In considering the process of change in the development of Germany over the whole period 1890-1991, how far can the treaty of Versailles been seen as a key turning point?
The Treaty of Versailles was a monumental stage in German history, helping to shape German history for arguably the best part of thirty years. It can be argued that the Treaty was the most significant event since the unification of Germany in 1890. The short term consequences were also highly prominent as over 300,000 Germans fled to America in the years 1917-23. Moreover many Germans were aggrieved by the Treaty, this lead to public exploits (Kapp Putsch and Munich Putsch) that lead to casualties accumulating into the 1000’s. With so much death and despair in Germany in the 1920’s the Treaty of Versailles effectively crippled Germany both economically and mentally. Furthermore the effects did not only stretch to the late 20’s, Hitler used the Treaty as a major campaigning point to secure chancellorship in 1933. Hitler still held severe indignations over the Treaty of Versailles and still held a personal vendetta with the parent countries that imposed such harsh terms on Germany in 1917. Although the Treaty of Versailles was a pivotal stage in shaping German history there are other corresponding factors such as the erection of the Berlin wall in 1961, consequently perpetually separating East and West Berlin for 28 years. After the wall came down in 1989, Germany became reunified in 1990, arguably the most significant turning point in German history as it enabled Germany to prosper as a whole nation, since then Germany has gone on to establish itself as a world superpower, both militarily and economically. It is difficult to come to a definitive answer on what the biggest turning point is, however I plan to analyse pivotal points in German history, dating from 1917-1990.
The war in 1914 was the second time Germany had invaded France, resulting in over 1million casualties this time. Consequently Georges Clemenceau wanted to impose strict regulations that would prevent the threat of attack for the foreseeable future; the result was The Treaty of Versailles. German politicians were effectively forced to sign the treaty after the ultimatum, sign or go to war, was given. Some of the harsher terms were as followed; all German colonies would be given to allies, the Rhineland would be occupied by allies for 15 years and the military was limited to only 100,000 men. Worst of all Germany would have to pay $22 billion in reparations; this amount of money was inconceivable and was impossible to pay for any country, especially one that could not prosper after their Rhineland was taken. This sum of money is so significant that even after it was reduced massively Germany only just paid of reparations from WW1, 92 years later in 2010. Therefore it is evident that the Treaty of Versailles was a key turning point as Germany was still being affected 92 years on. These terms effectively crippled Germany for the best part of 30 years. Furthermore after the Treaty was signed Germany went into economic turmoil, money was being burnt for warmth and a loaf of bread cost 2 million marks in 1924 (cost 1.20 marks in 1920). Moreover thanks to the Treaty of Versailles Germany could not rely on the prosperous Rhineland; consequently a loan was given by America to enable Germany to prosper. However the Wall Street crash of 1929 hindered these plans as America recalled all loans. Therefore, despite the best efforts of Paul Von Hindenburg Germany remained economically unstable as she remained reliant on America. Historian Harold Nicolson argues that the Treaty was “neither just nor wise”, further suggesting that the terms imposed were ridiculous and unruly as it stopped millions from having a sustainable lifestyle, another reason to argue the Treaty of Versailles was a key turning point in German history.
The economic turmoil of the 1920’s can all be linked back to the Treaty of Versailles as it crippled Germany. Further suggesting that the Treaty was a key turning point as it is evident that it was responsible for undermining of Germany. Although William Carr (A History Of Germany 1815-1945 (1985)) argues that as severe as the Treaty was “it should be remembered that Germany might easily have feared much worse. If Clemenceau had had his way instead of being restrained by Britain and America the treaty could have been much worse for Germany”. However this does not undermine the fact that the Treaty was highly influential in shaping German history. Finally the Treaty can be held responsible for the rise of Hitler in 1933. Moreover Hitler used the Treaty as a major campaigning point because many Germans were still aggrieved by the terns imposed by the Treaty, thus enabling Hitler’s rise to prominence to be swift; however there are many extenuating factors, such as the Reichstag fire in 1933. Due to the fact the Treaty aided Hitler’s rise to power it can be argued it instigated the process of the Second World War, a monumental stage in German history. No one can challenge the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was a key turning point; however it is hard to come to a conclusive statement on whether or not it is the most significant.
After the Second World War the Treaty can no longer be influential as it was scrapped following Germany’s defeat in 1945. Following the defeat of Germany in June was the three conferences in 1945 that were highly influential In German history,(Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam) in particular Potsdam. Now it must be understood that this does not undermine the significance of WW2 but merely focuses on promoting the agenda of the long term consequences of the war, rather than focus on the short term, i.e. the casualties. I digress. The Potsdam conference was the most significant as it was agreed by the big three that Berlin would be split into 4 sectors. This created a methodical curtain around Berlin (between West and East) that was supplemented by Churchill’s “iron Curtain speech”. Berlin was torn; the West was controlled by America, whereas the East was controlled by the Soviet Union, resulting in the capital changing to Bonn. This period of time was known as the division of Germany (1945-1990). In which 7million prisoners and laborers left Germany. The Potsdam conference was clearly highly influential; however it is difficulty to decipher whether or not it is a key turning point. On the other hand the conference was responsible for separating Berlin for almost 50 years, and on this evidence it can be argued that it was a key turning point.
Another possible key turning point in German history came 3 years after the Potsdam conference and was the first of two Berlin crisis’. To elaborate in 1948 the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on West Berlin, cutting of supplies for the Western troops. This created civil unrest in Berlin as they did not know who held influential power in their own capital. A year later the crisis was resolved, as the USSR terminated the regime as America refused to accept defeat after they conjured up the successful Berlin air lift. Although the Berlin blockade was only a yearlong it created animosity between the world’s superpowers and made Berlin highly unstable. Avi Shlaim described the Berlin blockade as “the climax of the struggle for power over Germany and Europe”, suggesting that the blockade could be a key turning point. However the blockade affected the cold war, rather than Germany, therefore I would argue that it is not a monumental turning point. Although this does not diminish its significance as Berlin almost ended up being the stage for a war, therefore challenging my previous statement but not contradicting it as Germany did not experience much change after the Berlin crisis. Therefore suggesting that the Blockade was of some significance, but not a key turning point, despite historians such as the after-mentioned Avi Shlaim and Rebecca Bymes suggesting it is more than that.
10 years later the second Berlin crisis began in 1958. Khrushchev gave ultimatums to both Eisenhower (in 1958) and to Kennedy (1961) in the hope of finally gaining control of West Berlin, these attempts were futile as America would never back down. Consequently the East and the West remained separate. Thousands of Germans were moving from East to West in the hope of a better lifestyle, in response the USSR erected the Berlin wall in 1961. This separated the East and West for 28 years, this prodigious stage in German History was overcast by death. To elaborate many Germans attempted to cross from East to West and vice versa, this created a problem that was wrongly solved by the slaughtering of thousands as they attempted to climb the wall. The death toll became so significant the zone between the walls was known as “no man’s land”. Therefore it is obvious that the Berlin wall was a significant point in German history. Moreover the wall emphasized and emulated statements made in Churchill’s “iron curtain speech” by making the methodical iron curtain a physical reality. The extent of the damage caused by the erection of the Berlin wall can never truly be calibrated as families went 28 years without seeing one another, “this grim concrete edifice scarred the former German capital for a generation” (“The Berlin Wall” 1961-89 by Frederick Taylor). Accordingly it can be argued that the Berlin wall was the most significant turning point in modern German history, as it was responsible for devastation and perpetual separation for 28 years. On the other hand Edith Sheffer argues that the divisions between the East and West were only symbolized by the Berlin wall; “divisions that were created on the level of the individual” this argument is highly contentious and totally disregards the magnitude of the wall and places the blame on German citizens, it is apparent this statement is outlandish but still can be considered. However I would choose to oppose this view and advocate the view made by Frederick Taylor that the erection of the wall was a key turning point In German history.
The final key turning points were in the years 1989-1990 with the deconstruction of the Berlin wall. This was shortly followed by the re-unification of Germany In 1990. Both events were monumental in developing Germany, allowing them to prosper and become the economic power they are today. Consequently it can be argued fervently that the events in 1989-1990 were the biggest turning points in Germany’s history, additionally in conjunction with Germany’s re-unification Berlin was pronounced the capital of Germany. A significant event for the Germany as Berlin was always the people’s capital, therefore it can be symbolic for German people finally reclaiming their homeland. It is difficult to calibrate to what extent the deconstruction of the Berlin wall impacted Germany but Frederick Taylor describes it as a “solution of sorts for the German problem that had haunted the world for more than a century”. Judging on this statement it can be argued that the events in 1989-90 were the most significant stages in German history as it resolved problems that dated back almost a century, finally allowing Germany to be ruled by the German people, therefore it can be construed that these were the most significant key turning points in Germany’s history.
To conclude German history was riddled with significant events in the period 1890-91, consequently it is difficult to comprehensively state which turning point was the most influential, thus the most significant. After the defeat in WW1 Germany was left broken by the terms imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles, as previously stated the effects of this Treaty can be dated all the up to 1945. Therefore providing large amounts of backing for the argument that the Treaty was the most significant part in Germany’s history as it was also a possible cause for the Second World War, this was foreshadowed by Lloyd George as he said “we will have to fight another war again in 25 years’ time”. (This statement was made shortly after the treaty was signed) Another possible candidate for the most significant turning point in Germany’s history was the erection of the Berlin wall in 1961. This infuriated the German public, separating the country for 28 years. Many historians argue this is the most significant stage in German history as it was an emphatic response from the USSR, in regards to people migrating from zone to zone, that emulated statements made in Churchill’s “iron curtain speech”. However I would argue that this was not the most significant turning point and it was rather the events in the period 1989-90 that was the most significant. However this view can come under scrutiny as many historians hold the view that the Berlin wall highlighted many key aspects in German history, therefore should be the most the most significant. Nevertheless I would argue that the deconstruction of the Berlin wall and the re-unification of Germany was the most significant stage in German history as it ended a 45 year spell of division and empowered the German people by allowing them to rule their own country. Since then Germany have become prosperous and prolific, consequently they have gone onto establish themselves as an economic power. To come to a judgement although there is a large amount of backing and evidence for other turning points in German history, the events in 1989-90 are the significant as it unifies a country that has been broken for the best part of a century.