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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

HISTORY OF GERMANY - An Introduction

Most people's interest in German history probably begins at the time of The Napoleonic Wars in the early part of the 19th century. But, as everyone knows, a study of the more distant past allows a greater understanding of any history taken as a whole, and indeed of any country at the present day.

Before the Romans there is no written history of the land and its people, which today we call Germany. Thus the story proper begins with Northern tribes from the dark forests of Germany coming into contact with Rome through trade, thereby evoking Roman interest in this distant land. And indeed Rome, in the person of Julius Caesar, began to advance north from Roman Gaul. The story of Roman Germania is really a story of advances followed by retreats, the pattern recurring over the years. The Romans never penetrated into the Northern areas but confined themselves to the south, with Roman cities established, inter alia, at Cologne and Trier, along The Rhine. The Elbe proved a bridge too far, and the Rhine formed a natural barrier, as the Romans would have seen it, between civilisation and barbarism.

Migration southwards into Roman territory in the third century CE was eventually to lead to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire itself.

Medieval German history is a story of the failure of Charlemagne the Great's (768-814) heirs to sustain his vast Empire, including much of modern Germany. The real story of Medieval Germany becomes one of the establishment of many states and statelets, of The Holy Roman Empire (of which it was said it was neither holy nor Roman!), of The Christian Order of The Teutonic Knights, and of the great trading empire of The Hanseatic League.

Sixteenth century Germany was a hotbed of The Reformation, much stemming from the Catholic monk, Martin Luther. Germany remains divided today between largely Protestant areas (around old Prussia in the north) and Catholic areas (around Bavaria in the south). It was also a great centre for printing, and most of us know the name of Gutenberg.

Such a divided country, in terms of religion and inter state rivalries, led to the disastrous Thirty Years War, 1618-48.

The eighteenth century saw the change in name of the north German state of Brandenburg-Prussia to simply Prussia, the beating heart of 19th century Germany and the great Bismarck. It was Prussia that was defeated at Jena, and Prussia that unified Germany after the 1870/71 Franco Prussian War.

And here the story becomes very much a modern one ..................................

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