The history of the Federal Republic of Germany until 1990 deals with the history of the West German state from 1949 to 1990. Even though the Federal Republic survived the reunification with the German Democratic Republic formed in 1949 in East Germany in 1990 without a break in terms of state law, historical research assumes a political and social break between the old Federal Republic until 1990 and the reunified Federal Republic since 1990. The history of the latter is described under History of Germany (since 1990).
The Federal Republic of Germany came into being after the defeat of the German Reich in World War II under the subsequent rule of the occupying powers in post-war Germany. At the instigation of the Western Allies, the territory of the Western occupation zones (Trizone) was reorganized as a state with the entry into force of the Basic Law drafted by the Parliamentary Council on May 24, 1949. As a constitution, the Basic Law is based on federal traditions and establishes the free democratic basic order as the basis of a democratic, social and constitutional republic. The economic miracle that began when the consequences of the war were overcome brought widespread full employment and income increases for broad segments of the population, while the Nazi past was initially largely suppressed. From the 1960s onward, liberalization and Westernization processes followed, which manifested themselves in the ”68 movement. Beginning in the 1970s, the economic situation worsened, with permanent base unemployment. New social movements emerged that made environmental, anti-nuclear and women”s issues relevant in the 1980s. The initially tense relationship between the Federal Republic, which was integrated into the West, and the GDR during the Cold War was eased by the new Ostpolitik and ended after the peaceful revolution in 1989 with the establishment of German unity on October 3, 1990.
At the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945, U.S., British and French troops were on the territory of West Germany and Soviet troops were on the territory of East Germany, including the entire city of Berlin. The Americans and British had initially still occupied Thuringia and parts of Saxony, parts of what would later become Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg. On the basis of prior agreements, the Western Allies withdrew in July 1945 to the territory in the west defined in the treaty; in return, the Soviet Union vacated the western part of Berlin. Thus, in addition to the four occupation zones, the four-sector city of Berlin was created, governed jointly by all four powers, with one Soviet, one American, one British and one French sector each.
At the Potsdam Conference in JulyAugust 1945, the three victorious powers, the United States of America, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, decided on August 2, 1945, to place the German eastern territories beyond the Oder-Neisse line under the administrative sovereignty of the Soviet Union and Poland. They divided the remaining territory of the German Reich within the boundaries of December 31, 1937, into zones of occupation. France, which had only been recognized as the fourth victorious power at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 but had not participated in the conference, agreed to the agreement with reservations.
Three months earlier, the Soviet Union had already transferred the German eastern territories, with the exception of Königsberg and North East Prussia (today the Kaliningrad Oblast), to the later Polish People”s Republic for administration. The Soviet Union received the territory of the later German Democratic Republic as an occupation zone. The United Kingdom claimed the territory of present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. The American occupation zone covered Bavaria, Hesse, the northern parts of Württemberg and Baden. As a port city, Bremen came under American occupation along with Bremerhaven. France received what later became Rhineland-Palatinate, the southern parts of Württemberg and Baden, and Saarland as zones of occupation. The four victorious powers divided the former Reich capital Berlin into four sectors.
The Allied Control Council, based in Berlin, held supreme governmental power for all of Germany; the Allied Commandantur, subordinate to the Control Council, was responsible for Greater Berlin.
In the Eastern territories, Czechoslovakia and other East-Central European countries, the systematic expulsion of the German population began in the following period. Some 14 to 16 million people were expelled to the western as well as the Soviet occupation zones or had to flee, placing an additional burden on the already difficult situation; soon, in some areas, the majority of the population consisted of expellees.
In Germany itself, life in the partly bombed-out cities was very difficult due to a lack of housing as well as food shortages, destroyed infrastructure, lack of electricity and fuel shortages. Because many men were prisoners of war, rubble women cleared the debris in the cities. City dwellers drove en masse to the countryside on so-called hoarding trips to exchange food for material goods. The Reichsmark as the official currency no longer had any real value because of the extensive forced farming, the black market and trade in material goods flourished, and U.S. cigarettes became a substitute currency. Numerous trees were cut down and coal trains looted because of the fuel shortage. Food was available only through food stamps or was homegrown.
The occupying powers ordered denazification, banned the NSDAP and its sub-organizations and had all National Socialist symbols removed. Germans in the western occupation zones were systematically examined for their National Socialist past using questionnaires. However, there were numerous opportunities to obtain a so-called “Persilschein” on the black market. In the authorities, numerous offices had to be filled anew (in many places with old Nazis), and many new teachers were also trained for their profession in just a few months. On November 14, 1945, the trial of the main war criminals began in Nuremberg; on October 1, 1946, 12 of the 21 main accused (defendants) were sentenced to death. This was followed by subsequent trials of other war criminals.
With the exception of Bavaria, Bremen and Hamburg, the states of West Germany were created in 194647 by merging previously independent states and former Prussian provinces. The first free local and state elections could be held in these years. In February 1946, a Zonal Advisory Council was formed in the British occupation zone, consisting of representatives of political parties, trade unions and the administration, to advise the military government. On December 1, 1946, Hesse became the first state to adopt a postwar constitution. However, Article 41 of the Hessian constitution, which provided for the transfer of the enterprises of the key industries to public ownership, was never implemented. With Konrad Adenauer as chairman of the CDU in the British zone and Kurt Schumacher as chairman of the SPD, two groundbreaking individuals entered the scene in the spring of 1946. In April 1946, the German courts resumed their work. Also that August, U.S. charities began delivering CARE packages to West Germany and the GARIOA program to alleviate the famine. In his Stuttgart speech of September 6, 1946, U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes emphasized his positive attitude in German policy and announced a change in German-American relations. He also hinted at a continuing Western Allied presence in Germany.
On January 1, 1947, the unification of the U.S. and British occupation zones created the Bizone. Also that month, Der Spiegel magazine appeared for the first time. The Allied Control Council dissolved the State of Prussia in February 1947, thus preventing the Germans from turning back to their military traditions. On June 5, 1947, the Marshall Plan was launched, while an all-German conference of minister-presidents on economic cooperation among the state governments had failed in Munich. In July, an Economic Council of the United Economic Area was formed to get economic life going again. The first works of postwar literature were presented at the meetings of Gruppe 47.
After the failure of the London Conference of Foreign Ministers in December 1947, the rift between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union became insurmountable. In February and March 1948, the London Conference of Six Powers was held with the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, which discussed the formation of a West German state and the Brussels Pact, an alliance to protect Western interests against the Soviet Union”s quest for power. In protest against the decisions, the Soviet envoy left the Allied Control Council on March 20, which had thus failed. In 1949, in accordance with the decision of the six powers in London, the Allies regulated Germany”s western border with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Saar region and France. Some border areas (Elten, Selfkantgebiet) were annexed to the Netherlands, in return for which the Netherlands renounced the implementation of the Bakker-Schut plan.
Also in March 1948, Ludwig Erhard began his career in what would later become the Federal Republic as head of the “Economic Council” of the Bizone; at the same time, the Bank deutscher Länder, predecessor of the Bundesbank, was founded.
The introduction of the Deutschmark on June 20, 1948, which was accompanied by the currency reform in West Germany, was followed a few days later by the introduction of the DM East in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and Berlin, and finally divided Germany into two economic areas. In contrast to the SBZ, in the western zones it also meant the end of compulsory cultivation and thus quickly deprived the black market there of its basis. After the Soviet Union failed in Berlin with the introduction of the DM East as the only currency, it imposed the Berlin Blockade on the western sectors on June 24, 1948, to which the Western Allies responded with the airlift to Berlin from June 26, 1948.
On July 1, 1948, the military governors of France, the United Kingdom and the United States presented the West German prime ministers with the Frankfurt Documents, papers in which they communicated their ideas on the formation of a West German state. The heads of the Länder then conferred and passed the Koblenz resolutions from July 8 to 10, 1948, in which they made it clear that they did not want such a state to be founded, but merely a reorganization of West Germany. The members of a constituent assembly were to be elected by the state parliaments and not directly. From August 10 to 23, 1948, the Constitutional Convention met at Herrenchiemsee to prepare for this assembly.
On September 1, 1948, the 65-member Parliamentary Council chaired by Konrad Adenauer met in the Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum in Bonn and, in the months that followed, drew up the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. In April 1949, the three Western powers decided to replace the military governments in the Western zones, which had previously been united to form the Trizone, with an Allied High Commission and to establish the Occupation Statute. On May 8, 1949, the members of the Parliamentary Council submitted the Basic Law. On May 10, the Parliamentary Council discussed the question of the “temporary seat” of Parliament and the Government. It decided by 33 votes to 29 in favor of Bonn over Frankfurt am Main. Other candidates who had previously dropped out were Kassel and Stuttgart. A few years later, some members of parliament admitted to having been influenced in the sense of the vote. However, the committee of inquiry set up by the German Bundestag was unable to clarify whether bribes had also been paid in this connection. On May 12, 1949, the three Western military governors approved the Basic Law, subject to the provisions of the occupation statute. On the same day, the Soviet Union ended the Berlin blockade.
The Basic Law was adopted by the state parliaments, and no constitutional referendum was scheduled. Only Bavaria refused, with 101 votes against, because it criticized the lack of federalism; nevertheless, the Free State also accepted the validity of the provisional federal constitution for itself. According to Article 144 of the Basic Law, a two-thirds majority of “the German Länder in which it shall initially apply” was required for the Basic Law to be legally binding. On May 13, 1949, the then Minister President Hans Ehard (CSU) announced in the Bavarian State Parliament that the Bavarian State Government rejected the Basic Law but accepted that it was legally binding.
The Basic Law came into force after its promulgation at the end of May 23, 1949, as federal law at the same time as the creation of the Federal Republic with the dawn of May 24, 1949. The constitutional law of the Federal Republic of Germany has been accepted by the vast majority of citizens as a basic legal order. May 23 is generally regarded as the founding day of the Federal Republic.
On September 12, 1949, the Federal Assembly elected Theodor Heuss (FDP) as Federal President on the second ballot; his strongest opponent was Kurt Schumacher (SPD). Three days later, on September 15, the German Bundestag elected Adenauer as Chancellor with exactly the required majority. He formed a governing coalition of the CDUCSU, the FDP and the German Party. Whether the Federal Republic began to exist with the entry into force of the Basic Law or only with the constitution of its constitutional organs (i.e., the first session of the Bundestag) or only on September 20, 1949, when the Adenauer cabinet took office, is disputed among researchers.
Konrad Adenauer”s policy was to integrate the Federal Republic of Germany into the West, which became clear as early as the Petersberg Agreement that he concluded with the Allied High Commission. The SPD, with its leaders Kurt Schumacher and later Erich Ollenhauer, was particularly critical of this decision, fearing that it would “cement” the division of Germany. Within the governing coalition, the policy was not without opposition either. As early as November 30, 1949, Adenauer considered the political feasibility of a German contingent for a European army. In October 1950, Federal Interior Minister Gustav Heinemann resigned in protest against the planned rearmament and Adenauer”s leadership style.
The Ministry for Displaced Persons, which had been established since the founding of the Federal Republic, regulated a housing construction program and the equalization of burdens until 1969, which was financed by a property levy on owning Germans. Of the more than twelve million Germans who had been displaced between 1944-1945 and 1950, about eight million settled in the western occupation zones.
On March 1, 1950, the Committee on the Occupation Statute and Foreign Affairs reported at its 10th session that from October 1, 1948, to September 30, 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany had paid some DM 4,491.5 million to the Allied occupation forces, which was equivalent to almost 50 percent of total federal revenues (DM 8,750 million). For each Federal citizen, this meant a share of DM 95.46, which was almost equivalent to an average monthly wage.
On May 24, 1950, Chancellor Adenauer appointed retired General Gerhard Graf von Schwerin as his permanent advisor on military and security matters.
This was followed on October 26, 1950, by the appointment of Theodor Blank (CDU) as the Chancellor”s representative for matters related to the increase in Allied troops. Blank appointed former Wehrmacht generals Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel as military advisors for this purpose. The “Blank Office” became the nucleus of the later Ministry of Defense.
In 1952, Josef Stalin made the proposal to reunify Germany as a neutral country. Stalin”s notes caused irritation, but were rejected by the Western powers because of fears that all of Germany would be taken over by the Soviet Union. An inconclusive conference of foreign ministers of the Four Powers in Berlin on reunification followed in 1954 (Britain”s Anthony Eden, America”s John Foster Dulles, France”s Georges Bidault, and Vyacheslav Molotov for the Soviet Union; January 25-February 18, 1954).
In 1951, the Foreign Office was re-established and the Federal Border Guard was founded; the Federal Republic became a member of the Council of Europe. In 1952, Adenauer and Heuss agreed in an exchange of letters on the Hoffmann-Haydn song as the German national anthem. Heuss initially took his time with the presidential decision, but then announced in the Bulletin of the Federal Government in May 1952 that the third verse of the Deutschlandlied was to be sung on state occasions.
In April 1952, the state of Baden-Württemberg came into being.
In 1952, the Treaty on Germany came into being and the EDC Treaty was signed. On July 23, 1952, the Coal and Steel Community, founded on April 18, 1951, also came into force; it was to prove the nucleus of European unification and marked the end of international control over the Ruhr region.
In September 1952, the Luxembourg Agreement on the compensation of Nazi victims was signed with Israel. In October 1952, the Federal Constitutional Court banned the radical right-wing Socialist Reich Party (SRP), and in August 1956 the KPD was banned. These remained the only party bans in the Federal Republic. The CDU made gains in the September 1953 federal elections, and Theodor Heuss was re-elected Federal President in 1954. From 1954, June 17 was celebrated in the Federal Republic as “German Unity Day”; the occasion was June 17, 1953, the day of the popular uprising in the GDR.
After the failure of the European Defense Community, the Federal Republic was admitted to NATO in May 1955 and joined the WEU.
German division and East-West conflict
With the repeal of the Western Allied occupation statute, the Federal Republic of Germany became sovereign on May 5, 1955. This sovereignty was limited to the scope of the Basic Law, meaning that the Allies retained a reserved right over Germany as a whole and the four-sector city of Berlin. There were no free elections throughout Germany. This was followed by the Paris Treaties, including the Western Treaty on Germany, and the state sovereignty of the GDR. On January 25, 1955, the Soviet Union unilaterally declared a state of war with Germany. A good six months later, at a rally in East Berlin on July 26, CPSU General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev proclaimed the Soviet two-state theory, which assumed two German states whose reunification was their own affair (see also Molotov Plan).
An important political issue in the period that followed was the Federal Republic”s claim to sole representation of Germany within the borders of 1937. The Federal Republic did not recognize the GDR as a state and did not maintain diplomatic relations with its allies. However, after Adenauer traveled to Moscow in September 1955, where he obtained the release of the last prisoners of war from Soviet camps in exchange for the establishment of diplomatic relations, West German policy needed clarification. This was provided by the Hallstein Doctrine, which stated that the Federal Republic of Germany should end those relations with any state that recognized the GDR diplomatically. It was first applied in 1957 with respect to Yugoslavia. The doctrine did not lose its significance until the late 1960s.
There was massive resistance to rearmament and concerns across all levels of society. In fact, however, a Ohne mich refusal attitude had little effect. The response of the anti-nuclear weapons movement and pacifism remained limited. At the same time, when the Bundeswehr was founded, the option of refusing military service and doing civilian service instead was opened up. The acceptance of conscientious objection, possible for the first time in German military history, was initially low; accusations went in the direction of communist infiltration or “shirking.” Many former Wehrmacht officers were given career opportunities in the new army because of their experience. The concealment of the Nazi past by members of the Bundeswehr, as well as by many other leading men in the state, parties, administration and judiciary, was later to become a major burden on West German society. In April 1956, the Federal Intelligence Service emerged from the former Gehlen organization. The first Minister of Defense became Theodor Blank, who was later succeeded by Franz Josef Strauß, the former Minister of Atomic Affairs. His efforts to equip the Bundeswehr also with nuclear weapons under German control failed after a few years.
The international community was still reluctant to make official contacts with West Germany, so it was not until 1956 that the Federal President was invited to make a state visit by a Greek initiative. Heinrich von Brentano, the Federal Foreign Minister at the time, took the euphoric mood and warm welcome of the local population as an opportunity to conclude agreements in the field of culture and education, thus ushering in bilateral relations at the ministerial level. Foreign ambassadors demonstratively stayed away from the official reception, but an invitation from Turkey followed, to which Theodor Heuss felt personally connected, as he did to Greece.
In the Saarland, which had been carved out of the French occupation zone and placed under a French military authority, the desire for an annexation to the Federal Republic became clear in the 1952 state elections, even though the parties were not allowed to demand an annexation. Adenauer attempted to solve the previously excluded problem of the Saarland”s special status in favor of France, but the Saarlanders clearly rejected the Saar Statute in a referendum. In the course of time, both Adenauer and the French gave in, and the Treaty of Luxembourg made it possible for the Saarland to join the Federal Republic at the beginning of 1957, although it remained a customs territory for the time being. Economic integration in the form of customs law incorporation and the replacement of the franc by the German mark took place on July 6, 1959.
With the Treaty of Rome, the EEC, predecessor organization of the EC and EU, was established on March 25, 1957; the Federal Republic was a founding member. On March 13, 1957, U.S. headquarters in the Federal Republic announced that U.S. forces would be equipped with nuclear weapons.
In the 1957 Bundestag elections, the CDUCSU won an absolute majority in the Bundestag for the first time and for the first time ever. In 1959, Adenauer considered a candidacy for Federal President, which he then discarded. In July 1959, former CDU Minister of Agriculture Heinrich Lübke was finally elected Federal President. In November 1959, the SPD shed its self-image as a workers” party in the Godesberg Program and transformed itself into a people”s party.
In order to stop the flight from the GDR to the Federal Republic, the GDR government had the area of the western sectors of Berlin sealed off with the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. The Western powers protested only cautiously, since this did not constitute a violation of their rights in Berlin. U.S. President John F. Kennedy said the famous phrase “I am a Berliner” two years later, during his Berlin speech in June 1963.
On the basis of the Holland Treaty, the Netherlands returned Selfkant and Elten, areas with a total area of 69 km², to the Federal Republic of Germany on August 1, 1963, in return for payment of DM 280 million.
Diversity in the party landscape had diminished in favor of the CDU, the Expellees Party (Gesamtdeutscher BlockBund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten, or BHE) had split, and DP deputies joined the CDU in 1960. In the Bundestag elections in September 1961, the CDU/CSU lost its absolute majority, but continued to form the government. For the first time, only two other parties were represented in the Bundestag besides the Union parties, the SPD and the FDP, which was to be characteristic of German parliamentarism at the federal level for the next two decades. In October 1962, Defense Minister Strauss fell over the Spiegel affair. In January 1963, the reconciliation of the former “hereditary enemies” Germany and France reached its formal climax with the Élysée Treaty. Since then, France has been the most important partner in German foreign policy.
As early as 1961, the 85-year-old Adenauer had declared that he did not want to remain in office for a full legislative period. Despite quarrels between Adenauer and Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard, the CDU elected the latter as his successor as Chancellor in April 1963. Adenauer resigned from office on October 15, 1963.
After the demand for basic foodstuffs was met – food ration cards were abolished in 1950 – a sales market for delicatessen items emerged again for the first time. Subsequently, the demand for clothing was satisfied (“food wave,” “fine food wave” and “clothing wave”). From the 1960s onward, the “corner stores” were replaced by supermarkets with a wide range of products. Rising prosperity led to the transition from a seller”s market to a buyer”s market, and the importance of advertising increased sharply. Tourism developed, also due to the increasing number of vacation days and shortening of working hours. Initially, only domestic German vacation destinations were in demand, but as prosperity increased, so did the popularity of destinations in other European countries, such as Italy.
In the early 1950s, most Germans still rode bicycles, buses and trains. Motorcycles became increasingly popular, and in the 1960s sales of the now mass-produced automobiles soared. The VW Beetle thus became the symbol of the German economic miracle. In agriculture, large farms with their modern technology displaced small farms. This development was also favored by the land consolidation and the agricultural policy in the EEC. With the full formation of what was later called the second industrial revolution, the proportion of industrial workers in the workforce reached an all-time high in the mid-1960s.
Women were legally better off, but their main occupation was still that of housewife and mother.
In protest against the “prosperity stink” of the adults, the youth developed their own culture, which expressed itself primarily in rock ”n” roll. Idols of the time were James Dean, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley. For the first time in history, purchasing power was available to a broad youth age group, caused by rising prosperity: it was spent on consumer goods, clothing and mobility and, not least, siphoned off by a newly emerging pop culture.
Since wealth was still distributed very unevenly and there was a high number of welfare recipients, the federal government tried to reduce social ills; accordingly, the share of social spending in the federal budget increased enormously. Nevertheless, large families and pensioners were particularly disadvantaged, and so the dynamic pension was introduced in 1957 to bring pensioners” incomes in line with the income trend of the rest of the population. Measures such as the Maternity Protection Act and the introduction of child benefits also served this purpose. Housing construction played an important role in the postwar period. Rapidly rising wages meant that the broad mass of workers also increasingly benefited from economic development.
In 1950, the Association of Public Broadcasting Corporations of the Federal Republic of Germany (ARD) was founded. The first television test program appeared on December 25, 1952. Various feature films were real “street sweepers” in the early days of television. But in-house productions also enjoyed growing popularity, with Durbridge films such as Das Halstuch and Tim Frazer in particular achieving audience ratings of around 90 percent. In 1963, the Second German Television (ZDF) began operations as a result of the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty. In 1967, color television was introduced in the Federal Republic.
Going to the cinema was a popular pastime. People wanted to forget the past and enjoy life lightheartedly, and so Heimat films were very popular with audiences. Heinz Erhardt was a defining figure in film and television. The 1951 film Die Sünderin (The Sinner) became a scandal because of its alleged glorification of prostitution, euthanasia and suicide. In 1957, the prostitute Rosemarie Nitribitt was murdered. The 1958 film about this murder also saw itself as a critique of society. Rowohlt”s Rotations Romane (rororo) appeared in paperback in 1950 and revolutionized the book market because of their low price.
The German team”s World Cup title in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland raised German self-esteem and established soccer enthusiasm – the “Miracle of Bern” went down in history. From 1952 onward, compulsory schooling in the Federal Republic lasted nine years. Faith in unbridled progress and science was still unbroken. The peaceful use of nuclear energy was seen as the solution to the energy problem. The Kahl nuclear power plant was built for commercial power generation as the first German nuclear reactor (after the Munich research reactor in 1957) and supplied electricity to the grid from June 1961. During the storm surge in Hamburg in 1962, the then Senator of the Police Department and later German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt proved himself as a crisis manager. In the Lengede mine accident, eleven miners trapped after a water inrush were rescued alive after a two-week search on November 7, 1963.
The new Chancellor Ludwig Erhard (since 1963) was associated by the population with the success of the social market economy. In social policy, for example in the pension reform of 1957, Erhard was not always in line with Adenauer and in particular was an avowed opponent of the enforced pay-as-you-go pension system. In the election of the German president in 1964, Heinrich Lübke was also re-elected with the votes of the SPD, which did not put forward a candidate of its own. This is considered a step toward the Grand Coalition. The 1965 federal election confirmed the coalition of the CDUCSU and the FDP and thus the chancellorship of Ludwig Erhard, who, however, lost prestige quite quickly. It became clear that the years of the economic miracle were over. In 1965, 45 percent of West Germany”s workforce were factory workers, more than ever before in history. From then on, the change occurred: fewer secondary school students, fewer industrial workers, the service sector has been growing increasingly ever since. From 1966, the Federal Republic entered a recession with increased unemployment. This was compounded by the fact that coal from the Ruhr region was increasingly losing its importance as a major energy supplier due to cheaper crude oil. Collieries closed and the Ruhr region underwent slow structural change in the late 1960s and 1970s. Erhard refused to pursue an active economic stimulus policy because this contradicted his concept of a social market economy. The Starfighter affair, various crashes of the technically immature fighter planes and the entanglements in its purchase, also weighed heavily on the government. The FDP gradually distanced itself programmatically from the CDU. Finally, on November 30, 1966, Ludwig Erhard announced his resignation as Chancellor. This was preceded by the failure of new coalition negotiations with the FDP and the merger with the SPD to form the Grand Coalition.
After the Eichmann trial in 1961 and the Auschwitz trials that began in 1963, the debate about the statute of limitations for the crimes of the National Socialist dictatorship preoccupied people 20 years after the end of the war. According to the criminal law of the time, the statute of limitations for these murders expired in 1965. In order to prevent this from happening, attempts were made from 1964 onward to obtain more incriminating material, especially from Eastern Europe. Since it was foreseeable that there would not be enough time to bring charges, it was agreed after long debates to set the statute of limitations at 1969, 20 years after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. The confrontation with the National Socialist past was only now addressed to any significant extent. The electoral successes of the radical right-wing NPD in various state parliaments also gave rise to international fears of a renewed slide by West Germany into nationalism. In 1969, the Bundestag first lifted the statute of limitations for genocide, then in 1979 for murder in general.
Another issue of the time was the education emergency. Overcrowded lecture halls and criticism of the existing school system led in 1965 to a large-scale demonstration by schoolchildren and students “Against the Education Emergency” in some 30 cities with more than 200,000 participants and then to the formation of a national education council. But it was not until the social-liberal government (Brandt I cabinet) that education reform was to be attempted. In 1967, demonstrations were again held against the education emergency in West Germany, but now the themes of the protest against emergency laws and the Vietnam War broadened.
In June 1966, the child murderer Jürgen Bartsch was arrested, and the debate about reintroducing the death penalty subsequently flared up.
The Grand Coalition under Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger succeeded in stopping the recession with a vigorous economic policy. Measures to this end were the Stability and Growth Act, which set the economic policy goals and was also considered the means of choice for achieving all the goals of the Magic Quadrilateral, and concerted action, a policy of consensus between unions and employers. The introduction of majority voting in the face of the NPD”s successes failed, above all, because of the SPD”s resistance.
Emergency laws, which had been considered earlier, were now enforced. These laws, conceived as “emergency constitutions,” were intended to regulate the powers and responsibilities of the federal government in exceptional situations such as catastrophes and threats to the state. This was accompanied by restrictions on fundamental rights. The Grand Coalition achieved the necessary two-thirds majority to amend the Basic Law. Widespread opposition to the emergency laws and the grand coalition developed among the population, since there was no longer any opposition in parliament, with the exception of the small FDP party. The extra-parliamentary opposition (APO) emerged with mass rallies and protest marches.
The Vietnam War, the educational emergency, the silence about the Nazi past and a pseudo-morality in society led, mainly among the student body, to a movement that wanted to change society. One trigger was the shooting of student Benno Ohnesorg by police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras during the June 2, 1967 demonstration in West Berlin on the occasion of the visit of the Persian Shah. In the period that followed, the protest movement went from strength to strength, culminating in the assassination of Rudi Dutschke in Berlin in April 1968. As a result, there were massive riots, especially in front of the Axel Springer Verlag building in the western part of Berlin, as its newspapers had criticized the students in a polemical manner.
Internal party squabbles caused Kiesinger to lose prestige, whereas Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Willy Brandt”s policies and appearance raised his profile. The joint candidate of the SPD and FDP, Gustav Heinemann, won the federal presidential election in March 1969. This move was a foreshadowing of the two parties” possible assumption of government responsibility. However, changes in the composition of the state parliaments, which send half of the members of the Federal Assembly that elects the Federal President, had made such a vote possible in the first place. The CDU emerged from the September 1969 federal election as the strongest parliamentary group, but the SPD and FDP together had the “chancellor”s majority” and formed the government. The CDU/CSU went into opposition for the first time. Brandt became Chancellor, and FDP politician Walter Scheel became the new Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor.
In domestic policy, numerous reform projects were implemented under the motto “dare more democracy: Marriage and family law were reformed in the spirit of equality, criminal law was changed with regard to the possible resocialization of offenders, and outdated moral codes were eliminated. New offenses were added in the areas of environmental and white-collar crime. The ban on pornography was relaxed and the punishability of blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality was abolished. After heated debate, Section 218 of the StGB was modified into a far-reaching indication provision for abortion. The age of consent was lowered from 21 to 18. In general, the trend toward liberalization of domestic policy became apparent. In the wake of the emerging RAF terrorism, however, there were also some tightening measures toward the end of the 1970s, such as dragnet searches and the subsequent standardization of registration laws through the Registration Law Framework Act.
Public spending on education was expanded enormously. The BAföG, introduced in 1971, was intended to help the financially weak with their training and studies. Comprehensive education reform failed, however, due to the CDU”s opposition to comprehensive schools and the cultural sovereignty of the states. Only the upper secondary school was reformed by offering basic and advanced courses and grading with points between 0 and 15 instead of grades as before. The curricula were also changed to include new content. Numerous new universities of applied sciences and the universities of cooperative education emerged as academic types of education. Since 1972, a numerus clausus has been required in some subjects to limit the number of students.
The new government had difficulties in pushing through its plans. On the one hand, it was hindered by the Bundesrat, where the CDU had a majority in the state parliaments; on the other hand, several reforms had to be touched up due to the conservative stance of the Federal Constitutional Court.
Willy Brandt took paths of rapprochement and reconciliation with the Eastern bloc countries and tried to achieve a normalization of relations through the so-called treaties with the East under the motto “change through rapprochement”. At a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Brandt knelt to commemorate the dead. The image of the “Warsaw genuflection” went around the world. The Hallstein Doctrine was gradually abandoned as early as the late 1960s, and the two German states came closer together. In March 1970, Chancellor Brandt and the Prime Minister of the GDR, Willi Stoph, met for the first German-German summit in Erfurt and then in Kassel in May. Subsequently, the Federal Republic, the GDR and the victorious powers signed treaties to normalize relations between the two German states. On September 18, 1973, the Federal Republic and the GDR were admitted to the UN.
The opposition in the German Bundestag failed to reach a united position on this issue as well as on the Basic Treaty with the GDR, which ultimately led to the resignation of Rainer Barzel, head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. The new Ostpolitik of the Brandt era continued to provoke fierce opposition from the opposition, which spoke of a sellout of German interests. Only with difficulty were the treaties with the East ratified in the Bundestag.
Between August 26 and September 11, 1972, the XX. Summer Olympic Games took place in Munich, which were overshadowed by the deadly hostage-taking of the Olympic Village by Palestinian terrorists of the Black September organization. Israeli athletes were taken hostage and a total of 17 people died during their attempted rescue. As a result of the events, the GSG 9 was founded as a special intervention force of the Federal Border Police.
In October 1973, the oil crisis hit the Federal Republic hard. As a reaction to the lost Yom Kippur War with Israel, the states united in the OPEC production cartel imposed an oil embargo against the states which, in their view, supported Israel. At that time, the share of oil produced by the OPEC states was far higher than it is today, resulting in drastic increases in the price of crude oil. To prevent supply bottlenecks, a restriction of 20 liters per filling station was imposed, and a weekend driving ban was imposed on four Sundays in November and December 1973. The oil crisis marked the beginning of a long-lasting recession in the Federal Republic. At the 1974 Soccer World Cup in its own country, West Germany became world champion, although it had lost to the GDR team in the preliminary round.
After individual deputies left the governing coalition because of criticism of its Ostpolitik, a constructive vote of no confidence was held in the Bundestag in April 1972, with the CDU chairman Barzel to be elected chancellor. This failed because the necessary number of votes was not achieved. However, since it was not clear whether the government could still rely on a majority in Parliament, and in order to clear the way for new elections, the SPDFDP coalition allowed a vote of confidence in the federal government to fail. In the November 1972 federal elections, the SPD became the strongest parliamentary group for the first time and unprecedentedly so, which strengthened the coalition. In June 1973, former CDU member of the Bundestag Julius Steiner claimed to have been bribed during the vote of no confidence. The Bundestag set up a committee of inquiry into the Steiner-Wienand affair, but it was inconclusive. In April 1974, the Federal Chancellery employee Günter Guillaume was unmasked as a GDR spy. Willy Brandt then resigned on May 6, alleging that he was being blackmailed by the “Guillaume affair.” Finance Minister Helmut Schmidt succeeded him as Chancellor. Walter Scheel, the former Federal Foreign Minister, was elected Federal President to succeed Gustav Heinemann, who did not run again.
In the course of the extra-parliamentary opposition, two left-wing extremist terrorist groups also emerged: the June 2 Movement and the Red Army Faction (RAF). Primarily motivated by the fight against the RAF, the controversial Radikalenerlass (Radical Decree) was issued in January 1972. This decree banned civil servants with extremist views from working in the civil service, but it was often misused because membership in organizations was considered sufficient proof. The RAF”s wave of terror reached its peak in 1977 in the so-called “German Autumn”. After the murder of Siegfried Buback and Jürgen Ponto, members of the RAF kidnapped Hanns Martin Schleyer, the president of the German employers” association, on September 5. To lend weight to their demands, allied Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Lufthansa aircraft “Landshut” on October 14. The German government, however, did not go along with the blackmail, but had GSG-9 officers storm the “Landshut” at Mogadishu airport, freeing all passengers. Shortly thereafter, Schleyer was murdered by the RAF and the imprisoned left-wing terrorists took their own lives in Stammheim prison.
On August 1, 1975, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was signed in Helsinki. With it, the European states underscored their intensified efforts at understanding. This Final Act and the invocation by civil rights groups in the GDR of the rights enshrined therein were to have a lasting impact on German-German relations, in particular, until the fall of communism in 1989. The opposition from the CDUCSU rejected the Final Act, as it had previously rejected the treaties with the East, primarily on the grounds that too many concessions had been made to the Eastern bloc states.
Helmut Schmidt won the 1976 Bundestag elections against Helmut Kohl, and in 1980 against Franz Josef Strauß. In 1979, the CDU candidate Karl Carstens was elected Federal President. Schmidt continued German-German rapprochement efforts even in the face of the re-hardening fronts in the East-West conflict caused by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the unrest in Poland. In December 1981, he came to the GDR for a visit. During the talks in Güstrow near Teterow in Mecklenburg, the town was cordoned off by the NVA to prevent demonstrations of sympathy toward the chancellor, as had been the case during Willy Brandt”s visit to Erfurt in 1970.
After the NATO dual decision in December 1979 on medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, the peace movement grew. Increasingly, the dual decision was rejected within the SPD, but Schmidt held fast to it. These contradictory positions and the growing unemployment and national debt led to an estrangement of the coalition partners. On September 17, 1982, the coalition broke up and the SPD formed its own cabinet. On October 1, the Bundestag overthrew Helmut Schmidt by electing Kohl as part of the Bonn Wende: There was a transfer of government power to the conservative-liberal coalition.
The ”68 movement was accompanied by a new lifestyle. In the media, the Sexual Revolution, made possible by the birth control pill, had a particularly lasting impact. The emerging women”s movement did not meet with the unqualified approval of the spokesmen of the ”68 movement. The best-known example of the attempt to master the new lifestyle, and not just in theory, was Kommune I. The march through the institutions that was also propagated at the time led decades later to a generation that had won key positions in German politics, in the press and in the civil service.
The Beatles triggered hysteria among young people. But other bands like The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Janis Joplin also celebrated success. It was the time of hippies, flower power girls, drug use and free love. When the immunodeficiency AIDS first appeared in the 1980s, it caused great concern across the country and beyond the supposed target groups.
The confrontation with the terrorism of the RAF led to the Radical Decree. In the late 1970s, there were constant calls for its tightening and for the persecution of “sympathizers.” In the short novel Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum), Heinrich Böll accused the tabloid press, but especially Bild-Zeitung, of character assassination and violation of human rights. Böll”s book was immediately made into a film by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. The multi-part television series Holocaust – The Story of the Weiß Family, which was broadcast on German television in January 1979, sparked a renewed debate about the Nazi past. A bill in the Bundestag aimed to limit the punishability of crimes committed during the National Socialist era. With Karl Carstens, the election of an arch-conservative and former NSDAP member as Federal President was imminent. His NSDAP membership was addressed by Claus Peymann, director of the Stuttgart State Theater, through the performance of Thomas Bernhard”s play Before Retirement. Hans Filbinger, the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, forced Peymann”s dismissal, but was himself forced to leave office before Peymann did. Rolf Hochhuth had announced a new play dealing with the death sentences that Filbinger, as a naval judge, had passed on German soldiers in the last days of World War II.
Above all, the Soviet Union”s intervention in Afghanistan, Solidarność in Poland and the NATO dual decision gave rise to an unprecedented peace movement with numerous mass demonstrations. Concern for the environment also became more and more of an issue. Alongside the peace movement, an environmental movement developed that wanted to give greater prominence to environmental policy. This movement gave rise to the Green Party, which first entered the Bundestag in 1983 and has since been able to establish itself in the political system. Nuclear energy in particular was viewed negatively by parts of the population after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and alternative energy sources have been called for and promoted ever since. Resistance arose against nuclear reprocessing plants and repositories: the Gorleben interim storage facility repeatedly hit the headlines during nuclear waste transports. In 1984, the unions forced the introduction of the 38.5-hour week as a compromise to their demand for a 35-hour week. In the final years of the old Federal Republic, it became clear that numerous areas needed reform, but little was being done. The reform backlog was stylized by the opposition as the government”s trademark, and unemployment became a portent for many.
By the early 1980s, German-language songs of punk and new wave music were enjoying success among teens with the Neue Deutsche Welle. Once the legal conditions were in place, the first private television channels went on the air on January 1 and 2, 1984. RTL and PKS, forerunners of Sat.1, were created. Eureka TV, the forerunner of ProSieben, was launched in May 1987.
Helmut Kohl, who had been elected chancellor in October 1982 by the only successful constructive vote of no confidence to date, wanted to confirm this change of government by holding new elections. For this reason, the Bundestag, after consultation, denied him its confidence in a constitutionally controversial manner; new elections were called. The CDU won the Bundestag elections in March 1983; for the first time, the Greens also entered parliament as a political force. In 1984, the Flick party donation scandal shook politics. Also in that year, Richard von Weizsäcker was elected Federal President. The latter enjoyed a high reputation, partly due to his speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. The Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauß, with the support of the German government, granted the GDR billions in loans in 19831984, delaying its decline.
The reactor accident in Chernobyl in April 1986 also shook the Federal Republic and led to the establishment of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Kohl won the 1987 federal election again, and that year Erich Honecker became the first GDR head of state to pay a state visit to the Federal Republic. The spying on SPD candidate Björn Engholm in the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein by CDU state premier Uwe Barschel caused a nationwide stir. Barschel died a few weeks later; the circumstances of his death are still unclear.
The German government renewed its close political relations with French President François Mitterrand, through the creation of the Eurocorps, the 1985 Schengen Agreement, and the many years of preparatory work that led to the creation of the ARTE television channel.
The second half of the 1980s was characterized by a policy of détente between the superpowers, which was primarily a consequence of the perestroika (transformation) policy of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who visited the Federal Republic in June 1989.
Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker was re-elected in 1989.
With Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and GDR Prime Minister Lothar de Maizière, Kohl achieved the Four Powers” agreement to the reunification of Germany in 1990 in the so-called Two Plus Four Talks. On January 17, 1991, the Bundestag elected Kohl Chancellor for the fourth time.
After Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the CPSU, relations between the superpowers relaxed. His reform programs perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (transparency) beginning in 1985 were a major impetus for the subsequent turnaround and peaceful revolution in the GDR. GDR citizens vehemently demanded an alignment of the political course with that of the USSR, which had already led the way as the “motherland” of communism. But the “old men,” such as Honecker, refused to follow this course. Gorbachev also made it clear that the USSR would no longer intervene in other states, as it had in 1953, when the Red Army bloodily put down a popular uprising in the GDR. This was another reason for GDR citizens to take to the streets in mass demonstrations calling for German reunification. During a state visit, Gorbachev said, according to the live translation of an interpreter, into the running cameras of journalists:
This was later often rendered as “He who is late is punished by life,” a phrase that actually goes back to Gennady Ivanovich Gerasimov.
Since 1988, there have been signs of disintegration in the Eastern bloc. In the People”s Republic of Poland, for example, Solidarność”s efforts to achieve trade union freedoms, which had already existed since the early 1980s, could no longer be suppressed; other peoples, previously held together by force in the Warsaw Pact, were also striving for freedom. When the People”s Republic of Hungary dismantled its border fortifications with Austria, GDR citizens fled to the Federal Republic via these states. At the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989, the first large-scale mass flight of GDR citizens across the Iron Curtain took place. By occupying the West German embassy in Budapest, they tried to force their departure to the Federal Republic. The GDR government gave in to this pressure on August 23, causing similar events to take place in the following weeks at the embassies of the Federal Republic in Warsaw, Prague and the Permanent Mission in East Berlin. After Czechoslovakia opened its borders in September, there was a veritable flood of refugees into the Federal Republic. The Politburo reacted on November 9, 1989, by opening the Berlin Wall and opening the inner-German border; the form of the opening stemmed from a misunderstanding in internal government communication when Politburo member Günter Schabowski presented the new travel regulations at the press conference of the Central Committee of the SED in the International Press Center.
In early 1990, talks began between the German government and the GDR government on German unity. This was followed in February by talks between Kohl and Gorbachev, which culminated on July 16 in the Caucasus. On May 18, the Treaty on Monetary, Economic and Social Union was signed and entered into force on July 1. Both German parliaments decided on the date of unification on August 23. In September, the Four Powers agreed to the creation of a unified Germany with the Two Plus Four Treaty, dissolved all remaining Allied institutions and released Germany into full sovereignty. On October 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic joined the (now “enlarged”) Federal Republic of Germany, thus bringing about German unity. The five new German states were incorporated into the federal government, and at the same time East and West Berlin were united to form a single federal state of Berlin.
The designation of the West German constituent state from 1949 to 1990 as the Bonn Republic became established at the same time as the term Berlin Republic for the following historical phase. The analogy to the term “Weimar Republic,” which referred only to the place where the constitution was drafted, can be justified by the fact that “since the Weimar period, democratically constituted republics have been called by the name of the city in which the government and parliament are located.
Before German reunification, “second republic” was another familiar term for this period. The “first republic” in turn refers to the Weimar Republic. The term “old Federal Republic” is also sometimes used to distinguish it from the “Berlin Republic” from 1990 onward. For the area of the former East German state, the term “New Länder” is also commonly used today.