For both German states, the decade following the construction of the Berlin Wall was a period of stabilization and transition alike. The friendship between Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle set the stage for the Elysée Treaty, which advanced despite differences in the two countries’ foreign policy priorities. Though quite controversial in 1963, this treaty has since been celebrated as a pillar of German-French reconciliation and cooperation.
Adenauer’s resignation in fall 1963 was precipitated by the Spiegel Affair, the first major political scandal since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Police operations against the weekly magazine Der Spiegel and two of its chief editors escalated into a government crisis. The national and international press sharply criticized this assault on the freedom of the press, though with different emphases. As West Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer played a decisive role in defining the office, and his resignation signaled the end of an era in the history of the Federal Republic.
The tenure of former economics minister Ludwig Erhard as head of the government was surprisingly short-lived. With the support of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but against the wishes of his predecessor, he was elected chancellor in 1963. Considering that Erhard was an economics expert, it is paradoxical that unresolved economic and financial-policy issues would lead to his demise. Erhard is still remembered as the architect of the social market economy and for his appeals for moderation [Maßhalteappelle]. His failed efforts to establish himself as “Chancellor of the People” have largely been forgotten.
To this day, assessments of the Grand Coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) remain controversial. Limited to a three-year period at the outset, this coalition was primarily intended to find a solution to the economic crisis. A series of important economic and financial initiatives in business-cycle and income policy contributed to the rapid, albeit temporary, revival of the economy (Chapter 9). In addition, the government launched new initiatives to normalize relations with Communist states. In contrast to its champions, critics of the Grand Coalition argue that it undermined the role of parliament by drastically weakening the parliamentary opposition and contributing to the radicalization of the extraparliamentary opposition (Chapter 6).
After several failed attempts, the Emergency Law, which was to guarantee the ability of the federal government to respond to internal and external threats to the Federal Republic, finally passed after Social Democratic leaders reconsidered their position; this change of mind enabled the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments. Trade unionists, students, and writers took the lead in protesting both a possible restriction of basic rights and the elimination of the division of powers that would occur in such critical instances. Resembling the debates over the Spiegel Affair, the public discourse on the Emergency Law revealed a new understanding of democracy – one that did not shy away from radical critiques of the political system. In 1969, the CDU/CSU, FDP, and SPD mounted their Bundestag campaigns without committing themselves to possible future coalitions, and the FDP emerged as kingmaker in an election that both the CDU/CSU and SPD claimed to have won.
Following the construction of the Berlin Wall, Walter Ulbricht, the first secretary of the SED, held the reins of power firmly in hand and set the stage for important social and economic reforms in the GDR. To persuade the citizenry of socialism’s progress, ideological indoctrination was stepped up and legitimized by referencing both the GDR’s friendship with the Soviet Union and the revolutionary traditions of German history. Observers in the West have often explained Ulbricht’s removal from power in May 1971 with his attempts to stress the GDR’s independence vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, but differences of opinion over economic policy priorities also played a crucial role in the Soviet-supported transfer of power to Erich Honecker. During his lifetime, Ulbricht was primarily perceived as a crusty bureaucrat and a Stalinist stooge of the Soviet Union. At the time of his death, his political development from dogmatist to (failed) reformer was rarely mentioned, yet it now plays a prominent role in current analyses.