Allied occupation (1945-1949)
So Germany had lost the Second World War. The winners were the Allies, i.e. Great Britain, France, the USA and the Soviet Union. They then divided Germany into four zones of occupation. The capital Berlin was also divided into four “sectors” and each assigned to one of the four countries. The eastern regions were placed under Russian and Polish administration. Most of the Germans who lived here were expelled.
While the US, Britain and France had a similar political system, the Soviet Union was governed very differently. The differences were so great that it was impossible to agree on how to go on with Germany. So the country was finally divided. The three western zones became the Federal Republic of Germany, the eastern zone became the GDR, the German Democratic Republic.
Federal Republic and GDR (1949-1990)
In 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was founded, then the German Democratic Republic (GDR). So there were now two German states. There was a boundary between the two. The Federal Republic invoked a basic democratic order and introduced the market economy. The GDR joined the Soviet Union closely, became a socialist state and operated a planned economy.
The GDR continued to expand the border between the two German states because many people wanted to leave the GDR. They didn’t like the system there. Leaving the GDR was forbidden and so many people fled. The border was secured with barbed wire and guarded around the clock. There were even self-firing systems. Soon only Berlin remained to flee. If you went to one of the western sectors there, you were already in the Federal Republic. Because so many people fled via Berlin, this loophole was finally closed and in August 1961 the Berlin Wall was built right through the city. Now one could only escape at risk of death here too.
Germany was divided for 40 years. Life in the two German states was very different. For example, people in the GDR were only allowed to go on holiday in certain countries, namely those in Eastern Europe that had the same political system, for example Hungary or Czechoslovakia. There was also a surveillance system within the GDR that was used to track down anyone who was against the system. For this there was the so-called State Security, also called Stasi for short. All of life was focused on the political system.
It wasn’t until 1989 that the “turning point” came about. After 40 years the border was opened. There were several reasons for this: Politically, there has been a “thaw” since a man named Mikhail Gorbachev was in power in the Soviet Union. He implemented innovations. But many people in the GDR also took to the streets and protested. Many others still found escape routes, for example via embassies of the Federal Republic abroad. The GDR was economically at an end. That too contributed to their decline.
And finally, at a press conference, a politician declared that the border was open – and thousands of people rushed to the border crossings demanding that they be opened. What happened then. That was on November 9, 1989.
In 1990 the two German states were finally reunified. The GDR joined the Federal Republic and German unification was achieved. The border and the wall were torn down.
Reunified Germany (since 1990)
With German unification, which came into force on October 3, 1990, five new federal states were added to the previous eleven. These were Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. Bonn as the capital of the Federal Republic was given up, the government and parliament moved to Berlin.
Helmut Kohl (CDU) had been Federal Chancellor since 1982 and remained in office until 1998. Gerhard Schröder was then a social democrat who became Federal Chancellor (until 2005). In 2002 the euro replaced the D-Mark as currency. Germany has been part of the euro zone since then. The 2005 election was won by Angela Merkel (CDU), who has held office since then. From 2013 a grand coalition of CDU and SPD ruled the country. In 2017 there were again general elections in September.
In these elections, a new party came into the Bundestag, the AfD (Alternative for Germany). While 12.6 percent of voters voted for this party, many see the party as right-wing and racist.
Germany is a founding member of the Council of Europe and the European Union. It is a member of the United Nations, the OECD, the OSCE and NATO.