Religion in Germany: Background

Germany since the Reformation has been a predominatly Protestant country, although the two denominations are today essentialy equal. The Reformation was born in Germany with Marin Luther posting his "95 Thesis. The resulting religious wars devestated Germany, especially the 30 Years War. Luthernism is the primary Protestant denomination. There is, however, a very sunstantial Catholic minority, especially in southern Germany. While Catholics were a minoriy in Germany, this wasnot true in every German state (Landen), especially in Bavaria and other southern German states. One 1964 source reports that 95 percent of Germans were either Protestant or Catholics and only 5 percent to other religions. There were about 30,000 Jews, compared to 600,000 before the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Protestants live throughout Germany, but mostly in North and Middle Germany. In the south most people are Catholics (especially Bavaria and Austria. A more recent source indicated that in Austria about 85 percent were Catholics, 6 percent protestants, and 1 percent Islamic. In the former Communist East Germny (DDR), most people were protestants, too. East Germany had about 35 percent of all German protestants, but only 8 percent of Catholics. In West Germany the ratio between Protestants and Catholics was much closer, 51 and 44 per cent. Another source indicates that West Germany during 1989 there were 41 percent protestants, 43 percent catholics, 3 percent Islamics. The East German composition was 30 percent protestants, 6 catholics, and 64 percent had or reported no religion. A source indicates that in 2000, 42 percent of Germans were protestants, 33 percent catholics and 3 percent Islamic people. Other sources suggest that the two denominations are relatoively equal. Today in larger towns throughout Germany, both both religions are present, but you can tell by the age of the churches, which one was originally there.

Christianizing Germany

Thec expansion of the Roman Empire into Germany was stopped at the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). This left the Germanic Tribes outside the Empire. Some of modern Germany was within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. As in other areas of the Empire, Chridstianity developed in the areas of Germanyv within the Empire. This included areas along the Rhine and the Danube. Here there were Christian communities in the 3rd century. Roman settlements like Augsburg, Cologne, and Trier had important Christian communities. Constantine's conversion resulted in the establishment of Christiamity as the state religion (313 AD). While Christianity came to Western Europe through the Roman Empire, this was not the case of the Germanic tribes. The Germanic tribes were pagan and it was these tribes that owerwealmed the Western Empirea in the 5th century. The Germanic conquerors, however, made no effort to impose their religion on the largely Christian people they conquered and as rulers soon adopted Christianity themselves. The Chritinization of the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine was a gradual process which occured over the next centuries. Vhristian missionaries gradually spread the Gospel among the Germanuc tribes. Many early missionaries were martyred. Saont Boniface played a major role (8th century). The final step in the Christianization of Germany was Charlemagne's conquest of the Saxons (9th century).

Medieval Church

The conflict between the Papacy and the Emperor diring the Medieval era was a major reason that Germany unlike several other European countries did coalease into a centalized nation state.

Protestant Reformation

Germany as a result of the Reformation became a predominantly Protestant country. The Reformation was born in Germany with Marin Luther posting his "95 Thesis. The heart and soul of the Protestant Revolution was in Germany. In began when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the church door in Witenberg. He was offended by the sale of indulgences which struck at all the major themes of the Reformation. Luther was offened that an agent of the pope was selling indulgences forgiving future sins. Here initially it was a doctrinal matter, but it also it affected the pope's use of German Church income and the naionalistic concerns of foreign control over the German Church. Matters escalated when the Reformation became associated with the struggle between the emperor and German princes over political power. It should be stressed that the German Reformation was not a struugle for religious freedom, but rather a struggle over whose faith would prevail. The resulting religious wars devestated Germany, especially the 30 Years War.

German States

About Württemberg, Baden, Bavaria, and Hessen: The religion was determined by the sovereign. All four countries in the South. Württemberg and Baden of the present days cover areas which were up to the secularization after 1815 (after the Napolean wars and the Congress of Vienna--Wiener Kongress) under (catholic) clerical sovereignty, e.g., Ellwangen, Oberschwaben, Südbaden, a lot of catholic cloisters. The kings of Württemberg and Baden were Protestant (not Lutherian, but reformed like Switzerland around Zurich and Geneva – Switzerland has also catholic cantones, e.g., Basel and Graubünden). One village reformed, the next one catholic; in marriage of a couple with different religion the catholic side very often (this is still the case) pressed the parents to baptize children in the catholic church; both religions had the same political rights, religion was free. After the second World War a lot of refugees from former far east parts of Germany (now Poland, Balticum etc) came also to Württemberg and Baden, and the mixture of religions continued (this has nothing to do specially with Czechoslovakia). The Bavarian kings were catholic è Bavaria was overwhelmingly catholic and now is still mostly catholic. (in Austria is the same situation). Hessen was (Lutherian) protestantic (now also mixed, half/half). In Hessen a lot of former refugees from France, the Hugenotten, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were settling in villages given to them by the Hessen dukes. Hugenotten were reformed population in France. There are still communities with churches of this kind of clerical service.

Jews

Germany had one of the most assimilated Jewish communities in Europe. Jews had been establihed in Germany ince the Middle Ages. They received full citizenship rights in Imperial Germany. Not all Germans agreed with this, but Chancellor Bismarck did. Gemany had a historical tradition of anti-semitism. Such sentiment increased as a wave of Russian Jews fleed to Germany in the late 19th century because of pogroms and a variety of government anti-Jewish measures. (Many Russian Jews fleeing Tsarist oppression also came to America.) Germny's loss in World War I came as a great shock to the German people. Many Germans were stunned and did not understand why after so much sacrifice that the War could have been lost, especially as victory had seemed so close in the Spring of 1918. The fact that Germany was not occupied and t was a civilian and not military government that asked for the armistace gave rise to a big lie--that Germany had been stabbed in the back by republicns led by socialists and Jews. After Germany's defeat in World War I, virulent anti-Semitism was a major feature of many right-wing nationalist groups. Many German Jews by the time o the Weimar Republic (1918-33) were fully assimilated. Jews were full citizens of theweimar Republic. Some had converted to Christiaity or married Christians. Many saw themselves as Germans who happened to be Jews. Few attended Jewish schools. There were, however, schools that Jews avoided, either because of the ant-Semetic beliefs of the staffs or students. The NAZIs were at first considerd a fringe party, not representing the brelief of most Germans. German Jews were disturbed with the rising populaity of the NAZIs, but did not believe they would ever gain power. Few in the 1920s had a preminition of what was to come. Some did especially by the early 1930s when the NAZIs had become a major political party. But even the most pessimistic had no idea of the enormity of the dissaster that was about to befall them. One Jewish author growing up in Austria and Berlin writes, "We were on the Titanicand everyone knew it was hitting the iceberg. The only uncertainty was about what would happen when it did." [Hobsbawm]


Table 1.--Germany. Religious denominations in East and West Germany


…………….RELIGION.. …………...........,.GOVERNMENT.....,...
………………………………………..EAST ……………...WEST
………………….. ………………….. ……-----Percent-----
  • Catholic/Katholish…………………..6……………….... 43
  • Luthern/Evangelish ………………...30………………... 41
  • Muslim/Moslerrisch ……………..Negl………………..... 3
  • No religion ………………………..64*………………..NA**

    TOTAL ………………… ……...100………………. 100


    * How many of these induividuals in East Germany desguised their religious sentimebts we do not know
    ** Many West report a religion despite the fact that they do not practice it in any way.

    Source:


NAZIs and Religion

Religion was a difficult question for the NAZIs. Germany was a Christian nation. Most Germans thought of themselves as Christains, even many NAZI Party members. Hitler and his inner circle, however, were dismissive of Christianity. They wanted a new NAZI religion with national and racial connotations. The problem for the NAZIs was how to wean the German people from Christianity. Hitler had a very good sence about such matters, thus actuiions aganinst religious groups were only taken incrementally as the NAZIs eastablished their hold over Germany. Educatng the children in schools was one approach. In this regards the German education system varied from state to state, but religious education was part of the curriculum in many German states. During the Third Reich many of the differences in the educational system in differnt regions of Germay were ended.

Religion in Communist East Germany

The Soviet occupation zone which became East Germany (DDR) included areas of Germany that were heavily Protestant. The Communists did not ban religion outright. There were agreements such as the Concordat with the Catholic Church and the regime was trying to establish its international creditability. The East German Communist regime launched an athiesm campaign, especially directed at children. School children in particular were subjects of this campaign. I have few details at this time, but for many years attempts outside the family to involve children in religion were very dangerous. I'm not sure to what extent Confirmation ceremonies were heald for youths in East Germany. One reader reports, in the former DDR (Communist East Germany) many boys and girls who do not belong to any church also are expressing a desire to have some sort of an inauguration nowadays (Jugendweihe). Hopefully our German readers will provide us some dedails about religion in east Germany, especially aspects that affect children, such as instruction, Sunday school, First Communion, and Confirmation. The DDR was in fact highly successful in its atheism campaign. As East Germany was mostly Protestant, thde impactv has been most heavily felt among the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) Church which was once a primarily Protestant country is today about evenly split between Protestants and Catholics with large numbers of atheists.


Table 2.--Germany. Religious denominations


…………….RELIGION.. …………...................YEAR................
………………………………………..1930 ……………...2001
………………….. ………………….. ……-----Millions of People-----
  • Catholic/Katholish…………………………………… 27.0
  • Luthern/Evangelish ………………………………….. 26.8
  • Muslim/Moslerrisch ………………………………....... 3.2
  • Orthodox …………………………………………...... 0.9
  • Neuspostolisch …………………………………......... 0.4
  • Jewish/Jdisch ……………………………………........ 0.2
  • Jehova's Witnesses ……………………………............0.2
  • Buddist/Buddhissten ………………… …………….... 0.2
………TOTAL .…………….…….. ……………………... 82.2

Source: Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst e. V. (as of November 2001)


Religious Denominations in Modern Germany

Since the Reformation, Germany has beeb predominatly Protestant. Luthernism is the primary Protestant denomination. There has, however, been a very substantial Catholic minority, especially in southern Germany. While Catholics were a minoriy in Germany, this is not true in every German state (Landen), especially in Bavaria and other southern German states. The most recent census suggests that the two denominations are about equal in numbers. One 1964 source reports that 95 percent of Germans were either Protestant or Catholics and only 5 percent to other religions. There were about 30,000 Jews, compared to 600,000 before the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Protestants live throughout Germany, but mostly in North and Middle Germany. In the south most people are Catholics (especially Bavaria and Austria. A more recent source indicated that in Austria about 85 percent were Catholics, 6 percent protestants, and 1 percent Islamic. Some parts of Baden and Württemberg were originally Protestant, but due to the refugees from the Sudetenland after World War II, there are today some Catholics as well. In the former Communist East Germny (DDR), most people were protestants, too. East Germany had about 35 percent of all German protestants, but only 8 percent of Catholics. In West Germany the ratio between Protestants and Catholics was much closer, 51 and 44 per cent. Another source indicates that West Germany during 1989 there were 41 percent protestants, 43 percent catholics, 3 percent Islamic. Many Muslims in Germany are the descendents of the Turkish guest workers who came to Germany during the pst-War economic boom. The East German composition was 30 percent Protestants, 6 Catholics, and 64 percent had or reported no religion. One source indicates that in 2000, 42 percent of Germans were protestants, 33 percent catholics and 3 percent Islamic people. A 2001 report provides a different assessment, suggesting that the ratio of Protestants and Catholics are about equal (table 2). I am not sure why these assessments are so different. It is must be that in eronious as such a change could not have taken place in such a short period. One question we have is why Cathloics are gaining in adherents over Protestants. A German reader provides some insights, "I see two reasons: If you add all figures there is a not-mentioned another third of population which does not belong to a church è they left a church, mostly the protestantic church as the catholics have a stronger binding to their church. Especially in the former DDR (mostly protestantic north) due to the political pressure a lot of persons left their church. The protestant part and people were in average over generations socially and economically of a higher status è less children. Today in larger towns throughout Germany, both both religions are present, but you can tell by the age of the churches, which one was originally there.

State Trends

There have been major changes in the religious composition of several German states. One repor indicated, that some parts of Some parts of Baden and Württemberg were originally Protestant. After World War II the Czechs expelled most Germans, many of whom were Catholics. This substantially increased the Catholic population in these states. Another German reader tells us, "This is a bad example because only the northern part of Baden had a protestantic population, the southern part was „dark“ catholic!" I think that means the state was almost entirely Catholic. A German reader provides some interesting insights into state trends, "About Württemberg, Baden, Bavaria, and Hessen: The religion was determined by the sovereign. All four countries in the South. Württemberg and Baden of the present days cover areas which were up to the secularization after 1815 (after the Napolean wars and the Congress of Vienna -- Wiener Kongress ) under (catholic) clerical sovereignty, e.g., Ellwangen, Oberschwaben, Südbaden, a lot of catholic cloisters. The kings of Württemberg and Baden were protestantic (not Lutherian, but reformed like Switzerland around Zurich and Geneva – Switzerland has also catholic cantones, e.g., Basel and Graubünden). One village reformed (Protestant), the next one catholic; in marriage of a couple with different religions the catholic side very often (this is still the case) pressed the parents to baptize children in the catholic church; both religions had the same political rights, religion was free. After World War II a lot of refugees from former far east parts of Germany (now Poland, the Baltics as well as Czechoslovakia and other countries) came also to Württemberg and Baden, and the mixture of religions continued. The Bavarian kings were catholic è Bavaria was overwhelmingly Catholic and now is still mostly catholic. The same is true of Austria. Hessen was Protestant (Lutheran) and now is also mixed, half/half). In Hessen a lot of former refugees from France, the Hugennots ( Hugenotten ), in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries settled in villages given to them by the Hessen dukes. The Hugennots were the reformed (Protestant) population in France. There are still communities with churches of this kind of clerical service."

Sources

Hobsbawm, Eric. Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (Pantheon: 2003), 448p. Hobsbawm was born in Egypt of an English father and Austrian mother. He was raised in Vienna and Berlin. As a teenagr he became a Marxist and was recruited to a communist youth group. He engaged in anti-NAZI activities, but he and his parents left Germany within weeks of the NAZI take over. He writes that he remained a Communist in later years out of loyalty to his young friend who fought the NAZIs--few of who survived the Third Reich.







HBC






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Created: March 10, 1999
Last updated: 2:56 PM 7/5/2004