Main article: History of Germany
The German language and the feeling of "Germanhood" go back more than a thousand years, but 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".
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 help of the organization 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 in 1806. After that, France was for long perceived as Germany's arch-enemy. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Germany revenged, 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).
The second Reich, i.e. the German Empire, was proclaimed in Versailles on January 18th, 1871, after the French defeat. This was mainly the result of the efforts of Otto von Bismarck, Germany's most prominent statesman of the 19th century, among other things known for an anti-Catholic "Kulturkampf" and for fighting Socialists with social reforms.
The Second Reich, often perceived as a Golden Age, ended with World War I; and Germany's emperor was forced to abdicate. After a quenched revolution the democratic Weimar Republic was established. Economic hardship due to both harsh peace conditions and the world wide Great Depression contributed to making the democracy unpopular: Anti-democratic parties, both right-wing and left-wing, were increasingly supported by German opinion leaders and voters. In extraordinary elections of July and November 1932, the anti-democratic Nazis got 37,2% and 33,0% respectively. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and by the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, a wide majority of the parliament effectively disbanded the constitution of the Weimar Republic.
The Third Reich was that of the Nazis, which lasted 12 years, from 1933 to 1945. In 1934, Hitler affirmed total control of government, when he also succeeded the President of Germany. His policy of annexing neighbouring territories was one of several reasons that led to the outbreak of World War II in Europe on September 1, 1939. Initially, the Third Reich had many military successes, and gained control over most of Europe's mainland. After attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, which meant a two-front war for the Third Reich, the momentum in the war switched; which Hitler's declaration of war on the United States December 11, 1941, did nothing to help. On 8 May, 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered after the Red Army had occupied Berlin where Hitler had committed suicide.
The war resulted in large losses of territory; ethnic cleansing of 15 million Germans from what had been Eastern Germany; occupation and 45 years of division, during which the remaining parts of the country were split up into West Germany and East Germany. In 1949, during the Berlin Blockade, Western forces airlifted food and supplies into the former capital that now in the wake of the Cold War had become a Western exclave behind the Iron Curtain. The people of West-Germany became increasingly pro-American, in part due to strong German anti-communism. The American Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after the War, and later the foundation of the European Union, contributed together with the generally supporting attitude of the occupation forces in West-Germany. The reconstructed (West-) Germany once again became one of the world's major economies. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law became fundamental values. East Germany, by contrast, became one of the most repressive of the socialist satellite states of the Warsaw Pact.
The increasingly tense relations between the Superpowers of the Cold War influenced also Germany. Ultimately, on August 13, 1961, East Germany erected the Berlin Wall and reinforced the border to West Germany in order to avoid all contacts and migration over the inter-German border. Willy Brandt, West-Berlin's mayor 1957–1966 and West-Germany's Chancellor 1969–1974, attempted to soothe the tensions, but particularly his acceptance of the loss of former Eastern Germany caused much controversy.
Main article: Politics of Germany
Germany is a constitutional federal republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1949 'constitution' called Grundgesetz (Fundamental Law). It has a parliamentary system in which the head of government, the Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), is elected by the parliament.
The parliament, called Bundestag (Federal Assembly), is elected every four years by popular vote in a complex system combining direct and proportional representation. The 16 Bundesländer are represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), which—depending on the subject matter—may have a say in the legislative procedure. Lately, there has been much concern about the Bundestag and the Bundesrat blocking each other, making effective government very difficult.
The judiciary branch includes a Constitutional Court called Bundesverfassungsgericht, which may ultimately overturn all acts by the legislature or administration if they are deemed unconstitutional; as well as a Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), responsible for appeals from lower state court. All lower courts are created by the Bundesländer.
Germany's social welfare system has deep roots to the early industrialization, to the strong bonds between individual and state/society that followed Reformation and later signified the Prussian revival after the 30 Years War and remain one of the aspects of the German society most Germans are the most proud of. About 90% of the population is covered by a mandatory health insurance. Like in the other Northern/Western European countries with similar systems, a reform process of the Social security system has been deemed necessary and is currently (as of 2004) a major theme in the domestic politics.
Together with France, the re-united Germany is playing a leading role in the European Union. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European defense and security apparatus aswell as a politically/judicially closer and more unified union.
Main article: States of Germany
Main article: Geography of Germany
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 and the Baltic Sea in the north. 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 m), traversed by some of Europe's major rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Elbe.
The Federal Republic is bordered to the north by Denmark, to its east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland and to its west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The weather is sometimes unpredictable. In the middle of summer it could be warm and sunny one day and then cold and rainy the next. However truly extreme weather conditions, like severe droughts, tornados, destructive hailstorms, severe frost or heat etc. are all extremely rare. There have been two bad large-scale floodings in the last few years, but in the long term those are also quite rare. Damaging earthquakes are unheard-of.
Main article: Economy of Germany
Germany possesses the world's third most technologically powerful economy after the US and Japan and is part of the world's largest economy, the European Union. While exports remain strong, the local market of the basically capitalistic economy has started to show problems commonly blamed on the generous social benefits. Unemployment has been a problem for several decades, and is now usually considered a long-term, not just cyclical, problem.
After the fall of Communism in Europe, Germany was reunited in 1990, not without economic difficulty (costs till today: 1.5 trillion Euro). Together with France, the new Germany is playing the leading role in the European Union. The integration and upgrading of the eastern German economy remains a costly long-term problem, with annual transfers from the west amounting to roughly $100 billion without conditions in the East actually improving after 1997. Some economists argue that the transfers hurt more than they help since they don't encourage the East to get out of the slump by its own effort, while at the same time preventing dearly-needed infrastructure investment and upkeep in the West. There are still almost no internationally renowned companies headquartered in former East-Germany; most have only established subsidiaries.
The recent adoption of the Euro and the general political and economic integration of Europe including the eastward expansion of the European Union are thought likely to bring major changes to the German economy in the early 21st century.
Main article: Demographics of Germany
Germany has many large cities but no very large ones, Berlin being a borderline case; the population is thus much less centralized and oriented towards a single large capital than in most other European countries. The largest cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt am Main, Dortmund and Essen. The largest multi-city metropolitan areas are the Ruhr Area, the Rhein-Main Region and the Stuttgart Region.
Germany has about 7.3 million non-citizen residents, including refugees, foreign workers (Gastarbeiter), and their dependents. About 2/3s of these have been in the country for more than 8 years, 20% have been born in Germany; both groups would qualify for citizenship after recent changes in immigration law (2002 data). 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 proper immigration law has been bounced back and forth between the Bundestag and Bundesrat without much success for about five years now, leaving immigration largely ad-hoc and German language classes for immigrants poorly organized small-scale affairs.
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, considered the living language closest to the English 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.
Immigration has created a sizable minority from Turkey (about 1.9 million Kurds and Turks), and other smaller minorities including Italians (0.6 million), Serbs (0.6 million), Greeks (0.4 million), Poles (0.3 million) and Croats (0.2 million) (figures from year 2002). Anti-immigrant sentiments are chiefly directed against the largest group of Muslims from Turkey, which is perceived as less integrated in the German society than the smaller immigrated minorities.
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.
Even with the mentioned difficulties, Germany still has one of the world's highest levels of education, technological development, and economic productivity. 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. With a per capita income level of about $25,000, Germany is a broadly middle class society. A generous social welfare system provides for universal (but not government-run) medical care, unemployment compensation, and other social needs. As of 2004, economic pressure is forcing Germany to cut down on social welfare and more limitations are expected in the future.
Germans also are mobile; millions travel abroad each year, most of their favourite destinations being at the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the regular travel study of the Dresdner Bank Germans have spent 52.5 Billion Euro for traveling abroad in 2003 and are expected to spend 55 Billion Euro in 2004.
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 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, theologians like Luther, authors including Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Böll and Grass; scientists including Johannes Kepler, Ernst Haeckel, Einstein, Born, Planck, Heisenberg, Hertz and Bunsen; and inventors and engineers such as Gutenberg, Otto, Werner von Siemens, Wernher von Braun, Daimler, Benz, Diesel and Linde. There are also numerous fine artists from Germany such as the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, the surrealist Max Ernst, the expressionist Franz Marc, the conceptual artist Joseph Beuys or the neo expressionist Georg 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 the second most popular after English. 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 the city of Hamburg, and a self-confident music and art culture. Germany is also well known for its many opera houses.
The Grundgesetz, Germany's constitution, guarantees freedom of faith and religion. It also states that no one may be discriminated against due to their faith or religious opinions. However, unlike some other countries, it is entirely in keeping with the German constitution for larger religions to receive some preferential treatment, for example being able to teach religion to adherents' children in public schools and having membership fees collected by the German Finanzamt (equivalent to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service). There have been numerous discussions of allowing other religious groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims into this system as well. The Muslim's efforts were hampered by the public adversity and also by the Muslims' own disorganized state with many small rivaling organizations and no central leadership, which do not fit well into a legal frame that was originally created with well-organized, large Christian churches in mind.
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, although most of them take no part in church life except at such events as weddings and funerals. Most German Protestants are members of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Independent and congregational churches exist in all larger towns and many smaller ones, but most such churches are small.
Roman Catholicism was Germany's top religion in the 15th century, but the religious movement commonly known as the Reformation changed this drastically. In 1517 Martin Luther challenged this religion as he saw it as a commercialisation of his faith. Through this, he altered the course of European and world history and established Protestantism, the largest denomination in Germany today.
Before World War II, about two-thirds of the German population was Protestant and one-third was Roman Catholic. In the north and northeast of Germany especially, Protestants dominated. In the separated West Germany between 1945 and 1990, Catholics had a small majority.
In the former East Germany, there is much less religious feeling — probably the result of forty years of Communism — than in the West. The average church attendance is one of the lowest in the World, with only 5% attending at least once per week, compared to 14% in the West according to a recent study (http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/Releases/1997/Dec97/r121097a.html). The number of people who attend church for christenings, weddings and funerals is also lower than in the West.
About 30% of the 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. Lately there have been heated discussions about the question if Muslim women working in public service, such as schoolteachers, should be allowed to wear headscarves to work or not.
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. This is mainly due to a German government policy which basically grants an immigration ticket to anyone from the CIS and the Baltic states with Jewish heritage, and the fact that today's Germans are seen as significantly more accepting of Jews than many people in the ex-Soviet realm. Some of the about 60,000 long-time resident German Jews have expressed some mixed feelings about this immigration that they perceive as making them a minority not only in their own country but also in their own community; but largely the integration seems to work out. Prior to Nazism, about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany, most of them long-time resident families.
In the mid-1990s there was a moral panic about Scientology in Germany, which was perceived to be planning to infiltrate the top tiers of society, as an exaggerated picture of the number and influence of its adepts was being reported by the press but also by Scientology groups themselves. The discussion became a transatlantic affair when Scientology managed to rally US politicians and Hollywood artists behind them. The affair peaked in 1997 when 34 Hollywood artists including Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, and Oliver Stone, published an open letter in the International Herald Tribune on the 9th of January 1997, and in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the 18th of January. In this letter they accused Germany of being after Scientology members like the Nazis being after Jews. This certainly didn't help the case. As of 2004, the scare has pretty much turned into a non-topic, with the German inland intelligence service (Verfassungsschutz) assuming less than 10,000 followers in the country.
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