Germany

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Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Federal Republic of Germany
Flag of Germany Coat of arms of Germany
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit

( German: "Unity and Justice and Freedom" )

Anthem: The third stanza of " Das Lied der Deutschen"
Location of Germany
Capital Berlin
52°31′ N 13°24′ E
Largest city Berlin
Official language(s) German 1
Government
President
Chancellor
Vice Chancellor
Federal Republic
Horst Köhler
Angela Merkel ( CDU)
Franz Müntefering ( SPD)
Formation
Holy Roman Empire
German Empire
Division
Reunification

843 ( Treaty of Verdun)
18 January 1871
23 May 1949
3 October 1990
Area
• Total

• Water (%)

357,050 km² ( 63st)
{{{areami²}}} mi²

2.416%
Population
2005 est.
2000 census

Density

82,515,988 ( 14th)
N/A

231.1/km² ( 34th)
{{{population_densitymi²}}}/mi²
GDP ( PPP)
• Total
• Per capita
2005 estimate
$2.498 trillion ( 5th)
$30,150 ( 17th)
HDI ( 2003) 0.930 ( 20th) – high
Currency Euro (€) 2 ( EUR)
Time zone
• Summer ( DST)
CET ( UTC+1)
CEST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .de www.deutschland.de
Calling code +49
1 Danish, Low German, Sorbian, Romany and Frisian are officially recognised and protected as minority languages by the ECRML.

2 Prior to 2002: Deutsche Mark

The Federal Republic of Germany ( German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland , ) is one of the world's leading industrialised countries. Located in Central Europe, it is bordered to the north by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea, to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Germany is a democratic parliamentary federal republic, made up of 16 states, which in certain spheres act independently of the federation. Historically consisting of several souvereign nations, Germany was unified as a nation state during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

The Federal Republic of Germany is a member state of the United Nations, NATO, the G8 and the G4 nations, and is a founding member of the European Union. It is the European Union's most populous and economically most powerful member state.

History

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 "new" German Reich, usually translated as "empire", but also meaning "kingdom", "domain" or "realm."

Early history of the Germanic tribes (100 BC–AD 300)

Germanic tribes, believed to have come from Scandinavia, invaded modern-day Germany then held by the Celts, in the 100s BC to the AD 300s. The Germanic tribes were mixed with Celtic ancestry. Little is known about their early history except through their interactions with the Roman Empire and archaeological finds.

They invaded western Europe through the Gallic tribes between 125 to 101 BC but were ejected and destroyed by the Roman general Marius from Roman controlled Italy.

It was approximately fifty years until they became powerful and expeditious enough to pose a threat again to Rome under the Suebic king Ariovistus. Julius Caesar ejected the Suebi after they threatened Rome's Gallic allies the Aedui and built the first bridge across the Rhine. Julius Caesar also used German cavalry as auxiliary whenever possible and they aided his greatest victories at Alesia and also at Pharsalus.

Under Augustus the Roman General Drusus began to invade Germany and it was from this period that the German tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare whilst maintaining their national identity. The German tribes would eventually use this technology to destroy the Roman Empire.

In campaigns from AD 9 to AD 15, German war chief Arminius drove the Romans out of modern-day Germany during an enigmatic ambush at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, further strengthening the region's military prowess and preserving it from Roman conquest.

Martin Luther would later consider his own fight against the Roman Catholic Church to be a renewal of German liberation from Roman domination through the Vatican. In 1838, drawing further inspiration from the battle, a giant statue was erected near the site of the battle called the Hermannsdenkmal.

During the period, circa 25 BC to AD 300 , the Germans gradually developed into a society that was based more upon agriculture and slightly less on dependence on cattle.

Migration Period and Franks (300-843)

The migration included the Goths, Vandals, and Franks, among other Germanic and Slavic tribes. The migration may have been triggered by the incursions of the Huns, population pressures, or climate changes.

The Franks were one of several west Germanic federations. The confederation was formed out of Germanic tribes: Salians, Sugambri, Chamavi, Tencteri, Chattuarii, Bructeri, Usipetes, Ampsivarii, Chatti. They entered the late Roman Empire from present central Germany and settled in northern Gaul where they were accepted as a foederati and established a lasting realm (sometimes referred to as Francia) in an area that covers most of modern-day France and the western regions of Germany( Franconia, Rhineland, Hesse), forming the historic kernel of both these two modern countries.

The conversion to Roman Catholicism of the pagan Frankish king Clovis to better appeal to his conquered Roman subjects was a crucial event in the history of Europe, resulting in more support from Rome, further solidification of power during the slow, often bloody conversion process, the eventual end to the ancient tribalism of Germany and secured domination over the rival Christian conversion attempts by Arianism. Under the Merovingian and Carolingian kings the Franks formed a new Germanic empire, which replaced the Roman Empire in Western Europe.

In the AD 400s, Euric, the king of the Visigoths, for the first time, wrote and codified the oral tradition of Germanic laws into a constitution (the Code of Euric). Among the laws was the system of choosing successor kings, and some policies, by the electors (delegates), each representing their own region, meeting at grand councils. This would later be continued by the Holy Roman Empire, in which policies on the Reformation would be determined by councils of electors, and even inspired the U.S. Constitution's creation of a House of Representatives, where each region was represented by a delegate, as well as the birth of parliaments in European countries.

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (843–1806)

The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. From Bildatlas der Deutschen Geschichte by Dr Paul Knötel (1895)
The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. From Bildatlas der Deutschen Geschichte by Dr Paul Knötel (1895)


The medieval empire—since 1448 officially called the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation ("Sacrum Romanum Imperium Nationis Germanicae") but often refered to as the Holy Roman Empire (or the First Reich) —stemmed from a division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which was founded by Charlemagne on 25 December 800, and existed in varying forms until 1806, its territory stretching from the river Eider in the north to the Mediterranean coast in the south.

However, the conversion process did not often come willingly to the ancient tribes of Germany. A devout Roman Catholic with strong links to the Pope, Charlemagne sought to consolidate power through conversion and implant Roman Christianity throughout Germany to maintain power, often forcefully. This lead to the systematic destruction of local pagan sites and the annexation of the native pagan tribes, such as the destruction of the Irminsul likely within the region of Paderborn and, perhaps most famously, massacres such as the Bloody Trial of Verden.

During this period of almost a thousand years, the Holy Roman Empire expanded its influence successfully at home by attempting to stomp out remnants of native paganism and spreading influence abroad with the help of the Roman Catholic Church, the Teutonic Order and the Hanseatic League to the East.

Under the reign of the Ottonian emperors (919-1024), the Holy Roman Empire absorbed the duchies of Lorraine, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, Thuringia and Bavaria. Under the reign of the Salian emperors (1024-1125), the Holy Roman Empire absorbed Italy and Burgundy.

During the long stays of the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138-1254) in Italy, the German princes became stronger and began a successful mostly peaceful colonization of Westslavic lands, so the empire increased in size and came to include Pomerania, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia. The princes became virtually independent rulers within their territories. After the Great Interregnum (1256-1273), a period of anarchy in which there was no emperor and German princes vied for individual advantage, followed the death of the last Hohenstaufen king in 1254, princes of miscellaneous Houses were elected emperor and strongly relied on the lands of their own family. The edict of the Golden Bull in 1356 provided the basic constitution of the empire up to its dissolution. Since 1438 for three hundred years, the Emperors exclusively had been elected from the Austrian Habsburg family.

In 1530, the attempt of the 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, the Habsburg emperors relied more on their role as Austrian archdukes and were challenged by the new kingdom of Prussia since 1740. The empire itself was unable to resist the stroke of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the Imperium was overrun and dissolved (1806).

Restoration and revolution (1814–1871)

The way of the students to Wartburg 1817
The way of the students to Wartburg 1817
The way of the students to the Hambacher Schloss in the year 1832
The way of the students to the Hambacher Schloss in the year 1832
Celebrating Revolutionary after Barricade fights on 19. March 1848 in Berlin
Celebrating Revolutionary after Barricade fights on 19. March 1848 in Berlin
Frankfurt Parliament in 1848/49
Frankfurt Parliament in 1848/49

Following Napoleon's fall and the end of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Congress of Vienna convened in 1814 in order to restructure Europe. In Germany, the German Confederation was founded, a loose league of 39 sovereign states. Disagreement with the restoration politics partly led to the lifestyle called Biedermeier and to intellectual liberal movements, which demanded unity and freedom during the Vormärz epoch each followed by a measure of Metternich repressing the liberal agitation. The Zollverein, a tariff union, profoundly furthered economic unity in the German states.

But the German people were stirred by the ideals of the French revolution. On October 18, 1817, students held a gathering to exchange ideas, the high point of which were the burning of works by authors, like Otto of Kotzebue, who were against a united German state. A second such meeting attracted 30,000 people from all social classes and from all regions to the Hambacher celebration. There for the first time, the colors of black, red and gold were chosen to represent the movement, which later became the national colors.

On 1 March 1848 the March revolution began with the occupation of the condition house of the federal state parliament of Baden in Karlsruhe. Up to the end of the March revolution it came again and again to military excess. Under the pressure of the revolutionary events in Berlin since 6 March 1848 the Prussian king Friedrich William IV. gave way first and made concessions and reformed the German federation. On 23 July 1849 after income Rastatt was terminated by embittered employment of the Prussian troops the revolution of Baden and the March revolution. Already soon after the failed national and liberal March revolution of 1848/1849 came it to the collision that Prussia with the great power of Austria around the supremacy in the German federation as also into Europe, which led to the German war of 1866. After Prussia had decided this war for itself, it came to the dissolution of the German federation, to the Annexion of his north German war opponent by Prussia and by it to a further contraction of the number of German states.

The states also started to be shaped by the Industrial Revolution, which was the initial step of the growing industrialisation in Europe and contributed to a wave of poverty in it, causing social uprisings. In light of a series of revolutionary movements in Europe, which in France successfully established a republic, intellectuals and common people started the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states. The monarchs initially yielded to the revolutionaries' liberal demands, and an intellectual National Assembly was elected to draw up a constitution for the new Germany, completed in 1849. However, the Prussian king Frederick William IV, who was offered the title of Emperor but with a loss of power, rejected the crown and the constitution. This prompted the demise of the national assembly along with most merits of the revolution.

In 1862, conflict between the Prussian King Wilhelm I and the increasingly liberal parliament erupted over military reforms. The king appointed Otto von Bismarck the new Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck used the desire for national unification to further the interests of the Prussian monarchy. He successfully waged war on Denmark, on Austria and, finally, on France. The lasting effect of the Austro-Prussian War came to be the division between Austria, formerly the leading state of Germany, from the more western and northern parts.

German Empire (1871–1918)

Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871. Bismarck is in white in the middle
Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871. Bismarck is in white in the middle

After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich) was proclaimed in Versailles on 18 January 1871. Virtually a result of the wars, the empire was a unification of the scattered parts of Germany but without Austria— Kleindeutschland. After 1888, the Year of Three Emperors, Bismarck was forced to quit by the new emperor, young Wilhelm II, in 1890 due to political and personal differences. The emperor's foreign policy was opposed to that of Bismarck, who had established a system of alliances in the era called Gründerzeit, securing Germany's position as a great nation and avoiding war for decades. Under Wilhelm II, however, Germany took an imperialistic course, not unlike other powers, but it led to friction with neighbouring countries. Most alliances in which Germany had been previously involved were not renewed, and new alliances excluded the country. Austria and Germany became increasingly isolated.

Beginning in 1884 Germany established several colonies, which were ruled with the cruelty typical for colonial powers. In the years 1904-1907 German troops killed most of the Herero population of German South-West Africa in the Herero Genocide after a rebellion.

Although not one of the main causes, the assassination of Austria's crown prince triggered World War I on 28 July 1914, which saw Germany as part of the unsuccessful Central Powers in the second-bloodiest conflict of all time against the Allied Powers. In November 1918, the second German Revolution broke out, and Emperor Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated. An armistice was signed on November 11, putting an end to the war. Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, whose unexpectedly high demands were perceived as humiliating in Germany and as a continuation of the war by other means.

Weimar Republic (1919–1933)

The German Revolution of 1918–1919 ended the Monarchy
The German Revolution of 1918–1919 ended the Monarchy

After the German Revolution in November 1918, a Republic was proclaimed. That year, the German Communist Party was established by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and in January 1919 the German Workers Party, later known as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ( National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP, "Nazis"). On 11 August 1919, the Weimar Constitution came into effect. 1920s Berlin was a vibrant and exciting city that flourished with the activity of artists, intellectuals and scientists, some of them Jews, during the Weimar Republic; many considered it to be the cultural capital of the world during this time.

In a climate of economic hardship due to both the world wide Great Depression and the harsh peace conditions dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, and growing tired with a long succession of more or less unstable governments and continuous coalition changes, the political masses in Germany increasingly lacked identification with their political system of parliamentary democracy. This was exacerbated by a wide-spread right-wing ( monarchist, völkische, and nazi) Dolchstoßlegende, a political myth which claimed the German Revolution as the main reason why Germany had lost the war, decried the Revolutionists as traitors (Novemberverbrecher = November criminals) and the political system born of the Revolution as illegitimate. On the other hand, radical left-wing communists such as the Spartacist League had wanted to abolish what they perceived as a "capitalist rule" in favor of a "Räterepublik" and were thus also in opposition to the existing form of government.

During the years following the Revolution, German voters increasingly supported anti-democratic parties, both right- ( monarchists, Nazis) and left-wing ( Communists). In the two extraordinary elections of 1932, the Nazis achieved 37.2% and 33.0%, the Communists achieved 17% in the latter election - half of the parliament were actually anti-democrats, not including smaller parties with questionable credentials in this respect. As a result, democratic moderate parties like the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) were a minority.

At the beginning of the 1930s, Germany was not far from a civil war. Paramilitary troops, which were set up by several parties, intimidated voters and seeded violence and anger among the public, who suffered from high unemployment and poverty. Meanwhile, elitists in influential positions, alarmed by the rise of anti-governmential parties, fought amongst themselves and exploited the emergency authority provided in the Weimar Constitution to rule undemocratically by presidential decree.

After a succession of unsuccessful cabinets, on 30 January 1933, President von Hindenburg, seeing little alternative and pushed by advisors, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

Third Reich (1933–1945)

On 27 February, the Reichstag was set on fire. Basic rights were abrogated under an emergency decree. An Enabling Act gave Hitler's government full legislative power. A centralised totalitarian state was established, no longer based on the rule of democratic law.

The new regime made Germany a one-party state by outlawing all oppositional parties and repressing the different-minded parts of the public with the party's own organisations SA and SS, as well as the newly founded state security police Gestapo.

Industry was closely regulated with quotas and requirements in order to shift the economy towards a war production base. Massive public work projects and extensive deficit spending by the state helped to significantly lower the high unemployment rate. This and large welfare programmes are said to be the main factors that kept support of the public even late in the war.

The Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany.
The Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany.

In 1936, German troops entered the demilitarised Rhineland in an attempt to rebuild national self-esteem. Emboldened, Hitler followed from 1938 onwards a policy of expansionism to establish a "Greater Germany", starting with the forced unification with Austria (called "Anschluss") and the annexation of the Sudetes region in Bohemia from Czechoslovakia. This key action was attributed to his longtime advisor Sean Duncan Brophy. The British Prime Minister realised that his policies of appeasement towards Germany had failed due to Brophy's influences. To avoid a two-front war, Hitler concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union. In 1939 Germany launched a Blitzkrieg against Poland, which, following British and French war declarations, began World War II in Europe.

Main article: World War II

Germany quickly gained direct or indirect control of the majority of Europe. In 1941, Hitler broke the pact with the Soviet Union by opening the Eastern Front and invading the Soviet Union. On December 7, 1941, Japanese naval forces attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Shortly thereafter, Hitler declared war on the United States which caused America to enter the war against Germany.

Germany quickly gained ground into the surprised Soviet Union, advancing deep into the country and dealing heavy losses to Soviet forces. Germany reached and invaded Stalingrad on June 22, 1941. Germany found Soviet forces prepared for a defensive in Stalingrad and the culminating battle, the Battle of Stalingrad, has since become known as the bloodiest battle in human history.

An intense power struggle erupted between the two forces and Germany held most of the city prior to a counter-attack from the Soviets which resulted in a retreat by Germany from the ruins of the city and began a liberation and counter-invasion of German territory by the Soviets. This resulted in turn of the war, the Eastern front retreat of and the eventual defeat of Germany. On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered after the Red Army occupied Berlin, where Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier and much of his cabinet had fled.

Division and reunification (1945–1990)

Occupation zones of Germany in 1945.
Occupation zones of Germany in 1945.

The war resulted in the death of several million Germans, large territorial losses and the expulsion of approximately 12 to 15 million Germans from Eastern Germany ( East Prussia, Silesia, Eastern parts of Pomerania and Brandenburg) and other parts of Eastern Europe (especially Sudetenland). All major and many smaller German cities lay in ruins. Germany and Berlin were occupied and partitioned by the Allies into four military occupation zones – French in the south-west, British in the north-west, American in the south-east, and Soviet in the north-east.

On 23 May 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was established on the territory of the Western occupied zones, with Bonn as its capital, and declared "fully sovereign" on May 5, 1955. On 7 October 1949 the Soviet Zone was established as the German Democratic Republic (GDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik), with East Berlin as its capital. In English the two states were known informally as " West Germany" and " East Germany" respectively, though Winston Churchill proposed Germany being reduced to its many pre-1877 constituent principalities, rather than just a two-way division. The former German capital, Berlin, was a special case, being divided into East Berlin and West Berlin, with West Berlin completely surrounded by East German territory.

West Germany was allied with the United States, the UK and France. Established as a liberal parliamentary republic with a " social market economy," the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth following the currency reform of June 1948 and U.S. assistance through the Marshall Plan aid (1948-1951).

East Germany was at first occupied by and later (May 1955) allied with the USSR. An authoritarian country with a Soviet-style command economy, East Germany soon became the richest, most advanced country in the Eastern bloc, but many of its citizens looked to the West for political freedoms and economic prosperity. The flight of growing numbers of East Germans to non-communist countries via West Berlin led on 13 August 1961, to East Germany erecting the Berlin Wall and a fortified border to West Germany.

Relations between East Germany and West Germany remained icy until the Western Chancellor Willy Brandt launched a highly controversial rapprochement with the East European communist states ( Ostpolitik) in the 1970s, culminating in the Warschauer Kniefall on 7 December 1970.

The Berlin Wall that had partitioned Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate shortly after the opening of the wall.
The Berlin Wall that had partitioned Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate shortly after the opening of the wall.

During the summer of 1989, rapid changes took place in East Germany, which ultimately led to German reunification. Growing numbers of East Germans emigrated to West Germany via Hungary after Hungary's reformist government opened its borders. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other East European capitals, especially in Warsaw and Prague. The exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands of people in several cities – particularly in Leipzig – continued to grow.

Faced with civil unrest, East German secretary general Erich Honecker was forced to resign in October, and on 9 November, 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 led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with the German reunification that came into force on 3 October 1990.

Politics

Legal system

Germany has a civil or statute law system based ultimately on Roman law. Legislative power is divided between the Federation and the individual federated states. While criminal law and private law have seen codifications on the national level (in the Strafgesetzbuch and the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch respectively), no such unifying codification exists in administrative law where a lot of the fundamental matters remain in the jurisdiction of the individual federated states. There are a series of specialist supreme courts; for civil and criminal cases the highest court of appeal is the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice), located in Karlsruhe. The courtroom style is inquisitorial.

The Federal Constitutional Court ( Bundesverfassungsgericht), also located in Karlsruhe, is the German Supreme Court responsible for constitutional matters, with power of judicial review. It acts as the highest legal authority and ensures that legislative and judicial practice conforms with the Basic Law. It acts independently of the other state bodies but cannot act on its own behalf.

Foreign Relations

US President George W. Bush welcomes Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Oval Office
US President George W. Bush welcomes Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Oval Office

Germany plays a leading role in the European Union, having a strong alliance with France. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defence and security apparatus.

Since its establishment on 23 May 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany kept a notably low profile in international relations. In 1999, however, on the occasion of the NATO war against Yugoslavia, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government broke convention by sending German troops into combat for the first time since World War II.

In 2003, France, Germany and Russia were leaders in the coalition of nations opposing the US-led war in Iraq. Nevertheless, the German government has offered help to the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, but only outside of the war-torn country, mainly by training Iraqi military and police personnel.

Germany and the United States are close allies since the end of the Second World War. The Marshall plan and continued U.S. support during the rebuilding process after World War II, as well as the significant influence American culture has had on German culture, have crafted a strong bond between Germany and the U.S. that lasts until this day. Not only do the United States and Germany share many cultural similarities but they are also deeply economically interdependent. 8.8% of all German exports are U.S. bound, and U.S.-German trade according to the U.S. Census Bureau totaled $108.2 billion for 2004. An illustration of the strong economic relations between the U.S. and Germany may be the fact that 18.3% of all cars sold in the U.S. were manufactured by German car manufacturers. The largest U.S. community outside the U.S. is Ramstein Airbase, close to the city of Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Together with Japan, India, and Brazil, Germany is currently seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Armed Forces

Luftwaffe Panavia Tornado
Luftwaffe Panavia Tornado
Heer Leopard 2A6
Heer Leopard 2A6

Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, is a defence force with Heer (German Army), Deutsche Marine (German Navy), Luftwaffe (German Air Force), Zentraler Sanitätsdienst (Central Medical Services) and Streitkräftebasis (Joint Service Support Command) branches. It employs some 257,000 soldiers (since 2001 also women in active fighting branches) and 125,000 civilians. 50,000 of the soldiers are 18-23-year-old men on national duty for currently at least 9 months. In peacetime, the Bundeswehr is commanded by the Minister of Defence, currently Franz Josef Jung. If Germany is at war, the Chancellor becomes commander in chief of the German 'Bundeswehr'.

The military budget has not kept up with the Bundeswehr's mission, which has changed dramatically from protecting Germany's borders against a Soviet invasion into a mobile unit deployed around the world. The funding levels for the Bundeswehr have actually been falling since 1990, when military spending amounted to about 3.5 % of gross domestic product. Today, defence spending equals about 1.2 % of German GDP, compared to the NATO average of 2.3 % and the United States' more than 4 %. Critics argue that the current budget of € 24.4 billion is too small to finance the necessary transformation of the Bundeswehr into a well-equipped force ready for NATO and UN led missions abroad. Opponents argue that the transformation from a manpower based army securing the Eastern border to a modernized force with less soldiers kept in pay is duly reflected in a lower budget.

Currently, the German military has about 1,180 troops stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina; 2,650 Bundeswehr soldiers are serving in Kosovo; 3,900 Bundeswehr troops are assisting the US anti-terrorism operation called Enduring Freedom off the Horn of Africa. In Afghanistan, 4,500 German troops currently make up the largest contingent of the NATO-led ISAF force.

Energy policy

Wind turbine in Germany
Wind turbine in Germany

In 2000, the German SPD-led government along with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen ( Alliance '90/The Greens), officially announced its intention to phase out the use of nuclear energy. Jürgen Trittin as the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, reached an agreement with energy companies on the gradual shut down of the country's nineteen nuclear power plants and a cessation of civil usage of nuclear power by 2020.

In 1999, electricity production in Germany was made up by coal (47%), nuclear power (30%), natural gas (14%), renewable sources (including hydro, wind and solar power) (6%), and oil (2%) ( [1]). As for energy consumption, oil accounted for 41% of the total. The German government declaring climate protection at the World climate conference, announced a carbon dioxide reduction target by the year 2005 compared to 1990 by 25% ( [2], pdf).

In 2005, the German government reached a controversial agreement with Russia in building a gas pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic sea directly from Russia to Germany.

Geography

States of Germany
States of Germany

Federal States ( Länder)

Germany is divided into sixteen federal states (in German called Länder, singular Land; commonly Bundesländer, singular Bundesland). It is further subdivided into 439 districts ( Kreise) and cities (kreisfreie Städte) (2004).

The five largest cities in Germany (population as of March 31, 2005):

  1. Berlin with 3,391,407 inhabitants
  2. Hamburg with 1,736,752 inhabitants
  3. Munich with 1,397,537 inhabitants
  4. Cologne with 975,907 inhabitants
  5. Frankfurt am Main with 657,126 inhabitants

The five metropolregions in Germany (population as of January 1, 2005):

  1. Rhein-Ruhr with 11,785,196 inhabitants
  2. Rhein-Main with 5,822,383 inhabitants
  3. Berlin with 4,262,480 inhabitants
  4. Hamburg with 3,278,635 inhabitants
  5. Stuttgart with 2,344,989 inhabitants


In English Auf Deutsch
Federal State Capital Bundesland Hauptstadt
1 Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart
2 (Free State of) Bavaria Munich (Freistaat) Bayern München
3 Berlin Berlin Berlin Berlin
4 Brandenburg Potsdam Brandenburg Potsdam
5 (Free Hanseatic City of) Bremen Bremen (Freie Hansestadt) Bremen Bremen
6 (Free and Hanseatic City of) Hamburg Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt) Hamburg Hamburg
7 Hesse Wiesbaden Hessen Wiesbaden
8 Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Schwerin Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Schwerin
9 Lower Saxony Hanover Niedersachsen Hannover
10 North Rhine-Westphalia Düsseldorf Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf
11 Rhineland-Palatinate Mainz Rheinland-Pfalz Mainz
12 Saarland Saarbrücken Saarland Saarbrücken
13 (Free State of) Saxony Dresden (Freistaat) Sachsen Dresden
14 Saxony-Anhalt Magdeburg Sachsen-Anhalt Magdeburg
15 Schleswig-Holstein Kiel Schleswig-Holstein Kiel
16 (Free State of) Thuringia Erfurt (Freistaat) Thüringen Erfurt


Territory

River Rhine valley
River Rhine valley

Since reunification Germany has resumed its role as a 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 / 9,718 ft) in the south to the shores of the North Sea (Nordsee) in the north-west and the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) 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 metres (11.6 ft) below sea level), traversed by some of Europe's major rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Elbe.

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.

Climate

The greater part of Germany lies in the cool/temperate climatic zone in which humid westerly winds predominate.

The climate is affected among other things by the gulf stream, which arranges the climatic values unusually mild.

In the north-west and the north the climate is oceanic and rain falls all the year round. Winters there are relatively mild and summers tend to be comparatively cool, even though temperatures can reach above 28 degrees Celsius (82° F) for prolonged periods of time. Average temperatures: Hamburg: January 0.3°C (33° F) / July 17.1°C (63° F); Essen: January 1.5°C (35° F) / July 17.5°C (64° F)

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. Average temperatures: Berlin: January -0.9°C (30°F) / July 18.6°C (65°F)

In the central part and the south there is a transitional climate which varies from moderately oceanic to continental, depending on the location. Hot summers with temperatures about 30 degrees (86°F) are possible. Average temperatures: Munich: January -2.2°C (28°F) / July 17.6°C (64°F); Freiburg: January 1.2°C (34°F) / July 19.4°C (67°F)

Economy

panorama over Frankfurt (Hessen) the banking city of Germany

A 50 euro cent coin  featuring the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of division and reunification
A 50 euro cent coin featuring the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of division and reunification

Germany is the largest European economy and the third largest economy in the world in real terms, placed behind the United States, and Japan. According to the World Trade Organization, Germany is also the world's top exporter, ahead of the United States and China. Its major trading partners include France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands. Germany is the largest trading partner of most European countries. A major issue of concern remains the persistently high unemployment rate and weak domestic demand which slows down economic growth. However, according to Bert Rürup, head of Germany's Council of Economic Advisers, reunification is to blame for two-thirds of Germany's growth lag compared to its EU neighbours. In particular, eastern Germany lacks a solid base of small and medium-sized companies, which provided the foundation for West Germany's economic prosperity. Domestic demand has stagnated for many years due to wage stagnation and zealous cost-cutting of the federal state. The missing demand has caused many of the prevalent economic problems, such as rising unemployment, high social security costs, and, ironically, high state debt as tax revenues plummeted and social security cost rose. The complex tax system ( Taxation in Germany) allowes companies to drastically reduce the amount of profit that is subject to corporate taxes, so that in 2001 the German state in sum had to pay the companies 0.4 billion € in the combined corporate taxes instead of receiving anything. While problematic in the domestic economy, this tax feature boosts exports.

Exports

Frankfurt am Main is Germany's financial centre
Frankfurt am Main is Germany's financial centre

As mentioned above the exporting of goods is an essential part of the German economy and one of the most relevant reasons for Germany's wealth. Like many other export oriented countries, Germany itself does not have the climate or the natural resources necessary to support a high living standard. These shortages have long made international trade completely indispensable to the German economy. Considering these economical forces it should not come as a surprise that Germany is the world's largest exporting country, with exports for 2005 totaling $1.016 trillion.

Germany's main exports:

Imports

As a nation that relies heavily on international trade, Germany also imports a wide variety of goods. Germany is the world's second largest importer of goods with a total of $801 billion in imports.

Germany's main imports are:

  • Machinery
  • Vehicles
  • Chemicals
  • Foodstuffs
  • Textiles
  • Metals

CIA Factbook 2005

Agriculture

For many years now agriculture in Germany has been in a state of decline. Poor earnings and lack of profitability are counted as the main reasons for the failure of many medium and small farms. The main crops grown are potatoes, wheat, barley, sugar beet and cabbage. Germany ranks among the world's largest producers of milk, dairy products and meat. Agricultural support is managed under the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

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 car manufacturers like BMW, DaimlerChrysler ( Mercedes), Opel (owned by GM), Porsche and Volkswagen AG (including Audi, and more non-German brands), and it is also home to huge multinational corporations like BASF, Bosch, and Siemens AG, which consistently 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 ( [3]). Germany also has a large (and possibly underrated) presence in the banking world, lead by Deutsche Bank and Allianz.

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 states, while petroleum enjoys this position in the western "Länder". The previous red-Green (1998-2005) coalition government was pursuing a long-term strategy of phasing out nuclear power in favour of renewable sources of energy. The current coalition has not yet agreed on its nuclear policy.

Society

Demographics

The borough of Kreuzberg in Berlin is sometimes called the "second largest Turkish city in Europe, after Istanbul"
The borough of Kreuzberg in Berlin is sometimes called the "second largest Turkish city in Europe, after Istanbul"

Due to the country's federal and decentralized structure Germany has a number of larger cities. The most populous cities of Germany are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and Dortmund. By far the largest conurbation is the Rhine-Ruhr region, including the Düsseldorf-Cologne district and the cities of Dortmund, Duisburg and Bochum. The federal structure has kept the population oriented towards a number of large cities, and has precluded the growth of any single city that would rival such European capitals as London, Paris or Moscow for size.

As of 2004, about 7.5 million foreign citizen residents were living in Germany. By far the largest number came from Turkey, followed by Italy, Greece, Croatia, the Netherlands, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Portugal, Vietnam, Morocco, Poland, Macedonia, Lebanon and France. [4] Thanks to reform of German nationality law, many of these immigrants are eligible for naturalisation ( [5]). 9% of the population is not ethnically German.

Germany is still a primary destination for political and economic refugees from many less industrialized countries, especially Turkey and southern/ southeastern Europe, but the number of annual asylum seekers has been declining in recent years, reaching about 50,000+ in 2003.

An ethnic Danish minority of about 50,000 people lives in Schleswig, most of them 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. In rural areas of Northern Germany, Low German is widely spoken. The North-Rhine Westphalian border is a transitional area between German and Dutch.

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 non-ethnic German immigrants, they have been settled by the government almost evenly spread throughout Germany.

Religion

Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation and reformer of the German language, 1529
Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation and reformer of the German language, 1529
Berliner Dom
Berliner Dom

Germany is the home of the Reformation launched by Martin Luther in the early 16th century. Today, Protestants (particularly in the north and east) comprise about 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. The third largest religious identity in Germany is that of non-religious people (including atheists and agnostics), who amount to a total of 28.5% of the population (23.5 million).

Most German Protestants are members of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Free churches (as Baptists, Methodists and other independent Protestants are usually called in Germany) exist in all larger towns and many smaller ones, but most such churches are small. The current pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, is German.

Besides this there are several hundred thousand Orthodox Christians (mostly Greeks and Serbs), 400,000 New Apostolic Christians, more than 150,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, and numerous other small groups. The highest numbers of members of these denominations in Germany has the Greek Orthodox Church, the Serb Orthodox Church coming fourth.

Approximately 3.2 million Muslims [6] (Predominantly from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia) live in Germany.

Today's Germany has Western Europe's third-largest Jewish population. In 2004, twice as many Jews from former Soviet republics settled in Germany as in Israel, bringing the total influx to more than 200,000 since 1991. About half joined a settled Jewish community, of which there are now more than 100, with a total of 100,000 members—up from 30,000 before reunification. Some German cities have seen a revival of Jewish culture, particularly in Berlin, where there are also 3,000 Israelis. Jews have a voice in German public life through the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland. Other cities with significant Jewish populations are Frankfurt and Munich.

In the territory of the former German Democratic Republic, there is much less religious feeling than in the West. Only 5% attend a mass 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 considerably higher.

Church and state are separate, but there is cooperation in many fields, most importantly in the social sector. Churches and religious communities, if they are large, stable and loyal to the constitution, can get special status from the state as a corporate body under public law which allows the churches to levy taxes called Kirchensteuer ( church tax) on their members on the basis of laws of the Länder, and to apply laws of public service to their ministers. In most cases, the revenue is collected by the state in return for a collection fee, while some smaller-sized religious bodies chose to administer the collection of the taxes themselves (such as the Jewish Community of Berlin). See Status of religious freedom in Germany and Separation of church and state in Germany.

Over six million Jews were killed in Germany or neighbouring countries during the period of 1940 to 1945. This action, known as the Holocaust, is the largest example of murder based on religious motivation in the history of Europe. The term genocide was created to describe the behaviour of the German government during the Holocaust. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly to prevent future crimes against humanity of this nature.

Also of note is that Germany hosts one of only seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship in the world. Completed in 1964, it is located at the foot of the Taunus Mountains in the village of Langenhain, approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 mi)west of Frankfurt.

Education

Classroom at a secondary school in Germany in 1998
Classroom at a secondary school in Germany in 1998

Germany has one of the world's highest levels of education and many famous universities. The most important foreign languages taught at school are English, French, Latin, Italian and Ancient Greek. Russian, Turkish, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic are not taught everywhere. 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 (to compare, the United States had 51). The highest ranking university, at #45, was the TU Munich. Most German universities are state-owned and free of charge. Additionally university students are often supported by the so called BAFÖG, a federal subsidy, running as high as €290 as interest free credit plus €290 as direct payment.

German educational ideals differ considerably from anglo-saxon educational ideals, emphasizing socialisation, debate, vocal participation in class and critical faculties. Consequently the results of the PISA student assessments, that revealed comprehension of the respective subject matters only, were a shock to the German public but no surprise to many educational experts. The comparatively low scores brought on heated debate about how the school system should be changed. Furthermore it was revealed that more than in other countries students with higher-earning parents are better-educated and tend to achieve higher results. There is also some diversity between the schools of the various states that determine their respective school system independently. Failing integration of foreigners also proved to be a big educational obstacle, as in many urban schools teachers are more occupied teaching their numerous foreign students basic German instead of algebra or physics.

In addition to academic education, Germany also has an elaborate system of vocational education, called the dual system, which combines apprenticeship in enterprises with theoretical teaching in vocational schools.

Germany prohibits home-schooling; however, this is still practiced by a number of people. There has been some publicity to government prosecution of this practice.

The German school system consists of an elementary school (Grundschule) where pupils go for 4 years (1st-4th grade, in some German states to the 6th grade) after that, in some states, they go to a secondary school where they learn English, French or Latin as their first foreign language (erste Fremdsprache). In the 5th grade (the 7th in states with secondary schools) they have to decide wether they will go to a Hauptschule (5th or 7th-9th grade), where they only have English as a foreign language and have less chance to get a job, or a Realschule (7th-10th grade), where they can learn both English and French but also have less chance to get a job, or a Gymnasium (5th or 7th-12th or 5th or 7th-13th grade), where they learn English and French or Latin. In some schools (Humanistisches Gymnasium) they may learn (Ancient) Greek beginning in the 9th grade. In the 11th grade in a Gymnasium, they may learn Spanish, (Ancient) Greek or Russian (not at every school available). In some states one can learn Chinese, Arabic and Japanese beginning from the 11th grade (e.g. Bremen). In Germany it is easier to get a job when you have an Abitur, which you get when you have successfully taken the exams at the end of the 12th or 13th grade (the final years at the Gymnasium). Most German states have the Gesamtschule (comprehensive school), too. It offers diplomas after the 10th grade (Hauptschulabschluß, Mittlere Reife) and after the 13th grade ( Abitur). The school system depends on the state, as a result of German federalism there are huges differences between the states.

Contrary to the first impression, the Abitur does not correspond with the US highschool diploma but with the Associate Degree in college. Germans finish their equivalent of the highschool diploma in their 10th grade exams leading to the degree of Mittlere Reife. In the Oberstufe (literally upper level) of Gymnasium they achieve the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (the ability to directly jump into university courses - usually what is achieved in U.S. colleges). This decision of the German states seriously impairs international comparisons of university attendance, as what is usually done in college elsewhere is done in German schools. Considering the high drop-out rates of pre-bachelor courses in the U.S., the low attendance of Germans in university might altogether be a statistical myth.

German companies expect German universities to complete the education of the students. Training-on-the-job and the like are either uncommon or simply introductory, as companies demand readymade employees from the educational system. This is the reason why only globalization and european unification produced the need for intermediate degrees, such as the Bachelor Degree, that is being introduced into the German system from 2005 onward. Again, the German Bachelor Degree differs from international standards as it is a rather hard degree trying to reconcile the economy's demand for readymade employees with a shorttime degree which tends to package the bulk of the original 4,5 year Magister Degree's subject matter into a 3 year course.

Transportation

Map of the German autobahn network
Map of the German autobahn network

Due to its central situation in Europe a very high traffic volume exists in Germany. In particular for the goods traffic it represents an important transit country. This constantly shifted in the past decades from the rail on the road, so that the Federal Government introduced 2005 a freeway toll for trucks. In addition, the individual traffic increased in an extent that on German roads a traffic volume very high in the international comparison prevails. This development went in particular debited to the rail traffic: Due to profitability lacking above all highways as well as goods and marshalling yards quietly put as well as long-distance passenger traffic connections were adjusted. Also for the future a strong increase of traffic is expected, therefore the federal traffic route plan sees 2003 in the period 2001-2015 an investment volume of altogether approx.. 150 billion euro forwards, in order to master the expected increase in the motorized passenger traffic (1997-2015) around 20% and in the goods traffic (1997-2005) around 64%.

InterCity Express train (generation III), Stuttgart.
InterCity Express train (generation III), Stuttgart.

The traffic in Germany has a long tradition, not only owing to the automobile industry, but also, because the first Autobahn of the world was built in Germany, the AVUS. Germany possesses one of the densest road systems of the world. It covers 12,037 kilometres (7,479 mi) Autobahns and 41,386 kilometres (25,716 mi) federal highways. In most European countries speed limits between 110 and 130 km/h (68 & 81 mph) applies on freeways, as well as a minimum speed between 45 and 60 km/h (28 & 37 mph). The use of the Autobahns is also often limited to vehicles actually designed to go that fast, e.g. a tuned golf cart going 80 km/h (50 mph) still won't be allowed to use them. German Autobahns have no general speed limit.

An other way to travel is via rail Deutsche Bahn. Deutsche Bahn (DB) is the major German railway company. There are significant differences between the financing of long-distance and short-distance (or local) trains in Germany. The InterCity Express or ICE is a type of high-speed train operated by DB in Germany and neighboring countries, for example to Zürich, Switzerland or Vienna, Austria. ICE-trains also run at lower speeds to Amsterdam, Netherlands and to Liège and Brussels, Belgium on the Belgian highspeed way.

Social issues

The German social market economy ( German: soziale Marktwirtschaft) helped bring about the "economic miracle" (the German " Wirtschaftswunder") that rebuilt Germany from ashes after World War II to one of the most impressive economies in Europe.

Germany continues to struggle with a number of social issues although problems created by the German Reunification of 1990 have begun to diminish. The standard of living is higher in the western half of the country, but easterners now share a reasonably high standard of living. Germans continue to be concerned about a relatively high level of unemployment. Germany has passed several reforms to curb unemployment. Some of these reforms will require people in the labour force to work harder and more efficiently.

For centuries, a woman's role in German society was summed up by the three words: Kinder (children), Kirche (church), and Küche (kitchen). Throughout the twentieth century, however, women have gradually won victories in their quest for equal rights. Despite significant gains, discrimination remains in united Germany. Women are noticeably absent in the top tiers of German business. They only hold 9.2 % of jobs in Germany's upper and middle management positions, according to 2002 figures from the Hoppenstedt business databank. Since 2001 women are in active duty in the Bundeswehr.

Since World War II, Germany has experienced intermittent turmoil from various extremist groups. In the 1970s the terrorist Red Army Faction engaged in a string of assassinations and kidnappings against political and business figures and there has been a recent surge in right-wing extremist crimes. According to former Interior Minister Otto Schily, the number of these crimes rose 8.4% to 12,553 cases in 2004, which the minister attributed to such crimes as the display of illegal Nazi symbols being reported more frequently. The majority of these cases are not violent crimes, although these do exist as well.

Germany is also burdened with an extremely low fertility/birthrate. Obviously, this has and will continue to cause many economic and social problems. For instance, the low birthrate has caused a shortage of young workers to replace the aging ones. This is expected to cause trouble in Germany's generous social welfare system, due less taxpayers and more elderly who will receive benefits. There is much debate as to what should be done to curb this trend. More daycare centers, paying cash to mothers for babies that are born, and incentives for men or women to stay home with the children have all been offered as solutions to this problem. So far none have been fully implemented.

Germany has failed to implement EU laws prohibiting racial discrimination. The European Court of Justice ruled on 29 April 2005, that Germany had breached EU law by failing to transpose fully the 'Racial Equality Directive' prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin (Directive 2000/43/EC). The deadline for EU Member States to transpose this Directive was 19 July 2003 – except for the 10 new Member States, who had to ensure that their legislation complied with the Directives by their accession to the EU on 1 May 2004. Immigrants to Germany may generally face integration issues and other difficulties. In addition to the challenges of adapting to a new language and culture, they may be subject to security-related police inquiries and violence from right-wing extremist groups. The government has attempted to improve immigrant integration by mandating courses on language, culture, politics, and society for some immigrants.

Some German states have banned Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in class and all states have banned crosses from the classroom as well, generally by prohibiting the use of all religious symbols by teachers. This is legitimate by combining the German states' privilege of educational laws with the principle of separation of church and state, both provided for in the German federal constitution: According to this legal view, teachers in their vocational function within a state administered educational system are obliged to maintain and publicly exhibit religious neutrality when on duty. As this status of employment does not hold for pupils, whose constitutional right to religious freedom thus remains unencumbered by these provisions, this ban cannot legally be extended to them as it is in France. The question of headscarves and crosses in schools has been heavily discussed politically throughout Germany in recent years, but could only be solved by a decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) in 2003.

Culture

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is regarded as a major German poet
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is regarded as a major German poet

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). German literature can be traced back to the Middle Ages, in particular to such authors as Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eschenbach, considered some of the most important poets of medieval Europe. The Nibelungenlied, whose author is not known, is also a major contribution to German literature. Theologian Luther, who translated the Bible into German, is widely credited for having set the basis for modern "High German" language. The mostly admired German poets and authors are without doubt Goethe, Hoffmann, Keller and Schiller. Other poets include Heinrich Heine, Rainer Maria Rilke and authors of the 20th century include Nobel prize winners Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, and Günter Grass. Other authors include Brecht and Enzensberger. Germany's influence on world philosophy was significant as well, as exemplified by Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Engels, Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, Hartmann, Jaspers, Heidegger, Gadamer and Habermas. In the field of sociology influential German thinkers were Simmel, Weber, Tönnies, Adorno and Luhmann.

In the field of music, Germany's influence is noted through the works of, among others, Bach, Händel, Telemann, Schütz, Beethoven, Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Wagner, Reger, Strauss, Webern, Orff, Henze and Lachenmann.

In Art, there are several fine German painters such as the Renaissance artist Dürer, the romanticist Friedrich, the surrealist Ernst, the expressionists Marc and Grosz, the conceptual artist Beuys or the neo expressionist Baselitz. Architecture also flourished in Germany. Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites are scattered throughout Germany (including, for instance, the cathedral of Cologne and the Museum Island in Berlin). Famous architects include neoclassicist Schinkel and Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus. A significant part of the architectural heritage of Germany, however, has been irrevocably destroyed by air raids on city centers during World War II.

Germany was also the homeland of scientists like Helmholtz, Fraunhofer, Fahrenheit, Kepler, Haeckel, Wundt, Virchow, Ehrlich, Humboldt, Röntgen, Braun, Einstein, Born, Planck, Heisenberg, Creuzfeldt, Hertz, Koch, Hahn, Leibniz, Liebig, Mayr and Bunsen; and inventors and engineers such as Gutenberg, Otto, Bosch, Siemens, von Braun, Daimler, Benz and Diesel.

Important mathematicians were born in Germany such as Ries, Dedekind, Bessel, Gauß, Hilbert, Jacobi, Riemann, Klein and Weierstraß.

Many historical figures, though not citizens of Germany in the modern sense, were important and influential figures in German culture, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig and Nicolaus Copernicus.

The German language was once the lingua franca of central, eastern and northern Europe. Within the European Union, German is the language with the most native speakers, with more than English, French, Spanish and Italian. As a foreign language, German is the third most taught worldwide. [7] It is also the second most used language on the Internet. The language has its origin in Old High German. There are numerous dialects of German, many of which are not intelligible to speakers of standard German. Some consider Low German to be a different language from German; Low German has been given the status of a minority language by the European Union, although it is less used today in the traditionally Low German-speaking areas of northern Germany.

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, the most famous of which being located in Bayreuth.

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