Wirtschaftswunder means economic miracle and originally described the exceptional growth and stability of the West German economy after 1948, leaving behind the widespread destruction of the Second World War. Throughought the 1950s the West German economy grew at 8% per annum, with low inflation and increasing mass prosperity. The Volkswagen Beetle car which sold massively around the world is often seen as a symbol of this Wirtschaftswunder, and a country enjoying rapid economic growth is sometimes said to be experiencing a wirtschaftswunder.
The Wirtschaftswunder is credited to numerous factors, among them the survival of large German firms and their technological and scientific edge, availability of a large pool of skilled workers, and traditional German work ethic and industriousness, called Fleiß. Some have even argued that the fact that Germany had been flattened meant starting over and doing it better in many industries, eventually overtaking industries in other undamaged countries less geared to investment and innovation. Interestingly, before re-unification of the two Germanies, East Germany enjoyed a stronger economy than other East Block countries.
One contributing factor in starting the Wirtschaftswunder was the huge financial support given to German reconstruction, and to the UK and France, by the USA’s Marshall Plan, which was intended to create stability, as well as trading partners and markets for US goods, and avoid repeating the harsh conditions under which fascism arose in the 1930s, or under which communism might prosper in future. By contrast, the Versailles Treaty of 1919 formally ending the First World War had imposed punitive and harsh reparations payments on Germany, requiring payment of billions to other countries to compensate for their losses and damages. In the economic hardship of the times the reparations had become a contentious financial and political burden and stopped in the 1930s.
Wirtschaft means economy, where Wirt means host and -schaft creates an abstract noun similar to “household management”, and Wunder means miracle. Other German words containing Wunder in English include Wunderkind and Wunderbar.