History
Das Bild zeigt den mit Abgeordneten gefüllten Plenarsaal bei der Konstituierung des NRW-Landtags.

History of North Rhine-Westphalia

The British Military Government’s ‘Operation Marriage’ created the State of North Rhine-Westphalia on 23 August, 1946, by merging the northern part of the former Prussian Rhine Province with Westphalia, another province of the now defunct state of Prussia. On 21 January, 1947, the new state was joined by the territory of Lippe. Karl Arnold, a Christian Democrat, became the first democratically elected State Premier. The values embraced by the people of North Rhine-Westphalia were very neatly summarised when he said, ‘We are Germany’s social conscience’.

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Never again was the Ruhr to become the centre of German arms production. At the same time, the Ruhr’s heavy industry was needed for rebuilding North Rhine-Westphalia – and Europe. With a view to overcoming the political and economic obstacles imposed by the International Authority for the Ruhr, the European Coal and Steel Community was set up in 1951, driving forward the country’s economic recovery and laying the groundwork for European integration. That same year, the Coal and Steel Co-determination Act came into force, giving shareholders and workers an equal say in how a coal or steel corporation is run.

The ‘Economic Miracle’ created the basis for wealth for all. A major contribution came from the fourteen or so million immigrant workers, or ‘guest workers’, many of whom were eventually to stay in the country. ‘They called for labourers, and it was people who came’, Swiss writer Max Frisch once commented on the need for a change of attitude towards the new arrivals. The Coal Crisis of 1964 brought the first cracks.  The problems were addressed – albeit only temporarily – through special legislation, referred to as ‘Concerted Action’, and the establishment of the Ruhrkohle AG corporation. This first coal crisis heralded the onset of painful structural changes that were to last several decades. In 1987, steelworkers went on strike for the first time in fifty years. Four years later, the death knell sounded for the Rheinhausen Rolling Mill in Duisburg – which came to symbolise the burgeoning crisis in the Ruhr.

In 1978, Johannes Rau was elected to succeed Heinz Kühn as Premier. During his twenty years at the helm, he was the face and voice of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 consigned socialism to the bin of history and led to Germany’s reunification. Berlin became capital whilst Bonn remained the ‘Federal City’. 

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