nd On May 5, 1955, the occupation

nd Steel Community was established.The status of the Saar and its coal mines became a major concern for Adenauer. The Saar was part ofthe French occupation zone. After World War I the French had attempted to obtain control of the Saar permanently. They had been forced to hand the territory over to the control of the League of Nations, who in 1935 gave it back to Germany. After World War II the French were determined that they would not lose control again. The French detached the region from their own zone, joined it in a customs union with France, and gave it its own currency. A government was elected that gave France a 55-year lease on the coal mines. Adenauer opposed these moves strongly and argued that no former area of Germany could be transferred permanently to another state. The position of Francewas weak, and it needed United States aid too much to oppose American and British wishes to see a healthy West German economy. Relations between Germany and France were also improved by personal contacts between Adenauer and the French leader, Charles de Gaulle. In 1957 the Saar was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany.Controls lifted. On May 5, 1955, the occupation powers lifted the controls that they had placed on Germany’s political and economic development. The Federal Republic was now completely free to developits own policies. In 1953 Adenauer had been reelected and was ready to lead West Germany into a period of economic prosperity. He proved to the Germans that democracy could bring success, an idea that helped to counter any pro-Communist sympathy among the population. The poor performance of East Germany strengthened pro-Western feelings, and in 1956 the Communist party was declared illegal in WestGermany. In spite of Adenauer’s successes, there was criticism of his policies–especially from the Social Democratic party, which formed the largest group in opposition to the government. The Social Democrats were unhappy with the continued employment in the government of people who had been Nazis. Education, especially at the universities, was still largely for a small elite, and in general society had changed little since the 1930s except for the political system.The Social Democrats fought the rise of a new German army, but in 1953 the government received the necessary support from the two legislative houses to proceed. In 1955 West Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in 1957 was an original member of the European Economic Community (EEC), or Common Market. It therefore became one of the leaders of Europe along with France and Great Britain.End of Adenauer era. Adenauer was reelected chancellor in 1957 and again in 1961. In the latter election, however, his party lost seats in the Bundestag, or West German parliament, and many hoped he would resign. He did so in 1963 and was succeeded by Ludwig Erhard. As chancellor, Erhard was not as strong as Adenauer and was under constant criticism from Adenauer, who remained a member of parliament and party leader. Erhard was reelected in 1965 but resigned thefollowing year.The economy was in difficulties, and there was no strong political leadership. The Free Democrats withdrew from the coalition cabinet in 1966 to protect their political future, and a new chancellor, Kurt Kiesinger, was chosen. He formed a coalition government with theSocial Democrats; Willy Brandt, a leading Social Democrat, became vice-chancellor and foreign minister. This coalition lasted only three years. During this period an attempt was made to improve relations with Eastern Europe, but this policy of detente was curtailed by theSoviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.The Social Democrats won the 1969 elections, reflecting a trend toward the left. Willy Brandt became chancellor and formed a coalition with the Free Democrats. His political strength lay largely in the fact that during the war he had actively opposed the Nazis while in Norway and Sweden. His main interest was foreign policy; he was less successful in dealing with domestic matters. He revived the pursuit of East-West detente, termed Ostpolitik (eastern policy), which he had begun as Erhard’s foreign minister, and hoped for better relations with East Germany and Poland. At the end of 1970 he signed a treaty with Poland that recognized Poland’s rights to the German territories Poland had annexed after the war. Brandt also visited Moscow that year to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union in which Germany agreed to respect the frontiers and territories of all states in Europe. By this act Germany renounced all claims to Polish and Czechoslovakian territory and recognized the boundary between West and East Germany. Brandt still refused to recognize fully the claim of East Germany to be a sovereign, independent state, as this would put the stamp of approval on the partition of Germany. Both Germanys, however, joined the United Nations separately in 1973.Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev paid a visit to Bonn in 1973, an event welcomed by some as a sign of the end of Soviet-German hostilities and of the Cold War. But Soviet approaches to West Germany were prompted more by a desire to obtain German technology than by a desire for friendship. The Soviet Union in turn offered German industry raw materials and energy supplies, particularly oil and natural gas.This period of seemingly improved relations with the Eastern bloc was brought to an end in 1974 by the revelation that one of Brandt’s personal staff was an East German spy. Brandt accepted full responsibility for the mistake and resigned as chancellor.The new chancellor was Helmut Schmidt, a well-educated man who also spoke good English. He was practical, well organized, and a good speaker. In 1976 his position as chancellor was confirmed by an election in which the Social Democrats won by a narrow margin.The new government faced a new element in German politics, namely terrorism. Starting with bombings of government offices, embassies, and military bases and offices, by the mid-1970s people–including judges, politicians, business people, and bankers–were being shot or kidnapped. In 1977 a West German airliner was hijacked and taken to Mogadishu in Somalia, where the passengers were rescued by a special team of German police.Another problem arose from the decision by the government to develop nuclear power in order to reduce petroleum imports and to diminish air pollution from the excessive use of coal. Fear of nuclear accidents caused public opposition to those plans, and demonstrations and blockades took place at nuclear plants and proposed construction sites. Much opposition came from the ranks of the ruling Social Democratic party, but a new party devoted to the protection of the environment arose. Known as the Greens, it won a surprising 43 seats in the Bundestag in 1987. Dissension among party ranks, however, and diminished interest among voters in western Germany contributed to the Greens’ loss of all but seven seats in the 1990 all-German elections.In 1981 the international economic recession began to affect West Germany, and unemployment rose sharply to a peak of more than 10 percent in 1983. The problem of the 2 million foreign workers–mainly Turks and Yugoslavs–became acute as many lost their jobs. Schmidt introduced a three-year program to reduce unemployment but had to cut spending on social welfare. At the same time friction developed with the United States over high interest rates, which were seen to be hindering Western European economic recovery, and over United States sanctions against Poland, with which Schmidt did not agree.In 1981 Schmidt visited East Germany in an attempt to improve relations between the two states. When the four Free Democrats in his cabinet resigned over the question of economic policy in 1982, the coalition government collapsed.Christian Democrats return to power. Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic party was chosen as chancellor, and in March 1983 he was given a clear mandate when his party was returned to power. (He was reelected in 1987, but his party lost some of its seats.) The United States government was particularly pleased with Kohl’s policies, but the chancellor did not neglect the problem of relations with East Germany. In return for East Germany’s lifting some currency restrictions on Western visitors, Kohl arranged for East German credits from West German banks.Winds of change. West Germany marked its 40th anniversary during 1989. East-West relations dominated the political and economic scene throughout the year, with the main focus on the upheaval in East Germany. West Germany’s embassies in Budapest, Warsaw, and Prague were flooded with East German refugees trying to flee to the West. The huge numbers that streamed into West Germany after East Germany opened its borders caused a shortage of housing and a fear of unemployment. Kohl promised to provide more than 3 billion dollars in economic aid to finance democratic reform in East Germany. On May 18, 1990, East and West German finance ministers signed a state treaty that would merge the two economies. Kohl and the newly elected East German prime minister, Lothar de Maiziere, named July 1, 1990, as the day for economic and social union, a step toward political union. The government invested 70 billion dollars to boost East Germany’s battered economy, and on July 1, the West German mark became the sole legal tender.East GermanyIn May 1949 a constitution establishing the government of an East German state was adopted by the legislative body that became the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), or parliament. The new government was headed by Otto Grotewohl, with Wilhelm Pieck, a Communist, as president. In order to control the other political parties, in particular the Social Democrats, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany had been formed in 1946. This party assumed power. It consisted mainly of Social Democrats and Communists, with the latter dominating all party decisions. A Soviet-style Politburo controlled the party, with Walter Ulbricht, another veteran Communist, as the party’s general secretary.The period from 1949 to 1953 was marked by great unrest within the Socialist Unity party and the country because of what was labeled spy fever. Many people who were thought to be politically unreliable were expelled from the party, and some were imprisoned. At the same time the government was preparing for future economic development with a Soviet-style five-year plan to begin in 1951. This plan stressed the construction of new heavy industry and gave a low priority to consumer goods industries. In 1952 East German authorities began the collectivization of agriculture. From 1952 to 1954 about 700,000 people left for the West, a loss of workers that hampered the planned development of farming and industry.The political upheavals and the low standard of living caused many people to leave for the West. Unrest among workers who remained led in 1953 to strikes in a number of cities, including East Berlin. These strikes were put down with the aid of Soviet armed forces. This was followed by another purge in the Socialist Unity party, whose leaders realized that they had little following among the workers whom they represented.The Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin was built in 1961 and marked a turning point. Not only was the country more easily protected against the infiltration of Western agents, but the exodus of badly needed skilled workers and others was halted. At the same time economic reforms that eased central planning controls were introduced. Industrial production increased rapidly, more consumer goods began to appear in stores, and a mood of optimism began to spread through the population. By the mid-1960s the standard of living was higher than in most other Soviet-bloc countries. In 1968 the rise of a more liberal regime in Czechoslovakia alarmed the Soviet and East German governments. East German military units took part in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. In spite of this development, relations with West Germany began to improve.End of the Ulbricht era. In 1971 Ulbricht resigned and was replaced by Erich Honecker. Although 20 years younger than Ulbricht, his successor was another hard-line Communist. One of Honecker’s first acts was to nationalize all the remaining private enterprise. Attempts were made to counter the influence of West German television–easily received in many parts of the country. The unique nature of East Germany and its culture was stressed, and loyalty to the state was firmly emphasized.By the 1970s the economy was one of the most industrialized and successful in Eastern Europe, but shortages of labor and natural resources began to occur. A serious food shortage developed in 1982. East Germany had meanwhile been building considerable debt to Western banks, and problems arose with the repayment of interest and capital. The Soviet Union sharply criticized these foreign loans. The regime was also embarrassed when 55 of its citizens sought asylum in the West German diplomatic mission in East Berlin. They left only when assured that they would be given permission to leave for the West. From 1984 to 1985 only 40,000 East German citizens were allowed to move to West Germany.Winds of change. The totalitarian East German government at first ignored–and then opposed–the gradual political liberalization that was occurring in the Soviet Union. In 1988, when there were changes in the leadership of other Warsaw Pact states, Honecker pressed for even tighter ideological control.East Germany celebrated its 40th anniversary as a separate Communist nation on Oct. 6-7, 1989. While Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev noted that the Honecker regime was free to choose its own course, his anniversary speech also described the advantages of Soviet-style reform. On the nearby streets of East Berlin, and in all the other major East German cities, enormous pro-democracy demonstrations and marches were simultaneously taking place.Honecker was removed from office on October 18, and his hard-line protege, Egon Krenz, assumed all three of his posts. On November 7 the East German cabinet resigned and a reformer replaced Willi Stoph, the chairman of the Council of Ministers. The culmination of the premier’s promise for freer East-West travel was the opening of the Berlin Wall two days later. Honecker and several of his associates were placed under arrest on December 5, and revelations of corruption inside the Communist party forced the resignation of the entire Politburo and the party’s central committee. Krenz resigned as chairman of the Council of State on December 6. His replacement, Manfred Gerlach, was the first non-Communist to hold the post. As membership rapidly declined, the party scrambled to save itself by changing its structure and its name and by promising a program of democracy, greater openness, and other reforms. The Communist-led government formed a coalition, with pro-democracy parties in the minority, but was forced to form an interim coalition cabinet, give up its majority, and move up elections to March 18, 1990.East Germans voted overwhelmingly on March 18 for a conservative alliance that proposed quick reunification with West Germany. More than 93 percent of some 12 million eligible voters cast ballots in the elections. The newly elected parliament met for the first time on April 5 and began dismantling the Communist system that had ruled for 40 years.The Alliance for Germany–a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union, German Social Union, and Democratic Awakening–received more than 48 percent of the vote and 193 seats in parliament. Lothar de Maiziere, head of the Christian Democrats and the designated prime minister, formed a 24-member coalition cabinet that also included the Social Democratic party, the German Social Union, the Democratic Awakening, and the Liberals, but not the Party of Democratic Socialism, the renamed Socialist Unity party. The parliament abolished the old Council of State and created the ceremonial head of state post of president. Sabine Bergmann-Pohl was elected to serve as both the president of parliament and acting head of state.German ReunificationThe unification treaty was signed by West German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble and East German State Secretary Gunther Krause on Aug. 31, 1990. It declared that unification would officially take place on Oct. 3, 1990, that Berlin would be the new capital, and that elections would be scheduled for Dec. 2, 1990.Because of East Germany’s ruined economy and its outdated industries many West German companies were hesitant to invest there. Nearly half of the East German work force was unemployed and nearly three quarters of the businesses failed by the end of 1990. Poland expressed concern that the country might not accept post-World War II borders. Eventually, however, Germany stated that it would respect the borders with Poland.On Sept. 12, 1990, some further issues were resolved during the “two-plus-four” negotiations (a phrase referring to the four Allies and the two Germanys). It was ultimately decided that the postwar occupation of Germany by these four powers would formally end on Oct. 1, 1990. Furthermore, Germany signed a commitment that it would never again become a threat to world peace. It was agreed that the new Germany would be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but that no NATO forces would be stationed on what was East German territory for three to four years after reunification. Also, Soviet, American, British, and French troops agreed to withdraw from what was East German territory and Berlin by the end of 1994. Germany, in turn, agreed to pay the Soviet Union about 7.5 billion dollars to finance the withdrawal of its troops and to build housing for them upon their return home. In addition, Germany agreed to cut the size of its armed forces from more than 600,000 to 370,000 troops.On Dec. 2, 1990, former West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, representing the Christian Democratic Union party, was elected Germany’s new chancellor in the first free all-German parliamentary elections to be held in 58 years. Kohl was reelected in 1994, but his popularity declined throughout the 1990s. His efforts to integrate Germany into the European community, specifically through membership in the European Union, led to the introduction of harsh fiscal measures in order to bring the country’s economy in line with those of other European countries. That effort was rewarded in May 1998, when Germany qualified for entry into the EMU, but Kohl’s 16-year reign as Germany’s chancellor came to an end later that year, when the Social Democrats were victorious in national elections.Back to Main menuA project by History World InternationalWorld History Center