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Holy Roman Empire


Federal Republic




January 18, 1871

May 23, 1949

October 3, 1990

Accession to EU
March 25, 1953
(West Germany)



Per capita

2015 estimate

$3.842 trillion


Calling code


- President

- Chancellor

Federal Republic

Frank-Walter Steimeier

Olaf Scholz




Water (%)


357,021 km²

137,847 sq mi



2015 est.




82,175,700 (16th)

227 per km²

587.9 per sq. mi.

Time zone

Summer (DST)



    The state now known as Germany was unified as a modern nation-state only in 1871, when the German Empire, dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia, was forged. This began the German Reich, usually translated as empire, but also meaning kingdom, domain or realm.

Early history of the Germanic tribes (100 BC – AD 300)

    The ethnogenesis of the Germanic tribes is assumed to have occurred during the Nordic Bronze Age, or at the latest, during the Pre-Roman Iron Age in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, from the first century BC expanding south, east and west, coming into contact with Celtic tribes of Gaul and Iranian, Baltic and Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe. Little is known about early Germanic history, except through their interactions with the Roman Empire and archaeological finds.

    Under Augustus, the Roman General Drusus began to invade Germany, and it was from this period that the German tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare while maintaining their national identity. In AD 9, three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus were crushed by the Cheruscan leader Arminius (Hermann) in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Germany as far as the Rhine and the Danube therefore remained outside the Roman Empire. By 100, the time of Tacitus' Germania, Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany. The 3rd century saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes — Alamanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisians, Sicambri, Thuringians. Around 260, the Germanic peoples broke through the Limes and the Danube frontier.

Germany, the European Union, and Europe
Germany (dark orange)
European Union (light orange)
Europe (orange and gray)

German Coat of Arms

History of German Flags


The Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (843-1806)

    The medieval empire stemmed from a division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which was founded by Charlemagne on December 25, 800, and existed in varying forms until 1806, its territory stretching from the river Eider in the north to the Mediterranean coast in the south. Often referred to as the Holy Roman Empire (or the Old Empire), it was officially called the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ("Sacrum Romanum Imperium Nationis Germanicæ") since 1448 to adjust the title to its then reduced territory.

    Under the reign of the Ottonian emperors (919–1024), the duchies of Lorraine, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, Thuringia and Bavaria were consolidated and in 962 the German king was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Under the reign of the Salian emperors (1024–1125), the Holy Roman Empire absorbed northern Italy and Burgundy. Under the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138–1254) the German princes were increasing their influence further south and east.

    The edict of the Golden Bull in 1356 provided the basic constitution of the empire up to its dissolution. For three hundred years starting in 1438, the Emperors were elected nearly exclusively from the Austrian Habsburg family.

    In 1530, a separate Protestant church was acknowledged as the new state religion in many states of Germany. This led to inter-German dispute, the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). From 1740 onwards the dualism between Austria and Prussia dominated the Empire's history. In 1806 the Imperium was overrun and dissolved as a result of the Napoleonic Wars.

Midievil Flag of the Holy Roman Empire

Holy Roman Empire Flag "Imperator Ramanorum Semper Agustus"

Restoration and revolution (1814-71)

    Following Napoleon's fall and the end of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Congress of Vienna convened in 1814 in order to restructure Europe. In Germany, the German Confederation was founded, a loose league of 39 sovereign states. Disagreement with the restoration politics partly led to the lifestyle called Biedermeier and to intellectual liberal movements, which demanded unity and freedom during the Vormärz epoch, each followed by a measure of Metternich's repression of liberal agitation. The Zollverein, a tariff union, profoundly furthered economic unity in the German states.

    The German people had been stirred by the ideals of the French revolution. On October 18, 1817, students held a gathering to exchange ideas, the high point of which was the burning of works by authors like August von Kotzebue, who were against a united German state. A second such meeting attracted 30,000 people from all social classes and from all regions to the Hambacher celebration. There for the first time, the colours of black, red and gold were chosen to represent the movement, which later became the national colours.

    The states were also shaped by the Industrial Revolution, which was the initial step of the growing industrialisation in Europe and contributed to a wave of poverty, causing social uprisings. In light of a series of revolutionary movements in Europe, which in France successfully established a republic, intellectuals and common people started the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states. The monarchs initially yielded to the revolutionaries' liberal demands, and an intellectual National Assembly was elected to draw up a constitution for the new Germany, completed in 1849. However, the Prussian king Frederick William IV, who was offered the title of Emperor but with a loss of power, rejected the crown and the constitution. This prompted the demise of the national assembly along with most of the changes from the revolution.

    In 1862, conflict between the Prussian King Wilhelm I and the increasingly liberal parliament erupted over military reforms. The king appointed Otto von Bismarck the new Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck solved the conflict with difficulty and used the desire for national unification to further the interests of the Prussian monarchy. In 1864 he successfully waged war on Denmark. Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 enabled him to create the North German Confederation and divide Austria, formerly the leading state of Germany, from the more western and northern parts.

National Flag of German Confederation


North German Confederation Flag


Second German Empire (1871-1918)

    After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich) was proclaimed in Versailles on January 18, 1871. As a result, the new empire was a unification of all the scattered parts of Germany but without Austria — Kleindeutschland. Beginning in 1884 Germany established several colonies. The young emperor's foreign policy was opposed to that of Bismarck, who had established a system of alliances in the era called Gründerzeit, securing Germany's position as a great nation, isolating France with diplomatic means and avoiding war for decades. Under Wilhelm II, however, Germany took an imperialistic course, not unlike other powers, but it led to friction with neighbouring countries. Most alliances in which Germany had been previously involved were not renewed, and new alliances excluded the country. Specifically, France established new relations by signing the Entente Cordiale with the United Kingdom, and got ties with Russia. Austria-Hungary and Germany became increasingly isolated.

    Although not one of the main causes, the assassination of Austria's crown prince triggered World War I on July 28, 1914, which saw Germany as part of the unsuccessful Central Powers in the second-bloodiest conflict of all time against the Allied Powers. In November 1918, the second German Revolution broke out, and Emperor Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated. An armistice was signed on November 11, putting an end to the war. Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, whose unexpectedly high demands were perceived as humiliating in Germany, as a continuation of the war by other means and a breaking of traditional post-war diplomacy that included negotiations between the victors and vanquished.

National Flag of Second German Empire


Imperial War Flag


Map of Second German Empire

Weimar Republic (1919-33)

    After the German Revolution in November 1918, a Republic was proclaimed. That year, the German Communist Party was established by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and in January 1919 the German Workers Party, later known as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP, "Nazis"). On August 11, 1919, the Weimar Constitution came into effect, with the sign of the Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert.

    In a cool climate of economic hardship from both the world wide Depression and the harsh peace conditions dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, and a long succession of more or less unstable governments, the political masses in Germany increasingly lacked identification with their political system of parliamentary democracy. This was exacerbated by a wide-spread right-wing (monarchist, völkische, and Nazi) Dolchstoßlegende, a political myth which claimed the German Revolution was the main reason why Germany had lost WWI. On the other hand, radical left-wing communists such as the Spartacist League had wanted to abolish what they perceived as a "capitalist rule" in favour of a "Räterepublik" and were thus also in opposition to the existing form of government. During the years following the Revolution, German voters increasingly supported anti-democratic parties, both right- (monarchists, Nazis) and left-wing (Communists). At the beginning of the 1930s, Germany was not far from a civil war. Paramilitary troops were set up by several parties, there were thousands of politically motivated murders. They intimidated voters and seeded violence and anger among the public, who suffered from high unemployment and poverty. After a succession of unsuccessful cabinets, on January 29, 1933, President von Hindenburg, seeing little alternative and pushed by advisors, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

National Flag of Weimar Republic





Map of Weimar Republic


Third Reich (1933–45)

    On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. Some basic democratic rights were quickly abrogated afterwards under an emergency decree. An Enabling Act gave Hitler's government full legislative power — only the Sozial Demokratische Partei, SPD voted against it; the communists could not because many had already been imprisoned or murdered. A centralised totalitarian state was established by a series of moves and decrees making Germany a single-party state. Industry was closely regulated with quotas and requirements in order to shift the economy towards a war production base. In 1936, German troops entered the demilitarised Rhineland as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policies proved inadequate. Emboldened, Hitler followed from 1938 onwards a policy of expansionism to establish Greater Germany. To avoid a two-front war, Hitler concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union, and broke it.

    In 1939 the growing tensions from nationalism, militarism, and territorial issues led to the Germans launching a blitzkrieg on September 1st against Poland, followed two days later by war declarations against Britain and France, marking the beginning of World War II. Germany quickly gained direct or indirect control of the majority of Europe. On June 22, 1941, Hitler broke the pact with the Soviet Union by opening the Eastern Front and invading the Soviet Union. Shortly after Japan attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the United States. Although initially the German army rapidly advanced into the surprised Soviet Union, the Battle of Stalingrad marked a major turning point in the war. Subsequently, the German army commenced retreating on the Eastern front, followed by the eventual defeat of Germany. On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered after the Red Army occupied Berlin.

    In what later became known as The Holocaust, the Third Reich regime enacted governmental policies directly subjugating many parts of society: Jews, Slavs, Roma, homosexuals, freemasons, political dissidents, priests, preachers, religious opponents, and the disabled, amongst others. During the Nazi era about 11 million people were murdered in the Holocaust, including more than 6 million Jews.

National Flag of Third German Empire (together with swastika flag, then later forbidden by National Socialists)

National Flag of Third German Empire (currently forbidden in Germany)

Nazi Battle Flag (currently forbidden in Germany)



Map of German occupation during WW2 in 1941-42

Division and Reunification (1945-90)

    The war resulted in the death of several million German soldiers and civilians, in total nearly ten million, large territorial losses and the expulsion of about 15 million Germans of the eastern provinces of Germany and various parts of Central and Eastern Europe with ethnic German population. All major and many smaller German cities lay in ruins. Germany and Berlin were occupied and partitioned by the Allies into four military occupation zones controlled by France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. On May 23, 1949, the U.S, Britain and France united their individual sectors to form the democratic nation of the Federal Republic of Germany and on October 7, 1949 the Soviet Zone established the German Democratic Republic, In English the two states were known informally as "West Germany" and "East Germany" (with historical eastern Germany having fallen to Poland and the Soviet Union) respectively.

    West Germany, established as a liberal parliamentary republic with a "social market economy", was allied with the United States, the UK and France. After the ideological switch in U.S. occupation policy away from economic dismantlement and towards reconstruction, which was heralded by the "Speech of hope" in September of 1946, the country eventually came to enjoy prolonged economic growth beginning in the early 1950's (Wirtschaftswunder). The recovery was largely because of the previously forbidden currency reform of June 1948 and U.S. assistance through the Marshall Plan aid. West Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1958. Across the border, East Germany was at first occupied by and later (May 1955) allied with the USSR. An authoritarian country with a Soviet-style command economy, East Germany soon became the richest, most advanced country in the Warsaw Pact, but many of its citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity. Relations between East Germany and West Germany remained icy until the Western Chancellor Willy Brandt launched a highly controversial approchement policy with the East European communist states (Ostpolitik) in the early 1970s. This led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany.

    During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans migrated to West Germany via Hungary and clandestinely through the border separating East from West Germany. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands of people in several cities continued to grow. In the face of these events, East German authorities unexpectedly eased the border restrictions in November 1989, allowing East German citizens to travel to the West. This led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with German reunification on October 3, 1990. Under the terms of the treaty between West and East Germany, Berlin again became the capital of the reunited Germany.

National Flag of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG - West Germany, BRD - Bundes Republik Deutschland)

National Flag of the German Democratic Republic (GDR - East Germany, DDR - Deutsche Demokratisches Republik

National Flag of Germany




Map of Occupied Germany

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