From the Holy Roman Empire to Imperial Germany
The roots of German history and culture date back to the Germanic tribes and after that to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Since the early middle ages Germany started to split into hundreds of small states. It was the Napoleonic wars that started the process of unification, which ended in 1871, when a large number of previously independent German kingdoms united under Prussian leadership to form the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). This incarnation of Germany reached eastward all the way to modern day Klaipeda (Memel) in Lithuania and also encompassed today?s regions of Alsace-Lorraine (France), a small portion of eastern Belgium (Eupen-Malmedy), a small border region in southern Denmark and over 40% of contemporary Poland. The empire ended in 1918 when Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate the throne at the time of Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918) and was followed by the short-lived ill fated Weimar Republic, which tried in vain to completely establish a liberal, democratic regime. Because the young republic was plagued with massive economic problems (such as hyperinflation) and disgrace for a humiliating defeat in the First World War, strong anti-democratic forces took advantage of the inherent organizational problems of the Weimar Constitution and the Nazis were able to seize power.
Hitler and Nazi Germany
The year 1933 witnessed the rise to power of the nationalistic and racist National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and its Fuhrer , Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and a police state was installed. Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, handicapped people, socialists, communists, unionists and other groups not fitting into the Nazi's vision of a Greater Germany faced persecution, and ultimately murder in concentration camps. Europe's Jews and Gypsies were marked for total extermination. Hitler's militaristic ambitions to create a new German Empire in Central and Eastern Europe led to war, successively, with Poland, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States - despite initial dazzling successes, Germany was unable to withstand the attacks of the Allies and Soviets on two fronts in addition to a smaller third front to the south of the alps in Italy.
It was "Stunde Null" or zero hour. Germany had destroyed itself and much of Europe and only had itself to blame. By April of 1945 Germany was in ruins with most major cities bombed to the ground. The reputation of Germany as an intellectual land of freedom and high culture ( Land der Dichter und Denker ) had been decimated and tarnished for decades to come. At the end of the war, by losing 25% of its territory, east of the newly Allied imposed Oder-Neisse frontier with Poland the occupied country was faced with a major refugee crisis with well over 10 million Germans flooding westward into what remained of Germany. Following the end of the war at the Potsdam conference the Allies decided the future of Germany's borders and taking a Soviet lead stripped her of the traditional eastern Prussian lands. Therefore, German provinces east of the rivers Oder and Neisse like Silesia and Pomerania were entirely cleared of its original population by the Soviets and Polish - most of it an area where there had not been any sizable Polish or even Russian minorities at all. Even more refugees came with the massive numbers of ethnic Germans expelled from their ancient eastern European homelands in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.
Post-World War II
After the devastating defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Germany was divided into four sectors, controlled by the French, British, US and Soviet forces. United Kingdom and the US decided to merge their sectors, followed by the French. Silesia, Pomerania and the southern part of East Prussia came under Polish administration according to the international agreement of the allies. With the beginning of the Cold War, the remaining central and western parts of the country were divided into an eastern part under Soviet control, and a western part which was controlled directly by the Western Allies. The western part was transformed into the Federal Republic of Germany, a democratic nation with Bonn as the capital, while the Soviet-controlled zone became the communist/authoritarian Soviet style German Democratic Republic (GDR). Berlin had a special status as it was divided among the Soviets and the West, with the eastern part featuring as the capital of the GDR. The western sectors of Berlin, (West Berlin) was de facto an exclave of the Federal Republic, but formally governed by the Western Allies. On August 13, 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected as part of a heavily guarded frontier system of border fortifications. As a result hundreds of Germans trying to escape from the communist dictatorship were killed here in the years to come.
In the late 1960's a sincere and strong desire to confront the Nazi past came into being. Students' protests beginning in 1968 successfully clamoured for a new Germany. The society became much more liberal, and the totalitarian past was dealt with more unconcealed than ever before since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. Post-war education had helped put Germany among countries in Europe with the least number of people subscribing to Nazi or fascist/authoritarian ideas. Willy Brandt became chancellor in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between Germany and the communist states including important peace gestures toward Poland.
Reunification and the Berlin Republic
Germany was reunited peacefully in 1990, a year after the fall and collaspe of the GDR's Communist regime and the opening of the iron curtain that separated German families by the barrel of a gun for decades. The re-established eastern states joined the Federal Republic on the 3rd of October 1990, a day which is since celebrated as the German National Holiday ( Tag der Deutschen Einheit ). Together with the reunification, the last post-war limitations to Germany's sovereignty were removed and the US, UK, France and most importantly, the Soviet Union gave their approval. The German parliament, the Bundestag, after controversial much debate, finally agreed to comply with the eastern border of the former GDR, also known as the "Oder-Neisse-Line" thus shaping Germany the way it can be found on Europe's map today.Source: Wikitravel.org