Under Kaiser Wilhelm, foreign relations become more aggressive and far less diplomatic. Bismarck's careful alliances collapse, and Germany's worried rivals unite in response to military buildup. Domestic politics are marked by nationalistic rhetoric. The imperial Reichstag, or parliament, lacks authority to oppose the Kaiser and the military.
Archduke Ferdinand's assassination sparks a war that is soon mired in trench warfare. Popular support falls, and the chancellor resigns. Field Marshall Hindenburg becomes a near-dictator, opposing negotiated peace. Reforms in 1918 create a constitutional monarchy, and a progressive coalition under Friedrich Ebert assumes power and surrenders. The Kaiser steps down, and a republic is declared.
The democratic Weimar constitution calls for an elected president (Friedrich Ebert is the first) who picks a chancellor and Cabinet that reflects parliament. The Reichstag is in turn elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation, allowing small parties to gain seats. The system is undermined by the far left and right, and economic problems lead to a series of unstable governments.
Hitler's failed putsch is treated lightly. He writes "Mein Kampf" during his year in prison. Strikes, violence, and fears of revolt force a brief "great coalition" of left, center, and right-wing parties, and some stability returns. Germany joins the League of Nations in 1926. Nazi party membership grows through the '20s, though electoral successes are elusive. Hindenburg becomes president.
With Hindenburg's approval, Chancellor Heinrich Bruning rules by decree without parliamentary input, one step towards authoritarianism. The Nazis gain supporters from the unemployed, nationalists, and others affected by the Depression. Through an alliance with the conservative DNVP, the Nazis gain respectability, supporters, and, over the next three elections, many more seats in the Reichstag.
The Third Reich begins as Hitler is appointed chancellor, supported by conservatives hoping to harness his popularity. After a violent election, the Reichstag gives Hitler absolute power to suppress dissent, and a one-party state is born. Upon Hindenburg's death in 1934, Hitler becomes Führer ("leader"), head of state, and commander in chief. He retains power until his suicide at war's end in 1944.
Following the German surrender, American, Russian, French, and British armies occupy four zones. Parties form under tight control and denazification, holding elections at the local and state (Länder) levels. Concentration camp survivor Kurt Schumacher leads the SPD with a platform of state planning and public ownership. Angered by unification plans, the Soviets blockade Berlin.
The Allied zones unite as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), a federal system of 16 states and a bicameral parliament. National elections pit the planned economy of the Social Democrats (SPD) against the Ordoliberal Christian Democrats (CDU). The CDU wins, and 73-year-old Konrad Adenauer becomes chancellor, serving 14 years with Ludwig Erhard as economic minister.
Adenauer guides the country as it joins the European Coal and Steel Community (predecessor to the EU), the Council of Europe, and NATO. In 1955 the FRG's full sovereignty returns, but foreign and domestic fears limit the revival of the military. To better compete, the SPD drops its socialist platform and supports the social market economy: free markets with social responsibility.
The Berlin Wall goes up. Adenauer's majority falters, requiring a fractious coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and ending in his resignation in 1963. After 1962 many of the smaller parties vanish, leaving just four parties represented in the Bundestag until the 1980s: the conservative CDU and CSU, the left-leaning SPD, and the free-market centrist FDP, which often decides the majority.
Backed by the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition, Erhard becomes chancellor. He is less harsh towards countries that recognize East Germany than Adenauer was, but also allies even more closely with the United States. The FDP drops out of the coalition in 1965, and the CDU/CSU surprisingly invites the SPD to form a coalition in December 1966. With the economy in a brief downturn, Erhard resigns.
High unemployment, deficits, and fears of rising support for right-wing groups such as the National Democratic Party (NPD) leads to a Grand Coalition of the major parties. With Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU) as chancellor, the coalition seeks better cooperation with the trade unions and economic stability.
The FDP joins with the SPD, and the CDU is at last in the opposition. Chancellor Willy Brandt moves the SPD further to the free market. His Ostpolitik (policy toward the East) builds ties with the Eastern Bloc and recognizes East Germany, which some fear will prevent reunification. An attempt to oust Brandt with a no-confidence vote fails, but he resigns in 1974 upon learning an aide is a spy.
The coalition remains in place, and Helmut Schmidt, from the right wing of the Social Democrats, succeeds Brandt as chancellor. Faced with unemployment, student protests, and the oil shocks, Schmidt tries to govern from the center, alienating the unions in the process. He takes an extremely active role in economic policy.
After convincing the FDP to leave the coalition over economic policy differences, the Christian Democrats use the rare "constructive no-confidence vote" to oust the SPD and lead a coalition to power under Helmut Kohl. Kohl, an ambitious if uncharismatic admirer of Adenauer, is influenced by Thatcher-Reagan economic policies. The Greens become a small but increasingly influential political force.
Shortly after Kohl predicts it will not happen in his lifetime, the Berlin Wall falls. Kohl is reelected in the first free Germany-wide elections since 1932 on the strength of reunification, even though it has raised economic and social issues. Reunification brings with it new parties from the East, including former Communists and the Alliance 90 Party of former dissidents.
Despite an economic slump, the picture brightens enough for Kohl to stay in power in a CDU/FDP coalition. Alliance 90 and the Greens join together as the third biggest party in the Bundestag. Two xenophobic far-right parties also emerge, but do poorly in elections. The former East German ruling party gets less than half of its previous 11 percent score, but does well locally in the East.
Parliamentary elections bring Gerhard Schröder of the SPD to power in a coalition with the Green Party. The center-left coalition pledges growth and control of the rising government debt. In 1999 the capital moves from Bonn back to a revitalized Berlin. Schroeder's popularity declines as he confronts the difficulty of re-igniting the stagnant economy. Elections are scheduled for 2002.
The Schroeder government teeters in the run-up to September 2002 elections, and the conservative opposition led by Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria leads in the polls. But Schroeder's strong stance against a U.S. war on Iraq earns him public support, and thanks to a strong showing by his Green coalition partners, he is narrowly returned to office. He faces continued economic stagnation and malaise.
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