The Federal Republic of Germany Turns 60
Germany has no shortage of events to celebrate in 2009. This fall, it will be exactly two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the landmark event which led to the reunification of Germany.
And on Saturday, the country will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the democratic Federal Republic of Germany. Indeed, the latter is just as astounding as the collapse of communist East Germany. After Germany was thoroughly devastated in World War II, an economic phoenix rose from the ashes.
The new constitution was signed on May 23, 1949 in Bonn, which would be West Germany's capital until it ceded to post-reunification Berlin in 1999. At the time, the country was in worse shape than it had ever been. World War II and the Holocaust had transformed Germany into a pariah among nations. What had once been the home of poets and thinkers, admired across the world, was now denounced as the refuge of inveterate warmongers, murderers and barbarians. Wherever they traveled, Germans were looked upon as criminals. Their country was divided among the war's victors, and it barely escaped being completely broken up and transformed into an agrarian state with no industry.
Sixty years later, Germans are living in peace with their neighbors. Together they share a common currency -- the euro -- as well as the political institutions of the European Union. From a heap of bomb-destroyed ruins, Germany has evolved into the world's third-largest industrial nation and the world's leading exporter. In one half of the divided country, West Germans built up a model democracy, remarkable for its stability. Once the citizens of East Germany tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, the division of Germany came peacefully to an end. It was one of the final bits of the Iron Curtain to fall.
In German newspapers and on German television, 2009 will be a time for looking back, evaluating, analyzing and putting things into historical perspective. It will be a time for praising the important accomplishments of Germany's recent history -- as well as for complaining about failures and missed opportunities.
Germans will talk about how, in 1955, then-Chancellor Konrad Adenauer helped secure the release of the last German POWs from the Soviet Union. They will discuss how, in 1970, then-Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt down at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in a moving gesture of humility and penance.
They will mention Benno Ohnesorg, a demonstrator whose shooting death by a Berlin police officer in 1967 helped fuel the left-wing student movement and influence a new generation of German leaders. They will talk about the Red Army Faction (RAF), the militant left-wing organization that terrorized Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. People will think back to when Joschka Fischer, who would go on to become Germany's foreign minister, caused an uproar in 1985 when he showed up to be sworn in as the environment minister of the state of Hesse wearing tennis shoes.
They will ponder the moment in December 1989 when then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood before tens of thousands of East German citizens in Dresden as they shouted "Helmut, Helmut," proclaiming their hopes for a swift reunification.
Pictures of these moments have become the icons of contemporary German history. Looking at them together, one can witness the transformation of the country into the first-ever successful democracy on German soil.
Today, over 82 million people live side by side in Germany -- native Germans and immigrants, the young and the old, former East Germans ("Ossis") and former West Germans ("Wessis"). Indeed, the more time they spend together, the more their separate identities begin to dissolve and merge into one. Follow the course of Germany's history over the last 60 years by viewing these photographs gathered by SPIEGEL ONLINE.