The Saarland (German: das Saarland –) is one of Germany's sixteen federal states (Bundesländer). With its capital at Saarbrücken, it has an area of 2,570 km² and (as of 30 April 2012) 1,012,000 inhabitants. In terms of both area and population size it is – apart from the city-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg – Germany's smallest federal state. The wealth of its coal deposits and their large-scale industrial exploitation, coupled with its location on the border between France and Germany, have given the Saarland a unique history in modern times.
Prior to its creation as the Territory of the Saar Basin by the League of Nations after World War I, the Saarland (or simply "the Saar", as is frequently referred to) did not exist as a unified entity. Until then, some parts of it had been Prussian while others belonged to Bavaria. The inhabitants voted to rejoin Germany in a plebiscite held in 1935.
From 1947 to 1956 the Saarland was a French-occupied territory (the "Saar Protectorate") separate from the rest of Germany. Between 1950 and 1956, Saarland was a member of the Council of Europe. In 1955, in another plebiscite, the inhabitants were offered independence, but voted instead for the territory to become a state of West Germany.
Before World War I
The independent territory of Saarland did not exist until 1919. The region of the Saarland was settled by the Celtic tribes of Treveri and Mediomatrici. The most impressive relic of their time is the remains of a fortress of refuge at Otzenhausen in the north of the Saarland. In the 1st century BC, the Roman Empire made the region part of its province of Belgica. The Celtic population mixed with the Roman immigrants. The region gained wealth, which can still be seen in the remains of Roman villas and villages.
Roman rule ended in the 5th century, when the Franks conquered the territory. For the next 1,300 years the region shared the history of the Kingdom of the Franks, the Carolingian Empire and of the Holy Roman Empire. The region of the Saarland was divided into several small territories, some of which were ruled by sovereigns of adjoining regions. Within the Holy Roman Empire these territories gained a wide range of independence, threatened, however, by the French kings, who sought, from the 17th century onwards, to incorporate all the territories on the western side of the river Rhine and repeatedly invaded the area in 1635, in 1676, in 1679 and in 1734, extending their realm to the Saar River and establishing the city and stronghold of Saarlouis in 1680.
It was not the king of France but the armies of the French Revolution who terminated the independence of the states in the region of the Saarland. After 1792 they conquered the region and made it part of the French Republic. While a strip in the west belonged to the Département Moselle, the centre in 1798 became part of the Département de Sarre, and the east became part of the Département du Mont-Tonnerre. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the region was divided again. Most of it became part of the Prussian Rhine Province. Another part in the east, corresponding to the present Saarpfalz district, was allocated to the Kingdom of Bavaria. A small part in the northeast was ruled by the Duke of Oldenburg.
On 31 July 1870, the French Emperor Napoleon III ordered an invasion across the River Saar to seize Saarbrücken. The first shots of the Franco-Prussian War 1870/71 were fired on the heights of Spichern, south of Saarbrücken. The Saar region became part of the German Empire which came into existence on 18 January 1871, during the course of this war.
In 1920 the Saargebiet was occupied by Britain and France under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupied area included portions of the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate. In practice the region was administered by France. In 1920 this was formalized by a 15-year League of Nations mandate.
In 1933, a considerable number of communists and other political opponents of National Socialism fled to the Saar, as it was the only part of Germany that remained under foreign occupation following the First World War. As a result, anti-Nazi groups agitated for the Saarland to remain under French administration. However, with most of the population being ethnically German and with strong local anti-French sentiments deeply entrenched, such views were considered suspect or even treasonable, and therefore found little support.
Following the referendum Josef Bürckel was appointed on 1 March 1935 as the German Reich's commissioner for reintegration (Reichskommissar für die Rückgliederung des Saarlandes). When the reincorporation was considered accomplished, his title was changed (after 17 June 1936) to Reichskommissar für das Saarland. In September 1939, in response to the German Invasion of Poland, French forces invaded the Saarland in a half-hearted offensive, occupying some villages and meeting little resistance, before withdrawing. A further change was made after 8 April 1940 to Reichskommissar für die Saarpfalz; finally, after 11 March 1941, he was made Reichsstatthalter in der "Westmark" (the region's new name, meaning "Western March or Border"). He died on 28 September 1944 and was succeeded by Willi Stöhr, who remained in office until the region fell to advancing American forces in March 1945.
History after World War II
Under the Monnet Plan France attempted to gain economic control of the German industrial areas with large coal and mineral deposits that were not in Soviet hands: the Ruhr area and the Saar area. Attempts to gain control of or internationalize permanently the Ruhr area (see International Authority for the Ruhr) were abandoned in 1951 with the German agreement to pool its coal and steel resources (see European Coal and Steel Community) in return for full political control of the Ruhr. The French attempt to gain economic control over the Saar was more successful at the time, with the final vestiges of French economic influence ending in 1981. Unlike the Soviet-controlled Poland in Upper Silesia, France did not annex the Saar or expel the local German population.
In his speech "Restatement of Policy on Germany", made in Stuttgart on September 6, 1946, United States Secretary of State James F. Byrnes stated the U.S. motive in detaching the Saar from Germany: "The United States does not feel that it can deny to France, which has been invaded three times by Germany in 70 years, its claim to the Saar territory". (See also Morgenthau plan for U.S. and UK designs for the Saar area.)
From 1945 to 1951, a policy of industrial disarmament was pursued in Germany by the Allies (see the industrial plans for Germany). As part of this policy, limits were placed on production levels, and industries in the Saar were dismantled just as in the Ruhr, although mostly in the period prior to its detachment (see also the 1949 letter from the UK Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, urging a reconsideration of the dismantling policy).
The Saar Protectorate was headed by a military governor from 30 August 1945: Gilbert Yves Édmond Grandval (b. 1904 – d. 1981), who remained on 1 January 1948 as High Commissioner, and January 1952 – June 1955 as the first of two French ambassadors, his successor being Eric de Carbonnel (b. 1910 – d. 1965) until 1956. Saarland, however, was allowed a regional administration very soon, consecutively headed by:
In 1954, France and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) developed a detailed plan called the Saarstatut to establish an independent Saarland. It was signed as an agreement between the two countries on October 23, 1954 as one of the Paris Pacts, but a plebiscite held on October 23, 1955 rejected it by 67.7%.
On 27 October 1956 the Saar Treaty declared that Saarland should be allowed to join the Federal Republic of Germany, which it did on 1 January 1957. This was the last significant international border change in Europe until the fall of Communism.
The Saarland's reunification with the Federal Republic of Germany was sometimes referred to as the Kleine Wiedervereinigung ("little reunification", in contrast with the post-Cold War absorption of the GDR). Even after reunification, the Saar franc remained as the territory's currency until West Germany's Deutsche Mark replaced it on 7 July 1959. The Saar Treaty established that French, not English as in the rest of West Germany, should remain the first foreign language taught in Saarland schools; this provision is still largely followed today, although it is no longer binding.