May 23

This Day in History

Cold War

May 23, 1949:

Federal Republic of Germany is established

The Federal Republic of Germany (popularly known as West Germany) is formally established as a separate and independent nation. This action marked the effective end to any discussion of reuniting East and West Germany.

In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the British, French, Americans, and Soviets each controlling one zone. The city of Berlin was also divided in a like fashion. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. In May 1946, the United States halted reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In December, the United States and Great Britain combined their occupation zones into what came to be known as Bizonia. France agreed to become part of this arrangement, and in May 1949, the three zones became one.

On May 23, the West German Parliamentary Council met and formally declared the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although Konrad Adenauer, the president of the council and future president of West Germany, proudly proclaimed, "Today a new Germany arises," the occasion was not a festive one. Many of the German representatives at the meeting were subdued, for they had harbored the faint hope that Germany might be reunified. Two communist members of the council refused to sign the proclamation establishing the new state.

The Soviets reacted quickly to the action in West Germany. In October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was officially announced. These actions in 1949 marked the end of any talk of a reunified Germany. For the next 41 years, East and West Germany served as symbols of the divided world, and of the Cold War animosities between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1990, with Soviet strength ebbing and the Communist Party in East Germany steadily losing its grip on power, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one nation.

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