Early modern Germany
- see List of states in the Holy Roman Empire for subdivisions and the political structure
 Reformation and Thirty Years War
Around the beginning of the 16th century there was much discontent in the Holy Roman Empire caused by abuses such as indulgences in the Catholic Church and a general desire for reform.
In 1515 the Frisian peasants rebellion took place. Led by Pier Gerlofs Donia and Wijard Jelckama, thousands of Frisians (a Germanic race) fought against the suppression of their lands by Charles V. The hostilities ended in 1523 when the remaining leaders were captured and decapitated.
In 1517 the Reformation began with the publication of Martin Luther's 95 Theses; he had posted them in the town square, and gave copies of them to German nobles, but never nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg as is commonly said. Rather, an unknown person decided to take the 95 Theses from their obscure posting and nail them to the Church's door. The list detailed 95 assertions Luther believed to show corruption and misguidance within the Catholic Church. One often cited example, though perhaps not Luther's chief concern, is a condemnation of the selling of indulgences; another prominent point within the 95 Theses is Luther's disagreement both with the way in which the higher clergy, especially the pope, used and abused power, and with the very idea of the pope.
In 1521 Luther was outlawed at the Diet of Worms. But the Reformation spread rapidly, helped by the Emperor Charles V's wars with France and the Turks. Hiding in the Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German, establishing the basis of the German language.
In 1524 the Peasants' War broke out in Swabia, Franconia and Thuringia against ruling princes and lords, following the preachings of Reformist priests. But the revolts, which were assisted by war-experienced noblemen like Götz von Berlichingen and Florian Geyer (in Franconia), and by the theologian Thomas Münzer (in Thuringia), were soon repressed by the territorial princes. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 German peasants were massacred during the revolt, usually after the battles had ended. With the protestation of the Lutheran princes at the Reichstag of Speyer (1529) and rejection of the Lutheran "Augsburg Confession" at Augsburg (1530), a separate Lutheran church emerged.
From 1545 the Counter-Reformation began in Germany. The main force was provided by the Jesuit order, founded by the Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. Central and northeastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic. In 1547, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V defeated the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant rulers.
The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 brought recognition of the Lutheran faith. But the treaty also stipulated that the religion of a state was to be that of its ruler (Cuius regio, eius religio).
In 1556 Charles V abdicated. The Habsburg Empire was divided, as Spain was separated from the Imperial possessions.
From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years' War ravaged in the Holy Roman Empire. The causes were the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the efforts by the various states within the Empire to increase their power and the Emperor's attempt to achieve the religious and political unity of the Empire. The immediate occasion for the war was the uprising of the Protestant nobility of Bohemia against the emperor (Defenestration of Prague), but the conflict was widened into a European War by the intervention of King Christian IV of Denmark (1625–29), Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1630–48) and France under Cardinal Richelieu, the regent of the young Louis XIV (1635–48). Germany became the main theatre of war and the scene of the final conflict between France and the Habsburgs for predominance in Europe. The war resulted in large areas of Germany being laid waste, a loss of approximately a third of its population, and in a general impoverishment.
The war ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, signed in Münster and Osnabrück: Imperial territory was lost to France and Sweden and the Netherlands left the Holy Roman Empire after being de facto seceded for 80 years already. The imperial power declined further as the states' rights were increased.
 End of the Holy Roman Empire
From 1640, Brandenburg-Prussia had started to rise under the Great Elector, Frederick William. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 strengthened it even further, through the acquisition of East Pomerania. A system of rule based on absolutism was established.
In 1701 Elector Frederick of Brandenburg was crowned "King in Prussia". From 1713 to 1740, King Frederick William I, also known as the "Soldier King", established a highly centralized state.
Meanwhile Louis XIV of France had conquered parts of Alsace and Lorraine (1678–1681), and had invaded and devastated the Palatinate (1688–1697) in the War of Palatinian Succession. Louis XIV benefited from the Empire's problems with the Turks, which were menacing Austria. Louis XIV ultimately had to relinquish the Palatinate.
In 1683 the Ottoman Turks were defeated outside Vienna by a Polish relief army led by King Jan Sobieski of Poland while the city itself was defended by Imperial and Austrian troops under the command of Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine, accompanied by Prince Eugene of Savoy and elector Maximilian Emanuel of Bavaria, the "liberator of Belgrade". Hungary was reconquered, and later became a new destination for German settlers. Austria, under the Habsburgs, developed into a great power.
In the War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748) Maria Theresa fought successfully for recognition of her succession to the throne. But in the Silesian Wars and in the Seven Years' War she had to cede Silesia to Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia. After the Peace of Hubertsburg in 1763 between Austria, Prussia and Saxony, Prussia became a European great power. This gave the start to the rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany.
From 1763, against resistance from the nobility and citizenry, an "enlightened absolutism" was established in Prussia and Austria, according to which the ruler was to be "the first servant of the state". The economy developed and legal reforms were undertaken, including the abolition of torture and the improvement in the status of Jews; the emancipation of the peasants slowly began. Education began to be enforced under threat of compulsion.
In 1772-1795 Prussia took part in the partitions of Poland, occupying western territories of Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, which led to centuries of Polish resistance against German rule and persecution.
The French Revolution began in 1789. In 1792, Prussia and Austria were the first countries to declare war on France. By 1795, the French had overrun the Austrian Netherlands and the left bank of the Rhine and Prussia had dropped out of the war. Austria continued to fight until 1797 when it was defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy and signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, whereby it gave up Milan and recognized the loss of the Austrian Netherlands and the left bank of the Rhine, but gained Venice.
In 1799, hostilities with France resumed in the War of the Second Coalition. The conflict terminated with the Peace of Luneville in 1801. In 1803, under the "Reichsdeputationshauptschluss" (a resolution of a committee of the Imperial Diet meeting in Regensburg), Napoleon abolished almost all the ecclesiastical and the smaller secular states and most of the imperial free cities. New medium-sized states were established in southwestern Germany. In turn, Prussia gained territory in northwestern Germany.
In 1805, the War of the Third Coalition began. The main Austrian army under general Karl Mack was trapped at Ulm by Napoleon and forced to capitulate. The French then occupied Vienna, and routed a combined Austrian and Russian army at Austerlitz in December 1805. Afterwards, Austria ceded Venice and the Tirol to France and recognized the independence of Bavaria.
The Holy Roman Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) resigned. Francis II's family continued to be called Austrian emperors until 1918. In 1806, the Confederation of the Rhine was established under Napoleon's protection, which comprised all the minor states of Germany.
Prussia now felt threatened by the large concentration of French troops in Germany and demanded their withdrawal. When France refused, Prussia declared war. The result was a disaster. The Prussian armies were routed at Auerstedt and Jena. The French occupied Berlin and crossed east into Poland. When the Treaty of Tilsit terminated the war, Prussia had lost 40% of its territory, including its recently acquired section of Poland, and had to reduce its army to 45,000 men. There was no popular uprising against the French invasion, and the Prussian populace in fact showed complete apathy.
From 1808 to 1812 Prussia was reconstructed, and a series of reforms were enacted by Freiherr vom Stein and Freiherr von Hardenberg, including the regulation of municipal government, the liberation of the peasants and the emancipation of the Jews. These reforms were designed to encourage the spirit of nationalism in the people and give them something worth fighting for. A reform of the army was undertaken by the Prussian generals Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August von Gneisenau. The army was brought out of the 18th century. Mercenary troops were discarded, and discipline made more humane. Soldiers were encouraged to fight for their country and not merely because a commanding officer told them to.
In 1813 the Wars of Liberation began, following the destruction of Napoleon's army in Russia (1812). After the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Germany was liberated from French rule. The Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved.
In 1815 Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo by the Britain's Duke of Wellington and by Prussia's Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Prussia was considerably expanded after the war, gaining a large part of western Germany, including much of the Rhineland. In the east, it absorbed most of Saxony and also got back some of the Polish territory that had been lost in 1806, although the central part of Poland was left under Russian control.
 German Confederation
 Restoration and Revolution
After the fall of Napoleon, European monarchs and statesmen convened in Vienna in 1814 for the reorganization of European affairs, under the leadership of the Austrian Prince Metternich. The political principles agreed upon at this Congress of Vienna included the restoration, legitimacy and solidarity of rulers for the repression of revolutionary and nationalist ideas.
On the territory of the former "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation", the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was founded, a loose union of 39 states (35 ruling princes and 4 free cities) under Austrian leadership, with a Federal Diet (Bundestag) meeting in Frankfurt am Main. While this was a great improvement over the 300+ political entities that comprised the old Holy Roman Empire, it was still not satisfactory to many nationalists, and within a few decades, the advent of industrialization made the German Confederation unworkable. Moreover, not everyone was satisfied with Austria's leading role in the Confederation. Some argued that it made sense as Austria had been the most powerful German state for more than 400 years, but others said that it was too much of a polyglot nation to be acceptable for such a role, and that Prussia was the natural leader of Germany.
In 1817, inspired by liberal and patriotic ideas of a united Germany, student organisations gathered for the "Wartburg festival" at Wartburg Castle, at Eisenach in Thuringia, on the occasion of which reactionary books were burnt.
In 1819 the student Karl Ludwig Sand murdered the writer August von Kotzebue, who had scoffed at liberal student organizations. Prince Metternich used the killing as an occasion to call a conference in Karlsbad, which Prussia, Austria and eight other states attended, and which issued the Karlsbad Decrees: censorship was introduced, and universities were put under supervision. The decrees also gave the start to the so-called "persecution of the demagogues", which was directed against individuals who were accused of spreading revolutionary and nationalist ideas. Among the persecuted were the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, the publisher Johann Joseph Görres and the "Father of Gymnastics" Ludwig Jahn.
In 1834 the Zollverein was established, a customs union between Prussia and most other German states, but excluding Austria. As industrialization developed, the need for a unified German state with a uniform currency, legal system, and government became more and more obvious.
Growing discontent with the political and social order imposed by the Congress of Vienna led to the outbreak, in 1848, of the March Revolution in the German states. In May the German National Assembly (the Frankfurt Parliament) met in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main to draw up a national German constitution.
But the 1848 revolution turned out to be unsuccessful: King Frederick William IV of Prussia refused the imperial crown, the Frankfurt parliament was dissolved, the ruling princes repressed the risings by military force and the German Confederation was re-established by 1850.
The 1850s were a period of extreme political reaction. Dissent was vigorously suppressed, and many Germans emigrated to America following the collapse of the 1848 uprisings. Frederick William IV became extremely depressed and melancholy during this period, and was surrounded by men who advocated clericalism and absolute divine monarchy. The Prussian people once again lost interest in politics. In 1857, the king had a stroke and remained incapacitated until his death in 1861. His brother William succeeded him. Although conservative, he was far more pragmatic and rejected the superstitions and mysticism of Frederick.
William I's most significant accomplishment as king was the nomination of Otto von Bismarck as chancellor in 1862. The combination of Bismarck, Defense Minister Albrecht von Roon, and Field Marshal Helmut von Moltke set the stage for the unification of Germany.
In 1863-64, disputes between Prussia and Denmark grew over Schleswig, which - unlike Holstein - was not part of the German Confederation, and which Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate into the Danish kingdom. The dispute led to the Second War of Schleswig, which lasted from February-October 1864. Prussia, joined by Austria, defeated Denmark easily and occupied Jutland. The Danes were forced to cede both the duchy of Schleswig and the duchy of Holstein to Austria and Prussia. In the aftermath, the management of the two duchies caused growing tensions between Austria and Prussia. The former wanted the duchies to become an independent entity within the German Confederation, while the latter wanted to annex them. The Seven Weeks War broke out in June 1866. There was widespread opposition to the war in Prussia, as few believed that Austria could be defeated. On July 3, the two armies clashed at Sadowa-Koniggratz in Bohemia in an enormous battle involving half a million men. The Prussian breech-loading needle guns carried the day over the Austrians with their slow muzzle-loading rifles, who lost a quarter of their army in the battle. Austria ceded Venice to Italy, but did not lose any other territory and had to only pay a modest war indemnity. The defeat came as a great shock to the rest of Europe, especially France, who's leader Napoleon III had hoped the two countries would exhaust themselves in a long war, after which France would step in and help itself to pieces of German territory. Now the French faced an increasingly strong Prussia.
 North German Federation
In 1866, the German Confederation was dissolved. In its place the North German Federation (German Norddeutscher Bund) was established, under the leadership of Prussia. Austria was excluded from it. The Austrian hegemony in Germany that had begun in the 15th century finally came to an end.
The North German Federation was a transitional organization that existed from 1867 to 1871, between the dissolution of the German Confederation and the founding of the German Empire. The unification of the German states into a single economic, political and administrative unit excluded the Austrian territories and the Habsburgs.
 German Empire
 Age of Bismarck
Disputes between France and Prussia increased. In 1868, the Spanish queen Isabella II was expelled by a revolution, leaving that country's throne vacant. When Prussia tried to put a Hohenzollern candidate, Prince Leopold, on the Spanish throne, the French angrily protested. In July 1870, France declared war on Prussia (the Franco-Prussian War). The debacle was swift. A succession of German victories in northeastern France followed, and one French army was besieged at Metz. After a few weeks, the main army was finally forced to capitulate in the fortress of Sedan. French Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner and a republic hastily proclaimed in Paris. The new government, realizing that a victorious Germany would demand territorial acquisitions, resolved to fight on. They began to muster new armies, and the Germans settled down to a grim siege of Paris. The starving city surrendered in January 1871, and the Prussian army staged a victory parade in it. France was forced to pay indemnities of 5 billion francs and cede Alsace-Lorraine. It was a bitter peace that would leave the French thirsting for revenge.
During the Siege of Paris, the German princes assembled in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles and proclaimed the Prussian King Wilhelm I as the "German Emperor" on 18 January 1871. The German Empire was thus founded, with 25 states, three of which were Hanseatic free cities, and Bismarck, again, served as Chancellor. It was dubbed the "Little German" solution, since Austria was not included. The new empire was characterized by a great enthusiasm and vigor. There was a rash of heroic artwork in imitation of Greek and Roman styles, and the nation possessed a vigorous, growing industrial economy, while it had always been rather poor in the past. The change from the slower, more tranquil order of the old Germany was very sudden, and many, especially the nobility, resented being displaced by the new rich. And yet, the nobles clung stubbornly to power, and they, not the bourgeois, continued to be the model that everyone wanted to imitate. In imperial Germany, possessing a collection of medals or wearing a uniform was valued more than the size of one's bank account, and Berlin never became a great cultural center as London, Paris, or Vienna were. The empire was distinctly authoritarian in tone, as the 1871 constitution gave the emperor exclusive power to appoint or dismiss the chancellor. He also was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces and final arbiter of foreign policy. But freedom of speech, association, and religion were nonetheless guaranteed by the constitution.
Bismarck's domestic policies as Chancellor of Germany were characterized by his fight against perceived enemies of the Protestant Prussian state. In the so-called Kulturkampf (1872–1878), he tried to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and of its political arm, the Catholic Centre Party, through various measures — like the introduction of civil marriage — but without much success. The Kulturkampf antagonized many Protestants as well as Catholics, and was eventually abandoned. Millions of non-Germans subjects in the German Empire, like the Polish, Danish and French minorities, were discriminated against  and a policy of Germanization was implemented.
The other perceived threat was the rise of the Socialist Workers' Party (later known as the Social Democratic Party of Germany), whose declared aim was the establishment of a new socialist order through the transformation of existing political and social conditions. From 1878, Bismarck tried to repress the social democratic movement by outlawing the party's organization, its assemblies and most of its newspapers. Through the introduction of a social insurance system, on the other hand, he hoped to win the support of the working classes for the Empire.
Bismarck's post-1871 foreign policy was conservative and basically aimed at security and preventing the dreaded scenario of a Franco-Russian alliance, which would trap Germany between the two in a war.
The Three Emperor's League (Dreikaisersbund) was signed in 1872 by Russia, Austria and Germany. It stated that republicanism and socialism were common enemies and that the three powers would discuss any matters concerning foreign policy. Bismarck needed good relations with Russia in order to keep France isolated. In 1877-1878, Russia fought a victorious war with the Ottoman Empire and attempted to impose the Treaty of San Stefano on it. This upset the British in particular, as they were long concerned with preserving the Ottoman Empire and preventing a Russian takeover of the Bosporous Straits. Germany hosted the Congress of Berlin, whereby a more moderate peace settlement was agreed to. Afterwards, Russia turned its attention eastward to Asia and remained largely inactive in European politics for the next 25 years. Germany had no direct interest in the Balkans however, which was largely an Austrian and Russian sphere of influence, although King Carol of Romania was a German prince.
In 1879, Bismarck formed a Dual Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary, with the aim of mutual military assistance in the case of an attack from Russia, which was not satisfied with the agreement reached at the Congress of Berlin.
The establishment of the Dual Alliance led Russia to take a more conciliatory stance, and in 1887, the so-called Reinsurance Treaty was signed between Germany and Russia: in it, the two powers agreed on mutual military support in the case that France attacked Germany, or in case of an Austrian attack on Russia.
In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance to form a Triple Alliance. Italy wanted to defend its interests in North Africa against France's colonial policy. In return for German and Austrian support, Italy committed itself to assisting Germany in the case of a French military attack.
For a long time, Bismarck had refused to give in to Crown Prince Wilhelm II's aspirations of making Germany a world power through the acquisition of German colonies ("a place in the sun", originally a statement of Bernhard von Bülow). Bismarck wanted to avoid tensions between the European great powers that would threaten the security of Germany at all cost. But when, between 1880 and 1885, the foreign situation proved auspicious, Bismarck gave way, and a number of colonies were established overseas: in Africa, these were Togo, the Cameroons, German South-West Africa and German East Africa; in Oceania, they were German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Marshall Islands. In fact, it was Bismarck himself who helped initiate the Berlin Conference of 1885. He did it "establish international guidelines for the acquisition of African territory," (see Colonisation of Africa). This conference was an impetus for the "Scramble for Africa" and "New Imperialism".
In 1888, the old emperor William I died at the age of 90. His son Frederick III, the hope of German liberals, succeeded him, but was already stricken with throat cancer and died three months later. Frederick's son William II then became emperor at the age of 29. He was the antithesis of old, conservative Germans like Bismarck, addicted to the new imperialism that was taking place in Asia and Africa. He sought to make Germany a great world power with a navy to rival Britain's. Bismarck hoped to marginalize him just as he had marginalized his grandfather, but William II was on to Bismarck's tricks, and desired to be his own master. Having a left arm withered by childhood polio, he was painfully insecure and desired above all to be loved by the people. Bismarck's schemes to dominate the emperor and hold onto his own power failed, and he was forced to resign in March 1890. He died in 1898, spending his last years writing his memoirs and attacking William II (despite the latter's attempts at reconciliation).
 Wilhelminian Era
 Alliances and colonies
When Bismarck resigned, Wilhelm II had declared that he would continue the foreign policy of the old chancellor. But soon, a new course was taken, with the aim of increasing Germany's influence in the world (Weltpolitik). The Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was not renewed. Instead, France formed an alliance with Russia, against the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Alliance itself was undermined by differences between Austria and Italy.
From 1898, German colonial expansion in East Asia (Jiaozhou Bay, the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, Samoa) led to frictions with the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan and the United States. The construction of the Baghdad Railway, financed by German banks and heavy industry, and aimed at connecting the North Sea with the Persian Gulf via the Bosporus, also collided with British and Russian geopolitical and economic interests.
To protect Germany's overseas trade and colonies, Admiral von Tirpitz started a programme of warship construction in 1898. In 1890, Germany had purchased the island of Heligoland in the North Sea from Britain in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar and proceeded to construct a great naval base there. This posed a direct threat to British hegemony on the seas, with the result that negotiations for an alliance between Germany and Britain broke down. Germany was increasingly isolated. Otto von Bismarck's son Herbert, a member of the Reichstag since 1893, was one of the loudest anti-British voices in Germany until his death in 1904.
In 1905, Germany nearly came to blows with Britain and France when the latter attempted to establish a protectorate over Morocco. The Germans were upset at having not been informed about French intentions, and declared their support for Moroccan independence. William II made a highly provocative speech regarding this. The following year, a conference was held in which all of the European powers except Austria-Hungary (by now little more than a German satellite) sided with France. A compromise was agreed to where the French relinquished some, but not all, control over Morocco.
1911 saw another dispute over Morocco erupt when France tried to suppress a revolt there. Germany, still smarting from the previous quarrel, agreed to a settlement whereby the French ceded some territory in central Africa in exchange for Germany renouncing any right to intervene in Moroccan affairs. This confirmed French control over Morocco, which became a full protectorate of that country in 1912.
 World War I and revolution
Imperialist power politics and the determined pursuit of national interests ultimately led to the outbreak in 1914 of the First World War, sparked by the assassination, on June 28, 1914, of the Austrian heir-apparent Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo, in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina by a Serbian nationalist. The theorized underlying causes have included the opposing policies of the European states, the armaments race, German-British rivalry, the difficulties of the Austro-Hungarian multinational state, Russia's Balkan policy and overhasty mobilisations and ultimatums (the underlying belief being that the war would be short). Germany fought on the side of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire against Russia, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and several other smaller states. Fighting also spread to the Near East and the German colonies.
In the west, Germany fought a war of attrition with bloody battles. After a quick march through Belgium, German troops were halted on the Marne, north of Paris. The frontlines in France changed little until the end of the war. In the east there were decisive victories against the Russian army, the trapping and defeat of large parts of the Russian contingent at the Battle of Tannenberg, followed by huge Austrian and German successes led to a breakdown of Russian forces and an imposed peace on the newly created USSR under Lenin. Churchill ordered a naval blockade in the North Sea which lasted until 1919, crippling Germany's supplies of raw materials and foodstuffs. The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 following Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare marked a decisive turning-point against Germany.
The end of October 1918, in Kiel, in northern Germany, saw the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–19. Units of the German Navy refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war which they saw as good as lost, initiating the uprising. On November 3, the revolt spread to other cities and states of the country, in many of which so-called workers' and soldiers' councils were established.
Kaiser Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated. On November 9, 1918, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a Republic. On November 11, an armistice ending the war was signed at Compiègne. In accordance with the Social Democratic government by early 1919 the revolution was violently put down with the aid of the nascent Reichswehr and the Freikorps.
 Weimar Republic
On 28 June 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Germany was to cede Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen-Malmédy, North Schleswig, and the Memel area. All German colonies were to be handed over to the British and French. Poland was restored and most of the provinces of Posen and West Prussia, and some areas of Upper Silesia were reincorporated into the reformed country after plebiscites and independence uprisings. The left and right banks of the Rhine were to be permanently demilitarised. The industrially important Saarland was to be governed by the League of Nations for 15 years and its coalfields administered by France. At the end of that time a plebiscite was to determine the Saar's future status. To ensure execution of the treaty's terms, Allied troops would occupy the left (German) bank of the Rhine for a period of 5–15 years. The German army was to be limited to 100,000 officers and men; the general staff was to be dissolved; vast quantities of war material were to be handed over and the manufacture of munitions rigidly curtailed. The navy was to be similarly reduced, and no military aircraft were allowed. Germany and its allies were to accept the sole responsibility of the war, in accordance with the War Guilt Clause, and were to pay financial reparations for all loss and damage suffered by the Allies.
The humiliating peace terms provoked bitter indignation throughout Germany, and seriously weakened the new democratic regime.
On 11 August 1919 the Weimar constitution came into effect, with Friedrich Ebert as first President.
The two biggest enemies of the new democratic order, however, had already been constituted. In December 1918, the German Communist Party (KPD) was founded, followed in January 1919 by the establishment of the German Workers' Party, later known as the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). Both parties would make reckless use of the freedoms guaranteed by the new constitution in their fight against the Weimar Republic.
In the first months of 1920, the Reichswehr was to be reduced to 100,000 men, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles. This included the dissolution of many Freikorps - units made up of volunteers. Some of them made difficulties.[clarification needed] The discontent was exploited by the extreme right-wing politician Wolfgang Kapp. He let the rebelling Freikorps march on Berlin and proclaimed himself Reich Chancellor (Kapp Putsch). After only four days the coup d'état collapsed, due to lack of support by the civil servants and the officers. Other cities were shaken by strikes and rebellions, which were bloodily suppressed.
Faced with animosity from Britain and France and the retreat of American power from Europe, in 1922 Germany was the first state to establish diplomatic relations with the new Soviet Union. Under the Treaty of Rapallo, Germany accorded the Soviet Union de jure recognition, and the two signatories mutually cancelled all pre-war debts and renounced war claims.
When Germany defaulted on its reparation payments, French and Belgian troops occupied the heavily industrialised Ruhr district (January 1923). The German government encouraged the population of the Ruhr to passive resistance: shops would not sell goods to the foreign soldiers, coal-mines would not dig for the foreign troops, trams in which members of the occupation army had taken seat would be left abandoned in the middle of the street. The passive resistance proved effective, insofar as the occupation became a loss-making deal for the French government. But the Ruhr fight also led to hyperinflation, and many who lost all their fortune would become bitter enemies of the Weimar Republic, and voters of the anti-democratic right. See 1920s German inflation.
In September 1923, the deteriorating economic conditions led Chancellor Gustav Stresemann to call an end to the passive resistance in the Ruhr. In November, his government introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark (later: Reichsmark), together with other measures to stop the hyperinflation. In the following six years the economic situation improved. In 1928, Germany's industrial production even regained the pre-war levels of 1913.
On the evening of November 8, 1923, six hundred armed SA men surrounded a beer hall in Munich, where the heads of the Bavarian state and the local Reichswehr had gathered for a rally. The storm troopers were led by Adolf Hitler. Born in 1889 in Austria, a former volunteer in the German army during WWI, now a member of a new party called NSDAP, he was largely unknown until then. Hitler tried to force those present to join him and to march on to Berlin to seize power (Beer Hall Putsch). Hitler was later arrested and condemned to five years in prison, but was released at the end of 1924 after less than one year of detention.
The national elections of 1924 led to a swing to the right (Ruck nach rechts). Field Marshal Hindenburg, a supporter of the monarchy, was elected President in 1925.
In October 1925 the Treaty of Locarno was signed between Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Italy, which recognized Germany's borders with France and Belgium. Moreover, Britain, Italy and Belgium undertook to assist France in the case that German troops marched into the demilitarised Rheinland. The Treaty of Locarno paved the way for Germany's admission to the League of Nations in 1926.
The stock market crash of 1929 on Wall Street marked the beginning of the Great Depression. The effects of the ensuing world economic crisis were also felt in Germany, where the economic situation rapidly deteriorated. In July 1931, the Darmstätter und Nationalbank - one of the biggest German banks - failed, and, in early 1932, the number of unemployed rose to more than 6,000,000.
In addition to the flagging economy came political problems, due to the inability by the political parties represented in the Reichstag to build a governing majority. In March 1930, President Hindenburg appointed Heinrich Brüning Chancellor. To push through his package of austerity measures against a majority of Social Democrats, Communists and the NSDAP, Brüning made use of emergency decrees, and even dissolved Parliament. In March and April 1932, Hindenburg was re-elected in the German presidential election of 1932.
Of the many splinter parties the NSDAP was the largest in the national elections of 1932. The Prussian government had been ousted by a coup (Preussenschlag) in 1932. On July 31, 1932 the NSDAP had received 37.3% of the votes, and in the election on 6 November 1932 it received less, but still the largest share, 33.1, making it the biggest party in the Reichstag. The Communist KPD came third, with 15%. Together, the anti-democratic parties of right and left were now able to hold the majority of seats in Parliament. The NSDAP was particularly successful among young voters, who were unable to find a place in vocational training, with little hope for a future job; among the petite bourgeoisie (lower middle class) which had lost its assets in the hyperinflation of 1923; among the rural population; and among the army of unemployed.
On January 30, 1933, pressured by former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservatives, President Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler Chancellor.