Germany–United States relations

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German–American relations
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United States
Diplomatic mission
Embassy of Germany, Washington, D.C. Embassy of the United States, Berlin
German Ambassador to the United States Emily Margarethe Haber American Ambassador to Germany Robin Quinville (Charge d'affairs)

Germany and the United States fought against each other in two world wars. In the late 1940s, the U.S. occupied western Germany (along with the United Kingdom and France) and built a demilitarized democratic society. West Germany achieved independence in 1949. It joined NATO in 1955, with the caveat that its security policy and military development would remain closely tied to that of France, the UK and the United States. [1] While West Germany become closely integrated with the U.S. and NATO, East Germany became a satellite state closely tied to the Soviet Union. After communist rule ended in Eastern Europe amid the Revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany was reunified. The reunified Federal Republic of Germany became one of closest allies of the United States. Today the United States and Germany enjoy a special relationship. [2] It is also the largest economy in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world. [3]



German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden in July 2021 Joe Biden and Angela Merkel in the Oval Office.jpg
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden in July 2021

Before 1800, the main factors in German-American relations were very large movements of immigrants from Germany to American states (especially Pennsylvania, the Midwest, and central Texas) throughout the 18th and the 19th centuries. [4]

There also was a significant movement of philosophical ideals that influenced American thinking. German achievements in public schooling and higher education greatly impressed American educators; the American education system was based on the Prussian education system. Thousands of American advanced students, especially scientists and historians, studied at elite German universities. There was little movement in the other direction: few Americans ever moved permanently to Germany, and few German intellectuals studied in America or moved to the United States before 1933. Economic relations were of minor importance before 1920. Diplomatic relations were friendly but of minor importance to either side before the 1870s. [5]

After the Unification of Germany in 1871, Germany became a major world power. Both nations built world-class navies and began imperialistic expansion around the world. That led to a small-scale conflict over the Samoan islands: the Second Samoan Civil War. A crisis in 1898, when Germany and the United States disputed over who should take control, was resolved with the Tripartite Convention in 1899 when the two nations divided up Samoa between them to end the conflict. [6]

After 1898, the US itself became much more involved in international diplomacy and found itself sometimes in disagreement but more often in agreement with Germany. In the early 20th century, the rise of the powerful German Navy and its role in Latin America and the Caribbean troubled American military strategists. Relations were sometimes tense, as in the Venezuelan crisis of 1902–03, but all incidents were peacefully resolved. [7]

The US tried to remain neutral in the First World War, but it provided far more trade and financial support to the British Empire and the Allies, which controlled the Atlantic routes. Germany worked to undermine American interests in Mexico. In 1917, the German offer of a military alliance against the US in the Zimmermann Telegram contributed to the American decision for war. [8] German U-boat attacks on British shipping, especially the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania without allowing the civilian passengers to reach the lifeboats, outraged US public opinion. Germany agreed to US demands to stop such attacks but reversed its position in early 1917 to win the war quickly since it mistakenly thought that the US military was too weak to play a decisive role.

The US public opposed the punitive 1919 Versailles Treaty, and both countries signed a separate peace treaty in 1921. In the 1920s, American diplomats and bankers provided major assistance to rebuilding the German economy. When Hitler and the Nazis took power in 1933, American public opinion was highly negative. Relations between the two nations turned sour after 1938.

Large numbers of intellectuals, scientists, and artists found refuge from the Nazis into Britain and France. Germany declared war on the United States, but American immigration policy strictly limited the number of Jewish refugees. The US provided significant military and financial aid to the United Kingdom and France. Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, and Washington made the defeat of Nazi Germany its highest priority, above even the Japanese Empire after it directly militarily attacked in the United States in the Pearl Harbor bombing. The United States played a major role in the occupation and reconstruction of Germany after 1945. The USs provided billions of dollars in aid by the Marshall Plan to rebuild the West German economy. The two nations relationship became very positive, in terms of democratic ideals, anti-communism, and high levels of economic trade.

Today, the US is one of Germany's closest allies and partners outside of the European Union. [9] The people of the two countries see each other as reliable allies but disagree on some key policy issues. Americans want Germany to play a more active military role, but Germans strongly disagree. [10]


German immigration to the United States

Self-reported ancestry of the population of the United States (by counties, 2001) Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg
Self-reported ancestry of the population of the United States (by counties, 2001)
Largest self-reported ancestries in the United States (2000) Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries.jpg
Largest self-reported ancestries in the United States (2000)

For over three centuries, immigration from Germany accounted for a large share of all American immigrants. As of the 2000 US Census, more than 20% of all Americans, and 25% of white Americans, claim German descent. German-Americans are an assimilated group which influences political life in the US as a whole. They are the most common self-reported ethnic group in the Northern United States, especially in the Midwest. In most of the South, German Americans are less common, with the exception of Florida and Texas.


The first records of German immigration date back to the 17th century and the foundation of Germantown, now part of Philadelphia, in 1683. Immigration from Germany reached its first peak between 1749 and 1754, when approximately 37,000 Germans came to North America.


In 1840-1914 about seven million Germans emigrated to the United States. Many of them settled in the cities of Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and New York City. Large numbers became farmers in the Middle West. In the South a colony formed in Texas. [11] By 1890 more than 40 percent of the population of the cities of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Hoboken and Cincinnati were of German origin. By the end of the 19th century, Germans formed the largest self-described ethnic group in the United States, with a strong German—speaking element. They were generally permanent settlers; few returned to Germany and few showed a loyalty to the mother country. Some were political refugees; others were avoiding the universal conscription. They generally kept their German language until the First World War in 1917-1918. [12]

The failed German Revolutions of 1848 forced political refugees to flee. Those who came to the U.S. were called the Forty-Eighters. [13]

Political participation of German-Americans included the Forty-Eighters in the new anti-slavery Republican Party and later worker activists in the labor movement. Labor unions enabled skilled craftsmen to control their working conditions and to have a voice in American society. [14]

Since 1914

A combination of patriotism and anti-German sentiment along with civil strife during both world wars caused most German-Americans to cut their former ties and assimilate into mainstream American culture with disbanding of German cultural, genealogical, and historical groups; the study and teaching of the German language and history in high schools, colleges, universities; and the removal of several German-related monuments and placenames. During Nazi Germany and the Third Reich (1933–1945) before and during World War II (1939–1945), Germany had another major emigration wave of German Jews and other political anti-Nazi refugees leaving the Reich and even the continent.

Today, German-Americans form the largest self-reported ancestry group in the United States [15] with California and Pennsylvania having the highest number of German Americans.

Diplomacy and trade

During the American Revolution (1775–1783), King Frederick the Great of Prussia strongly hated the British, who had abandoned him in 1761, during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). He now favored the Kingdom of France and impeded Britain's war effort in subtle ways, such as blocking the passage of Hessian mercenaries. However, the importance of British trade and the risk of attack from Austria made him pursue a peace policy and maintain an official strict neutrality. [16] [17]

After the war, direct trade between the American ports of Baltimore, Norfolk, and Philadelphia and the old Hanseatic League free cities of Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck grew steadily. Americans exported tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar, imported textiles, metal products, colognes, brandies, and toiletries. The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) and increasing instability in the German Confederation states led to a decline in the economic relationships between the United States and the Hanse. The level of trade never came close to matching the trade with Britain and faltered because the US delayed a commercial treaty until 1827. US diplomacy was ineffective, but the commercial consuls, local businessmen, handled their work so well that the US successfully developed diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Prussia. However, trade was minimal. [18]

It was the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederick William III that took the initiative in sending a trade experts to Washington, DC, in 1834. The first permanent American diplomat came in 1835, when Henry Wheaton was sent to Prussia. The United States Secretary of State said that "not a single point of controversy exists between the two countries calling for adjustment; and that their commercial intercourse, based upon treaty stipulations, is conducted upon those liberal and enlightened principles of reciprocity... which are gradually making their way against the narrow prejudices and blighting influences of the prohibitive system." [19]

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), all of the German states favored the northern Union but played no major role.

After 1871

In 1876, the German commissioner for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia stated that the German armaments, machines, arts, and crafts on display were of inferior quality to British and American products. Germany industrialized rapidly after unification under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1870–1871, but its competition was more with Britain than with the US. It bought increasing amounts of American farm products, especially cotton, wheat and tobacco, but tried to block American meat. [20]

Porkwar and protectionism

In 1880, ten European countries (Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, France, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Romania, and Denmark) imposed a ban on importation of American pork in the 1880s. They pointed to vague reports of trichinosis that supposedly originated with American hogs. [21] At issue was over 1.3 billion pounds of pork products in 1880, with a value of $100 million annually. European farmers were angry at cheap American food overrunning their home markets for wheat, pork, and beef; demanded for their governments to fight back; and called for a boycott.

European manufacturing interests were also threatened by growing American industrial exports, and were angry at the high American tariff on imports from European factories. Chancellor Bismarck took a hard line, rejected the pro-trade German businessmen, and refused to join in scientific studies proposed by President Chester A. Arthur. American investigations reported that American pork was safe. Bismarck, because of his political base of German landowners, insisted on protection and ignored the leading German expert, Professor Rudolf Virchow, who condemned the embargo as unjustified. [22] [23]

American public opinion grew angry at Berlin. President Grover Cleveland rejected retaliation, but it was threatened by his successor, Benjamin Harrison, who charged Whitelaw Reid, minister to France, and William Walter Phelps, minister to Germany, to end the boycott without delay. Harrison also persuaded Congress to enact the Meat Inspection Act of 1890 to guarantee the quality of the export product.

The president used his Agriculture Secretary Jeremiah McLain Rusk to threaten Germany with retaliation by initiating an embargo against Germany's popular beet sugar. That proved decisive for Germany to relent in September 1891. Other nations soon followed, and the boycott was soon over. [24] [25]

Samoan crisis

After German unification in 1871, the new, large, rich, and ambitious German Empire built a world-class navy rising to third place, behind the British and American navies. Bismarck himself distrusted imperialism, but he reversed course in the face of public and elite opinion that favored imperialistic expansion around the world. In 1889, the US, Britain and Germany were locked in an petty dispute over control of the Samoan Islands, in the Pacific. [26] The issue emerged in 1887 when the Germans tried to establish control over the island chain and President Cleveland responded by sending three naval vessels to defend the Samoan government. American and German warships faced off but all were badly damaged by the 1889 Apia cyclone of March 15–17, 1889. [27] The delegates agreed to meet in Berlin to resolve the crisis.

Chancellor Bismarck decided to ignore the small issues involved and improve relations with Washington and London. The result was the Treaty of Berlin, which established a three-power protectorate in Samoa. The three powers agreed to Western Samoa's independence and neutrality. Historian George H. Ryden argues that President Benjamin Harrison played a key role in determining the status of this Pacific outpost by taking a firm stand on every aspect of Samoa conference negotiations, which included the selection of the local ruler, the refusal to allow an indemnity for Germany, and the establishment of the three-power protectorate, a first for the U.S. [28] [29] A serious long-term result was an American distrust of Germany's foreign policy after Bismarck was forced out in 1890. [30] When unrest continued, international tensions flared in 1899. Germany unilaterally pulled back the treaty and established a control over Western Samoa. It was seized by New Zealand in the First World War. [31] [32]


In the late 19th century, the Kaiserliche Marine (German Navy) sought to establish a coaling station somewhere in the Caribbean Sea area. Imperial Germany was rapidly building a blue-water navy, but coal-burning warships needed frequent refueling and so needed to operate within range of a coaling station. Preliminary plans were vetoed by Bismarck, who did not want to antagonize the US, but he was ousted in 1890 by the new emperor, Wilhelm II, and the Germans kept looking. [33]

German naval planners from 1890 to 1910 denounced the 1820s Monroe Doctrine as a self-aggrandizing legal pretension and were even more concerned with the possible American canal at Panama, in Central America, as it would lead to full American hegemony in the Caribbean. The stakes were laid out in the German war aims proposed by the German Navy in 1903: a "firm position in the West Indies," a "free hand in South America," and an official "revocation of the Monroe Doctrine" would provide a solid foundation for "our trade to the West Indies, Central and South America." [34] By 1900, American "naval planners were obsessed with German designs in the Western Hemisphere and countered with energetic efforts to secure naval sites in the Caribbean." [35]

In the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, Britain and Germany sent warships to blockade Venezuela after it defaulted on its foreign loan repayments. Germany intended to land troops and occupy Venezuelan ports, but US President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) forced the Germans to back down by sending his own fleet and threatening war if the Germans landed. [36]

By 1904, German naval strategists had turned its attention to Mexico, where they hoped to establish a naval base in a Mexican port on the Caribbean Sea. They dropped that plan, but it became active again after 1911, the start of the Mexican Revolution and subsequent Mexican Civil War. [37]


Venezuela defaulted on its foreign loan repayments in 1902, and Britain and Germany sent warships to blockade its ports and force repayment. Germany intended to land troops and occupy Venezuelan ports, but President Theodore Roosevelt forced the Germans to back down by sending his own fleet and threatening war if the Germans landed. [38] The Venezuela episode focused American attention on Kaiser William II, who was increasingly erratic and aggressive. The media highlighted his militarism and belligerent speeches and imperialistic goals. At the same time, the British were becoming increasingly friendly toward the United States in world affairs. American opinion became more negative toward Germany than towards any other country in Europe. [39]

World War I

New York Times April 3, 1917 Wilson-war-message-1917.jpg
New York Times April 3, 1917

World War I started in August 1914, and the US insisted on neutrality. US President Woodrow Wilson's highest priority was to broker peace talks and used his trusted aide, Colonel House. Apart from an Anglophile element urging early support for Britain, US public opinion reflected that of the president: the sentiment for neutrality was particularly strong among Irish Americans, German Americans, and Scandinavian Americans as well as poor white southern farmers, cultural leaders, Protestant churchmen, and women in general. [40] The British argument that the Allies were defending civilization against a German militaristic onslaught gained support after reports of atrocities in Belgium in 1914 and, following the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania in 1915, US citizens increasingly came to see Germany as the aggressor who had to be stopped. Former President Theodore Roosevelt and many Republicans were war hawks, and demanded rapid American armament

Wilson insisted on neutrality and minimized wartime preparations to be able to negotiate for peace. After the British ship Lusitania was sunk, with over 100 American passengers drowned, Wilson demanded for German submarines to allow passengers and crew to reach their lifeboats before ships were sunk. Germany reluctantly agreed, but in January 1917, it decided that a massive infantry attack on the Western Front, coupled with a full-scale attack on all food shipments to Europe, would prove decisive. It realized the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare almost certainly meant war with the United States, but it calculated that the U.S. Armed Forces would take years to mobilize and arrive, when Germany would have already won. Germany reached out to Mexico with the Zimmermann Telegram, offering a military alliance against the United States, hoping the United States would diverge most of its attention to attacking Mexico. London intercepted the telegram, the contents of which outraged American opinion. [41]

World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the U.S. Army 'Destroy this mad brute' WWI propaganda poster (US version).jpg
World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the U.S. Army

Wilson called on Congress to declare war on Germany in April 1917. The United States expected to provide money, munitions, food, and raw materials but did not expect to send large troop contingents until it realized how weak the Allies were on the Western Front. After the exit of Russia from the war in late 1917, Germany could reallocate 600,000 experienced troops to the Western Front. But by summer, American troops were arriving at the rate of 10,000 a day, every day, replacing all the Allied losses while the German Army shrank day by day until it finally collapsed in November 1918. On the homefront, the loyalty of German-Americans was frequently challenged. Any significant German cultural impact was seen with intense hostility and suspicion. Germany was portrayed as a threat to American freedom and way of life.

Inside Germany, the United States was another enemy and denounced as a false liberator that wanted to dominate Europe itself. As the war ended, however, the German people embraced Wilsonian promises of the just peace treaty. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Wilson used his enormous prestige and co-operated with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to block some of the harshest French demands against Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson devoted most of his attention to establishing the League of Nations, which he felt would end all wars. He also signed a treaty with France and Britain to guarantee American support to prevent Germany from invading France again. Wilson refused all compromises with the Republicans, who controlled Congress, and so the United States neither ratified the Treaty of Versailles nor joined the League of Nations. [42]

Interwar period


Economic and diplomatic relations were positive during the 1920s. The US government rejected the harsh anti-German Versailles Treaty of 1920, signed a new peace treaty that involved no punishment for Germany, and worked with Britain to create a viable Euro-Atlantic peace system. [43] Ambassador Alanson B. Houghton (1922–1925) believed that world peace, European stability, and American prosperity depended upon a reconstruction of Europe's economy and political systems. He saw his role as promoting American political engagement with Europe. He overcame US opposition and lack of interest and quickly realized that the central issues of the day were all entangled in economics, especially war debts owed by the Allies to the United States, reparations owed by Germany to the Allies, worldwide inflation, and international trade and investment. Solutions, he believed, required new US policies and close co-operation with Britain and Germany. He was a leading promoter of the Dawes Plan. [44]

Although the high culture of Germany looked down upon American culture, jazz was widely accepted by the younger generation. Hollywood had an enormous influence, as did the Detroit model of industrial efficiency. [45] [46] [47]

German influence on American society was limited during that period. The flow of migration into the United States was small, and young American scholars seldom attended German universities for graduate work.[ citation needed ]

The U.S. government took the lead through the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan. [48]

New York banks played a major role in financing the rebuilding of the Germany economy. [49] [50] The German right was suspicious of modernity, as represented by the United States. [51]

Nazi era 1933–41

Public opinion in the US was strongly negative toward Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, but there was also a strong aversion to war and to entanglement in European politics. [52] The Roosevelt administration publicly hailed the Munich Agreement of 1938 for avoiding war but privately realized it was only a postponement that called for rapid rearming. [53] In contrast, Adolf Hitler initially held favorable views of the United States because of its economic success, immigration restrictions, and racial segregation against minority groups such as African-Americans and Native Americans. [54] [55] [56] Nazi expansionist ideology emphasizing the need for annexation of territory as Lebensraum in Central and Eastern Europe was influenced by the American expansion into the West justified by Manifest Destiny. [57]

Formal relations were cool until November 1938 and then turned very cold. The key event was American revulsion against Kristallnacht, the nationwide German assault on Jews and Jewish institutions. Religious groups which had been pacifistic also turned hostile. [58] As relations with the United States deteriorated Hitler's views of the country also grew more negative, deciding that the United States had become "half Judaised and the other half negrified" and was controlled by an elite of Jewish plutocrats. [56] While the total flow of refugees from Germany to the US was relatively small during the 1930s, many intellectuals escaped and resettled in the United States. [59] Many were Jewish. [60] Catholic universities were strengthened by the arrival of German Catholic intellectuals in exile, such as Waldemar Gurian at Notre Dame University. [61]

The American major film studios, with the exception of Warner Bros. Pictures which had a strongly anti-Nazi policy, censored and edited films so that they could be exported to Germany. [62] [63]

Nazi Germany

"Liberators", Nazi propaganda poster from 1944. Liberators-Kultur-Terror-Anti-Americanism-1944-Nazi-Propaganda-Poster.jpg
"Liberators", Nazi propaganda poster from 1944.

As World War II began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the US was officially neutral until December 11, 1941 when Germany declared war on the US. Roosevelt's foreign policy strongly favored Britain, France and the other European democracies over Germany in 1939 to 1941. The US played a central role in the defeat of the Axis powers and so relations between Berlin and Washington, DC, were inevitably at their lowest point. Germany used American participation as one of the leaders of the Allies for extensive propaganda value, and the infamous "LIBERATORS" poster from 1944 may be the most powerful example. In contrast, Roosevelt was, as early as mid-March 1941, [64] quite acutely aware of Hitler's views about the United States, but Roosevelt needed to balance the dueling issues of preparing the United States for its likely involvement in a global conflict and the continuing strong desire by many Americans to avoid war at all costs until the consequences of the attack on Pearl Harbor settled the issue.

In the aforementioned poster, which is shown in this article, the United States was depicted as a monstrous, vicious war machine seeking to destroy European culture. The poster alluded to many negative aspects of American history, including the Ku Klux Klan, the oppression of Native Americans, and the lynching of blacks. The poster condemned American capitalism and America's perceived dominance by Judaism and showed American bombs destroying a helpless European village. However, the US launched several propaganda campaigns in return towards Nazi Germany that often portrayed Nazi Germany as a warmongering country, with inferior morals and brainwashing schemes.

Cold War

Following the defeat of the Third Reich, American forces were one of the occupation powers in postwar Germany. In parallel to denazification and "industrial disarmament" American citizens fraternized with Germans. The Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949 and the Marshall Plan (1948–1952) further improved the Germans' perception of Americans.[ citation needed ]

West Germany

John F. Kennedy meeting with Willy Brandt, in the White House, March 13, 1961. John F. Kennedy meeting with Willy Brandt, March 13, 1961.jpg
John F. Kennedy meeting with Willy Brandt, in the White House, March 13, 1961.

The emergence of the Cold War made the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) the frontier of a democratic Western Europe and American military presence became an integral part in West German society. During the Cold War, West Germany developed into the largest economy in Europe and West German-US relations developed into a new transatlantic partnership. Germany and the US shared a large portion of their culture, established intensive global trade environment, and continued to co-operate on new high technologies. However, tensions remained between differing approaches on both sides of the Atlantic. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent German reunification marked a new era in German-American co-operation.

East Germany

Interessengemeinschaft Mandan-Indianer Leipzig 1970, the popular image of Native Americans made Indian living history quite popular in communist East Germany Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J0628-0006-001, Interessengemeinschaft Mandan-Indianer.jpg
Interessengemeinschaft Mandan-Indianer Leipzig 1970, the popular image of Native Americans made Indian living history quite popular in communist East Germany

Relations between the United States and East Germany were hostile. The United States followed Konrad Adenauer's Hallstein Doctrine, which declared that recognition of East Germany by any country would be treated as an unfriendly act by West Germany. Relations between the two German state thawed somewhat in the 1970s, as part of Détente between East and West and the 'Ostpolitik' policies of the Brandt government. United States recognized East Germany officially in September 1974, when Erich Honecker was the leader of the ruling Socialist Unity Party. To ward off the risk of internal dissent, General Secretary Erich Honecker enlarged the Stasi from 43,000 to 60,000 agents. [65]

East Germany imposed an official ideology that was reflected in all its media and all the schools. The official line stated that the United States had caused the breakup of the coalition against Adolf Hitler and had become the bulwark of reaction worldwide, with a heavy reliance on warmongering for the benefit of the "terrorist international of murderers on Wall Street."[ citation needed ] East Germans had a heroic role to play as a frontline against America.[ citation needed ] However few Germans believed it since had seen enough of the Soviets since 1945, and half-a-million Soviet soldiers were still stationed in East Germany with the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany as late as 1989.[ citation needed ] Furthermore, East Germans were exposed to information from relatives in the West, Radio Free Europe broadcasts from the United States, and the West German media.[ citation needed ]

The official Communist media ridiculed the modernism and cosmopolitanism of American culture, and denigrated the features of the American way of life, especially jazz music and rock 'n roll.[ citation needed ] The East German regime relied heavily on its tight control of youth organizations to rally them, with scant success, against American popular culture.[ citation needed ] The older generations were more concerned with the poor quality of food, housing, and clothing, which stood in dramatic contrast to the prosperity of West Germany.[ citation needed ] Professionals in East Germany were watched for any sign of deviation from the party line; their privileges were at risk.[ citation needed ] The choice was to comply or to flee to West Germany, which was relatively easy before the crackdown and the Berlin Wall of 1961. [66] Americans saw East Germany simply as a puppet of Moscow, with no independent possibilities.[ citation needed ]

Map showing the division of East and West Germany until 1990, with West Berlin in yellow. Deutschland Bundeslaender 1957.png
Map showing the division of East and West Germany until 1990, with West Berlin in yellow.

Reunification 1989-1990

President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993) played a large part by his constant support of unification, and several US historians argue that Bush had a significant role in ensuring the unified Germany committed to NATO. [67] While Britain and France were wary of a re-unified Germany, Bush strongly supported West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in pushing for rapid German reunification in 1990. [68] Bush believed that a reunified Germany would serve U.S. interests, but he also saw reunification as providing a final symbolic end to World War II. [69] After extensive negotiations, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to allow a reunified Germany to be a part of NATO under the condition that the former territory of the German Democratic Republic would not be remiliterised, and Germany officially reunified in October 1990. This was a situation previously considered unthinkable, given the previous status of the Soviet Union, but it was made feasible by the time of the fall of the East German regime. [70] [71] Bush paid attention to domestic public opinion. Serious doubts about reunification were voiced by the Jewish-American and Polish-American communities—whose families had suffered immensely from Nazism. However, the largely positive public opinion towards German unification in the United States generally corresponded to the sentiments of the usually passive German-American community. [72]

Reunified Germany

During the early 1990s, the reunified Germany was called a "partnership in leadership" as the US emerged as the world's sole superpower. Germany's effort to incorporate any major military actions into the European Union's slowly-progressing Common Security and Defence Policy did not meet the expectations of the U.S. during the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

Since 2001

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, German-American political relations were strengthened in an effort to combat terrorism, and Germany sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO force. Yet, discord continued over the Iraq War, when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made efforts to prevent war and did not join the US and the UK, which both led multinational force in Iraq. [73] [74] Anti-Americanism rose to the surface after the attacks of 11 September 2001 as hostile German intellectuals argued there were ugly links between globalization, Americanization, and terrorism. [75]

Protestors rally against National Security Agency's mass surveillance, Berlin, June 2013 Berlin 2013 PRISM Demo.jpg
Protestors rally against National Security Agency's mass surveillance, Berlin, June 2013

In response to the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures, Germany cancelled the 1968 intelligence sharing agreement with the US and UK. [76]

Longstanding close relations with the United States flourished especially under the Obama Administration (2009–2017). In 2016 President Barack Obama hailed Chancellor Angela Merkel as his “closest international partner.” [77]

However relations worsened dramatically during the Trump administration (2017–2021), especially regarding NATO funding, trade, tariffs, and Germany's energy dependence upon the Russian Federation. [78] [79] In May 2017, Merkel met Donald Trump. His statements that the U.S. had been taken advantage of in trade deals during previous administrations had already strained relations with several EU countries and other American allies. Without mentioning Trump specifically, Merkel said after a NATO summit "The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over," [80] This came after Trump had said "The Germans are bad, very bad" and "See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S. Terrible. We will stop this." [81]

In 2021 talks and meetings with Merkel and other European leaders, President Joe Biden spoke of bilateral relations, bolstering transatlantic relations through NATO and the European Union, and closely coordinating on key issues, such as Iran, China, Russia, Afghanistan, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and multilateral organizations. [82] In early February 2021, Biden froze the Trump administration's withdrawal of 9,500 troops from U.S. military bases in Germany. Biden's freeze was welcomed by Berlin, which said that the move "serves European and transatlantic security and hence is in our mutual interest." [83]

Merkel met Biden in Washington on July 15, 2021, with an agenda covering COVID-19 pandemic, global warming and economic issues. Trump's opposition to the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline remains an unresolved issue under Biden. [84]

Perceptions and values in the two countries

The exploits of gunslingers on the American frontier played a major role in American folklore, fiction and film. The same stories became immensely popular in Germany, which produced its own novels and films about the American frontier. Karl May (1842–1912) was a German writer best known for his adventure novels set in the American Old West. His main protagonists are Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. [85] [86] The German fascination with Native Americans dates to the early 19th century, with a volumous literature. Typical writings focus on "Indianness" and authenticity. [87]

Germany and the US are civil societies. Germany's philosophical heritage and American spirit for "freedom" interlock to a central aspect of Western culture and Western civilization.[ citation needed ] Even though developed under different geographical settings, the Age of Enlightenment is fundamental to the self-esteem and understanding of both nations.[ citation needed ]

The American-led invasion of Iraq changed the perception of the US in Germany significantly. A 2013 BBC World Service poll shows found that 35% find American influence to be positive while 39% view it to be negative. [88] Both countries differ in many key areas, such as energy and military intervention.

A survey conducted on behalf of the German embassy in 2007 showed that Americans continued to regard Germany's failure to support the war in Iraq as the main irritant in relations between the two nations. The issue was of declining importance, however, and Americans still considered Germany to be their fourth most important international partner behind the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan. Americans considered economic cooperation to be the most positive aspect of US-German relations with a much smaller role played by Germany in U.S. politics. [89]

Among the nations of Western Europe, German public perception of the US is unusual in that it has continually fluctuated back and forth from fairly positive in 2002 (60%), to considerably negative in 2007 (30%), back to mildly positive in 2012 (52%), and back to considerably negative in 2017 (35%) [90] reflecting the sharply polarized and mixed feelings of the German people for the United States.


In the postwar era 1945–1970, as the United States helped rebuild West Germany,[ citation needed ] anti-Americanism was weak.[ citation needed ] However, in the late 1960s, West Germany's youth contrasted the images of Woodstock—which they liked—and Vietnam—which they hated.[ citation needed ] Young rebels turned to violence to destroy the foundations of a society that backed American cultural imperialism.[ citation needed ] Anti-Americanism reappeared among intellectuals after the attacks on 11 September 2001 because some of them linked globalization, Americanization, and terrorism. [91] The War in Iraq in 2003 was highly unpopular at all levels of German society. [92]

During the Cold War, anti-Americanism was the official government policy in East Germany, and pro-American dissenters were punished.[ citation needed ] In West Germany, anti-Americanism was the common position on the left, but a majority of the population held positive views towards the United States. [93] Germany's refusal to support the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was often seen as a manifestation of anti-Americanism. [94]

Anti-Americanism had been muted on the right since 1945, but reemerged in the 21st century especially in the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that began in opposition to European Union, and now has become both anti-American and anti-immigrant.[ citation needed ] Annoyance or distrust of the Americans was heightened in 2013 by revelations of American spying on top German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. [95]

Military relations

Statue of General von Steuben at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania Von Steuben at Valley Forge.jpg
Statue of General von Steuben at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania
U.S. Army 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment soldiers returning to their garrison in Vilseck during Operation Dragoon Ride in 2015. 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment Dragoon Ride, Operation Atlantic Resolve 150401-A-HE359-005.jpg
U.S. Army 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment soldiers returning to their garrison in Vilseck during Operation Dragoon Ride in 2015.
Defence ministers James Mattis (U.S.) and Ursula von der Leyen (Germany) meeting in Washington, DC James Mattis Ursula von der Leyen 2017-02-10 01.jpg
Defence ministers James Mattis (U.S.) and Ursula von der Leyen (Germany) meeting in Washington, DC


German-American military relations began in the Revolution when German troops fought on both sides. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a former Captain in the Prussian Army, was appointed Inspector General of the Continental Army and played the major role in training American soldiers to the best European standards. Von Steuben is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the United States Army.

Another German that served during the American Revolution was Major General Johann de Kalb, who served under Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden and died as a result of several wounds he sustained during the fighting.

About 30,000 German mercenaries fought for the British, with 17,000 hired from Hesse, about one in four of the adult male population of the principality. The Hessians fought under their own officers under British command. Leopold Philip de Heister, Wilhelm von Knyphausen, and Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg were the principal generals who commanded these troops with Frederick Christian Arnold, Freiherr von Jungkenn as the senior German officer. [96]

German Americans have been very influential in the American military. Some notable figures include Brigadier General August Kautz, Major General Franz Sigel, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr..


The United States established a permanent military presence in Germany during the Second World War that continued throughout the Cold War, with a peak level of over 274,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany in 1962, [97] and was drawn down in the early 21st century. The last American tanks were withdrawn from Germany in 2013, [98] but they returned the following year to address a gap in multinational training opportunities. [99] The U.S. had 35,000 American troops in Germany in 2017. [97]

Germany and the United States are joint NATO members. Both nations have cooperated closely in the War on Terror, for which Germany provided more troops than any other nation. Germany hosts the headquarters of the US Africa Command and the Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. Air Force base. [100]

The two nations had opposing public policy positions in the War in Iraq; Germany blocked US efforts to secure UN resolutions in the buildup to war, but Germany quietly supported some US interests in southwest Asia. German soldiers operated military biological and chemical cleanup equipment at Camp Doha in Kuwait; German Navy ships secured sea lanes to deter attacks by Al Qaeda on U.S. Forces and equipment in the Persian Gulf; and soldiers from Germany's Bundeswehr deployed all across southern Germany to US military bases to conduct force protection duties in place of German-based U.S. Soldiers who were deployed to the Iraq War. The latter mission lasted from 2002 until 2006, by which time nearly all these Bundeswehr were demobilized. [101] U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq received medical treatment at Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. [100]

In March 2019, Trump was reportedly drafting a demand several countries, including Germany, to pay the United States 150% of the cost of the American troops deployed on their soil. The proposed demand was criticized by experts. Douglas Lute, a retired general and former US ambassador to NATO, said that Trump was using "a misinformed narrative that these facilities are there for the benefits of those countries. The truth is they're there and we maintain them because they're in our interest." [102]

In a sharp deterioration of relations, in summer 2020, Washington announced plans to significantly cut the number of US military personnel stationed in Germany, from 34,500 to 25,000. [103] Members of the German government criticized the move, calling it "unacceptable" and stating that current US-German relations are "complicated." [104] President Trump told reporters that US troops:

are there to protect Germany, right? And Germany is supposed to pay for it....Germany’s not paying for it. We don’t want to be the suckers any more. The United States has been taken advantage of for 25 years, both on trade and on the military. So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. [105]

As of August 2020, the plan was to move 11,900 troops out of Germany and reassign them elsewhere in Europe, either immediately or after first returning them to the United States for a while. The movement is estimated to cost billions of dollars. [106] In February 2021 President Biden decided to freeze the withdrawal of the troops initiated by his predecessor for further review of the troop deployment around the world. [107]

Economic relations

U.S. trade deficit (in billions, goods only) by country in 2014 United States Balance of Trade Deficit-pie chart.svg
U.S. trade deficit (in billions, goods only) by country in 2014

Economic relations between Germany and the United States are average. The Transatlantic Economic Partnership between the US and the EU, which was launched in 2007 on Germany's initiative, and the subsequently created Transatlantic Economic Council open up additional opportunities. The US is Germany's principal trading partner outside the EU and Germany is the US's most important trading partner in Europe. In terms of the total volume of U.S. bilateral trade (imports and exports), Germany remains in fourth place, behind Canada, China and Mexico. The US ranks fourth among Germany's trading partners, after the Netherlands, China and France. At the end of 2013, bilateral trade was worth $162 billion. [108]

Germany and the US are important to each other as investment destinations. At the end of 2012, bilateral investment was worth $320 billion, German direct investment in the US amounting to $266billion and U.S. direct investment in Germany $121 billion. At the end of 2012, US direct investment in Germany stood at approximately $121 billion, an increase of nearly 14% over the previous year (approximately $106 billion). During the same period, German direct investment in the US amounted to some $199 billion, below the previous year's level (approximately $215 billion). Germany is the second largest foreign investor in the US, only after the United Kingdom, and ranks third as a destination for US foreign direct investment.

In 2019 the United States Senate [109] announced intention of passing controversial legislation which threatened to place sanctions on German or European Union companies which work to complete a petrol-chemical pipeline between Germany and Russia. [110]

Cultural relations

Karl May was a prolific German writer who specialized in writing Westerns. Although he visited America only once towards the end of his life, May provided Germany with a series of frontier novels, which provided Germans with an imaginary view of America.

Notable German-American architects, artist, musicians and writers include:

German takes third place after Spanish and French among the foreign languages taught at American secondary schools, colleges and universities. Conversely, nearly half of the German population can speak English well.[ citation needed ]

A German-American Friendship Garden was built in Washington, DC, and stands as a symbol of the positive and co-operative relations between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. It is on the historic axis between the White House and the Washington Monument on the National Mall, the garden borders Constitution Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets, where an estimated seven million visitors pass each year. The garden features plants native to both Germany and the United States and provides seating and cooling fountains. [111] Commissioned to commemorate the 300th anniversary of German immigration to America, the garden was dedicated on November 15, 1988. [112]

Research and academia

Von Braun, with his arm in a cast from a car accident, surrendered to the Americans just before this May 3, 1945 photo. Dornberger-Axter-von Braun.jpg
Von Braun, with his arm in a cast from a car accident, surrendered to the Americans just before this May 3, 1945 photo.

Following the Nazi rise to power in 1933, and in particular the passing of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service which removed opponents and persons with one Jewish grandparent from government positions (including academia), hundreds of physicists and other academics fled Germany and many came to the United States. James Franck and Albert Einstein were among the more notable scientists who ended up in the United States. Many of the physicists who fled were subsequently instrumental in the wartime Manhattan Project to develop the nuclear bomb. Following the World War II, some of these academics returned to Germany but many remained in the United States. [113] [114]

After WWII and during the Cold War, Operation Paperclip was a secret United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Nazi Party), including Wernher von Braun's rocket team, were recruited and brought to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany. [115] [116] Wernher von Braun, who built the German V-2 rockets, and his team of scientists came to the United States and were central in building the American space exploration program. [117]

Researchers at German and American universities run various exchange programs and projects, and focus on space exploration, the International Space Station, environmental technology, and medical science. Import cooperations are also in the fields of biochemistry, engineering, information and communication technologies and life sciences (networks through: Bacatec, DAAD). The United States and Germany signed a bilateral Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation in February 2010. [118]

American cultural institutions in Germany

In the postwar era, a number of institutions, devoted to highlighting American culture and society in Germany, were established and are in existence today, especially in the south of Germany, the area of the former U.S. Occupied Zone. Today, they offer English courses as well as cultural programs.

Diplomatic missions

See also

Notable organizations

Related Research Articles

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Pre 1933


After 1941