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Germany

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Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Flag of Germany Germany: Coat of Arms
(In Detail)

National motto: Unity and Justice and Freedom
(German: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit)

Location of Germany
Official language German¹
Capital Berlin
Largest City Berlin
Chancellor: Gerhard Schr├Âder
President: Horst K├Âhler
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 61st
349,223 km┬▓
2.416%
Population
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 13th
82,424,609
242/km²
Formation / Unification Treaty of Verdun (843),
January 18, 1871,
May 23, 1949
October 3, 1990
GDP
  - Total (2003)
  - GDP/capita
Ranked 3rd
$2.271 trillion
$27,600
Currency Euro (€) (²)
Time zone
 - in summer
CET (UTC+1)
CEST (UTC+2)
National anthem Das Lied der Deutschen
Internet TLD .de
Calling Code +49
(¹) Danish, Low German, Sorbian, Romany and Frisian are officially recognized and protected as minority languages per the ECRML.

(²) Prior to 1999: Deutsche Mark.

The Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is one of the world's leading industrialized countries, located in the middle of the European Union. 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.

Contents

History

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'Franco-Prussian_War" title ="Franco-Prussian War">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).

Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871
Foundation of modern Germany, Versailles, 1871

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'Catholicism" title ="Catholicism">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'German_Revolution" title ="German Revolution">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 1932, the anti-democratic Nazis got 37.2% in July and 33.0% in November. 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 National Socialists or "Nazis", which lasted 12 years, from 1933 to 1945. In 1934, Hitler affirmed total control of government, when he de facto 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, Germany and her allies 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 Germany, the momentum in the war switched; which Hitler'United_States" title ="United States">United States December 11, 1941, further aggravated. From 1941 until 1945 Nazi Germans and their accomplicies systematically murdered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, and significant numbers of Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and mentally retarded and otherwise disabled people. On 8 May, 1945, 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 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 West Berlin 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, much 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 a generally supporting attitude of the occupation forces in West Germany. The reconstructed West Germany once again became one of the world'Satellite_state" title ="Satellite state">satellite states of the Warsaw Pact. (In West Germany, the territory of GDR was officially referred to as Middle Germany; it is still referred to as such by people who think that the historical Eastern German provinces constitute rightfully parts of Germany.)

The increasingly tense relations between the superpowers of the Cold War also influenced Germany. Ultimately, on August 13, 1961, East Germany erected the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin and reinforced the border to West Germany in order to avoid all contacts and migration over the inter-German border. Willy Brandt, West Berlin'1957" title ="1957">1957–1966 and West Germany'1969" title ="1969">1969–1974, attempted to soothe the tensions, but particularly his acceptance of the loss of historical Eastern Germany caused much controversy, most Germans considered him a traitor.

After the fall of Communism in Europe, Germany was reunited in 1990, not without economic difficulty. Berlin once again became capital of Germany. Together with France, the new Germany is playing the 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 political, defense and security apparatus. The Chancellor recently also called for a permanent seat for Germany in the UN Security Council.

Politics

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 Bundesl├Ąnder 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 function of head of state is performed by the Bundespr├Ąsident (Federal President), whose powers are mostly limited to ceremonial and representative duties.

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 Bundesl├Ąnder.

Germany'Social_welfare" title ="Social welfare">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.

States

Main article: States of Germany

Germany is divided into sixteen Bundesl├Ąnder (singular Bundesland), or federal states. It is further subdivided into 439 Kreise (districts) and cities (kreisfreie St├Ądte) (2004).

States of Germany
States of Germany
State Capital In German
1 Baden-W├╝rttembergStuttgartBaden-W├╝rttembergStuttgart
2 BavariaMunichFreistaat BayernM├╝nchen
3 BerlinBerlinBerlinBerlin
4 BrandenburgPotsdamBrandenburgPotsdam
5 Bremen (state)BremenFreie Hansestadt BremenBremen
6 HamburgHamburgFreie und Hansestadt HamburgHamburg
7 HesseWiesbadenHessenWiesbaden
8 Mecklenburg-Western PommeraniaSchwerinMecklenburg-VorpommernSchwerin
9 Lower SaxonyHannoverNiedersachsenHannover
10 North Rhine-WestphaliaD├╝sseldorfNordrhein-WestfalenD├╝sseldorf
11 Rhineland-PalatinateMainzRheinland-PfalzMainz
12 SaarlandSaarbr├╝ckenSaarlandSaarbr├╝cken
13 SaxonyDresdenFreistaat SachsenDresden
14 Saxony-AnhaltMagdeburgSachsen-AnhaltMagdeburg
15 Schleswig-HolsteinKielSchleswig-HolsteinKiel
16 ThuringiaErfurtFreistaat Th├╝ringenErfurt


Geography

Main article: Geography of Germany

Map of Germany with cities

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'Rhine" title ="Rhine">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.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Germany

Germany possesses the world'United_States" title ="United States">US and Japan and is part of the world'European_Union" title ="European Union">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. 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.

Demographics

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, Stuttgart, 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) (19801999 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'Education" title ="Education">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 (see Hartz concept).

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.

Government

Main article: Government

Similarly to the government of the United States of America, the German government consists of three branches, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.

The German legislature is bicameral, meaning that it consists of two houses, an upper, and a lower. The Bundestag is the lower house. Every four years, the people of Germany flock to the polls to vote for a party which they feel deserves power within the Bundestag. A party must obtain five percent of the overall vote to achieve seats within the Bundestag. From here, the parties select influential individuals to fill these seats. Within the Bundestag, there are many committees which create bills. The Bundestag is not only responsible for creating bills, it is also responsible for electing the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler), the head of government.

The head of the Bundestag is the President of the Bundestag. Directly following the federal election, the Bundestag votes for the president. He is commonly from the largest reigning party. His single job is the head the meetings of the Bundestag (Sitzung).

The Bundesrat is based upon proportional representation, and while there are over 600 members to the Bundestag, there are less than 100 members to the Bundesrat. While it is customary to serve eight to ten years within either house, there is no limit to the number of terms one may serve. The Bundesrat only meets when deciding if a bill should become a law or not. It has the power to reject any bills that the Bundestag passes. Because the liberal SPD and Greens hold the power in the Bundestag, and conservative parties hold the power within the Bundesrat, many disagreements occur.

Unlike the United States, Germany has many influential parties. The largest parties are the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social-Democratic Party - SPD), the conservative Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian-Democratic Union - CDU), and B├╝ndnis '90/Die Gr├╝nen (Alliance 90/The Greens). The SPD is the largest party by members, the CDU presently holds power within most states. In Bavaria, the conservatives are represented by the Christlich Soziale Union (Christian-Social Union - CSU) which generally shares the goals of the CDU. Regarding the Bundestag, both "CDU" and "CSU" appear as one party. There is also the Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democratic Party - FDP) which consists of free-market liberals, and the Partei des demokratischen Sozialismus (Party of Democratic Socialism - PDS) which was the former state party of communist East Germany and today only has important influence in eastern German states.
The largest right-wing extremist parties are the Nationaldemokratische Partei (National-Democratic Party - NPD), the Deutsche Volksunion (German People-Union - DVU) and the Republikaner (Republicans - REP). These parties have no major influence on politics in the present Germany.
There are also many smaller parties such as the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei (German Communist Party), the fundamentalist Christliche Mitte (Christian Centrist), the separatist Bayernpartei (Bavarian Party) and the ├ľkologisch-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands (Ecological-Democratic Party of Germany).

The executive and judicial branches of the German government are very similar to those of the United States. The executive branch consists of the president and the chancellor and his ministers. The ministers are selected by the chancellor and may be removed at any time. They are the heads of the departments within the country, and they act as the "German Cabinet". The highest court within Germany is the Bundesverfassungsgericht. It has the power to call any laws unconstitutional.

Culture

Main article: Culture of Germany

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a significant German poet
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a significant 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). 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 B├Âll 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 D├╝rer, 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.

Religion

The German 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'U.S._Internal_Revenue_Service" title ="U.S. Internal Revenue Service">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'15th_century" title ="15th century">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. 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. (See also Islam in Germany).

Besides this there are a few hundred thousand Orthodox Christians, 400,000 New Apostolic Christians, numerous other small groups, and 160,000 Jews, of which around 100,000 belong to a synagogue.

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'Nazism" title ="Nazism">Nazism, about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany, most of them long-time resident families.

Germany is today often regarded as an open and tolerant country, although conservative politicians have voiced strong criticism against the Islamic minority after the murder of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, and said the multi-cultural idea have failed.

International rankings

Miscellaneous topics

External links



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