History of Germany between 1946 - 1989
As a consequence of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Germany was split between the two global blocs in the East and West, a period known as the division of Germany. Germany was stripped of its war gains and lost territories in the east to Poland and the Soviet Union. Seven million prisoners and forced laborers left Germany, most of whom died either during their emigration of starvation, due to harsh conditions, or because they were worked to death. The total of German war dead was 8% to 10% out of a prewar population. Over 10 million German-speaking refugees arrived in Germany from other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Many German POWs became forced laborers to provide restitution to the countries Germany had devastated in the war and some industrial equipment was removed as reparations.
At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones by the Allies and did not regain independence until 1949. The Cold War divided Germany between the Allies in the west and Soviets in the east. Germans had little voice in government until 1949 when two states emerged; the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was a parliamentary democracy with a capitalist economic system and free churches and labour unions. The other new state was the smaller German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany), a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship with its leadership dominated by the Soviet-aligned Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in order to retain it within the Soviet sphere of influence.
In 1949, the three western occupation zones (American, British, and French) were combined into the Federal Republic of Germany. At all points West Germany was much larger and richer than East Germany, which became a dictatorship under the control of the Communist Party and was closely monitored by Moscow. Germany, especially Berlin, was a cockpit of the Cold War, with NATO and the Warsaw Pact assembling major military forces in west and east. However, there was never any combat.
West Germany enjoyed prolonged economic growth beginning in the early 1950s. Industrial production doubled from 1950 to 1957, and gross national product grew at a rate of 9 or 10% per year, providing the engine for economic growth of all of Western Europe. Labor union supported the new policies with postponed wage increases, minimized strikes, support for technological modernization, and a policy of co-determination, which involved a satisfactory grievance resolution system as well as requiring representation of workers on the boards of large corporations. The recovery was accelerated by the currency reform of June 1948, U.S. gifts of $1.4 billion as part of the Marshall Plan, the breaking down of old trade barriers and traditional practices, and the opening of the global market. West Germany gained legitimacy and respect, as it shed the horrible reputation Germany had gained under the Nazis.
West Germany played a central role in the creation of European cooperation; it joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1958.
Willy Brandt (1913–1992) was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in 1964–87 and West German Chancellor in 1969–1974. Under his leadership, the German government sought to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union and improve relations with the German Democratic Republic. Relations between the two German states had been icy at best, with propaganda barrages in each direction. The heavy outflow of talent from East Germany prompted the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, which worsened Cold War tensions and prevented East Germans from travel.
In 1949 the Soviet zone became the "Deutsche Demokratische Republik" under control of the Socialist Unity Party. Neither country had a significant army until the 1950s, but East Germany built the Stasi into a powerful secret police that infiltrated every aspect of the society.
East Germany was an Eastern bloc state under political and military control of the Soviet Union through her occupation forces and the Warsaw Treaty. Political power was solely executed by leading members of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party. A Soviet-style command economy was set up; later the GDR became the most advanced Comecon state. While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of the GDR's social programs and the alleged constant threat of a West German invasion, many of her citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity.
Walter Ulbricht (1893–1973) was the party boss from 1950 to 1971. In 1933, Ulbricht had fled to Moscow, where he served as a Comintern agent loyal to Stalin. As World War II was ending, Stalin assigned him the job of designing the postwar German system that would centralize all power in the Communist Party. Some 2.6 million people had fled East Germany by 1961 when he built the Berlin Wall to stop them — shooting those who attempted it. Ulbricht lost power in 1971, but was kept on as a nominal head of state. He was replaced because he failed to solve growing national crises, such as the worsening economy in 1969–70, the fear of another popular uprising as had occurred in 1953, and the disgruntlement between Moscow and Berlin caused by Ulbricht's détente policies toward the West.
The transition to Erich Honecker (General Secretary from 1971 to 1989) led to a change in the direction of national policy and efforts by the Politburo to pay closer attention to the grievances of the proletariat. Honecker's plans were not successful, however, with the dissent growing among East Germany's population.
In 1989, the socialist regime collapsed after 40 years, despite its omnipresent secret police, the Stasi. Main reasons for the collapse include severe economic problems and growing emigration towards the West.
The Erfurt Synagogue was built c. 1094. It is thought to be the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe. Thanks to the extensive preservation of the original structure, it has a special place in the history of art and architecture and is among the most impressive and highly rated architectural monuments in Erfurt and Thuringia. The synagogue was constructed during the Middle Ages on the via regia, one of the major European trade routes, at the heart of the historical old quarter very close to the Merchants Bridge and the town hall. Many parts of the structure still remain today, including all four thick outer walls, the Romanesque gemel window, the Gothic rose window and the entrance to the synagogue room.
After extensive restoration, the building was reopened in 2009. On display in the exhibition rooms is an collection of medieval treasures discovered during archaeological excavations. This includes 3,140 silver coins, 14 silver ingots, approx. 6,000 works of goldsmithery from the 13th and 14th centuries and an intricately worked wedding ring of the period, of which only two others are known to exist anywhere in the world. A mikveh (Jewish bath) has been excavated close by (13th/14th century). The Old Synagogue, the Small Synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries together form a network of historical buildings and sites which vividly portray the role of Jewish life in the history of Erfurt.