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, although the Roman provinces of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior were established along the Rhine. Following the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Franks conquered the other West Germanic tribes. When the Frankish Empire was divided among Charles the Great's heirs in 843, the eastern part became East Francia. In 962, Otto I became the first Holy Roman Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.


  • Germany as a country has only been in existence for just over a hundred years. But in that time they've started two world wars, they've had two military coups, they've been brought on the brink of starvation two times, and they've invaded almost all of their neighbors.
  • Historians usually focus their attention on the past of countries that still exist, writing hundreds and thousands of books on British history, French history, German history, Russian history, American history, Chinese history, Indian history, Brazilian history or whatever. Whether consciously or not, they are seeking the roots of the present, thereby putting themselves in danger of reading history backwards. As soon as great powers arise, whether the United States in the twentieth century or China in the twenty-first, the call goes out for offerings on American History or Chinese History, and siren voices sing that today’s important countries are also those whose past is most deserving of examination, that a more comprehensive spectrum of historical knowledge can be safely ignored.
    • Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (2011)
  • There was nothing worth saving in what the Nazis built — but could any non-fanatic plausibly say that everything German has been so tainted by Nazism that all expressions of Germanness (Goethe, Bach, Beethoven, all of it) should be annihilated? Of course not. Nor did the evil of Soviet communism negate the greatness of Russian culture. Both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, though, worked systematically to eliminate any perspective that challenged their respective ideologies — and not just their political monopolies. As proper totalitarians, they knew that cementing their power required controlling the culture’s memory.
  • In the study of German history, there is the notion of sonderweg, literally the “special path,” down which the German people are fated to wander. In different eras, and depending on who employed it, the term could imply different things. It began as a positive myth during the imperial period that some German scholars told themselves about their political system and culture. During and after World War II it turned distinctly negative, a way for outsiders to make sense of the singularity of Germany’s crimes. ... [W]hether viewed from within or without, left or right, the Germans could be seen through such a lens to possess some collective essence — a specialness — capable of explaining everything. In this way, one could speak of a trajectory “from Luther to Hitler” and interpret history not as some chaotic jumble but as a crisp, linear process.