A Potted History of Germany and Austria


Wappen von Deutschland
und Österreich
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Now this is what 'Our Peter' didn't know about Germany and Austria - apart for the bit at the end about the First and Second World Wars - but this is mainly for you, the reader.
If you know all about Germany and Austria, then you can skip this.
Peter, of course, like most of his school-friends  knew about the Second World War because of the plethora of war films that were produced in the 1940s and 1950s.

'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958)
These films included 'The Way Ahead' (1944), 'In Which We Serve' (1942), from the forties, and 'The Dam Busters' (1954), 'Dunkirk' (1958), 'Reach for the Sky' (1956), 'The Wooden Horse' (1950), 'The Colditz Story' (1955), 'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958), from the fifties - and there were many more.

'Paths of Glory' (1957)
There was only one significant film about the First World War shown in Britain in the 1950's and that was Stanley Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory' (1957) - which Peter didn't see.

 Mr Wilkinson ?
What he did see, however, was a number of books belonging to Uncle Jack, (John Crawford's brother in law), and a book he was given by Mr Wilkinson - (the 'odd' gentleman living in the next house, who seemed to be Crowley's double).
Peter's main interest in these books was looking at the photos and illustrations of the various uniforms.
Oddly he preferred the German uniforms - not the first World War vintage, with the soldiers wearing quaint pickelhaubes, but the Second World war uniforms, and in particular the infamous SS.

SS Armanen Sig Runes
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Adolf Hitler
First World War Pickelhaube
The Pickelhaube (plural Pickelhauben; from the old German Pickel = "point" or "pickaxe", and Haube = "bonnet", a general word for headgear), also "Pickelhelm," was a spiked helmet worn in the 19th and 20th centuries by German military, firefighters, and police.

The Schutzstaffel (translated to Protection Squadron or defence corps, abbreviated SS - or  with stylized "Armanen" sig runes) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP.

As for the rest of this potted history - Peter knew nothing - which may say something about the English education system.


Hundreds of years before Christ a group of people speaking similar languages emerged in northern Europe. They were the first Germanic peoples.

In 9 AD the Germanic people beyond the Rhine inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman army in a battle at the Teutoberg Forest.

The battle ensured that the Romans never conquered Germany beyond the Rhine, however the Romans occupied southern and western Germany. They founded a number of towns which still survive (Augsburg, Cologne, Mainz, Regensburg and Trier).
In 771 Charlemagne became king of the Franks. In 772 he attacked the Saxons. The Saxons were defeated and were 'converted' to Christianity by force. Charlemagne also annexed Bavaria. In 800 he was crowned emperor.
In 843 Charlemagne died and his empire was divided into three kingdoms, west, middle and east.


Then in 911 Conrad, Duke of Franconia was elected king of Germany. He died in 918 and was replaced by Duke Henry of Saxony. 
When he died in 936 his son Otto became king of Germany. He is known as Otto the Great. In 955 Otto utterly defeated the Magyars at the battle of Lechfeld, ending the threat to Germany forever. In 962 the Pope crowned Otto emperor. 
Otto and the following emperors claimed they were the successors to the ancient Roman Empire. So their Germanic empire was called the Roman Empire. In 1157 it was called the Holy Roman Empire.

The Golden Bull of 1356
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
By 1500 the Holy Roman Empire was like a patchwork quilt of different units.
Germany grew richer in the early middle ages and the population rose sharply (until the 14th century). 
From 1220 to 1250 Frederick II was emperor. He was known as stupor mundi (wonder of the world) because of his brilliant mind. However in 1254 central authority broke down completely. From 1254 to 1273 there was no emperor. 
In 1356 Karl IV issued a document called the 'golden bull', which lay down the rules for electing emperors.
In the late 14th and 15th centuries there were a series of peasant uprisings in Germany. Furthermore impoverished noblemen called robber barons roamed the countryside.


Martin Luther
Wappen des Heiligen Römischen
Reiches Deutscher Nation
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
In the 16th century the empire's title changed to the 'Holy Roman Empire of the German nation'
Then in 1517 the great Christian scholar Martin Luther started the Reformation when he nailed his theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In 1521 the heads of the various German states met in an Imperial Diet at Worms. Martin Luther was called to account and he stood by his views. The Reformation split Germany, with some states accepting his teachings and others rejecting them.
Then in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg declared that princes could decide the religion of their state. Anyone who disagreed with their ruler could emigrate.

Meanwhile Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and the Old Testament in 1534.


Des Westfälischen Friedens
In the early 17th century the uneasy peace between Protestants and Catholics broke down. The Protestants formed a military alliance in 1608. In response the Catholics formed the Catholic League in 1609, and there were a series of wars between the protestants and the Catholics.

The wars dragged on until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 signed in Münster.

The Thirty Years War was a disaster for Germany, and Germany took decades to recover from the destruction.

Wappen des Königreichs
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
The main development in Germany during the 18th century was the rise of Prussia. In the 17th century the Hohenzolleron family ruled both Brandenburg and East Prussia. In 1701 the ruler of both was Elector Frederick III. In that year he crowned himself King of Prussia. Soon the whole realm was called Prussia.

However at first Prussia was an economically backward area. It only rose to greatness under Frederick II 'The Great', who became king in 1740. Frederick had a very large army and he was a capable general, which allowed him to fight successful wars.

On 10 April 1741 the Prussians defeated the Austrians at the battle of Mollwitz.

Austria made peace in 1742 but the peace did not last long. War began again in 1745.
Frederick the Great
The Prussians won a series of battles at Hohenfriedberg on 4 June, at Soor on 30 September and at Hennersdorf on 23 November. Frederick II ended the war in December 1745 with his territory enlarged.
In 1756 Prussia went to war again when Frederick invaded Saxony. However this time Frederick II was faced with a powerful coalition of enemies.
Nevertheless the Prussians won two victories at Rossback in November 1757 and at Leuthen in December 1757. The Prussians also defeated the Russians at the battle of Zorndorf in 1758.

However the tide of war then turned against the Prussians and they were defeated at the battle of Minden in 1759. Fortunately in January 1762, one of Frederick's most powerful enemies, Elizabeth of Russia, died and her son made peace with the Treaty of St Petersburg. The war ended in 1763.


 Napoléon Bonaparte
Empereur des Français
Flagge der Rheinbund
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
In July 1806 Napoleon created the Rheinbund (Confederation of the Rhine), which was made up of 16 German states.
The Holy Roman Empire officially ceased to exist on 6 August 1806.

Then, in September 1806 Prussia went to war with France. However Napoleon crushed the Prussians at Jena on 14 October 1806.
In 1812 the French were utterly defeated in Russia. In 1813 Prussia joined Russia in the war against the French. Austria also joined and in October 1813 the combined armies defeated the French at the battle of Leipzig.

After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 the Congress of Vienna met to decide the fate of Europe. A German confederation was formed to replace the old Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of 38 states. An assembly called the Bundestag, made up of delegates from the states was formed.
Prussia was the biggest winner from the peace. It gained the Rhineland and Westphalia. In 1834 the Prussians and other German states formed a customs union called the Zollverein.
In the 1830s Germany began to industrialise. 
Klemens Lothar
Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg
zu Beilstein
Meanwhile an Austrian minister named Metternich tried to prevent the ideas of the French Revolution spreading in Germany. His measures were called the Karlsbad decrees.
In 1818 Baden and Bavaria introduced liberal constitutions. So did Wurttemberg in 1819 and Hessen-Darmstadt in 1820. Furthermore in 1830 a revolution in France triggered riots in parts of Germany and some German rulers were forced to make concessions.
In 1831 Brunswick, Hesse and Saxony all introduced new constitutions.
However in Prussia and Austria all liberal movements were repressed.
Then, after 1845 there were a series of bad harvests and also a recession. Discontent erupted in revolution in 1848.
In May 1848 an elected assembly representing all Germany met in Frankfurt.
On 2 April 1849 the Frankfurt parliament offered the King of Prussia the crown of Germany. However he rejected the offer. The Frankfurt parliament gradually dispersed.


Then, in 1863 the Danish king tried to annexe the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Both Prussia and Austria fought a short war against Denmark in 1864.
As a result Prussia and Austria were given joint administration of the two duchies.
Disagreements with Austria over the duchies gave Prussia a pretext to start a war in 1866. It was over within a short period.
Wappen des
Norddeutschen Bund
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

On 3 July 1866 Prussia won a great victory over the Austrians at Koniggratz. Afterwards a peace treaty created the Norddeutscher Bund (North German Federation) dominated by Prussia.

Napoleon III and Bismark
Bismarck, the German chancellor, then quarrelled with France over the issue of who was to succeed to the Spanish throne.
The French declared war on 19 July 1870, however the French were utterly defeated at the battle of Sedan on 2 September 1870, and they made peace in February 1871.

Meanwhile the southern German states agreed to become part of a new German Empire with the Prussian king as emperor. Wilhelm I was proclaimed emperor on 18 January 1871. Bismarck resigned in 1890.


Otto Fürst von Bismarck
Herzog von Lauenburg

Bismarck always pursued friendly relations with Britain but under his successors it was different. From 1898 under Admiral Tirpitz Germany began expanding its navy. Europe became divided into two armed camps, with Germany and Austria-Hungary one side and Britain, France and Russia on the other. The spark that ignited war came on 28 June 1914 when the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.

Chateau Wood - Ypres - 1917
In August 1914 the Germany army overran Belgium and marched on Paris. However they were defeated at the battle of the Marne in September. Both sides began a 'race for the sea'. Both sides reached it at the same time. They then dug trenches and years of deadlock followed.
In the east the Germany was more successful.
Paul von Beneckendorff
und von Hindenburg
They crushed the Russians at the battle of Tannenberg. Russia gradually weakened and finally made peace by the treaty of Brest-Litvosk in March 1918.

Wilhelm II Kaiser von Deutschland
und König von Preuße
Meanwhile in 1917 Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare.
As a result the USA declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917.
In Europe the Allies slowly advanced, and on 29 September 1918 General Hindenburg advised the government that the war could not be won.
The Kaiser abdicated on 9 November and the Social Democrats formed a new government. On 11 November they were forced to sign the Versailles Treaty with the allies, and pay huge reparations for starting the war.


The Versailles Treaty.
Wappen der Weimarer
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
In Germany, in Weimar, a new constitution was drawn up.
In 1919 the German government were forced to sign the Versailles Treaty. However the vast majority of Germans bitterly resented the Versailles Treaty.
Under the treaty Germany lost a significant part of its territory and its population.
Furthermore the Rhineland was demilitarized. In any case Germany was not allowed more than 100,000 soldiers. The Germans were not allowed submarines or battleships. They were not allowed an air force either.

Spartacists Rebellion
Berlin 1919
From the start there were attempts to overthrow the government. In January 1919 a group of communists called Spartacists led a rebellion in Berlin.
The communist uprising in Berlin was crushed by the Freikorps (free corps).
In April 1919 more communists seized power in Bavaria.

Wolfgang Kapp
Again the Freikorps crushed them. Then in March 1920 a group of Freikorps led by Dr Kapp tried to take control of Berlin. The army refused to put down the rebellion but the trade unions in Berlin ordered a general strike. As a result the Kapp putsch was defeated.
Anton Drexler 
The early 1920s were years of hardship and near-starvation for many people in Germany.

Meanwhile in January 1919 Anton Drexler formed the German Workers Party in Munich. In September 1919 an Austrian named Adolf Hitler joined.
In 1920 the party's name was changed to the National Socialist Germany Workers Party or NAZI party.
In 1923 Hitler and his supporters marched through Munich they were met by state troopers in the Odeonplatz.
In the skirmish that followed 4 troopers and 16 Nazis were killed and the Munich putsch promptly collapsed.
The year 1923 the price of goods rose very quickly and the government started printing excessive amounts of money. These two factors, the printed money and the shortage of foods caused inflation in Germany to become hyper-inflation.
Adolf Hitler In 1921 
As a result of the hyperinflation people lost their life savings. Money they had in the bank became virtually worthless. On the other hand anyone in debt saw their debts virtually disappear.
Finally in August 1923 Gustav Streseman became chancellor of Germany. He issued a new currency the Rentenmark to replace the mark, which had become almost worthless. The depression of the early 1930s was a disaster for Germany. By 1933 unemployment in Germany had risen to 33%.
One effect of the depression was that the democratic parties lost support. Instead people turned to radical parties like the communists or the National Socialists, who promised seemingly easy solutions to Germany's problems.
By 1932 the NSDAP were the largest party in the Reichstag.
On January 30 1933 President Hindenburg asked Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany and to lead a coalition government.

Das Dritte Reich
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
On 28 February President Hindenburg was persuaded to sign 'Presidential Decree for the Protection of the People and the State', which allowed arbitrary arrest.
As a result all the leading Communists were arrested.
The last election in Weimar Germany was held on 5 March 1933. As a result the Nazis were left in control of the Reichstag.
In March 1933 Hitler persuaded the Reichstag to pass the enabling law.
This would give Hitler the power to pass new laws without the consent of the Reichstag.

Deutsche Arbeitsfront
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
In May Hitler created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) under Robert Ley. It set levels of pay and hours of work.

Ernst Röhm 1934
Finally Hitler consolidated his grip on power with a purge called the Night of the Long Knives on 30 June 1934.
Hitler arrested Röhm the leader of the SA.
The SS arrested other important figures in the SA and other prominent critics of the regime.
All of them were shot.
Then on 2 August 1934 President Hindenburg died.
Hitler, the Chancellor took over the President's powers and called himself Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor).
The army were made to swear an oath of loyalty of Hitler.


Berliner Olympiastadion - 1936
The Nazis managed to eliminate unemployment in Germany. Partly they did this by rearming (even though this meant breaking the Versailles Treaty). In 1935 Hitler announced that Germany had an air force. He also introduced conscription. In

1936 German troops entered the Demilitarised zone of the Rhineland. Britain and France did nothing.

Hitler also built roads called autobahns across Germany and he built great public buildings such as the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
To keep the workers happy an organisation was formed called (Strength Through Joy). Some workers went on cheap holidays to places like Norway and Italy. However, more often they organised cheap concerts and trips to the theatre.


© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Hitlerjugend Fahnenträger
The government arranged for cheap radios to be made so as many people as possible could afford one. The NSDAP also used the cinema.
The NSDAP attacked modern art, which they called degenerate.
The Nazis also disliked jazz music, which they regarded as decadent.
To further influence young people the NSDAP created the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth), which was an organisation boys could join at the age of 14. They went camping and hiking but also learned Nazi ideas.
In 1936 membership was effectively made compulsory. For girls the Nazis created the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls).


On 1 September 1939 the German Army invaded Poland.
On 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany, however Poland was soon overrun. On 17 September the Russians invaded Poland from the east and by early October Polish resistance was crushed. Then in April 1940 the Germans occupied Denmark and they invaded Norway. They captured Norway in early June. Meanwhile in May 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
The German army was astonishingly successful and France capitulated in late June, however Britain fought on.
In 1941 German troops were sent to fight the British in North Africa. Meanwhile the Germany army conquered Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete.
In June 1941 Hitler invaded Russia, and on 11 December 1941 he declared war on the USA.
At first the war had little impact on German civilians. Hitler was convinced that a collapse of morale at home had cost Germany the First World War and he was determined to prevent the same thing happening again. So in 1940-1941 German civilians still had quite a high standard of living. However in 1942 food rations were reduced.
Then at the end of 1942 the British won the battle of El Alamein in Egypt. 
In November 1942 the Russian army surrounded the Germans at Stalingrad.
Part of the German army there surrendered on 31 January 1943.
The remaining part surrendered on 2 February. After this disaster Germany was losing the war. Also British and American bombing began to destroy German cities and industry.
The German troops in North Africa surrendered in May 1943. In July 1943 the allies invaded Sicily and in September they invaded Italy. On 6 June 1944 the allies invaded Normandy and opened a second front. By the autumn of 1944 they had liberated France and Belgium. 
By January 1945 the Russians were poised to invade Germany.
Civilians from East Prussia fled in terror. Then as the Russians entered Germany they committed terrible atrocities. Finally on 2 May 1945 the Russians captured Berlin, bringing the war to an end.


Nürnberg Trial - 1945

Following the surrender Germany was divided into four zones, American, British, French and Russian. Berlin, although it was within the Russian area, was also divided into zones.

The surviving leaders of the Third Reich were brought to trial at Nürnberg in November 1945.

Soon the Russians and the western powers drifted apart and it became clear that Germany was not going to be reunited. The Russians stripped East Germany of its resources but the Americans gave aid to West Germany and the rest of Western Europe. This aid was called the Marshall plan and it was paid from 1948 to 1952.

Wappen der Bundesrepublik
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

Meanwhile in 1948 the three western powers introduced a new currency into their zones. The Russians responded by blocking all land routes to West Berlin (which was occupied by the western powers). The western allies flew in supplies for the next 11 months until the Russians relented.
In the west a new state called the Federal Republic of Germany was formed on 23 May 1949.
In the 1950s and 1960s West Germany went through an 'economic miracle'.
The devastation caused by World War II was repaired and the economy boomed.
Meanwhile, in 1955, West Germany was allowed to join NATO and rearm.
Then, in 1957, West Germany was one of the founder members of the EEC (forerunner of the EU).

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

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