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West Germany ( ) is the common English name for the Federal Republic of Germanymarker ( ) in the period between its formation in May 1949 to German reunification in October 1990, when the communist East Germany was dissolved and the five states on its territory joined the Federal Republic of Germany, ending the more than 40-year division of Germany and Berlin. From the 1990 reunification onwards, the enlarged Federal Republic of Germany with sixteen states has been exclusively known as Germanymarker in common usage.

The Federal Republic of Germany was organized from the initially 12 states formed in the three Western Zones or Allied Zones of occupation held by the United Statesmarker, the United Kingdommarker, and Francemarker. The city of Bonnmarker was its provisional capital city. The fourth Allied occupation zone or East Zone (Ostzone) was held by the Soviet Unionmarker. The parts east of the Oder-Neisse were de facto annexed by the Soviet Union and Communist Poland, the remaining central part around Berlin became the communist German Democratic Republicmarker, GDR (in German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR) with its de facto capital East Berlin. As a result, the remaining Western Germany had a territory about half the size of its previous democratic-capitalist antecessor, the interwar Weimar Republicmarker.

At the onset of the Cold War, Europe and Germany were divided among the Western and Eastern blocs. Germany was de facto divided into two countries, plus two special territories, the Saarland and divided Berlin. The Federal Republic of Germany claimed an exclusive mandate for all of Germany, considering itself to be the democratically re-organized German Reich on the grounds that the GDR government was not democratically elected, but was installed by a foreign occupying power and thus not legitimate. The number of federal states changed in the 1950s, when three south western states merged to form a single Baden-Württembergmarker in 1952, and when the Saarland joined the Federal Republic of Germany in 1957. In addition to the official ten states, West Berlin was considered an unofficial de facto eleventh state. While legally not part of the Federal Republic of Germany, as it was under four-power occupation, West Berlin was represented directly or indirectly in federal institutions.

Relations with the Soviet bloc improved during the era of Ostpolitik in the 1970s, and the two German states recognized the existence of each other. De jure West Germany formally maintained the exclusive mandate: it recognized the GDR as a de facto government still within a single German nation that in turn is represented de jure by the West German state only, while East Germany recognized the existence of two German countries de jure, and the West as both de facto and de jure foreign country.

The foundation for the influential position held by Germany today was laid during the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the 1950s, when West Germany rose from the massive destruction wrought by World War II to become the world's third largest economy. The first chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who remained in office until 1963, had worked for a full alignment with the West rather than neutrality. He not only secured a membership in NATOmarker, but he was also a proponent of agreements that developed into the present-day European Union. When the G6/G8 was established in 1975, there was no question whether the Federal Republic of Germany would be a member as well.

With the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, symbolized by the opening of the Berlin Wallmarker, there was a rapid move towards German reunification. East Germany voted to dissolve itself and accede to the Federal Republic in 1990. Its postwar five states (Länder) were reconstituted, and along with reunited Berlin, which ended its special status and formed an additional Land, they formally joined the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990, raising the number of states from 10 to 16. The expanded Federal Republic of Germany, now exclusively known as simply Germany in the English language, retained its political culture, and it continues the memberships in international organizations, as well as its Western foreign policy alignment and affiliation to Western alliances like the European Union and NATOmarker. The enlarged Federal Republic of Germany is the continuation of, and not a successor to, the (West German) Federal Republic of Germany with fewer states until 1990.

Western Germany (Westdeutschland or westliches Deutschland), where it is not a synonym for "West Germany", is mainly used as a geographic term referring vaguely to the Rhineland, a usage which dates back to before the Cold War. Citizens of the Federal Republic called their country Federal Republic, FR Germany or simply Germany. In the early years, the GDR termed the Federal Republic Westdeutschland, later the FRG (BRD). This abbreviation was strongly disliked by the West Germans as GDR jargon.


After World War II, leaders from the United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker, and the Soviet Unionmarker held the Yalta Conferencemarker where future arrangements with post-war Europe and actions to be made against Japan in the Pacific were negotiated. The conference came to the agreement to split Germany into four occupation zones—the Frenchmarker Zone in the far west, the Britishmarker Zone in the northwest, the Americanmarker Zone in the south, and the Sovietmarker Zone in the east. It then was not the intention to split Germany, only to designate zones of administration.

Former German areas east of the Oder River and the Neisse Rivermarker were put under Polish administration, and millions of Germans were expelled from there, to be replaced by Poles. (With the Soviet Unionmarker likewise taking a big bite from eastern Poland and East Prussia) In 1946–1949, the first three zones were combined in steps. First the British and American zones were combined into the quasi-state of Bizonia, then only months afterward the French zone was included into Trizonia. At the same time, new federal states (Länder) were formed in the Allied zones, replacing the pre-war states.

In 1949, with the continuation and aggravation of the Cold War (note the Berlin Airlift of 1948–49), the two German states that were originated in the Western Allied and the Soviet Zones became known internationally as West Germany and East Germany. Commonly known in English as East Germanymarker, the former Soviet Occupation Zone, became the German Democratic Republicmarker or GDR. From 3 October 1990, after the reformation of the GDR's Länder, the East German states joined the Federal Republic. Since the German reunification in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany (still the country's legal and official name) is often also called simply Germanymarker.

NATO membership

The Federal Republic of Germanymarker, founded on 23 May 1949, was declared "fully sovereign" on 5 May 1955. The former occupying Western troops remained on the ground, now as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisationmarker (NATO) which West Germany joined on 9 May 1955, promising to re-arm itself soon.

West Germany became a focus of the Cold War with its juxtaposition to East Germany, a member of the subsequently founded Warsaw Pact. The former capital, Berlinmarker, had been divided into four sectors, the Western Allies joining their sectors to form West Berlin, while the Soviets held East Berlin. West Berlin was completely surrounded by East German territory and had suffered a Soviet blockade in 1948/1949 which had been overcome by the Berlin airlift.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 led to U.S. calls for the rearmament of West Germany in order to help defend Western Europe from the perceived Sovietmarker threat. Germany's partners in the Coal and Steel Community proposed to establish a European Defence Community (EDC), with an integrated army, navy and air force, composed of the armed forces of its member states. The West German military would be subject to complete EDC control, but the other EDC member states (Belgiummarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, Luxembourgmarker and the Netherlandsmarker) would cooperate in the EDC while maintaining independent control of their own armed forces.

Though the EDC treaty was signed (May 1952), it never entered into force. France's Gaullists rejected it on the grounds that it threatened national sovereignty, and when the French National Assembly refused to ratify it (August 1954), the treaty died. The French Gaullists and communists had killed the French governments' proposal. Other means then had to be found to allow West German rearmament. In response, at the London and Paris Conferences, the Brussels Treaty was modified to include West Germany, and to form the Western European Union (WEU). West Germany was to be permitted to rearm, an idea which was rejected by many Germans, and have full sovereign control of its military called Bundeswehr; the WEU would however regulate the size of the armed forces permitted to each of its member states. Also, the German constitution prohibited any military action except in case of an external attack against Germany or its allies (Bündnisfall). Also, Germans could reject military service on grounds of conscience, and serve for civil purposes instead.

West Germany (blue) and West Berlin (yellow), after access of the Saarland in 1957, before the five Länder from GDR and East Berlin joined in 1990

The three Western Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin and certain responsibilities for Germany as a whole. Under the new arrangements, the Allies stationed troops within West Germany for NATO defense, pursuant to stationing and status-of-forces agreements. With the exception of 55,000 French troops, Allied forces were under NATO's joint defense command. (France withdrew from the collective military command structure of NATO in 1966.)


The official German reunification ceremony on 3 October 1990 was held at the Reichstag buildingmarker, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsäcker, former Chancellor Willy Brandt and many others. One day later, the parliament of the united Germany would assemble in an act of symbolism in the Reichstag building.

However, at that time, the role of Berlin had not yet been decided upon. Only after a fierce debate, considered by many as one of the most memorable sessions of parliament, the Bundestagmarker concluded on 20 June 1991, with a quite slim majority that both government and parliament should move to Berlinmarker from Bonnmarker.

German economic miracle

The West German Wirtschaftswunder (English: "economic miracle", coined by The Times of London in 1950), was partly due to the economic aid provided by the United States and the Marshall Plan, but mainly due to the currency reform of 1948 which replaced the Reichsmark with the Deutsche Mark as legal tender, halting rampant inflation. The Allied dismantling of the West German coal and steel industry finally ended in 1950.

In addition to the physical obstacles that had to be overcome for the German economic recovery (see the Morgenthau Plan) there were also intellectual challenges. The Allies confiscated intellectual privileges of huge value, such as all German patents, both in Germany and abroad, and used them to strengthen their own industrial competitiveness by licensing them to Allied companies. Meanwhile some of the best German researchers were being put to work in the Soviet Union and in the U.S.

Contrary to popular belief, the Marshall Plan, which was extended to also include the newly formed West Germany in 1949, was not the main force behind the Wirtschaftswunder. Had that been the case, other countries such as Great Britain and France (which both received higher economic assistance from the plan than Germany) should have experienced the same phenomenon. In fact, the amount of monetary aid (which was in the form of loans) received by Germany through the Marshall Plan was far overshadowed by the amount the Germans had to pay back as war reparations and by the charges the Allies made on the Germans for the ongoing cost of occupation (about $2.4 billion per year). In 1953 it was decided that Germany was to repay $1.1 billion of the aid it had received. The last repayment was made in June 1971.

The Korean war (1950–53) led to a worldwide increased demand for goods, and the resulting shortage helped overcome lingering resistance to the purchase of German products. At the time Germany had a large pool of skilled and cheap labour, partly as a result of the deportations and migration which affected up to 16.5 million Germans. This helped Germany to more than double the value of its exports during the war. Apart from these factors, hard work and long hours at full capacity among the population and in the late 1950s and 1960s extra labour supplied by thousands of Gastarbeiter ("guest workers") provided a vital base for the economic upturn. This would have implications later on for successive German governments as they tried to assimilate this group of workers.

From the late 1950s onwards, West Germany had one of the strongest economies in the world, almost as strong as before the Second World War. The East German economy showed a certain growth, but not as much as in West Germany, due in part to continued reparations to the USSR in terms of resources.

In 1952 West Germany became part of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union. On 5 May 1955 West Germany was declared "fully sovereign". The British, French and U.S. militaries remained in the country, just as the Soviet Army remained in East Germany. Four days after becoming "fully sovereign" in 1955, West Germany joined NATO. The U.S. retained an especially strong presence in West Germany, acting as a deterrent in case of a Soviet invasion. In 1976 West Germany became one of the founding nations of the Group of Six (G6). In 1973, West Germany which was home to roughly 1.26% of the world's population featured the world's fourth largest GDP of 944 billion (5.9% of the world total). In 1987 the FRG held a 7.4% share of total world production.

Position towards East Germany

The official position of West Germany concerning East Germany was that the West German government was the only democratically elected and therefore legitimate representative of the German people. According to the Hallstein Doctrine, any country (with the exception of the USSR) that recognized the authorities of the German Democratic Republicmarker would not have diplomatic relations with West Germany.

In the early 1970s, Willy Brandt's policy of "New Ostpolitik" led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany. The Treaty of Moscow (August 1970), the Treaty of Warsaw (December 1970), the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (September 1971), the Transit Agreement (May 1972), and the Basic Treaty (December 1972) helped to normalise relations between East and West Germany and led to both German states joining the United Nations. The Hallstein Doctrine was abolished.

The West German Constitution (Grundgesetz / Basic Law) provided two articles for the unification with other parts of Germany:
  • Article 23 provided the possibility for other parts of Germany to join the Federal Republic (under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany).
  • Article 146 provided the possibility for unification of all parts of Germany under a new constitution.

After the peaceful revolution of 1989 in East Germany, the first freely elected East German parliament decided in June 1990 that the Länder soon to be reestablished would join the Federal Republic under Article 23 of the (West-)German Basic Law (Grundgesetz). This made a quick unification possible. In July/August 1990 the East German parliament enacted a law for the reestablishment of Länder on the territory of the German Democratic Republic.

The two German states entered into a currency and customs union in July 1990, and on 3 October 1990, the German Democratic Republicmarker dissolved and then reestablished five East German Länder (as well as a unified Berlin) joined the Federal Republic of Germanymarker, bringing an end to the East-West divide.


Political life in West Germany was remarkably stable and orderly. The Adenauer era (1949–63) was followed by a brief period under Ludwig Erhard (1963–66) who, in turn, was replaced by Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966–69). All governments between 1949 and 1966 were formed by the united caucus of the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), either alone or in coalition with the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP) or other right wing parties.

Kiesinger's 1966–69 "Grand Coalition" was between West Germany's two largest parties, the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). This was important for the introduction of new emergency acts—the Grand Coalition gave the ruling parties the two-thirds majority of votes required to see them in. These controversial acts allowed basic constitutional rights such as freedom of movement to be limited in case of a state of emergency.

Leading up to the passing of the laws, there was fierce opposition to them, above all by the FDP, the rising German student movement, a group calling itself Notstand der Demokratie ("Democracy in a State of Emergency") and the labour unions. Demonstrations and protests grew in number, and in 1967 the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the head by a police man. The press, especially the tabloid Bild-Zeitung newspaper, launched a massive campaign against the protesters and in 1968, believed by some as a result, there was an attempted assassination of one of the top members of the German socialist students' union, Rudi Dutschke.

Since 1958 a stronger desire to confront the Nazi past came into being. In the 1960s environmentalism and anti-nationalism became fundamental values among left-wing Germans. As a result in 1979 the Greens were able to reach the 5% minimum required to obtain parliamentary seats in the Bremenmarker provincial election, and with the foundation of the national party in 1980 developed into one of the most politically successful green movements in the world.

Another result of the unrest in the 1960s was the founding of the Red Army Faction (RAF) which was active from 1968, carrying out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s. Even in the 1990s attacks were still being committed under the name "RAF". The last action took place in 1993 and in 1998 the group announced it was giving up its activities.

In the 1969 election, the SPD gained enough votes to form a coalition government with the FDP. SPD leader and Chancellor Willy Brandt remained head of government until May 1974, when he resigned after the Guillaume Affair, where a senior member of his staff was uncovered as a spy for the East German intelligence service, the Stasi. However the affair is widely considered to have been merely a trigger for Brandt's resignation, not a fundamental cause. Instead, Brandt, dogged by scandal relating to serial adultery, and struggling with alcohol and depression as well as the economic fallout of the 1973 oil crisis, almost seems simply to have had enough. As Brandt himself later said, "I was exhausted, for reasons which had nothing to do with the process going on at the time."

Finance Minister Helmut Schmidt (SPD) then formed a government, continuing the SPD-FDP coalition. He served as Chancellor from 1974 to 1982. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a leading FDP official, was Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister in the same years. Schmidt, a strong supporter of the European Community (EC) and the Atlantic alliance, emphasized his commitment to "the political unification of Europe in partnership with the USA".

The goals of SPD and FDP however drifted apart in the late 1970s and early 1980s. On October 1, 1982, the FDP joined forces with the CDU/CSU to elect CDU Chairman Helmut Kohl as Chancellor in a Constructive Vote of No Confidence. Following national elections in March 1983, Kohl emerged in firm control of both the government and the CDU. The CDU/CSU fell just short of an absolute majority, due to the entry into the Bundestag of the Greens, who received 5.6% of the vote.

In January 1987, the Kohl-Genscher government was returned to office, but the FDP and the Greens gained at the expense of the larger parties. The Social Democrats concluded that not only were the Greens unlikely to form a coalition, but that also such a coalition would be far away from a majority. Both conditions did not change until 1998.



In the 20th century Association Football became the largest sport in Germany. The Germany national football team, established in 1908, continued its tradition based in the Federal Republic of Germany, winning the 1954 FIFA World Cup in a stunning upset dubbed the miracle of Bern. The 1974 FIFA World Cup was held in West German cities and West Berlin. After having been beaten by their East German counterparts in the first round, the team of the DFB won the cup again, defeating the Netherlandsmarker 2–1 in the Final. With the process of unification in full swing in the summer of 1990, the Germans clinched a third World Cup, with players that had been capped for East Germany not yet permitted to contribute. European championships have been clinched too, in 1972, 1980 and 1996.

After both Olympic games of 1936 had been held in Germany, Munichmarker was selected to host the 1972 Summer Olympics. These were also the first summer games where the East Germans showed up with the separate flag and anthem of the GDR. Since the 1950s, Germany at the Olympics had been represented by a united team led by the pre-war German NOC officials as the IOC had denied East German demands for a separate team.

As in 1957, when the Saarland acceded, East German sport organizations ceased to exist in late 1990 as their subdivisions and their members joined their Western counterparts. Thus, the present German organisations and teams in football, Olympics and elsewhere are identical to those which informally had been called "West German" before 1991, with the only differences being enlarged membership, and a different name used by some foreigners. These organizations and teams in turn had mostly continued the traditions of those representing Germany before WW2 and even WW1, thus having a century old continuity despite political changes. On the other hand, the separate East Germans teams and organisations had been founded in the 1950s, they were an episode lasting less than four decades, yet quite successful in that time.

Life in general

During the 40 years of separation some divergence occurred in the cultural life of the two parts of the severed nation. Both West Germany and East Germany followed along traditional paths of the common German culture, but West Germany, being obviously more affected by influences from western Europe and North America, became more cosmopolitan. Conversely, East Germany, while remaining more conservative than West Germany in its adherence to some aspects of the received tradition, was strongly moulded by the dictates of a state socialist ideology of predominantly Soviet inspiration. On the non-political level, East Germany was also influenced by the Eastern Bloc's Slavic cultures that manifested in art, culinary scene, and sports. Nevertheless, young East Germans were also fascinated by Western and particularly American culture, which they had a degree of access to in a variety of ways, not least through West German television and radio, whose broadcasts reached many parts of the country.

For the majority of Germans in present-day Germany who lived in pre-reunification West Germany, there is minimal change in daily life stemming from German reunification as the reunified country is essentially West Germany incorporating East Germany on a West German base. In contrast, for the Germans who hailed from the former East Germany, the scale of change has been wholesale on all walks of life from that of before die Wende. Although movements like Ostalgia exist attempting to celebrate and preserve parts of the GDR culture, post-reunification wise the former East Germany has been converging towards the western part of the country in most parts of daily life.

Geographical distribution of government

In West Germany, most of the political agencies and buildings were located in Bonn, while the German Stock Market was located in Frankfurt am Mainmarker, which became the economic center. The judicial branch of both the German Federal Constitutional Courtmarker (Bundesverfassungsgericht) and the highest Court of Appeals, were located in Karlsruhemarker.

The West German government was known to be much more decentralized than its state socialist East German counterpart, the former being a federal state and the latter a unitary one. Whilst East Germany was divided into 15 administrative districts (Bezirke) which were merely local branches of the national government, West Germany was divided into states (Länder) with independently elected state parliaments and control of the Bundesrat, the second legislative chamber of the Federal Government.

Present geographical and political terminology

Today, Northrhine-Westphaliamarker are often considered to be western Germany in geographical terms. When distinguishing between former West Germany and former East Germany as parts of present-day unified Germany, it has become most common to refer to the Alte Bundesländer (old states) and the Neue Bundesländer (new states), although Westdeutschland and Ostdeutschland are still heard as well.

See also


  1. David R. Henderson, "German Economic 'Miracle'", The Library of Economics and Liberty website.
  2. Susan Stern, "Marshall Plan 1947–1997: A German View", Germany Info website.
  3. Henderson, op. cit.
  4. Stern, op. cit.
  5. David H Childs and Jeffrey Johnson, West Germany: Politics And Society, Croom Helm, 1982[1]
  6. Talk by Hans-Jochen Vogel on 21 October 2002
  7. Gregor Schöllgen: Willy Brandt. Die Biographie. Propyläen, Berlin 2001. ISBN 3549071426
  8. quoted in: Gregor Schöllgen. Der Kanzler und sein Spion. In: DIE ZEIT 2003, Vol. 40, 25 September 2003

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