Visual History of the World




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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 -


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 î partition of the country. The symbolic focus of the Cold War (p. 532) 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.


German Reunification 1989-1990

The rapid collapse of the East German government accelerated the unification process. The Kohl-Genscher Government won the support of the four Allies for the reunification of Germany.


After the opening of Hungary's western border in the furtherance of pcrestroika on September 11,1989, tens of thousands of East German citizens left their country for the West. Others fled through the West German embassies in Warsaw and Prague.

That month, peaceful protests began against the East German government's unwillingness to reform, and the number of participants in the 2 "Monday demonstrations" increased steadily.

On October 23,300,000 people marched through central Leipzig under the slogan "We are the people."

On 4 November 4,1989, a million citizens gathered at Alexanderplatz in Berlin to demand freedom of opinion, freedom to travel, and free elections.

The Socialist Unity Party finally opened the 5 border to the Federal Republic on November 9, 1989, but by then the aim had gone beyond simply reforming the German Democratic Republic.

Instead, demands for unification of the two German states became louder.

2 One of the demonstrations that were
held every Monday, Leipzig, October 1989

4 Demonstrators in front of the Palace of the
Republic in East Berlin, November 4, 1989

5 Berlin, after the border at the Glienicke Bridge
was opened. November 10, 1989

The first 6 free elections to the Volkskammer in East Germany took place on March 18, 1990, and the Socialist Unity Party's successor—the Party of Democratic Socialism—won only 16 percent of the votes.

The conservative Alliance for Germany, under Minister-President Lothar de Maiziere, took power and began negotiating a reunification treaty with the West German government.

The rapidly worsening economic situation in East Germany and the continuing wave of departures led to the ratification of an 1 economic, currency, and social union between the two states.

It came into effect on July 1, 1990, as an important first step to reunification.

The actual merger of East and West into a single Germany could only be achieved with the acquiescence of the victorious powers of World War II, however, and so the 3 "Two Plus Four Agreement" was negotiated among both German governments and the foreign ministers of the Allied forces, giving back full sovereignty to a unified Germany 45 years after the end of the war.

The reunification was scaled on October 3, 1990.

6 Election posters for the Volkskammer in East Germany on March, 18, 1990

1 The unification treaty between the FRG and the GDR is signed, 1990

3 Meeting prior to the "Two Plus Four Agreement,"
Genscher (third from left) and Meckel (second from right)



The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989


"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

A seminal moment in the years preceding the fall of the wall was Ronald Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987. While commemorating the 750th anniversary of the founding of the city of Berlin, Reagan challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to liberate the Soviet bloc nations, saying:

"We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Fall of the Berlin Wall




Germany in the Present

The unified Germany had to fight economic and domestic difficulties even as it actively participated in the project of European integration.


The protest movement in East Germany gave birth to numerous opposition parties and organizations which were so large that the state's repressive apparatus could not contain them. In 1990, East German civil rights groups joined together with the West German Greens to form "Alliance 90-The Greens."

The representatives of these civil rights movements played a decisive role in the 11 dissolution of the GDR's Ministry for State Security and the public release of secret service documents.

The first German Bundestag elections brought a clear victory for the governing coalition under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, showing broad public support for the unification process. Still, the implementation of the unification proved to be an immense economic and political challenge.

The 8 ailing industries in the East almost entirely collapsed, in the context of the competitive West German industrial structures and the ensuing loss of jobs and social welfare cuts led to mass protests in many eastern German towns.

About a year after unification, numerous attacks by right-wing radicals on foreigners and asylum seekers shook the country. The excesses were watched with worry both inside and outside the country, particularly given Germany's historical record of fascism and xenophobia. At the end of 1992, however, 100,000 people staged a demonstration against racism and intolerance.

Today Germany is the most populous nation in Europe and is still 10 economically strong.

11 The former G DR Ministry of State Security in Berlin-Lichtenberg

8 The Wildau Company, starting in 1951 an East German state-owned mechanical engineering company, in 1994

10 The modern architecture of Potsdamer Platz,
all built since 1989 on the site of the former
no-man's-land around the Berlin Wall, 2000

After the successful reunification, it has actively campaigned for the unification of Europe: the currency union and enlargement of the European Union to the east have been shaped by German initiatives. During the time of the Cold War, Germany had foregone worldwide involvement, but since the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the country has taken on increasing global responsibilities.

An important expression of this was the participation of German soldiers in the 7 UN peacekeeping operation in Kosovo in 1999, agreed by the Red-Green coalition under 9 Gerhard Schroder, who won the Bundestag elections in 1998.

7 German UN peacekeeping soldiers

9 Gerhard Schroder

9 The new Federal Chancellery in Berlin,
built between 1997 and 2001



1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany

Article 1.1

The united Germany shall comprise the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, and the whole of Berlin. Its external borders shall be the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic and shall be definitive from the date on which the present Treaty comes into force. The confirmation of the definitive nature of the borders of the united Germany is an essential element of the peaceful order in Europe.


Gerhard Schroder

Gerhard Schroder

chancellor of Germany

born April 7, 1944, Mossenberg, near Detmold, Germany

German politician, chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005.

Having practiced law in Hannover, Schröder was elected to the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in 1980 and served there until 1986, when he lost an election for premier of the state of Lower Saxony. He led the Social Democratic Party (SPD) opposition in the state parliament until he was elected to the premiership in 1990. The SPD joined with the Greens, a left-leaning environmentalist party, in a “Red-Green” coalition government until 1994, when the SPD won a clear majority. Schröder’s strong showing in the March 1998 state elections clinched his nomination as the party’s candidate for federal chancellor, and in the fall of 1998 he led the SPD to electoral victory and formed a coalition government with the Greens.

As chancellor, Schröder was concerned with promoting European integration, reducing Germany’s high rate of unemployment, limiting the use of nuclear power in energy production (a goal that was important to his coalition partners, the Greens), and furthering the economic reconstruction of eastern Germany. His government liberalized German laws on citizenship, allowing children of foreign parents to assume dual nationality and to choose their preferred nationality on entering adulthood, and deployed German troops in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2001). Despite economic stagnation and continuing high unemployment, Schröder was reelected as chancellor in 2002.

The early part of his second term was dominated by a diplomatic confrontation between members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, which then included Germany, over UN efforts to ensure that Iraq did not continue to possess biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. In November 2002 Germany supported a Security Council resolution requiring the return to Iraq of weapons inspectors, who had been withdrawn in 1998. In December, U.S. President George W. Bush charged that Iraq had failed to cooperate fully with the weapons inspectors; two months later, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Spain introduced a second resolution explicitly authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. Schröder, along with French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, publicly opposed the resolution, proposing instead a toughened inspections regime. The disagreement led to a major rift in German-American relations. When the United States and the United Kingdom led an attack on Iraq in March 2003, Schröder expressed his country’s strong opposition to the campaign.

On the domestic front, Germany’s economy continued to worsen, and in 2003 Schröder announced a major reform program, which included cuts to the country’s generous welfare system. The proposed changes proved unpopular, especially with Germany’s powerful unions, and in 2004 Schröder stepped down as party leader. After the SPD’s poor showing in the 2005 regional elections, Schröder engineered an early general election, in which the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, won a narrow victory but failed to capture a majority. Following weeks of negotiations, a coalition government was created with Angela Merkel of the CDU as chancellor. Schröder declined a cabinet position in the new administration.

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