Division of Germany

The division of Germany is one of the most important events of the 20th century. The country was first divided by the Allies into four sectors and then consolidated into two separate German states partition of Germany between the Allies and then between the Soviet Union and the West eventually led to some of the most heated moments of the Cold War. But how did it begin? How was Germany divided? Let's explore!

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    The Division of Germany after World War Two

    On 7 May 1945, Nazi Germany agreed to an unconditional surrender to the Allies, bringing to an end the most devastating conflict to have ever hit Europe.

    It had become obvious that, following the example of the years following the First World War, the victorious powers of that war had failed to contain a resurgent Germany. This could not be allowed to happen again. Germany would have to be divided and controlled by the Allies, collectively.

    Potsdam Conference

    In a few months following the German capitulation in May, the Big Three (Stalin, Truman and Churchill) met on the outskirts of Berlin, in the small city of Potsdam.


    The act of formally surrendering or ceasing resistance.

    On 17 July 1945, the three leaders met to discuss the future of Germany. The conference concluded on 2 August 1945 and it seemed like the Big Three had come to an understanding. Germany would go through a series of Four Ds:

    1. Demilitarisation
    2. Decentralisation
    3. Denazification
    4. +Democratisation.

    Division of Germany, The Big Three during the Potsdam Conference. StudySmarterFig. 1: The Big Three during the Potsdam Conference

    To complete the Four Ds, the Allies believed it was imperative to, at least for the time being, continue their occupation of Germany. Only this time, instead of occupying the entire country Germany would be divided into four separate sectors each controlled by an Ally.

    On 1 August, the penultimate day of the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into occupation zones between the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France. Just like Germany, its capital, Berlin, too was divided into four occupation zones, each zone administered by an Ally. As the governing body, the Allied Control Council was made the head of Allied-occupied Germany. The governing body was made up of members from all occupying states.

    Did you know?

    Austria was also occupied following the war. It was divided just like Germany, into four, each sector administered by either the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom or France. However, the Allied occupation of Austria ended in 1955.

    What else was discussed during the Potsdam Conference?

    The decisions made during the Potsdam Conference not only split up Germany into four separate occupation zones but also reduced the size of Germany. Banned the Nazi Party and pledged to prosecute war criminals. This took shape of the Nuremberg Trials which lasted from late 1945 to late 1946.

    Also, the Council of Foreign Ministers was set up to aid the rebuilding of Europe following the Second World War.

    Map of the Division of Germany

    The map below shows the division of Germany after World War 2 into four occupation zones by the Allied powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France. You can see the four sections, with the Soviet zone in the east, the American zone in the south, the British zone in the northwest, and the French zone in the southwest. The city of Berlin, which is located within the Soviet zone, is also divided into four sections, with the Allied powers each controlling a sector.

    The map also shows the inner German border, which separated East and West Germany. The inner German border was the border between the two German states from 1949 to 1990, East Germany and West Germany.

    Division of Germany, Division of Germany into zones of occupation. StudySmarterFig. 2: Division of Germany into zones of occupation

    Consequences of the Division Of Germany

    The division of Germany between the Allies soon transformed into a point of contention, especially between the Soviet Union and the rest of the occupying powers. There was a common consensus among the Western Allies (U.S., U.K. and France), that despite the division, Germany would have to be united again.

    The Western Allies never actually intended to occupy Germany for longer than they had to. The Soviet Union, however, had other plans. Stalin believed that the West sought to weaken the Soviet Union and in the worst-case scenario, even invade. To keep the West as far as possible, Stalin believed it to be more beneficial if the Soviet Union had a vast amount of territory between the Soviet Union and the nearest Western country.

    This was already a reality for the Soviet Union as it and the West. were separated by Soviet satellite states, also called the Eastern Bloc. In his way, Stalin also wanted a Communist outpost in the heart of Europe and Germany was the perfect candidate.

    Division of Germany, Eastern Europe. StudySmarterFig. 3: Map of the Eastern Bloc

    Division of Germany into East and West

    Eventually, the German debate reached its boiling point in 1948. Representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom and France met in London in March. As had been discussed, the countries agreed to unite their zones of occupied Germany and establish the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany. From 23 May 1949, West Germany was a fully sovereign state in Europe.

    The more you know...

    Even though the Western Allies united their respective zones into one, effectively creating Western Germany, France was reluctant to cede a portion of its territory. This territory was the Saar Protectorate, a heavily industrialised region which the French economy benefited from. Eventually, diplomatic talks began in 1954 between France and West Germany and a document, known as the Saar Statute, was signed. In 1957, Saarland once again became part of West Germany

    Soviet response to the creation of West Germany was also planned. As soon as the Federal Republic of Germany was established, the Soviet Union left the Allied Control Council and established the German Democratic Republic or East Germany. Germany would remain divided until 3 October 1990.

    Division of Germany, The two Germanys. StudySmarterFig. 4: The two Germanys

    Division of Germany - Key takeaways

    • Germany was divided into four occupation zones during the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.
    • The unified governing body of the occupied sectors would be the Allied Control Council.
    • The division of Germany would ultimately cause tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.
    • In March 1948, the U.S., the U.K., and France agreed to unite their sectors, and so the Federal Republic of Germany was born.
    • Due to the growing animosity between the Soviet Union and the West, following the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Soviet Union responded by creating a communist republic, the German Democratic Republic.


    1. Fig. 1: L to R, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Harry S. Truman, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the... - NARA - 198958 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L_to_R,_British_Prime_Minister_Winston_Churchill,_President_Harry_S._Truman,_and_Soviet_leader_Josef_Stalin_in_the..._-_NARA_-_198958.jpg) by U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, licenced as public domain
    2. Fig. 2: Allied occupation in Germany (1945-1949) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allied_occupation_in_Germany_(1945-1949).png) by Paasikivi, licenced as CC BY-SA 4.0
    3. Fig. 3: EasternBloc BasicMembersOnly (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EasternBloc_BasicMembersOnly.svg) by Mosedschurte, licenced as CC BY-SA 3.0
    4. Fig. 4: West Germany & East Germany Flag Map (1948 - 1990) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:West_Germany_%26_East_Germany_Flag_Map_(1948_-_1990).png) by Fry1989, licenced as CC BY-SA 3.0
    Frequently Asked Questions about Division of Germany

    How long was Germany divided?

    Germany was divided for 41 years, from 1949 to 1990.

    Why was Germany divided?

    Following the Second World War, the Big Three met in Potsdam and discussed occupying Germany and each Ally gaining an occupation sector to administer.

    Why was Germany split into 4 sections?

    Each section was controlled by an Ally: the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France.

    Was the division of Germany inevitable?

    It is likely that the division of Germany was inevitable. After all, the Allies had learned from the treatment of Germany following the First World War. It was time to take control of Germany.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Complete this sentence: The Federal Republic of Germany was also known as _______.

    Complete this sentence: The concept of division of Germany was discussed at the ______ Conference.

    How many sectors was Germany divided into in 1945?


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