The Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is one of the world's leading industrialised countries, located in the heart of Europe. Due to its central location, Germany has more neighbours than any other European country: these are Denmark in the north, Poland and the Czech Republic in the east, Austria and Switzerland in the south, France and Luxembourg in the south-west and Belgium and the Netherlands in the north-west. In the north-west Germany borders on the North Sea and in the north-east on the Baltic.
Germany is a democratic parliamentary federal state. It is made up of 16 federal Länder (states) which in certain spheres (especially in matters of cultural and educational policy, transport and economy) act independently of the Federation. From 1949 to 1990, Germany was divided into the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany and the German capital of Berlin was divided into East Berlin and West Berlin.
The Federal Republic of Germany is a member state of the United Nations, NATO, the G8 nations and a founding member of the EEC, now the European Union. Germany is currently seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
While the German language and the feeling of "Germanhood" go back more than a thousand years, the state now known as Germany was unified as a modern nation-state only in 1871, when the German Empire, dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia, was forged. This was the second German Reich, usually translated as "empire", but also meaning "realm".
Holy Roman Empire
of the Holy Roman Empire. From Bildatlas der Deutschen Geschichte
by Dr Paul Knötel (1895).
The first Reich – known for much of its existence as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – stemmed from a division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which was founded by Charlemagne on December 25th, 800, and existed in varying forms until 1806. During these almost thousand years, the Germans expanded their influence successfully with the help of the Catholic Church, Northern Crusades and the Hanseatic League. In 1530, the attempt of Protestant Reformation of Catholicism turned out to have failed, and a separate Protestant church was acknowledged as new state religion in many states of Germany. This led to inter-German strife, the Thirty Years War (1618) and finally the Peace of Westphalia (1648), that resulted in a drastically enfeebled and politically disunited Germany, unable to resist the stroke of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the Reich was overrun and dissolved (1806). After that, France was for long perceived as Germany's arch-enemy. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Germany took revenge, but also during World War I, the invasion of France (1914) was a chief objective. The lasting effect of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire came to be the division between Austria, formerly the leading state of Germany, from the more western and northern parts. Between 1815 and 1871 Germany consisted of dozens of independent states, thirty-nine of which formed the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund).
Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871.
The second Reich, the German Empire, was proclaimed in Versailles on January 18th, 1871, after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This was mainly due to the work of Otto von Bismarck, Germany's most prominent statesman of the 19th century. Bismarck's domestic policies as Chancellor of Germany were characterised by his fight against perceived enemies of the Prussian-Protestant state. In the so-called Kulturkampf he tried to limit the influence of the Catholic Church through various measures. The other perceived threat was the rise of Social Democracy, which he fought partly by outlawing the Social Democratic party's organisation, and partly by reforms intended to improve the social conditions of the working classes. On foreign policy, Bismarck aimed at protecting the security of Germany through a system of alliances and various treaties (Dual Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1879; Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882; Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia in 1887). When the foreign situation proved auspicious, a number of German colonies were established overseas - South-West Africa, the Cameroons, Togo, East Africa etc. In 1890 Bismarck was dismissed by the new Emperor William II due to policy and personal differences. Soon a new course in foreign policy was taken, which was aimed at increasing Germany's influence in the world, but which also led to frictions with the other major powers. From 1898, negotiations for an alliance between Germany and Britain broke down as a result of Admiral Tirpitz's programme of warship construction. Germany became increasingly isolated. Imperialist power politics and the determined pursuit of national interests led to the outbreak in 1914 of World War I.
The incident which sparked off the war was the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent and his wife at Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, on July 28th 1914. The causes were the opposing policies of the European states, the armaments race, German–British rivalry, the difficulties of the Austro–Hungarian multinational state, Russia's Balkan policy and overhasty mobilisations and ultimatums. Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st, and on France on the 3rd; Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th. There was fighting in western, southern, central and eastern Europe, in the Middle East and the German colonies. In the west, Germany fought a war of position with bloody battles, while in the east no decisive victories were won. The British Naval Blockade in the North Sea seriously crippled Germany's supplies of raw materials and foodstuffs. After the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, Russia withdrew from the war under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, with terms highly favourable to Germany and its allies. The entry of the United States into the war, in 1917, marked a decisive turning-point. On November 4th 1918, the German Revolution broke out, and, on November 9th, Emperor Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated. On November 11th, an armistice was signed at Compiègne. The first world war was over.
After the Kaiser had abdicated, the Spartacists proclaimed a Socialist Republic on the same evening as the Social Democrats proclaimed the Weimar Republic. In the following months a German Communist Party and several Freikorps were established to fight each other and the supporters of the Weimar Republic. However, on August 11, 1919, the federal Weimar Constitution ultimately came into effect. At this time the National Socialist or Nazi Party was also founded.
While German culture flourished, and German science retained its world-leading position, the 1920s were more characterised by hyperinflation brought on by the post-war economic hardship, which in Germany's case may have been aggravated by the conditions and reparations required by the Treaty of Versailles. There was considerable unrest, the German people's being unused to democracy and lacking confidence in the new state; German voters increasingly supported anti-democratic parties, both right- and left-wing. Anti-modernism and political reaction appealed to the voters. The situation deteriorated further after the world wide Great Depression, and in two extraordinary elections of 1932, the most aggressive anti-parliamentarian parties together got more than the half of the seats, with 37% and then 33% of the votes to the National Socialist Party, and about 16% of the votes to the Communists.
The end of the Weimar Republic came when on 30 January, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany with support from the centre-right parties. A Reichstag fire was used as an excuse for abolishing civil and political rights, and with the Enabling Act, March 23, full legislative power was transferred to Hitler's government, establishing a centralised totalitarian state in which the remaining checks and balances were quickly abolished.
The new regime quickly dissolved all trade unions, made Germany a one-party state, and repressed all opposition. From 1933 onwards, 412 concentration camps were set up for groups and people perceived as threats. Open persecution of Jews began. In 1934, the Nazi Party was purged of internal left-wing opposition, concentrated to the SA, in the Night of the Long Knives, ostensibly to end homosexual vices. In 1935 the Nuremberg race laws came into force: Jews were deprived of their German citizenship, were banned from marrying Germans, and locked out from most of society. Science and cultural life were hit by a massive brain drain. Many who had the opportunity chose exile, and of those who didn't, many died before Nazi rule was over. It is interesting to note that Albert Einstein was one of the escapee's of this exile. He later contributed to the idea of the Nuclear bomb, and by convincing America began the Manhatten project, in a race to beat the Germans at building the first nuclear bomb.
In 1936, German troops entered the demilitarised Rhineland, violating the Versailles Treaty, but rebuilding national self-esteem. This was permitted by lack of enforcement from France, Britain or other countries. Emboldend, Hitler from 1938 onwards executed a policy of expansionism. It started with the annexation of Austria, followed by the Sudetes region which had been in Czechoslovakia since 1919. On and on a policy of appeasment kept allowing Germany to expand unchallenged. In 1939, Bohemia and Moravia was annexed and a Slovakian independent state was created. To avoid a two-front war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was concluded with the Soviet Union. The final straw was an attack on Poland. Germany led a Blitzkrieg against Poland, which was divided by Germany and Russia, and this led to the beginning of World War II.
In 1940, most of Western Europe was occupied, but the Luftwaffe during the airwar over britain known as the Battle of Britain failed to defeat Britain. The Luftwaffe in the beginning of the Battle of Britain had Air Superiority. To try to break the resolve of the British it was ordered that bombing runs should be carried out on London. These bombings resulted in many deaths but the English, under Churchill were even more resolved to continue the war. With time, and new radar technology the British slowly beat back the Luftwaffe and nullified its effectiveness in attacking Britain. In 1941, Yugoslavia and Greece were conquered. Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union and and drove the attack to Stalingrad. Russia then started to push Germany back. In December war was also declared on the United States to support their Japanese axis allies. By this point, Hitler had engaged too many enemies. He had Britain as a launching point for Allied attacks from the west, Russia attacking from the East, with little or no aid being given by the other Axis partners which were also being slowly defeated. This reversal of fortune started to become obvious in February 1943 at the Battle of Stalingrad. German cities increasingly became targets of Allied air attacks. One of the more famous air attacks firebombed a city, killing most inhabitants of the city. By 1945 all of Germany was occupied by the Allies (British, French, American, Russian). Hitler committed suicide, the European theater of World War II was over, and most of Europe's cities were left in ruins.
The Allied occupation revealed to the world and the German public the scale of the racially motivated killing of civilians: chiefly Slavs from behind the Eastern Front and virtually all Jews from the territories in German hands. Figures for the genocide in the East remain controversial and diverging, but the figure of 6 million deaths of Jews who lost their lives in the death camps of the Holocaust was established.
Division and Reunification
The war resulted in large losses of territory and the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Germany and the deaths of around 3 million German civilians, as well as millions of soldiers. The remaining German territory was occupied by the victors. The city of Berlin, though lying in the Soviet zone, was partitioned among the four Allies as well, with West Berlin being controlled by the Western allies.
In 1949, during the Berlin Blockade, Western forces airlifted food and supplies into West Berlin, after it had been cut off from Soviet-controlled East Berlin. West Germany benefitted from the American Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after the war and was a founding state of the European Union. The reconstructed West Germany once again became one of the world's major economies. Rule of law and democracy were restored and stabilised by successive governments in Bonn to prevent a second Weimar Republic. After fierce initial anticommunism, openings were made towards the Soviet Union and East Germany during Willy Brandt's chancellorship.
The Soviet-supported East Germany, by contrast, became one of the most repressive of the communist satellite states of the Warsaw Pact under the governments of Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker in East Berlin. The flight of growing numbers of East Germans via West Berlin led on August 13, 1961, to East Germany erecting the Berlin Wall and a fortified border to West Germany.
During the summer of 1989, following growing unrest, large numbers of East German citizens took refuge in West German embassies in Central and Eastern European countries in the hope of emigrating to the West. The East German government's confusion grew during the autumn of 1989, as events all over the Warsaw Pact countries turned to the favour of proponents of democracy. On November 9th, the East German authorities unexpectedly allowed East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. This marked the de facto end of East Germany.
On July 1st 1990 the reunification of the two Germanys was prepared. The reunification came into force on October 3rd, which was declared a national public holiday (German Unity Day).
Main article: Politics of Germany
Germany is a constitutional federal republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1949 constitution called Grundgesetz (Basic Law). It has a parliamentary system in which the head of government, the Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), is elected by the parliament.
Parliament. German Parliament is made up of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. The supreme legislative body is the Bundestag (Federal Diet), the lower house of Parliament, which is elected every four years. It in turn elects the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler). The Bundesrat (Federal Council), the upper house of Parliament, represents the 16 federal states (Bundesländer) and cooperates in law-making and administering the federation. Its members are appointed by the individual Länder, or states. Lately, there has been much concern about the Bundestag and the Bundesrat blocking each other, making effective government very difficult.
Head of state.The function of head of state is performed by the Federal President (Bundespräsident). He is elected every five years by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung), which is made up by the members of the Bundestag plus the corresponding number of Länder representatives. The powers of the Federal President are limited mostly to ceremonial and representative duties.
Federal Constitutional Court. The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), located in Karlsruhe, acts as the highest legal authority and ensures that legislative and judicial practice conforms with the Basic Law, the German constitution. It acts independently of the other state bodies but cannot act on its own behalf.
Main article: States of Germany
Germany is divided into sixteen states (in German called Bundesländer, singular Bundesland). It is further subdivided into 439 Kreise (districts) and cities (kreisfreie Städte) (2004).
Main article: Geography of Germany
The land. Since reunification of the two parts of the country Germany has resumed its traditional role as the major centre between Scandinavia in the north and the Mediterranean region in the south, as well as between the Atlantic west and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
The territory of Germany stretches from the high mountains of the Alps (highest point: the Zugspitze at 2,962 m) in the south to the shores of the North Sea in the north-west and the Baltic in the north-east. In between are found the forested uplands of central Germany and the low-lying lands of northern Germany (lowest point: Neuendorfer /Wilstermarsch at 3.54 meters below sea level), traversed by some of Europe's major rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Elbe.
Thanks to its central situation Germany has more neighbours than any other European country; these are Denmark in the north, Poland and the Czech Republic in the east, Austria and Switzerland in the south, France and Luxembourg in the south-west and Belgium and the Netherlands in the north-west.
Climate. The greater part of Germany lies in the cool/temperate climatic zone in which humid westerly winds predominate.
In the north-west and the north the climate is extremely oceanic and rain falls all the year round. Winters there are relatively mild and summers comparatively cool.
In the east the climate shows clear continental features; winters can be very cold for long periods, and summers can become very warm. Here, too, long dry periods are often recorded.
In the centre and the south there is a transitional climate which may be predominantly oceanic or continental, according to the general weather situation.
There have been several large-scale river floodings in the last few years; while floods of such severity are quite rare in the long term, their frequency has been increasing lately, partly due to changes in land use in the flood plains.
Main article: Economy of Germany
A German 50 cent euro
coin features the Brandenburg Gate
Germany is the world's third largest economy measured by gross domestic product, placed behind the United States and Japan. As of 2004, Germany was also the world's largest exporter for the second year in a row, despite the skyrocketing strength of the euro. Its major trading partners include France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands. A major issue of concern remains the persistently high unemployment rate - especially in the eastern Länder -, and partly as a result of it, weak domestic demand which slows down economic growth. However, when making international comparisons, one should never overlook the fact that Germany has had to shoulder the costs of reunifying two formerly separate parts of the country. According to Bert Rürup, head of Germany's Council of Economic Advisers, Unification is to blame for two-thirds of Germany's growth lag compared to its EU neighbours. In particular, until today eastern Germany lacks a solid base of small and medium-sized companies, which provided the foundation for West Germany's economic prosperity.
Agriculture. For many years now agriculture in Germany has been in a state of decline. Poor earnings and lack of profitability are counted to the main reasons for the failure of many medium and small concerns. The main crops grown are potatoes, wheat, barley, sugar beet and cabbage. Germany ranks among the world's largest producers of milk, milk products and meat.
Industrial sector. As in most other large economic nations, Germany's industrial sector has declined in favour of the service sector. Germany is among the world's largest and most technologically advanced producers of iron, steel, cement, chemicals, machinery, motor vehicles, machine tools and electronics, as well as a world leader in the shipbuilding industry. Major automakers like DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen, and huge international corporations like Siemens rank among the world's largest firms.
Service sector. The service sector has grown steadily in recent years and now contributes the largest share of GDP. This sector includes tourism. As of 2004, the largest numbers of foreign visitors to Germany came from the Netherlands, followed by the United States and the United Kingdom.
Natural resources. Germany is lacking in natural raw materials, if one disregards the hard coal deposits in the Ruhr area, in the Aachen district and in the Saarland, where mining is profitable only thanks to state subsidies. Brown coal from mines in the Leipziger Bucht and the Niederlausitz is still the major energy source in the eastern Länder, while mineral oil enjoys this position in the western Länder. The current red-Green coalition government is pursuing a long-term strategy of phasing out nuclear power in favour of renewable sources of energy.
Main article: Demographics of Germany
Germany has many large cities but only three with a population of one million or more (Berlin: 3 million, Hamburg: 1.8 million, Munich: 1.2 million); the population is thus much less centralised and oriented towards a single large capital than in most other European countries. The largest cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich (München), Cologne (Köln), Frankfurt am Main, Stuttgart, Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Bremen, Duisburg and Hanover (Hannover). By far the largest urban conurbation is the Rhine–Ruhr region including the Düsseldorf-Cologne district.
As of 31 December 2003, about 7.3 million non-citizen residents were living in Germany. By far the largest number came from Turkey, followed by Serbia and Montenegro, Italy, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Croatia, Austria, the United States, Macedonia and Slovenia . About 2/3s of these have been in the country for more than 8 years, 20% were born in Germany; both groups qualify for citizenship after recent changes in immigration law (2002 data), if the individuals involved choose to apply for it (which regularly involves renunciation of previous citizenship(s)). Germany is still a primary destination for political and economic refugees from many developing countries, but the number of asylum seekers has been dropping in recent years, reaching about 50,000 in 2003. A new immigration law recently took effect (1 January 2005), which provides a more systematic treatment of immigration issues as well as increased support for German language classes for immigrants.
An ethnic Danish minority of about 50,000 people lives in Schleswig, mostly close to the Danish border, in the north; a small number of Slavic people known as the Sorbs lives in the states of Saxony (about 40,000) and Brandenburg (about 20.000). The Frisian language is mother tongue to about 12,000 speakers in Germany, the rest living in the Netherlands. In rural areas of Northern Germany Low Saxon is widely spoken.
There are also a large number of ethnic German immigrants from the former Soviet Union area (1.7 million), Poland (0.7 million) and Romania (0.3 million) (1980–1999 totals), who are automatically granted German citizenship, and thus do not show up in foreign resident statistics; unlike the foreigners they have been settled by the government almost evenly spread throughout Germany. Many of them speak the languages of their former resident countries at home.
Germany has one of the world's highest levels of education. The most important foreign languages taught at school are English, Latin, French, Russian, Greek and Spanish. Since the end of World War II, the number of youths entering universities has more than tripled, but university attendance still lags behind many other European nations. In the annual league of top-ranking universities compiled by Shanghai Jiaotong University in 2004, Germany came 4th overall, but with only 7 universities in the top 100 (USA: 51). The highest ranking university, at no. 45, was the TU Munich.
Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, is a federal defence force with Army (Heer), Navy (Deutsche Marine), Air Force (Luftwaffe), Central Medical Services (Zentraler Sanitätsdienst) and Joint Service Support Command (Streitkräftebasis) branches. It employs some 250,000 personnel, 50,000 of whom are 18-30-year-old men on national duty for currently at least 9 months. In peacetime, the Bundeswehr is commanded by the Minister of Defence, currently Peter Struck (since 2002). If Germany is in a state of defence, the chancellor becomes commander in chief of the Bundeswehr.
Since 1990 the German military has undergone a constant process of change. In this evolution, the mission of the military has changed from repelling a potential invasion of armoured Soviet-led divisions to policing the world's hot spots. In the process, German military spending has fallen from about 3.5 per cent of gross national product in the early 1990s to about 1.4 per cent.
Currently, the German military has about 7,200 troops serving abroad in such places as Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia. They are also assisting the US anti-terrorism operation called Enduring Freedom off the Horn of Africa.
Critics of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government have argued that Germany's defence budget of about €24billion is too small. Nevertheless, Defence Minister Peter Struck has said the defence budget will remain roughly unchanged until 2006.
, Father of the German Reformation and reformer of the German language, 1529
Main article:Religion in Germany
Christianity is the major religion, with Protestants (particularly in the north and east) comprising 33% of the population and Catholics (particularly in the south and west) also 33%. In total more than 55 million people officially belong to a Christian denomination. Most German Protestants are members of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Free churches exist in all larger towns and many smaller ones, but most such churches are small.
Except for the small and often persecuted minority of Jews, Roman Catholicism was Germany's only religion in the 16th century, but the Reformation changed this situation drastically. In 1517 Martin Luther challenged the Church for commercialising faith. Thus he altered the course of European and world history and established Protestantism as largest denomination in Germany for centuries. Besides this there are several hundred thousand Orthodox Christians (mostly Greeks and Serbs, 400,000 New Apostolic Christians , 150,000 Yehova's Witnesses , numerous other small groups.
In the territory of the former East Germany, there is much less religious feeling — probably the result of forty years of Communism — than in the West. Only 5% attend at least once per week, compared with 14% in the West according to a recent study. About 30% of the total population are officially religiously unaffiliated. In the East this number is also considerably higher.
Approximately 3.7 million Muslims (mostly of Turkish descent) live in Germany.
Today Germany, especially its capital Berlin, has the fastest growing Jewish community worldwide. Some ten thousands of Jews from the former Eastern Bloc, mostly from ex-Soviet Union countries, settled in Germany since the fall of the Berlin wall. Prior to the Nazi era, about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany, most of them long-time resident families. Today there are about 160,000 Jews living in Germany of which 100,000 belong to a synagogue.
Main article: Culture of Germany
Germany's contributions to the world's cultural heritage are numerous, and the country is often known as das Land der Dichter und Denker (The Land of Poets and Thinkers). Germany was the birthplace of composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schumann and Wagner; poets such as Goethe and Schiller as well as Heine; philosophers including Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Engels, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger, theologians like Luther, authors including Hesse, Mann, Böll and Grass; scientists including Kepler, Haeckel, Einstein, Born, Planck, Heisenberg, Hertz and Bunsen; and inventors and engineers such as Gutenberg, Otto, Siemens, Braun, Daimler, Benz, Diesel and Linde. There are also numerous fine artists from Germany such as the Renaissance artist Dürer, the surrealist Ernst, the expressionist Marc, the conceptual artist Beuys or the neo expressionist Baselitz.
The German language was once the lingua franca of central, eastern and northern Europe, and remains one of the most popular foreign languages taught worldwide, in Europe it is the second most popular language after English.
The language has its origin in Old High German. Actually Germany had two languages: High German and Low German, which - from a lingustic standpoint - were two different languages. Whilst High German was subject to the so-called consonant shift , Low German was not. Today's standard language is based on High German rather than Low German, which has been given the status of a minority language by the European Union although it had almost become extinct in the early 20th century.
Many important historical figures, though not citizens of Germany in the modern sense, were nevertheless seen as Germans in the sense that they were immersed in the German culture, for example Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Kafka and Stefan Zweig.
Since about 1970 Germany has once again had a thriving popular culture, now increasingly being led by its new old capital Berlin, and a self-confident music and art culture. Germany is also well known for its many opera houses.
See also: Cuisine of Germany, German wine, Music of Germany, Public holidays: German Unity Day, Bundesliga, Goethe-Institut