Titles called "Chancellor" (Kanzler) go way back. The Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire had positions called "Archchancellor" (Erzkanzler). After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia and Austria had State Chancellors (Staatskanzler).
The North German Confederation (which was the prototype of the empire; it even had the same flag) had a Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) between 1867 and 1871, who was, of course, Otto von Bismarck.
German Empire (1871-1918)
In the German Empire, the Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) was appointed by the Emperor. The parliament (Reichstag) could do jack shit about it and was mostly there to argue about the budget or wait for the chancellor to initiate a bill (which they couldn't do themselves). The Reichskanzler was technically a one-man administration, who appointed secretaries to assist him.
Leo von Caprivi (1890-1894) — Former Army General. Had the thankless job of being Bismarck's successor, against whom almost anyone would've compared unfavorably. He began the implementation of Wilhelm II's "New Course" into German policy: Social reforms, more free trade and a pro-British foreign policy. The latter included giving up the good relations with Russia, since he himself admitted that he wasn't Magnificent Bastard enough to maintain Bismarck's sophisticated foreign policy. He finished the negotiations for the Zanzibar treaty, which traded land between Germany and the British Empire. A strip of land in Africa is still named after him.
Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (1894-1900) — Elderly (he was already 75 in 1894) former prime minister of Bavaria and diplomat. He finished the BGB, the first civil code for all of Germany, which is still in force today.
Bernhard von Bülow (1900-1909) — Had already been something of a "shadow chancellor" during the later years of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst. His ill-thought foreign policy poisoned the relations with Britain, which led to the creation of the Entente between Britain and France. With his statements of support of Austria-Hungary regarding the balkans (Nibelungentreue) he helped laying the foundation for World War One. Critics claimed he was so slimy "compared to him, an eel is like a hedgehog!" The Daily-Telegraph-Affair destroyed his relationship with the Emperor and he had to resign. His posthumously published memoirs were so blatantly self serving that the ex-Kaiser said Bülow was the only man he'd known who had died and then committed suicide.
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1909-1917) — His pre-WWI foreign policy was geared towards improving Germany's relations with Britain and he attempted to reform Prussia's classist election system. He failed at both, and his influence on the Emperor was more and more eclipsed by that of the military. Trying to find compromises between the left and right wings of the Reichstag only earned him the loathing of both sides. The opinion of historians about him are mixed, especially about his role in the war and its outbreak. His failed attempts to reach a peace with the Entente earned him the hate of Hindenburg and Ludendorff and they forced him to resign.
Georg Michaelis (1917) — "Georg who?" The obscure Prussian official Michaelis was pushed into office by the German High Command. He managed to turn the entire Reichstag against him after just five days in office and quickly noticed, that whatever makes a good chancellor, he didn't have it.
Prince Maximilian of Baden (1918) — Hastily appointed when Germany needed a head of government with the support of the Reichstag and whom the Entente would negotiate with. He fired Ludendorff, ended the U-boat war, sued for peace and declared the abdication of Wilhelm II. He resigned on first day of the November Revolution, which ended the German Empire.
Today, all of the chancellors of the German Empire are rather obscure outside of historical circles. Except for Otto von Bismarck, of course.
Revolutionary Period (1918-1919; sometimes lumped with the Weimar Republic)
Friedrich Ebert (1918-1919) — Social Democrat. He was proclaimed chancellor by Maximilian of Baden on the first day of the revolution without being asked beforehand. This was an attempt to "parliamentize" the revolution and to keep it form turning into a full blown civil war like the Russian Revolution. He oversaw the transition from the German Empire to the Weimar Republic, the beginning of the demobilisation and prevented a Bolshevist revolution with military force. Today, he is more remembered for being the first President of the Weimar Republic.
Weimar Republic (1919-1933)
In the Weimar Republic, the Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) and all ministers were appointed by the Imperial President (Reichspräsident; the "Ersatzkaiser"), but could be disposed by the lower house (Reichstag) with a simple majority. The Reichskanzler was a fairly weak figure, as his ministers were not bound to follow any of his orders and the cabinet could overturn his decisions by majoritiy vote.
Philipp Scheidemann (1919) — Social Democrat. No documentary about general German history is complete without the footage of him proclaiming the republic from a balcony of the Reichstag building in 1918. He opposed the Treaty of Versailles and chose to resign rather than to approve to it.
Gustav Bauer (1919-1920) — Social Democrat. He approved the Treaty of Versailles, but not without subtext of revenge. He lost the support of the SPD after the Kapp-Putsch and resigned.
Hermann Müller (1920) — Social Democrat.
Konstantin Fehrenbach (1920-1921) - Centre Party. He struggled with the gigantic financial demands of the Entente and had to resign when he failed to find support in the Reichstag.
Joseph Wirth (1922) — Centre Party. His first administration resigned as a protest against the transfer of upper Silesia to Poland by the Entente. He is most remembered for his famous speech during his second administration: "The Enemy is to the right".
Wilhelm Cuno (1922-1923) — Independent. He, too, struggled with the reparation payments. When France and Belgium occupied the Rhineland he encouraged "passive resistance" through general strikes and sabotage. This bankrupted the country further and he had to resign.
Gustav Stresemann (1923) — Liberal Nationalist. One of the most well remembered chancellors of the Weimar Republic and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He ended the passive resistance in the Rhineland, reached several agreements with the Entente regarding Versailles and did a monetary reform to end the hyperinflation. The Reichstag axed him anyway. He stayed Germany's foreign minister until his death of a stroke in 1929 which left a huge gap in Germany's diplomatic relations, especially those with France.
Wilhelm Marx (1923-1925) — Centre Party. He stabilized the economy further and struggled with seperatists in Palatinate and the Rhineland.
Hans Luther (1925-1926) — Independent. His majority in the Reichstag fell apart after he had recognized the new eastern border. He was deposed later over a Flag dispute with Hindenburg.
(Otto Geßler (1926) — Democratic Party. Six days filler chancellor. Usually not mentioned or counted.)
Wilhelm Marx (1926-1928) — Centre Party. In his second run, he brought Germany into the League of Nations and fired General Hans von Seeckt, who had turned the Reichswehr into a "state within a state".
Hermann Müller (1928-1930) — Social Democrat. Considered the last democratic chancellor of the Weimar Republic. His administration was toppled by a dispute over a 0.25% increase of the unemployment insurance payments.
Heinrich Brüning (1930-1932) — Centre Party. Together with Hindenburg, he seeked to undermine the influence of the unstable Reichstag and ruled with presidential emergency decrees instead of laws under toleration by the SPD. His attempts to ease the Great Depression were a failure and the election of 1930 saw massive gains for the Nazis and Communists, which led to a massive withdrawal of foreign money from Germany. He, however, managed to have the reparation payments reduced to 3 billion goldmark (which were never paid) and banned the Nazi SS and SA. A dispute over agricultural aids with Hindenburg ended his administration. Historians views on Brüning are mixed.
Franz von Papen (1932) — Centre Party (went independent after two days). He was installed by Schleicher, who needed someone to work Hindenburg. Schleicher openly admitted that Papen just was a figurehead. He used emergency decrees to unban the SS and SA, dissolve the Reichstag (which was once only minutes away from kicking him out) two times within the same year (which brought gains to the anti-democratic parties) and activate the Reichswehr to take over the State of Prussia with military force. Later, he tried to talk Hindenburg into a coup against the Republic, but was crossed by Schleicher. Became vice-chancellor during the early years of Nazi rule and was tried and acquitted after the war for his involvement in the Austrian "Anschluss".
Kurt von Schleicher (1932-1933) — Independent. Backstabbing Papen had earned him a powerful enemy, as Papen still had a lot of influence over Hindenburg. Schleicher struggled against the anti-democratic parties in the Reichstag and attempted to split and weaken the Nazi Party. Papen quickly ganged up with Hitler against Schleicher. This led to Hitler's appointment as chancellor through Papen's influence on Hindenburg and the end of the Weimar Republic. Schleicher was killed by the SS during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
The Weimar Republic was an unstable political clusterfuck of epic proportions with 21 administrations under 12 chancellors in only 14 years. The weakness of many Weimar governments stemmed from the use of Proportional Representation, which forced many parties into weak coalitions and allowed the extremists to have a much greater influence, and the fact that the President could remove and appoint new Chancellors whenever it suited him. Most of its chancellors are largely forgotten today due to their short terms and failure to make a difference. Scheidemann and Stresemann are still remembered positively. Franz von Papen is still infamous for his manipulations of the increasingly senile President Hindenburg and for his role in Hitler's rise to the office of chancellor. He lived until 1969 and never saw prison.
Nazi Germany (1933-1945)
Adolf Hitler (1933-1945) — National Socialist (Duh). After being appointed, Hitler wasted no time and formed a coalition of anti-democratic/anti-communist parties, talked Hindenburg to give him more powers and used the Reichstag Fire to pass the Enabling Act (Reichsermächtigungsgesetz). In the Night of the Long Knives (aka Röhm-Putsch), Hitler's SS killed several SA competitors and drove many of his allies (including von Papen) out of politics. Upon Hindenburg's death, Hitler merged the offices of chancellor and president into one position called "(Supreme) Leader and Reich Chancellor" ("Führer und Reichskanzler"). As the years passed and the Nazis tightened their control over Germany, the trappings of parliamentary government faded away—the Cabinet met as a body for the last time in 1938, the Reichstag met for the last time in 1942, and in the later years Hitler was referred to only as Führer, with Reichskanzler being dropped. The restis history. More about him on his own page.
Joseph Goebbels (1945) — National Socialist. Nazi Germany's Minister of Propaganda. Hitler's political testament broke up his combined government office into President and Chancellor once again after his death. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz became the new Reichspräsident, while Goebbels succeeded Hitler as Reichskanzler for a few hours before he took his own life as well (and those of his family). More about him on the Nazi Germany page.
Johann Ludwig Graf Schwerin von Krosigk (1945) — National Socialist. Officially "Leading Minister of the acting Reich Government" and also foreign minister and finance minister under Dönitz. About a week in office, apart from finance minister, which he held since before Hitler's takeover. Since most of Germany was already occupied, his only significant act (as foreign minister) was to declare the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht.
West Germany (1949-1990)
Learning from the failure of the Weimar Republc, the Bonn Republic featured a largely depowered Federal President (Bundespräsident) and a much stronger lower house.
The Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) is directly elected by the parliament (Bundestag; the lower house) and runs the country indirectly through the ministers. His/her term is bound to that of the Bundestag and automatically expires with it. The Bundeskanzler can appoint and dismiss the Ministers through the Präsident.
Ludwig Erhard (1963-1966) — Christian Democrat. Nicknamed "Der Dicke" ("The fat one"). The cigar smoking father of the social market economy (soziale Marktwirtschaft) and the economic boom in Germany. He, however, did this as Minister of Economy under Adenauer. As chancellor, Erhard improved relations with the USA and opened official diplomatic relations with Israel. The introduction of the Deutschmark is often misattributed to him, yet was ordered by the Americans. He only implemented it, though his timing was faster than expected and he had to talk himself out of trouble with General Clay (the head of the occupation forces in the Tri-Zone)
Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-1969) — Christian Democrat. Nicknamed "Häuptling Silberzunge" ("Chief Silvertongue"/"Chief Sweettalker"), as he was the "head" of a grand coalition and spend most of his time negotiating between the SPD and CDU/CSU. The overwhelming majority of the grand coalition, the introduction of emergency laws (Notstandsgesetze) and his past as a Nazi party member made him the target of the rage of the emerging student movement.
Willy Brandt (1969-1974) — Social Democrat. Received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving Germany's relations with Eastern Europe and East Germany (Neue Ostpolitik). Most remembered for his genuflection (Kniefall) at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in Poland. He had to resign after one of his closest advisors, Günter Guillaume, was revealed to be an East German spy. He commissioned the Brandt Report on the North-South divide. In 2003, he was voted 5th greatest German of all time.
Helmut Schmidt (1974-1982, still alive as of December 3, 2013) — Social Democrat. Sometimes called "Schmidt-Schnauze" (roughly: Big mouth). He ran the country during the terror of the Red Army Faction. He was the realist/pragmatist/cynical foil for Willy Brandt, the big idealist. At more than 90 years old, he now is unofficially the only man allowed to smoke on German televisionnote He was interviewed for television in New York, after the banning of smoking in public places, and nobody even bothered him about it. and was voted the most popular German politician of recent history in 2005.
Helmut Kohl (1982-1998, still alive as of December 3, 2013) — Christian Democrat. Became chancellor through a motion of no confidence against Helmut Schmidt. He worked towards a Europe without borders (Schengen Treaty) and laid the foundation for the Euro. Was a favorite target for political cabaretists and caricaturists, just like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, although less for controversial policy (although there was some of that) and more for his personality—he had something of an aggressively anti-elitist and provincial style, with the prime emblem of that being his insistence that visiting heads of state be treated to Saumagen (a rustic dish that amounts to haggis, but made from pork and from his native Palatinate) when visiting Germany. Polls showed that he would lose the next election, but then the Wall came down. He wasted no time, promised Reunification as fast as possible and garnered the support of the allies of WWII for it. This earned him two reelections in the reunified Germany.
Berlin Republic (1990-present)
The reunified Germany continued to use the West German system (see above).
Helmut Kohl (1982-1998, still alive as of December 3, 2013) — Christian Democrat. That election? The CDU/CSU won it, as the east Germans were understandably suspicious of socialism and bore a great deal of goodwill towards Kohl personally. Some SPD types actually accused him of pursuing the "reunification as quickly as possible" policy in order to stay in power—which might have been true for all we know. After the Reunification, Kohl struggled with his promises that he had made to the east Germans. The high rates of unemployment resulting from unification and the economic measures that he imposed to cope with the cost of the process ended his chancellorship after 16 years. Due to his long rule, he is sometimes called "Der ewige Kanzler" ("The eternal chancellor"). His talent to a) make friends among the mighty of the world and b) neutralize his political enemies may have helped him stay in power that long.
Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005, still alive as of December 3, 2013) — Social Democrat. Originally very pro-American (he supported the Afghanistan war), he later actively opposed the Iraq war and improved Germany's relations with France and Russia instead (most notably the controversial Baltic pipeline). Schröder did several social reforms that alienated many social democrats—his vaguely neoliberal orientation combined with his cigar-chomping ways to earned him the nickname "Genosse der Bosse" ("Comrade of the Bosses"), and these policies combined with his personal charisma have led many to call him the German Tony Blair. He proved to be quite the electoral Magnificent Bastard in 2005: when he felt that he had lost his support in the Bundestag, he filed a motion of no confidence against himself to trigger re-elections. He then turned on the charm and campaigned like hell, managing to get the SPD's share of the vote much higher than expected and forcing a grand coalition in the next Bundestag. He could have even stayed on as Chancellor if he hadn't promised not to enter in an alliance with the Left Party.
Angela Merkel (2005-present) — Christian Democrat. First woman and first person from the former East Germany to have the job. She is a Doctor of Physics (her Thesis was about quantum chemistry) who moved into East German politics around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall; she was elected to the first, last, and only democratically-elected Volkskammer (parliament) of East Germany before it dissolved. Forbes lists her among the most powerful women in the world since 2006. In 2009, the Christian Democrats' traditional allies, the Free Democrats (FDP; free-market liberals) picked up enough seats to allow Merkel to shed the SPD and govern with their preferred partner. As Chancellor, she is known more for being a faltering pair of hands at the helm, as opposed to the flashy media-genius of her predecessor. Also got embarrassed by being named "unfuckable lard-arse" - by Silvio Berlusconi nonetheless. Recently, Americans have been hearing her name in the news a lot, since it was revealed the American spy agencies were spying on her cell phone and her Internet searches.
Otto von Bismarck appears as a character in the historical novel Royal Flash, part of the Flashman series of books by George MacDonald Fraser. In the novel, Bismarck is portrayed as a very aggressive and ambitious character with excellent horsemanship skills. In the film version, he was portrayed by Oliver Reed.
After meeting Bismarck at the Congress of Berlin, Benjamin Disraeli cast him as the Count of Ferroll in his 1880 novel Endymion.
In the 1941 film The Prime Minister, a biopic of Disraeli, Bismarck is shown ranting whilst his shadow falls across the map of Europe, implying that the 1870s Eastern crisis was caused by German desire to dominate the Balkans (a false implication, but the film was made in Britain during World War II).
Bismarck appears as the German leader in several Civilization games.
After the revelation in 2013 that the US government had for years been spying on Merkel personally, the footage started making the rounds again with a new joke: that Bush was actually planting a bug on Merkel.