Reconstruction Period after World War II
With the U.S. Military Government Proclamation No. 2, the state of Greater Hesse was founded on September 19, 1945. On October 12, 1945, Wiesbaden became the new state capital. The Hessian territory comprised the former Prussian government districts of Kassel and Wiesbaden as well as the former People’s State of Hesse. The districts of the Upper and Lower Westerwald, Unterlahn and St. Goarshausen along with Rhenish Hesse on the left bank of the Rhine, became part of the French occupation zone and were integrated into the State of Rhineland-Palatinate.
In a statement, the former Hessian Minister of Cultural Affairs, Erwin Stein, said about the new State of Hessen in 1963 that it “reflected a territorially homogenous state territory with an organic structure in a Germany still carved up by zonal borders…The State of Hessen is an economically and socially very productive state which is based on the natural constellation of its people and their land within its historical and cultural context…”.
The first government of the Hessian State with Prime Minister Karl Geiler was appointed by the U. S. military government and presented to the public on October 16, 1945. Step by step, political life took shape. On August 27, 1945 the military government granted the formation of political parties at district and community level. On November 23, they eventually permitted parties at state level and on February 28, 1946 parties were eventually allowed to unite at the level of the occupational zone.
A constitution for the State of Hessen
June 30, 1946 is another significant date in the initial phase of the young democracy. On this day, the elections for the formation of the consultative Constitutional Convention took place in Hessen. From July 15 to October 29, 1946, 42 delegates of the SPD, 35 of the CDU, 7 of the KPD and 6 of the LDP (predecessor of today’s FDP) debated over the basic order of the State of Hessen.
Although the LDP voted against, the 29-member Constitutional Committee adopted the compiled draft and, following its approval by the military government, it was put to a vote by the Hessian population. On December 1, 1946, 76.8 % of those entitled to vote, decided in favor of adopting the constitution.
Right from the beginning, the young democracy had to overcome everyday problems. The consequences of the war were unimaginable: people were suffering from a lack of housing, loss of home and identity, destruction and a lack of basic goods. Many of the Hessian cities, such as Frankfurt, Hanau, Darmstadt, Giessen, Marburg, Fulda and Kassel, were badly destroyed. However, the reconstruction of the economy and society was achieved relatively quickly thanks also to the help of the American occupying power.
One of the greatest achievements of Hessian post-war history was the welcoming and integration of almost one million refugees and expellees from the East. Under Prime Minister Georg August Zinn the “Hessenplan” was implemented, which promoted not only the integration of the new citizens, but also infrastructural improvements and the modernization of industrial plants all over the country.
Economic recovery in Hessen and in the Federal Republic
Within a few years, Hessen developed into a prospering region. As early as 1957, it became one of the donor states in the Federal Fiscal Equalization Mechanism (Länderfinanzausgleich). In the following years of the economic recovery, Hessen became one of the leading states of the Federal Republic. This was not only the result of the “Hessenplan”, but also of the project “Social Upgrading of the Village”. In the 1960s Frankfurt/Main became the economic engine of the Rhine/Main Region.
After the division of Germany, Hessen became the geographical center of the Federal Republic of Germany and Frankfurt turned into an important finance center. Hessen’s strong position is also palpable in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, where it assumed a leadership position amongst the SPD-governed states. Georg August Zinn engaged in a number of litigations at the Federal Constitutional Court against the Federal Government of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. This way, he avoided e.g. the introduction of a government-owned television network. Instead the Prime Ministers of the Federal States compiled a Federal treaty deciding in favor of the foundation of the ZDF (second German national television channel) as a public sector institution.