hindenburg's confidant, was to serve to keep Hitler under control; these intentions badly underestimated Hitler's political abilities. By the end of March 1933, the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933 had used the perceived state of emergency to effectively grant the new Chancellor broad power to act outside parliamentary control. Hitler promptly used these powers to thwart constitutional governance and suspend civil liberties, which brought about the swift collapse of democracy at the federal and state level, and the creation of a one-party dictatorship under his leadership.

Barricade during the Spartacus uprising.

German Revolution of 1918–1919

1918 Oct 29 - 1919 Aug 11
, Germany

The German Revolution or November Revolution was a civil conflict in the German Empire at the end of the First World War that resulted in the replacement of the German federal constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary republic that later became known as the Weimar Republic. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the adoption of the Weimar Constitution in August 1919. Among the factors leading to the revolution were the extreme burdens suffered by the German population during the four years of war, the economic and psychological impacts of the German Empire's defeat by the Allies, and growing social tensions between the general population and the aristocratic and bourgeois elite.

The first acts of the revolution were triggered by the policies of the Supreme Command of the German Army and its lack of coordination with the Naval Command. In the face of defeat, the Naval Command insisted on trying to precipitate a climactic pitched battle with the British Royal Navy utilizing its naval order of 24 October 1918, but the battle never took place. Instead of obeying their orders to begin preparations to fight the British, German sailors led a revolt in the naval ports of Wilhelmshaven on 29 October 1918, followed by the Kiel mutiny in the first days of November. These disturbances spread the spirit of civil unrest across Germany and ultimately led to the proclamation of a republic to replace the imperial monarchy on 9 November 1918, two days before Armistice Day. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Wilhelm II fled the country and abdicated his throne.

The revolutionaries, inspired by liberalism and socialist ideas, did not hand over power to Soviet-style councils as the Bolsheviks had done in Russia, because the leadership of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) opposed their creation. The SPD opted instead for a national assembly that would form the basis for a parliamentary system of government. Fearing an all-out civil war in Germany between militant workers and reactionary conservatives, the SPD did not plan to strip the old German upper classes completely of their power and privileges. Instead, it sought to peacefully integrate them into the new social democratic system. In this endeavour, SPD leftists sought an alliance with the German Supreme Command. This allowed the army and the Freikorps (nationalist militias) to act with enough autonomy to quell the communist Spartacist uprising of 4–15 January 1919 by force. The same alliance of political forces succeeded in suppressing leftist uprisings in other parts of Germany, with the result that the country was completely pacified by late 1919.

The first elections for the new Constituent German National Assembly (popularly known as the Weimar National Assembly) were held on 19 January 1919, and the revolution effectively ended on 11 August 1919, when the Constitution of the German Reich (Weimar Constitution) was adopted.

The heads of the "Big Four" nations at the Paris Peace Conference, 27 May 1919. From left to right: David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson

Treaty of Versailles

1919 Jun 28
, Hall of Mirrors

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in the Palace of Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the war. The other Central Powers on the German side signed separate treaties. Although the armistice of 11 November 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial was: "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies." The other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles. This article, Article 231, became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion gold marks (then $31.4 billion, roughly equivalent to US$442 billion in 2022). Because of the way the deal was structured, the Allied Powers intended Germany would only ever pay a value of 50 billion marks.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one satisfied. In particular, Germany was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. The treaty has sometimes been cited as a cause of World War II: although its actual impact was not as severe as feared, its terms led to great resentment in Germany which powered the rise of the Nazi Party.

Troops of the German Army feeding the poor in Berlin, 1931

Great Depression and Political Crisis

1929 Jan 1 - 1933
, Germany

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 marked the beginning of the worldwide Great Depression, which hit Germany as hard as any nation. In July 1931, the Darmstätter und Nationalbank – one of the biggest German banks – failed. In early 1932, the number of unemployed had soared to more than 6,000,000.

On top of the collapsing economy came a political crisis: the political parties represented in the Reichstag were unable to build a governing majority in the face of escalating extremism from the far right (the Nazis, NSDAP). In March 1930, President Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning Chancellor, invoking article 48 of Weimar's constitution, which allowed him to override the Parliament. To push through his package of austerity measures against a majority of Social Democrats, Communists and the NSDAP (Nazis), Brüning made use of emergency decrees and dissolved Parliament. In March and April 1932, Hindenburg was re-elected in the German presidential election of 1932.

The Nazi Party was the largest party in the national elections of 1932. On 31 July 1932 it received 37.3% of the votes, and in the election on 6 November 1932 it received less, but still the largest share, 33.1%, making it the biggest party in the Reichstag. The Communist KPD came third, with 15%. Together, the anti-democratic parties of the far right were now able to hold a considerable share of seats in Parliament, but they were at sword's point with the political left, fighting it out in the streets. The Nazis were particularly successful among Protestants, among unemployed young voters, among the lower middle class in the cities and among the rural population. It was weakest in Catholic areas and in large cities. On 30 January 1933, pressured by former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservatives, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor.

Adolf Hitler became Germany's head of state, with the title of Führer und Reichskanzler, in 1934.

Third Reich

1933 Jan 30 - 1945 May
, Germany

Nazi Germany was the German state between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party controlled the country, transforming it into a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany quickly became a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", alluded to the Nazi claim that Nazi Germany was the successor to the earlier Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and German Empire (1871–1918).

On 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, the head of government, by the president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, the head of state. On 23 March 1933, the Enabling Act was enacted to give Hitler's government the power to make and enforce laws without the involvement of the Reichstag or president. The Nazi Party then began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate its power. Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the offices and powers of the chancellery and presidency. A national referendum held 19 August 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's person and his word became the highest law. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of factions struggling for power and Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Using deficit spending, the regime undertook a massive secret rearmament program, forming the Wehrmacht (armed forces), and constructed extensive public works projects, including the Autobahnen (motorways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.

Racism, Nazi eugenics, and especially antisemitism, were central ideological features of the regime. The Germanic peoples were considered by the Nazis to be the master race, the purest branch of the Aryan race. Discrimination and the persecution of Jews and Romani people began in earnest after the seizure of power. The first concentration camps were established in March 1933. Jews, liberals, socialists, communists, and other political opponents and undesirables were imprisoned, exiled, or murdered. Christian churches and citizens that opposed Hitler's rule were oppressed and many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased Germany on the international stage. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotic oratory to influence public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.

Operation Barbarossa

World War II

1939 Sep 1 - 1945 May 8
, Germany

At first Germany was very successful in its military operations. In less than three months (April – June 1940), Germany conquered Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France. The unexpectedly swift defeat of France resulted in an upswing in Hitler's popularity and an upsurge in war fever. Hitler made peace overtures to the new British leader Winston Churchill in July 1940, but Churchill remained dogged in his defiance. Churchill had major financial, military, and diplomatic help from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the U.S. Hitler's bombing campaign against Britain (September 1940 – May 1941) failed. Germany's armed forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 – weeks behind schedule due to the invasion of Yugoslavia – but swept forward until they reached the gates of Moscow. Hitler had assembled more than 4,000,000 troops, including 1,000,000 from his Axis allies. The Soviets had lost nearly 3,000,000 killed in action, while 3,500,000 Soviet troops were captured in the first six months of the war.

The tide began to turn in December 1941, when the invasion of the Soviet Union hit determined resistance in the Battle of Moscow and Hitler declared war on the United States in the wake of the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack. After surrender in North Africa and losing the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, the Germans were forced into the defensive. By late 1944, the United States, Canada, France, and Great Britain were closing in on Germany in the West, while the Soviets were victoriously advancing in the East.

In 1944–45, Soviet forces completely or partially liberated Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Denmark, and Norway. Nazi Germany collapsed as Berlin was taken by the Soviet Union's Red Army in a fight to the death on the city streets. 2,000,000 Soviet troops took part in the assault, and they faced 750,000 German troops. 78,000–305,000 Soviets were killed, while 325,000 German civilians and soldiers were killed.Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. The final German Instrument of Surrender was signed on 8 May 1945.

August 1948, German children deported from the eastern areas of Germany taken over by Poland arrive in West Germany.

Post World War II Germany

1945 Jan 1 - 1990 Jan
, Germany

As a consequence of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the onset of the Cold War in 1947, the country's territory was shrunk and split between the two global blocs in the East and West, a period known as the division of Germany. Millions of refugees from Central and Eastern Europe moved west, most of them to West Germany. Two countries emerged: West Germany was a parliamentary democracy, a NATO member, a founding member of what since became the European Union as one of the world's largest economies and under allied military control until 1955, while East Germany was a totalitarian Communist dictatorship controlled by the Soviet Union as a satellite of Moscow. With the collapse of Communism in Europe in 1989, reunion on West Germany's terms followed. Around 6.7 million Germans living in "west-shifted" Poland, mostly within previously German lands, and the 3 million in German-settled regions of Czechoslovakia were deported west.

The total of German war dead was 8% to 10% out of a prewar population of 69,000,000, or between 5.5 million and 7 million people. This included 4.5 million in the military, and between 1 and 2 million civilians. There was chaos as 11 million foreign workers and POWs left, while soldiers returned home and more than 14 million displaced German-speaking refugees from both the eastern provinces and East-Central and Eastern Europe were expelled from their native land and came to the western German lands, often foreign to them. During the Cold War, the West German government estimated a death toll of 2.2 million civilians due to the flight and expulsion of Germans and through forced labour in the Soviet Union. This figure remained unchallenged until the 1990s, when some historians put the death toll at 500,000–600,000 confirmed deaths. In 2006, the German government reaffirmed its position that 2.0–2.5 million deaths occurred.

Denazification removed, imprisoned, or executed most top officials of the old regime, but most middle and lower ranks of civilian officialdom were not seriously affected. In accordance with the Allied agreement made at the Yalta Conference, millions of POWs were used as forced labor by the Soviet Union and other European countries.

In 1945–46 housing and food conditions were bad, as the disruption of transport, markets, and finances slowed a return to normal. In the West, bombing had destroyed the fourth of the housing stock, and over 10 million refugees from the east had crowded in, most living in camps. Food production in 1946–48 was only two-thirds of the prewar level, while grain and meat shipments – which usually supplied 25% of the food – no longer arrived from the East. Furthermore, the end of the war brought the end of large shipments of food seized from occupied nations that had sustained Germany during the war. Coal production was down 60%, which had cascading negative effects on railroads, heavy industry, and heating. Industrial production fell more than half and reached prewar levels only at the end of 1949.

The U.S. shipped food in 1945–47 and made a $600 million loan in 1947 to rebuild German industry. By May 1946 the removal of machinery had ended, thanks to lobbying by the U.S. Army. The Truman administration finally realised that economic recovery in Europe could not go forward without the reconstruction of the German industrial base on which it had previously been dependent. Washington decided that an "orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany".

Berliners watching a transport bringing food and coal during the Berlin Blockade of 1948–49

Berlin Blockade

1948 Jun 24 - 1949 May 12
, Berlin

The Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from West Berlin.

The Western Allies organised the Berlin Airlift from 26 June 1948 to 30 September 1949 to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city and the population. American and British air forces flew over Berlin more than 250,000 times, dropping necessities such as fuel and food, with the original plan being to lift 3,475 tons of supplies daily. By the spring of 1949, that number was often met twofold, with the peak daily delivery totalling 12,941 tons. Among these, candy-dropping aircraft dubbed "raisin bombers" generated much goodwill among German children.

Having initially concluded there was no way the airlift could work, the Soviets found its continued success an increasing embarrassment. On 12 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin, due to economic issues in East Berlin, although for a time the Americans and British continued to supply the city by air as they were worried that the Soviets would resume the blockade and were only trying to disrupt western supply lines. The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949 after fifteen months. The US Air Force had delivered 1,783,573 tons (76.4% of total) and the RAF 541,937 tons (23.3% of total), 1] totalling 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 flights to Berlin. In addition Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African air crews assisted the RAF during the blockade.: 338 The French also supported but only to provide for their military garrison.

American C-47 and C-54 transport airplanes, together, flew over 92,000,000 miles (148,000,000 km) in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun. British transports, including Handley Page Haltons and Short Sunderlands, flew as well. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.

The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe. It played a major role in aligning West Berlin with the United States as the major protecting power,] and in drawing West Germany into the NATO orbit several years later in 1955.

Before the Berlin Wall, 1961.

East Germany

1949 Jan 1 - 1990
, Berlin

In 1949, the western half of the Soviet zone became the "Deutsche Demokratische Republik" – "DDR", under control of the Socialist Unity Party. Neither country had a significant army until the 1950s, but East Germany built the Stasi into a powerful secret police that infiltrated every aspect of its society.

East Germany was an Eastern bloc state under political and military control of the Soviet Union through her occupation forces and the Warsaw Treaty. Political power was solely executed by leading members (Politburo) of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party (SED). A Soviet-style command economy was set up; later the GDR became the most advanced Comecon state. While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of the GDR's social programs and the alleged constant threat of a West German invasion, many of her citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity.

The economy was centrally planned and state-owned. Prices of housing, basic goods and services were heavily subsidized and set by central government planners rather than rising and falling through supply and demand. Although the GDR had to pay substantial war reparations to the Soviets, it became the most successful economy in the Eastern Bloc. Emigration to the West was a significant problem as many of the emigrants were well-educated young people; such emigration weakened the state economically. In response, the government fortified its inner German border and built the Berlin Wall in 1961. Many people attempting to flee were killed by border guards or booby traps such as landmines. Those captured spent long periods of time imprisoned for attempting to escape.

Walter Ulbricht (1893–1973) was the party boss from 1950 to 1971. In 1933, Ulbricht had fled to Moscow, where he served as a Comintern agent loyal to Stalin. As World War II was ending, Stalin assigned him the job of designing the postwar German system that would centralize all power in the Communist Party. Ulbricht became deputy prime minister in 1949 and secretary (chief executive) of the Socialist Unity (Communist) party in 1950. Ulbricht lost power in 1971, but was kept on as a nominal head of state. He was replaced because he failed to solve growing national crises, such as the worsening economy in 1969–70, the fear of another popular uprising as had occurred in 1953, and the disgruntlement between Moscow and Berlin caused by Ulbricht's détente policies toward the West.

The transition to Erich Honecker (General Secretary from 1971 to 1989) led to a change in the direction of national policy and efforts by the Politburo to pay closer attention to the grievances of the proletariat. Honecker's plans were not successful, however, with the dissent growing among East Germany's population.

In 1989, the socialist regime collapsed after 40 years, despite its omnipresent secret police, the Stasi. The main reasons for its collapse included severe economic problems and growing emigration towards the West.

The Volkswagen Beetle – for many years the most successful car in the world – on the assembly line in Wolfsburg factory, 1973

West Germany (Bonn Republic)

1949 Jan 1 - 1990
, Bonn

In 1949, the three western occupation zones (American, British, and French) were combined into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). The government was formed under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his conservative CDU/CSU coalition. The CDU/CSU was in power during most of the period since 1949. The capital was Bonn until it was moved to Berlin in 1990. In 1990, FRG absorbed East Germany and gained full sovereignty over Berlin. At all points West Germany was much larger and richer than East Germany, which became a dictatorship under the control of the Communist Party and was closely monitored by Moscow. Germany, especially Berlin, was a cockpit of the Cold War, with NATO and the Warsaw Pact assembling major military forces in west and east. However, there was never any combat.

West Germany enjoyed prolonged economic growth beginning in the early 1950s (Wirtschaftswunder or "Economic Miracle"). Industrial production doubled from 1950 to 1957, and gross national product grew at a rate of 9 or 10% per year, providing the engine for economic growth of all of Western Europe. Labor unions supported the new policies with postponed wage increases, minimized strikes, support for technological modernization, and a policy of co-determination (Mitbestimmung), which involved a satisfactory grievance resolution system as well as requiring representation of workers on the boards of large corporations. The recovery was accelerated by the currency reform of June 1948, U.S. gifts of $1.4 billion as part of the Marshall Plan, the breaking down of old trade barriers and traditional practices, and the opening of the global market. West Germany gained legitimacy and respect, as it shed the horrible reputation Germany had gained under the Nazis.

West Germany played a central role in the creation of European cooperation; it joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1958.

Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate on 10 November 1989 showing the graffiti Wie denn ("How now") over the sign warning the public that they are leaving West Berlin

German reunification

1990 Oct 3
, Germany

The East German (GDR) government started to falter on 2 May 1989, when the removal of Hungary's border fence with Austria opened a hole in the Iron Curtain. The border was still closely guarded, but the Pan-European Picnic and the indecisive reaction of the rulers of the Eastern Bloc set in motion an irreversible peaceful movement. It allowed an exodus of thousands of East Germans fleeing from their country to West Germany via Hungary. The Peaceful Revolution, a series of protests by the East Germans, led to the GDR's first free elections on 18 March 1990 and to the negotiations between the two countries West Germany and East Germany that culminated in a Unification Treaty.

On October 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic was dissolved, five states were recreated (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) and the new states became part of the Federal Republic of Germany, an event known as the German Reunification. In Germany the end of the unification process between the two countries is officially referred to as German unity (Deutsche Einheit). East and West Berlin were united into a single city and eventually became the capital of reunited Germany.

Stagnation in 1990s

Stagnation in 1990s

1990 Nov 1 - 2010
, Germany

Germany invested over two trillion marks in the rehabilitation of the former East Germany, helping it to transition to a market economy and cleaning up the environmental degradation. By 2011 the results were mixed, with slow economic development in the East, in sharp contrast to the rapid economic growth in both west and southern Germany. Unemployment was much higher in the East, often over 15%. Economists Snower and Merkl (2006) suggest that the malaise was prolonged by all the social and economic help from the German government, pointing especially to bargaining by proxy, high unemployment benefits and welfare entitlements, and generous job-security provisions.

The German economic miracle petered out in the 1990s, so that by the end of the century and the early 2000s it was ridiculed as "the sick man of Europe." It suffered a short recession in 2003. The economic growth rate was a very low 1.2% annually from 1988 to 2005. Unemployment, especially in the eastern districts, remained stubbornly high despite heavy stimulus spending. It rose from 9.2% in 1998 to 11.1% in 2009. The worldwide Great Recession of 2008-2010 worsened conditions briefly, as there was a sharp decline in GDP. However unemployment did not rise, and recovery was faster than almost anywhere else. The old industrial centers of the Rhineland and North Germany lagged as well, as the coal and steel industries faded in importance.

Angela Merkel, 2008


2010 Jan 1
, Germany

The economic policies were heavily oriented toward the world market, and the export sector continued to be very strong. Prosperity was pulled along by exports that reached a record of $1.7 trillion US dollars in 2011, or half of the German GDP, or nearly 8% of all of the exports in the world. While the rest of the European Community struggled with financial issues, Germany took a conservative position based on an extraordinarily strong economy after 2010. The labor market proved flexible, and the export industries were attuned to world demand.


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