Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



The Path to European Unity

SINCE 1947


Immediately after the war, Europe had to be rebuilt. In the western half of the continent, the United States fostered the establishment of market economies, while in the east the Soviet Union saw to the installation of centrally planned economies. The political structures also developed in divergent ways, and two political and economic blocs became established. Until the end of the confrontation between these two blocs, European interest in integration was confined to the West. After 1989, the expansion of the union eastward made it possible to overcome the division of the continent.


Between Division and Rapprochement in Europe

The different economic policies of the Allies divided Europe into two opposing camps and resulted in cohesion within the blocs.


George Marshall, the US secretary of state, announced a reconstruction program for Europe on June 5,1947.

The 1, 2 "Marshall Plan" was formally offered to all European states, but the Soviet Union refused to participate and prevented the acceptance of the plan within its sphere of influence.

1 German poster promoting the Marshall Plan,

2 Marshall Plan aid for France:
tractors from the United States
arrive in Le Havre; ca. 1948

The distribution of Marshall Plan aid in Western Europe was taken over by the OEEC, a supranational board that was succeeded by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1961. In Eastern Europe, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) oversaw the development of centrally planned economics.

Plans for European unity in Western Europe emerged as soon as World War II was over. These were implemented initially on an economic and military level.

French foreign minister 3 Robert Schuman, for example, encouraged the joint management of coal and steel production, which was intended to benefit economic development and also to contribute to the prevention of war in Europe.

3 "What's behind it?" Booklet
about the Schuman Plan:
Robert Schuman (left) and
Konrad Adenauer, 1951

France, Germany, the Benelux states, and Italy became members of the Monetary Union in 1951.

The 5 Treaties of Rome followed in 1957, containing a protocol to found a European Economic Community (EEC) with the aim of establishing a Common Market and a unifying economic policy.

Further elements were the founding of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for peaceful nuclear energy research and development.

The Western European countries moved closer together militarily as well. In 1948 France, Great Britain, and the Benelux states signed the Brussels Defense Community treaty.

This was supcrceded by the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in 1949 by ten states of Western Europe as well as the United States and Canada, which led to the foundation the military and defense alliance of the 4 NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

In response, the military 6 Warsaw Pact was founded in Eastern Europe, and the division of the continent had become fact.

5 Signing of the Treaties of Rome on March 25, 1957, in Rome

4 NATO conference in Paris, 1959

6 The GDR becomes a member of
the Warsaw Pact in 1956



From the European Community to the European Union

In 1965 the European Community was founded. Later restructured as the European Union, in the course of its existence it has taken up numerous new members and expanded geographically. Simultaneously its economic and political challenges have grown.


The development of Europe as a political union was initially slow. France refused political involvement in a supranational framework.

Instead it intensified cooperation with Germany: On January 22,1963, French president Charles de Gaulle and German chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the 7 Elysee Treaty, which called for mutual consultation on all important decisions concerning foreign policy and in cultural areas.

However, the process of European economic integration could not be forestalled. In 1965 the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community (EEC), and Euratom formed the European Community (EC).

A European Council was founded, in which individual governments were represented, along with a joint 11 commission that guards the interests of the EC on an international basis.

7 The treaty concerning the cooperation between Germany and France is signed in Paris at the Elysee Palace on January 22, 1963, by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle

11 View of the European commission building in Brussels,

Further governmental organs include the 10 European Parliament, which is elected directly by the people of the member states, and the European Court of Justice.

A further milestone on the path to a united Europe was the Maastricht Treaty, signed on February 7, 1992. It forms the basis for a joint European foreign and security policy, closer cooperation in the areas of justice and home affairs, and the creation of an economic and currency union. The European Community became the European Union (EU) on November 1, 1993.

In 1999 the 8 euro replaced the local currencies of twelve EU countries.

From that point on, the 12 European Central Bank became responsible for EU monetary policy.

10 House of the European Council and the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

8 The euro: the currency of the
European Union

12 The European Central Bank
building in Frankfurt

Several additional European states strove to take part in the strengthening European Union. Whereas before the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 only Western European states had joined, since then many countries in Eastern and Central Europe have applied for membership; ten of them were accepted into the union in 2004.

EU laws now noticeably affect the work of national governments, which has led to criticism of the lack of transparency in the decision-making structures and the paternalism of the 9 Brussels bureaucracy.

Each country has different future goals: whether the EU should be oriented more along political or economic lines is debated. The 2001 Treaty of Nice has left open both options.

9 Farmers demonstrating against the
agrarian reform of the EU "Agenda 2000"
in Schwerin, Germany, 1999



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