Federal Republic

Chancellor Adenauer's Mercedes, Haus der Geschichte, Bonn
Chancellor Adenauer's Mercedes, Haus der Geschichte, Bonn

The last chapter deals with the democratic new beginning after the Second World War, the “Bonn years” of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the state guests on Mount Petersberg.

When we wander through our area today, we may take it for granted that we have enough to eat, and that we live in a state under the rule of law, and that we are free. However, we can never take that for granted, we learn that from the news almost every day. So, this final chapter comes with a big thank you to the mothers and fathers of our free democratic order.

The Basic Law

On September 1, 1948, the Parliamentary Council (an interim parliament) met in Bonn. On May 8, 1949, exactly four years after the German surrender, it submitted the Basic Law, the constitution. After approval by the three western military governors on May 12, it entered in force on May 13, 1949. Bonn became the provisional capital.

In the same year, the first democratic government under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963) took office. Adenauer was a Rhinelander, and he had been Mayor of his native city Cologne for many long years. In 1935, he had moved to Rhöndorf close to Bonn.

The Allied High Commissioners on the Petersberg

During the first years after the war, the victorious powers reserved themselves the right to control German policy. To this end, they created the Allied High Commission. From 1949 to 1952, the Commission took residence in the hotel on top of the Petersberg. Here the important “Petersberg Protocol” was negotiated that opened the way into economic reconstruction and independence. By the way: while the Allied High Commissioners had their residence on the Petersberg, they often used the cog train. We might call them the first state guests on Petersberg.

The Federal Republic struggled for integration into the democratic, western world. Thus, reconciliation characterized the first years of the Federal Republic. For instance, the Reparations Agreement between Israel and Germany in 1952, the “plan Schuman” and the establishment of the Coal and Steel Union 1952 with France. The Paris contracts of 1954 ended the occupation regime in Western Germany. The Federal Republic was a sovereign state that could join the Western European Union (WEU) and the NATO. Eastern Germany, however, joined the Warsaw Pact. In December 1955, Adenauer traveled as a first German Federal Chancellor on Soviet invitation to Moscow; and he succeeded in bringing the prisoners of war home.

The “Wirtschaftswunder”

Thanks to the Marshall Plan, Ludwig Erhard’s foresighted economic policy and the courage, diligence and optimism of countless people, the Federal Republic experienced her “Wirtschaftswunder”. This term translates as economic miracle and stands for the rapid reconstruction after the war, economic growth and social market economy. In 1962, full employment was reached. Now people could spoil themselves again, that is to say enjoy varied meals, go on a vacation trip, or drive a Volkswagen Beetle – a symbol of the Wirtschaftswunder.

State Guests on Petersberg

Between 1954 and 1973, the state guests of the Federal resided in the Grand Hotel on Mount Petersberg. Government, among them the Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi with his wife back then, Soraya, in 1955 and then again in 1967 with his third wife Farah Diba, in 1965 Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, and in 1973 the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Breshnev. He was given a brand-new Mercedes as a present, and he insisted on taking it for a test-drive down the serpentine road right away  … which unfortunately ended in the roadside ditch.

“Ich bin ein Berliner” US President John F. Kennedy in Berlin

Still, many people fled from the German Democratic Republic into the west. In 1952, the East German government had already sealed the borders, but still people fled from East Berlin to West Berlin. Finally, on August 13, 1961, the GDR government ordered to build the Berlin Wall. Thus, West Berlin became an enclave of the West in East Germany and the Soviet Block. Eastern Germany was politically and economically cut off by the “Iron Curtain”. Although the Wall does not stand today any longer, it still symbolizes separation, fright, and the totalitarian regime’s disrespect for their fellow humans.

In June 1963, US President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin. He delivered a speech at the Berlin City Hall, and the last sentence went around the world. “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore as a free man, I take pride in the words: Ich bin ein Berliner.”

On October 15, 1963, Konrad Adenauer resigned. His successor was Ludwig Erhard (1963-1966), but as Federal Chancellor, he was not granted success. The end of the Wirtschaftswunder became apparent, in 1966/67 the Federal Republic got into a recession. Erhard resigned already 1966; his successor was Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU). Only few years later, in 1967, Konrad Adenauer died in his house beneath the Siebengebirge in Rhöndorf. Today it is a memorial place, which you can visit. www.adenauerhaus.de.


The discussion about the limitation of Nazi crimes and the legal proceedings against Adolf Eichmann led to a deep confrontation with Germany’s Nazi past. In the Bundestag, a grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD ruled since 1966, which had an overwhelming majority and could even change the Basic Law. The only opposition party was the small Free Democratic Party (FDP).

As a protest against the much too powerful grand coalition, particularly against its emergency acts, the “Extra Parliamentary Opposition” came into being. As it was mainly borne by students, we say “student movement” or “68ers”.

A new policy towards the Soviet Block

SPD and FDP won the federal elections in 1969, and a social democrat / liberal government formed under Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt. His name stands for a new policy towards the Soviet Block (in German “Ostpolitik”), to improve the relationships with East Germany and Eastern Europe. The photo of Chancellor Brandt kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial in December 1979 went around the world. The Parliament debated fiercely over the contracts with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc states, there was live TV coverage and entire school classes watched. Eventually, the relations with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc improved, and the two German states recognized the existence of each other. On September 18, 1973, both East and West Germany joined the United Nations.

Terrorist attacks

Over years the Federal Republic was shaken by terrorist attacks. The taking of hostages by the Palestinian terror group “Black September” at the Olympic Games in Munich 1972, the murder of Siegfried Buback, Jürgen Ponto and Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction (RAF), and the hijacking of the Lufthansa airplane “Landshut” by allied Palestinian terrorists.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan, the NATO Double-Track Decision and the trade union Solidarność in Poland, more and more people became committed to the peace movement. Also protection of the environment became increasingly urgent, an environmental movement formed, and eventually the party “Die Grünen” (the Greens) emerged. In 1983, they got into the Bundestag for the first time.

In 1982, the SPD/FDP coalition broke up. On October 1, 1982, Helmut Kohl (CDU) became Chancellor in a Constructive Vote of No Confidence in the Bundestag. CDU and FDP formed a new government under Helmut Kohl (Chancellor 1982-1998).

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!”

At the beginning of the 80s, the Cold War was still going on. That changed when Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His reform programs Perestroika (“New Thinking for Our Country and Abroad”) and Glasnost (openness) made “Gorby” popular in the West and improved political and economic relations. He urged the other regimes in the Soviet Bloc to follow his reform policy. Reformists in Hungary and Poland were encouraged, but staunch communists, among them Erich Honecker in East Berlin, rejected Gorbachev’s reforms.

On June 12, 1987, US-President Ronald Reagan gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. His words went around the world: “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Shortly after, in 1988, Gorbachev made it clear that the Soviet Union would not intervene in the internal affairs of Soviet Bloc allies, as it had done 1968 in Prague to crush the “Prague Spring”. Poland and Hungary became the first Warsaw Pact state country to break free.

Hungary had opened its border to Austria, and many East Germans fled via Hungary into the West. East Germans occupied West German Embassies in Budapest, Warsaw, and Prague to force a permit for leaving the country. In September 1989, thousands of men, women, and children camped in the garden of the German Embassy in Prague. Finally, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher brought the news they all had been waiting for: they all could travel into the Federal Republic.

The Wall falls

On October 7, Gorbachev visited East Berlin to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. While many people demonstrated on the streets, the Politbüro did not reconsider and refused reforms. More and more citizens of East Germany vehemently demanded an adjustment of the political course on that the USSR, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands people occurred in several cities, particularly in Leipzig. Finally, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened, and Eastern Germans were allowed to travel freely.


In 1990, discussions between the West German and the East German Governments over reunification took place. In February, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev met in the Caucasus. On July 1st, the economic and monetary union was in force. On August 23rd, both Parliaments agreed on the date of the reunification. The winning powers approved in September and dismissed Germany into the full sovereignty. On October 3, the five East German states Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt und Thuringia and the reunited city state of Berlin acceded to the Federal Republic, and the two German states were united. This is the national holiday we celebrate. On June 20, 1991, the Bundestag decided in a hard-fought ballot to return to Berlin its old capital function. In 1999, the Government moved from the Rhine to the Spree. In the same year, the renovated Reichstag in Berlin reopened.

A new hotel on the Petersberg

Let us go back to where we began the history chapter, to Mount Petersberg. Today, the old hotel doesn’t exist anymore, in its place, a new guest house was built, it modeled on the old hotel, saving some old stones. Still, state guests come to Petersberg, among them were Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Federal Republic – State guests on Petersberg | Read more
Haus der Geschichte, Bonn – Germany since 1945

20th century
The short 20th century | The Great War | German Revolution 1918/19 | Occupation of the Rhineland | Weimar Republic | Nazi Germany | World War II | Federal Republic of Germany

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