The division of Germany

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The division of Germany. Almost immediately after their victory, the Allies began to quarrel among themselves. The Soviet Union began to establish Communist governments in the Eastern European countries its army had occupied at the end of the war. The Western powers tried to block Communist expansion in the areas under their control. The Soviets imposed barriers against communication, trade, and travel between East and West. Extreme mistrust and tension grew on each side, a condition that came to be called the Cold War.

The outbreak of the Cold War affected Germany immediately. When the Soviet Union and the Western Allies could not agree on a common policy in Germany, each side began to organize its own occupation zones in Germany overall and in Berlin. The Western Allies occupied western Germany, and the Soviet Union occupied the east. Berlin, located in the east, was divided into Allied-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. The United Kingdom, France, and the United States combined the economies of the zones they controlled and prepared to unite the zones politically. The Soviet Union imposed Communist rule on its zone.

In June 1948, the Western Allies moved to rebuild the economy of their occupation zones in Germany. They reorganized the German monetary system and issued new money, replacing the virtually worthless existing currency. Under the aid program known as the Marshall Plan, U.S. aid began to pour into the Western Allied zones, and economic recovery got underway. The Soviets responded by stopping all highway, rail, and water travel between Berlin and western Germany. The Soviets hoped to force the Allies out of Berlin. However, the Allies set up the huge Berlin Airlift and flew about 8,000 tons (7,300 metric tons) of supplies into the city every day. The Soviet Union lifted the blockade in May 1949, realizing that the blockade had failed.

West Germany. The Western Allies turned over more authority to German officials. As the division between the Eastern and Western zones grew, the Allies arranged for a German council to write a constitution. The Allies approved the written constitution in May 1949. On Sept. 21, 1949, the Western zones were officially combined as the Federal Republic of Germany (also called West Germany). The military occupation ended, and the Allied High Commission, a civilian agency, replaced the military governors. On May 5, 1955, the Allied High Commission was dissolved, and West Germany became completely independent. Military occupation continued in West Berlin because treaties uniting Germany had not been signed.

The new West German parliament met for the first time in Bonn, the country's capital, in September 1949. It elected Konrad Adenauer chancellor. Under Adenauer, West Germany helped found the Council of Europe and several organizations that eventually became the European Community (EC), an economic association. The EC was later incorporated into the European Union. In 1955, West Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and began to establish its armed forces.

By 1955, West Germany had made an amazing economic recovery. The value of goods produced there was greater than that for all Germany in 1936. This "economic miracle" helped West Germany absorb more than 10 million refugees from Eastern Europe and more than a million workers from the rest of Europe.

West Germany's prosperity helped the republic gain the support of its citizens. Also, Adenauer was a strong leader, though he was criticized in his later years for ignoring the views of others. Adenauer retired in 1963. Ludwig Erhard succeeded Adenauer as chancellor and served until 1966. Kurt Georg Kiesinger was chancellor from 1966 to 1969. Adenauer, Erhard, and Kiesinger were members of a political party called the Christian Democratic Union.

Willy Brandt of the Social Democratic Party, who had been vice chancellor since 1966, became chancellor in 1969. He resigned in 1974 after it was discovered that one of his aides was an East German spy. Helmut Schmidt, also a Social Democrat, succeeded Brandt. In 1982, Schmidt was forced from office by a vote of no confidence from the Bundestag. The small Free Democratic Party, which had supported the Social Democrats, switched its parliamentary support to the Christian Democratic Union. The Bundestag elected as chancellor Helmut Kohl, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union. Kohl remained chancellor following the 1983 and 1987 elections. In both of those elections, the Christian Democratic coalition with the Free Democrats won majorities in the Bundestag.

In the 1980's, many Germans, especially the country's young people, expressed concern for the environment and opposition to the placement of U.S. missiles in West Germany. Mass protests occurred. The Green Party, an organization devoted to environmental issues, gained popularity.

East Germany. After World War II, the Soviet Union appointed German Communists to local offices and set up a system much like that of the Soviet Union. Banks, farms, and industries were seized and reorganized. People suspected of opposing Communism were thrown into prison camps. In 1946, the Communists forced the Social Democratic Party to join them in forming the Socialist Unity Party. The party came under control of the Communist leader Walter Ulbricht. Ulbricht became first secretary, or head, of the Socialist Unity Party. The first secretary (later general secretary) was the most powerful leader in East Germany.

A Communist-prepared constitution was adopted in May 1949. On October 7, the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (commonly called East Germany), with East Berlin as its capital. Ulbricht held the real power, though he did not head the government. In October 1955, East Germany became officially independent, but Soviet influence continued. Also in 1955, East Germany joined the Warsaw Pact, an Eastern European military alliance under Soviet command. East Germany's armed forces were established officially in 1956, though special "police" units had been given tanks and other heavy weapons as early as 1952.

The East German economy recovered gradually after 1945, but the standard of living remained much lower than West Germany's. In 1953, Ulbricht tried to increase working hours without raising wages. Strikes and riots broke out in East Berlin and other cities. Soviet tanks and troops crushed the revolt. Living and working conditions slowly improved, but many people remained dissatisfied. Every week, thousands of East Germans fled to West Germany. Almost 3 million East Germans left, and the labor force fell sharply. Most refugees fled through Berlin because the Communists had sealed off the East-West border.

In August 1961, the Communists built the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin. They also strengthened barriers around the rest of West Berlin and along the border between East and West Germany. From 1961 to 1989, when the borders were opened, hundreds died trying to escape from East Germany, including many who tried to cross the Berlin Wall. In 1971, Ulbricht resigned as head of the Socialist Unity Party. Erich Honecker, a member of the party's Central Committee, succeeded him. Under Honecker, East Germany improved its relations with many non-Communist nations. Before 1960, only the Soviet Union and several other Communist countries had diplomatic relations with East Germany. But eventually, East Germany established relations with other nations.

East Germany experienced major changes in 1989. In many Eastern European nations, people demonstrated against their Communist governments. Communist Hungary removed its barriers on its border with non-Communist Austria. Thousands of East Germans went to Hungary, crossed into Austria, and then moved to West Germany. Throughout East Germany, citizens protested for more freedom. In October, the growing pressure forced Honecker to resign as head of the party and from his government positions. He was succeeded in all his positions by another Communist, Egon Krenz. In November 1990, the German government charged Honecker with manslaughter for ordering border guards to shoot East Germans trying to escape to West Germany during his leadership. Honecker became ill and died in 1994 while in exile in Chile.

In a dramatic change in policy, the East German government announced on Nov. 9, 1989, that it would open its borders and permit its citizens to travel freely. The opening of the Berlin Wall, long a symbol of the East German government's control of its citizens, was part of this policy change. Thousands more East Germans moved to West Germany. During this time, protests continued. Non-Communist political parties and organizations were started. In December, Krenz resigned as party head and from his government positions. Hans Modrow, chairman of East Germany's cabinet, took control of the government, though he was not a party head.

On March 18, 1990, East Germans voted in free parliamentary elections for the first time. The Christian Democratic Union, a non-Communist party, won the most seats in parliament. Together with the Social Democrats and some smaller parties, the Christian Democratic Union formed a government with CDU leader Lothar de Maizière as its head. The Socialist Unity Party, which had been renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism, won only about 17 percent of the seats in the legislature.

East-West relations. Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, relations between East Germany and West Germany were strained. Little travel was permitted between the two nations. Neither one recognized the other as a legitimate state. In the 1970's, their relations improved a little. West Germany began to provide loans and credits to East Germany in return for eased travel restrictions and other concessions.

The unification of East and West Germany. With the move toward a more democratic government in East Germany, many people began to consider the idea of a unified Germany. In February 1990, East German leader Modrow announced that he favored unification. In their March elections, most East Germans voted for candidates who favored rapid unification. Most West Germans also supported unification.

In mid-1990, East Germany began selling many government-owned businesses. In May, East Germany and West Germany signed a treaty providing for close economic cooperation. In July, the economies of East Germany and West Germany were united.

Economic unification had several results. Goods that had been scarce in East Germany became readily available. But the cost of many goods in the free market was higher than they had been when the government controlled prices. Many East German businesses were not able to continue to operate without the government's financial support. They closed or operated on shorter hours, which caused increased unemployment.

Between May and September, talks about unification were held among the foreign ministers of the two German states and the four Allied powers of World War II—the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The Allied powers still held some occupation rights in Berlin and in East and West Germany, including certain rights to oversee Berlin and to approve Germany's borders. In a treaty signed on September 12, the Allied powers agreed to give up these rights. The treaty, called the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, made it possible for the Germans to complete the unification of East and West Germany.

On August 31, representatives of East and West Germany signed their own treaty for unification. The treaty detailed the major aspects of unification, including the merging of the social and legal systems. It took effect on Oct. 3, 1990, marking the official date for the unification of East and West Germany. Berlin was also unified and named the country's capital. The government of unified Germany continued selling businesses formerly owned by the East German government. Some of the largest East German companies were closed because they damaged the environment with air and soil pollution.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl continued to serve as chancellor of Germany. The first national elections of unified Germany were held in December 1990. As a result of the elections, Kohl remained chancellor, and his coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats remained in power. Kohl's coalition also won again in 1994. In spite of Kohl's election victories, however, dissatisfaction with his policies increased.

In the former East Germany, people were disappointed at the slow rate of progress toward an improved economy. In the former West Germany, some people resented the cost of unification. Germany also faced the problem of growing unemployment, particularly in its industrial regions. Many Germans feared they would not have the resources to support the country's large social welfare budget.

Germany also experienced a wave of social unrest in the early 1990's. Large numbers of immigrants had entered the country. Neo-Nazis and other right-wing Germans began to protest the increased immigration. Some of them made attacks against foreigners, resulting in a number of deaths. Large numbers of Germans took part in public demonstrations that protested the attacks. Germany had had a policy of allowing any people who said they were fleeing persecution to enter the country. In 1993, the German parliament amended the Constitution to reduce the flow of immigrants into Germany.

• James J. Sheehan, Ph.D., Dickason Professor of Humanities, Stanford University.

Sheehan, James J. "Germany." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2010. Web.  28 Sept. 2010.

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