Federal Republic of Germany

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flag of West Germany

West Germany (Inf. German: Westdeutschland) was the common English name for the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland), from its formation in May 1949 to German reunification in October 1990, when East Germany was dissolved and its states became part of the Federal Republic, ending the more than 40-year division of Germany. From the 1990 reunification onwards, the Federal Republic of Germany has been commonly known as Germany.

The Federal Republic of Germany was a capitalist economic state formed from the three Western Zones or Allied Zones of occupation held by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Bonn was selected as its capital city, rather than the enclave of West Berlin. The fourth Allied occupation zone or East Zone (Ostzone) was held by the Soviet Union and became the German Democratic Republic, GDR (in German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR) with its capital East Berlin.

At the onset of the Cold War following Germany's defeat in World War II, Germany was de facto divided into two states, along with two special territories (the Saarland and Berlin). The Federal Republic claimed an exclusive mandate for all of Germany, considering itself to be the democratically re-organized German Reich on the grounds that the East German government was not democratically elected and thus not legitimate. After a popular vote, the Saarland was also allowed to join West Germany as a state (Land) in 1957. While legally not part of the Federal Republic, as it was under four-power occupation, West Berlin was treated as a de facto state and was represented directly or indirectly in federal institutions.

Relations with the Soviet bloc improved during the era of Ostpolitik, and the two German states recognized the existence of each other. De jure West Germany formally maintained the exclusive mandate: it recognized East Germany as a de facto government still within a single German nation that in turn is represented de jure by the West German state only, while East Germany recognized the existence of two German nations and states de jure, and the West as both de facto and de jure foreign nation.

When the system of state socialism collapsed in East Germany and the wider Central and Eastern Europe in 1989–1990, symbolized by the opening of the Berlin Wall, there was a rapid move towards German reunification. East Germany voted to dissolve itself and accede to the Federal Republic in 1990, and its postwar five states (Länder) were reconstituted. Along with Berlin, which was reunited as a single Land, ending its special status, they formally joined the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990. The expanded Federal Republic of Germany, now exclusively known as simply Germany in the English language, retains much of West Germany's political culture, and it continues the memberships in international organizations, as well as its Western foreign policy alignment and affiliation to Western alliances like the European Union and NATO. From a constitutional perspective, the reunified Germany is regarded as the continuation of, and not a successor to, the West German state.

The foundation for the influential position held by Germany today was laid during the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the 1950s, when West Germany rose from the massive destruction wrought by World War II to become the world's third largest economy. The first chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who remained in office until 1963, had worked for a full alignment with the West rather than neutrality. He not only secured a membership in NATO, but he was also a proponent of agreements that developed into the present-day European Union. By the time of the establishment of the G6/G8 in 1975, there was no question that the Federal Republic of Germany was to be a member in that organization as well.

Western Germany (Westdeutschland or westliches Deutschland), where it is not a synonym for "West Germany", is mainly used as a geographic term referring vaguely to the Rhineland, a usage which dates back to before the Cold War. Citizens of the Federal Republic called their country Federal Republic, FR Germany or simply Germany. In the early years, the GDR termed the Federal Republic Westdeutschland, later the FRG (BRD). This abbreviation was strongly disliked by the West Germans as GDR jargon.

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