Germany Splits into Two Republics

The formation of two German republics—the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany—powerfully symbolized the division of Cold War-era Europe into two hostile blocs: Eastern socialist and Western democratic.

Summary of Event

Set in motion by passage of the Basic Law on May 23, 1949, the formal establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) occurred on September 21 and October 7, 1949, respectively. The creation of these two separate German states was the ultimate consequence of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that evolved soon after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The division of Germany came to symbolize the division of the world into Eastern and Western blocs and represented one of the most serious threats to world peace. [kw]Germany Splits Into Two Republics (Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949)
[kw]Two Republics, Germany Splits Into (Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949)
[kw]Republics, Germany Splits Into Two (Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949)
West Germany
East Germany
Cold War;Germany
West Germany
East Germany
Cold War;Germany
[g]Europe;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[g]East Germany;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[g]West Germany;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[g]Germany;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[c]Cold War;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
[c]Government and politics;Sept. 21-Oct. 7, 1949: Germany Splits Into Two Republics[03000]
Adenauer, Konrad
Byrnes, James Francis
Clay, Lucius DuBignon
Heuss, Theodor
Ulbricht, Walter

At the close of World War II, the Allied Powers had concerned themselves only in a limited way with the future of Germany. In effect, they had decided to divide the prewar territory of the German Reich into eight separate parts. The most important were the four zones of occupation. Germany;postwar occupation The capital city of Berlin was given separate special status, placed under four-power control and divided into four occupation sectors. East Prussia was divided, the northern half given to the Soviet Union and the southern half placed under Polish administration, along with all the territory east of a line formed by the Oder and the western Neisse Rivers. In addition, the Saar region was given special status and placed under French control.

Regarding the control machinery for the occupation zones, it was stipulated that each Allied commander in chief would function as military governor in his respective occupation zone. Matters of common concern to all of occupied Germany were to be dealt with by an Allied Control Council Allied Control Council . These arrangements were intended to be temporary, pending more detailed and permanent agreements for the uniform political and economic administration of Germany. Such agreements, however, would not materialize for thirty-five years.

At the Potsdam Conference Potsdam Conference (1945)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings in the summer of 1945, the victorious Allies reiterated their intentions for defeated Germany. These included complete disarmament and demilitarization; the eradication of all vestiges of Nazism and the restructuring of German political life along democratic lines; the destruction of the industrial cartels and monopolies; and the extraction of reparations. At this time, major differences regarding the future of Germany between the United States and the United Kingdom on one side and the Soviet Union on the other were already apparent. Disagreement over the issue of reparations was the major reason for the failure to reach a permanent agreement on all of occupied Germany.

The United States and the United Kingdom were becoming apprehensive about Soviet power extending deep into central Europe, and they envisioned a revived Germany serving as a barrier to the expansion of communism. Conversely, the Soviet Union was unwilling to relinquish its claim to participate in the determination of policies regarding the western zones and to face the prospect of having the resources of that area turned against it. In the end, it was agreed that each occupying power could draw reparations from its own zone and the Soviet Union, in view of the greater industrial wealth in the western zones, would receive from these zones an additional 25 percent of the industrial equipment considered unessential for the German peace economy.

The provisions were highly ambiguous and the subject of considerable polemics between the occupying powers. A major item of contention was whether the Soviet Union’s share of reparations should be derived from the removal of plants existing at the end of the war or from current production. The United States refused to allow payments from current production.

The functioning of the Allied Control Council came to an end when the Soviet commandant walked out of the Control Council on March 20 and the Soviet military administration began to impose a blockade on Berlin shortly thereafter. As the hostilities and suspicions between the powers mounted, the Soviets used their control over the military and civilian traffic between the western sectors and Berlin to retaliate for what they considered hostile acts. In this case, it was the introduction into West Berlin of the German mark, the new currency of the western zones. On July 24, the Soviets halted all rail and road traffic with the West. The Berlin blockade was the most serious crisis of the evolving Cold War. The United States responded by supplying the daily needs of the western sectors through the most massive airlift in history, for a period of eleven months. The consequence was the definite split of Berlin.

The sobering crisis also had the effect of ending the stubborn French opposition to the creation of a West German government. Moreover, the path was clear for twelve nations to respond to the United States’ initiatives and to negotiate the North Atlantic Treaty, signed on April 4, 1949.

The United States and the United Kingdom had already agreed to an economic fusion of their zones as early as December, 1946. The area, known as Bizonia, was to become self-sustaining in three years and thus reduce occupation costs. With the assistance of selected German leaders, an administrative machinery was established in Frankfurt. By 1947, an economic council was in existence, the members of which were selected by the popular branches of the newly established provincial legislatures within Bizonia. This body could adopt and promulgate ordinances, with the approval of the Anglo-American Bipartite Board. Soon an executive committee and a German high court were added to the Economic Council. Thus, the organs of a central German government were gradually emerging for the American and British zones. The growing split between the Soviet Union and the three western Allies ultimately induced France to join in the establishment of a central German government for all three western zones.

The United States had been on public record since September, 1946, when Secretary of State James Francis Byrnes declared that the United States would grant the German people the right to manage their own affairs, as soon as they were able to do so in a democratic manner. This matter was more deliberately taken up at the meeting of the Council of Ministers in London, in February, 1948. In addition to the three western Allies, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were participating in the deliberations. At this time, basic agreement on the fusion of the three western zones was achieved.

As the four-power control apparatus had come to a complete standstill in mid-1948, the western Allies proceeded with specific trizonal arrangements. The heads of the various German provincial governments were empowered by the military governors to convene a constituent assembly for the purpose of drafting a democratic, federal constitution. The German assembly, apprehensive about finalizing the division of Germany and desirous to give the formal arrangements a kind of provisional status, called itself “Parliamentary Council” and the new constitution came to be referred to as “Basic Law.” Basic Law, German (1949)
Constitutions;West Germany The composition of the Parliamentary Council reflected the proportionate strength of the political parties. Konrad Adenauer, the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was elected the presiding officer.


On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law was formally adopted. The Allies approved it with some reservations and negotiated for the arrangements paving the way for civilian control. Residual occupation powers were exercised by a new Allied High Commission. Following the first postwar elections, the new Parliament convened in Bonn for its inaugural session on September 7. A federal convention elected Theodor Heuss, the chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), as federal president. Heuss then nominated Adenauer for federal chancellor. Adenauer was elected by the Parliament with a one-vote margin and formed a coalition government. Thus, all the basic arrangements being attended to, the Federal Republic of Germany was officially launched in a formal ceremony on September 21.

The Soviet Union strongly and bitterly protested the establishment of the West German state. In its zone, however, fundamental societal changes had been made, with the objective of eliminating all aspects of capitalism and creating a socialist society. The Soviet military administration had for some time permitted the formation of German central organs. These were controlled by the Communist-dominated Socialist Unity Party (SED), under the effective leadership of Walter Ulbricht. The Soviet Union was, therefore, able to follow suit quickly in the formal division of Germany. It authorized the drafting of a constitution Constitutions;East Germany for an East German state. On October 7, the so-called German People’s Council convened in Berlin and voted unanimously to transform itself into the provisional People’s Chamber of the German Democratic Republic and adopted the new constitution, thereby formally launching the GDR. Germany would remain divided until the dramatic events of 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall and the formal treaty of reunification on October 3, 1990. Germany;partition
West Germany
East Germany
Cold War;Germany

Further Reading

  • Adenauer, Konrad. Memoirs, 1945-1953. Translated by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1966. West Germany’s first chancellor describes the first years after the defeat of Hitler. Also examines the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany.
  • Clay, Lucius D. Decision in Germany. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1950. A detailed, firsthand account of the occupation of defeated Germany by the Allies, and the subsequent partition and division of the country. Clay was the military governor of the U.S. occupation zone.
  • Fulbrook, Mary. A Concise History of Germany. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. A recommended historical study that includes the chapters “The Two Germanies, 1945-1990,” “The Federal Republic of Germany Since 1990,” and “Patterns and Problems of German History.” Includes maps.
  • Kitchen, Martin. A History of Modern Germany, 1800-2000. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006. A comprehensive historical study of Germany to the end of the twentieth century. Includes maps.
  • Sowden, J. K. “Division 1949-1955.” In The German Question, 1945-1973: Continuity in Change. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975. Chapter 4 presents an account of the procedural details surrounding the creation of West and East Germany.
  • Turner, Henry Ashby, Jr. “The Birth of Two New Governments.” In Germany from Partition to Reunification. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Chapter 2 gives a brief account of the formal creation of the two German states.
  • United States Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Documents on Germany, 1944-1970. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971. Includes text of numerous official documents relating to the division of Germany.

World War II: European Theater

Soviets Take Control of Eastern Europe

Yalta Conference

Potsdam Conference

Churchill Delivers His Iron Curtain Speech

Berlin Blockade

East Germans Flee to West to Escape Communist Regime

Soviet Bloc States Establish Council for Mutual Economic Assistance

Warsaw Pact Is Signed

Austria Regains Its Independence

Communists Raise the Berlin Wall

Brezhnev Doctrine Mandates Soviet Control of Satellite Nations