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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.




SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states - Germany


1 Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is blocked off with barbed wire on August 14-15, 1961

Even after the defeat of the Nazi regime, Germany was seen as the "key to Europe." Due to its economic potential and strategic position, it became hotly contested between West and East. This brought with it the partition of the country. The symbolic focus of the Cold War was the city of Berlin, a city partially controlled by Western forces in the middle of the Soviet occupation zone. In 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate became the symbol of the demise of the Communist state system.


The "Zero Hour"

With the surrender of the German armed forces, fascist rule came to an end. The aftermath of the Nazi destruction policies, as well as hunger and displacement, shaped the first postwar years.


The political reconstitution of Germany lay in the hands of the 5 Allies.

5 Americans and Russians shake hands on a
destroyed bridge near Torgau, April 25, 1945

They had already agreed on the division of the country and its capital into four zones of occupation, the creation of an Allied Control Council, and the demilitarization and denazification of the country. Austria was reestablished as a separate republic, though it was granted sovereignty only after ten years under Allied administration. Saarland came under French control, and the land east of the Oder and Neisse rivers was transferred to Poland, which fell under Soviet control.

In the Sudetenland region annexed to Czechoslovakia, the German population that had not yet fled was 2 displaced.

Important components of the demilitarization of Germany included the dissolution of the army and the Prussian state. Denazification culminated in the 3 Nuremberg trials of Nazis concerning the crimes committed under Hitler.

Criticism of the dissimilar practices of the Allies quickly began. In the Soviet zone, denazification was linked with political reform.

After 1946, every German in the Western zones had to complete ŕ 4 form for political inspection.

Numerous perpetrators were able, through attestations of discharge or so-called "Persil certificates" (named after a German laundry detergent), to "wash themselves clean."

The democratic reconstitution of West Germany began on a regional level. The federal states were created, and in the fall of 1946 the first elections took place. In the East, the Soviet occupation army had called for the formation of political parties in June 1945 but heavily supported the German Communist Party, which was led by Soviet immigrants of the "Ulbricht Group."


2 Refugees from the East on their way to Berlin, 1945

3 Trial against prisoners of war in
Nuremberg; in the first row from
the left: Goring, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel

4 Attestation of discharge, 1949



The Allied Control Council

The four commanders in chief of the Allied forces took over the government responsibility for "Germany as a whole" with the Berlin Declaration of June 5, 1945.

The Control Council had no executive power and so was reliant on the cooperation of the respective military governors in each region. The diverse interests of the Allies prevented agreement on almost every issue related to demilitarization and denazification.

In March of 1948, the Soviet representatives withdrew from the Control Council, and it never convened again.

Onlookers outside a Control Council meeting




The Founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR

In Germany, cooperation between the centrally planned economy of the Soviet occupation zone and the market economy of the other zones did not take place even in the most extreme situations.


During the harsh 6 winter of 1945-1946, energy and food supplies in Germany were exhausted.

The immediate hardship was eased somewhat by the 8 CARE (Cooperation for American Remittances to Europe) packages that were sent to individuals in Germany beginning in August 1946.

6 Women warm their hands after clearing up the rubble, 1945-1946

8 Distribution of CARE packages, 1946

After the failure of the Soviets 10 provide sufficient food supplies, the Western allies blocked the payment of German reparations to the Soviet Union. The July 1946 suggestion from the United States for the economic unification of the occupied zones was refused by the Soviet Union, as it suspected economic imperialism was behind the suggestion. As early as 1945, land reforms and expropriations had paved the way for a centrally planned economy in the Soviet zone. In April 1946, the Social Democratic party and the Communist party in the Soviet zone merged as the Socialist Unity party: other political parties were then forcibly integrated into this single party.

The Americans and British unified their occupied zones on January 1, 1947.

A currency reform was implemented in the combined zone as part of the newly created 9 Marshall Plan to help a destroyed Europe recover: the new 10 German mark was introduced on June 21,1948.

When the Western powers introduced the German mark in their sectors of Berlin, the Soviets responded with a blockade of the city. For eleven months, Berlin was supplied by an 7 air bridge: some 2,000 flights brought 2,3 million tons of goods into the city before the Soviets lifted their blockade in May 1949.

Thus, currency reforms were followed by the founding of two German states. In July 1948 the Western allies asked the prime minister of the federal states to
call for an election of a constituent National Assembly. The ministers instead worked out a Basic Constitutional Law. Signed on May 8.1948, by the Parliamentary Council, which was made up of the federal state parliaments, it-was approved by the Western allies and proclaimed on May 23, 1949.

In the Soviet zone, a People's Chamber that was dominated by the Socialist Unity party signed a draft constitution in May 1949, which it claimed applied to all of Germany: on October 7, 1949, the 11 German Democratic Republic was officially founded.

With the establishment of the competing states, the division of Germany for the next 40 years was sealed—even as both sides claimed to speak for Germany.

9 Houses are built for refugees to replace emergency accomodations

10 Temporary money, 1948

7 Arrival of a "raisin bomber" bringing food to Berlin, 1948

11 Founding of the German Democratic
Republic (GDR) on Oct 7, 1949;
Wilhelm Pieck at the microphone



Ernst Reuter

Born in 1889, Ernst Reuter was a Social Democrat from 1912 and briefly a member of the German Communist party. After his 1933 internment in a concentration camp, he went to Turkey as an adviser in 1935.

In 1947 he was elected mayor of Berlin but was prevented from taking office until 1948. As mayor from 1950 until his death in 1953, he led the resistance against the Berlin Blockade in 1948-1949:

"Peoples of the world, look to this city."

Rally in front of the Reichstag:
Ernst Reuter asks for help against
the Berlin Blockade, September 9, 1948




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