History of Germany

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The concept of Germany as a distinct region in central Europe can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul (France), which he had conquered. The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (AD 9) prevented annexation by the Roman Empire. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Franks conquered the other West Germanic tribes. When the Frankish Empire was divided among Charlemagne's heirs in 843, the eastern part became East Francia, ruled by Louis the German. Henry the Fowler became the first king of Germany in 919. In 962, Henry's son Otto I became the first emperor of what historians refer to as the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.

In the High Middle Ages, the dukes and princes of the empire gained power at the expense of the emperors, who were elected by the princes and crowned by the pope. The northern states became Protestant in the early 16th century, while the southern states remained Catholic. Protestants and Catholics clashed in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which left vast areas depopulated. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 marked the effective end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of the modern nation-state system. The Habsburg family continued to use the title "emperor", but ruled only in Austria.

After the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), an Austrian-led German Confederation of 39 states was formed. Nationalist sentiment led to the unsuccessful 1848 March Revolution. A German Empire that excluded Austria was formed in 1871 under the leadership of Prussia and its "Iron Chancellor", Otto von Bismarck. Although there was an elected Reichstag, or parliament, it had little authority compared to the chancellor and the Bundesrat, who were appointed by the emperor and the princes. Unification was followed by an industrial revolution. By 1900, Germany's economy was by far the largest in Europe (and second only to the U.S. in the world). In World War I (1914–1918), Germany was defeated by an alliance of Russia, Britain, France and America. As a result, the Empire was replaced by the democratic Weimar Republic (1918–1933).

The Great Depression (1929–1933) caused unemployment to soar and led to a loss of confidence in the government. German politics polarized and there was an upsurge of support for the Communists on the left and Nazis on the right. In 1933, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler gained power and promptly imposed a totalitarian regime. Deemed 'undesirable' socio-cultural minorities - including Jews, homosexuals, nomadic Roma and Sinti peoples - were rounded up and killed in the Holocaust. In World War II (1939–1945), Germany was again defeated, but this time divided between capitalist West Germany and communist East Germany. In the Cold War, West Germany joined NATO, a military alliance led by the United States, while East Germany was a member of the rival Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Union. Communism collapsed in 1989 and East Germany was reunited with West Germany soon afterwards. Germany has become increasingly integrated into the European Union, notably with the "Europe 1992" effort to create a unified market and adoption of the euro, a Europe-wide currency, in 2002.

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