Germany - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Federal Republic of Germany
Formation 1871 / 1990
Population 82.1 million / 608 people per sq mile (235 people per sq km)
Total area 137,846 sq. miles (357,021 sq. km)
Languages German*, Turkish
Religions Protestant 34%, Roman Catholic 33%, Other 30%, Muslim 3%
Ethnic mix German 92%, Other 3%, Other European 3%, Turkish 2%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Euro = 100 cents
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 3530 kilocalories
It had long been known that both the north and south walls of western Germany’s Neander Valley had many caves and rock shelters. Then in 1856 a partial humanoid cranium was found in a cave called the Kleine Feldhofer Grotte. Although no one could have predicted it then, the discovery marked the beginning of human paleontology and started the longest-standing debate in the discipline: the role of Neanderthals in human evolutionary history.
No other archaeological materials were gathered, and the cave was destroyed. However, archaeological excavations done in 1997 and 2000 have yielded additional Neanderthal bone fragments, making the Neanderthal site the first Pleistocene (1.8 million to 11,000 years old) locality to yield sequences from more than one human. Radiocarbon dates for both Neanderthal individuals indicate an age of about 40,000 years for them.
Evidence for more recent cultures in prehistoric Germany include numerous Bandkeramik villages and associated cemeteries. The Bandkeramik peoples were the first true farming communities in central Europe, and the sites have been dated between 5400 and 4900 B.C.E. Their name refers to the distinctive banded decorations found on their pottery.
The villages at Bandkeramik sites are characterized by longhouses with rectangular plans, and some were protected by surrounding ditches. The domesticated crops include emmer and einkorn wheat, peas, lentils, and linseed. Numerous cairns, menhirs, and dolmens dot the German landscape, the remains of an ancient, and dominant, Celtic presence. The Celts are now thought to be the immediate ancestors of the tribes and clans known as Germanic (or Teutonic), and the vestiges of Celtic religious beliefs and symbols can still be found in the customs of many modern German communities.
A large number of tribes from Scandinavia began moving down into Germany between 800 and 700 B.C.E. and established their settlements in the region. It is thought that the deteriorating climatic conditions in Scandinavia forced these tribes to migrate to milder climates. Animal husbandry was their main occupation. These Germanic tribes were also notorious for invading other territories and taking control of them.
Around 100, these Teutonic tribes (primarily Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths) invaded the regions of Gaul, Illyria, and Italy, which were under the domination of the Roman Empire. Initially the renowned Roman commander Marius (d.
86 B.C.E.) led the Roman forces to victory over the Teutons.
However from 58 B.C.E. to 5 C.E. the Romans and the Germanic tribes fought a series of wars. The Romans ultimately lost control of the region, and different parts of Germany were subsequently ruled by various empires and dynasties, such as the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne (742–814) and the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I (the Great, 912–73) of the Saxon Dynasty.
(In 962 Pope John XII [r.
955–63] crowned Otto I the Holy Roman Emperor and successor of Charlemagne, laying the foundation of the first Holy Roman Empire of the German nation.) After the death of Otto I, Germany was ruled by three main dynasties: the Saxons, the Hohenstaufens, and eventually the Hapsburgs. It was during the rule of King Maximilian I (1459–1519) of the Hapsburg Dynasty that in 1517 German Augustinian theologian Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his 95 theses on the doors of Castle Church at Wittenberg.
Luther challenged what he and others perceived to be abuses and corruption in the Roman Catholic Church headed by Pope Leo X (r. 1513–21) and asked Christians to return to the teachings of the Bible. He led the Protestant Reformation, which aimed at reforming the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
From 1618–48 Germany was enmeshed in the Thirty Years’ War. Although this was mainly a conflict between Catholics and Protestants, it was also a result of the ambitions of various princely states within the empire. The war began with a Protestant uprising against the Holy Roman Emperor in Bohemia. When other European powers (King Christian IV of Denmark [1588–1648], Gustav II Adolph of Sweden [1594–1632], and Cardinal Richelieu of France [1585–1642]) began interfering in German affairs by extending their support to the German Protestants, the conflict escalated into a full-fledged European war. Almost one-third of Germany’s population perished, and the country was left in an impoverished state, its agriculture devastated, its commerce and industry in ruins. The suffering of the peasants would be remembered for many years. The war ended in 1648 after a peace treaty was signed between Germany, France, and Sweden. According to the treaty, a large portion of the Holy Roman Empire was distributed among the victors; the remaining states and principalities that made up the empire were given the right of self-governance.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15), Napoleon I (1769–1821) attacked the states that made up Germany but was fiercely resisted, especially by the forces of the Prussian state. Eventually, after a decisive battle at Leipzig on October 16–19, 1813, Napoleon’s ambition to rule Prussia ended after the Prussians defeated the French army.
In 1866 the chancellor of Prussia Otto Van Bismarck (1815–98) initiated a series of military campaigns and annexed many of the other states that now make up Germany, thereby laying the foundation for a unified Germany. After the defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) on January 18, 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia (1861–88) was declared kaiser (emperor) of Germany, and this led to the unification of all of the German states into one nation.
The ambitious Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888–1918) began German colonial expansion in Asia. This put Germany in direct conflict with British, Japanese, Russian, and American interests. Moreover Germany was engaged in shipbuilding activities, which the British perceived as a threat to their dominance of the seas. This collision course with the other major imperial powers ultimately led to World War I (1914–18), during which Germany opposed the Allies (Russia, Britain, Italy, France, and the United States) and fought on the side of the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungary. Germany participated in a number of bitterly fought battles during the war and, after initial victories in certain regions, suffered immensely at the hands of the Allies. Around the end of October 1918 German naval troops in the city of Kiel refused to participate any further in the war, and soon this rebellion spread to other parts of Germany, forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate the throne. On November 9, 1918, the Social Democratic leader Phillip Scheidemann (1865–1939) declared Germany a republic and on November 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice in Compiègne, France, ending World War I.
The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 humiliated Germany by handing over all the German colonies to the Allies as well as by restraining German military operations, restricting its military force to just 100,000 soldiers. Also Germany and its allies were forced to accept responsibility for the war and made to pay a substantial amount as compensation to the Allies for the expenses incurred by them during the war. Friedrich Ebert (1871–1925) was sworn in as the first president of the Weimar Republic on August 11, 1919.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), a volunteer in World War I and founder of the National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Labor Party), which was originally referred to as the N.S.D.A.P. but better known as the Nazi Party, came to power in 1933 when he was appointed chancellor of Germany. He gave a free hand to the Schutzstaffel (SS), which was a protective squadron and a paramilitary force of the Nazi Party. He banned all other political parties in Germany, had all politicians belonging to Communist and Socialist Parties arrested, and ordered them sent to concentration camps where many were put to death. These camps were administered by a new secret police known as the Gestapo. In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles Hitler began recruiting troops under universal military service and reestablished the German Air Force. In 1935 he passed the Nuremberg Race Laws, which not only terminated the German citizenship of Jews, but also forbade them from marrying Germans. Jews in Germany, and eventually in the nations occupied by Germany during World War II, were subjected to brutal treatment and death. This infamous period became known as the Holocaust.
In 1939 Germany signed a secret nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and invaded Poland, thus sparking World War II. However, in 1940 Germany violated the nonaggression pact and invaded regions occupied by Soviet forces. As a result the Soviet Union declared war on Germany and joined the Allies (Great Britain, France, and, after December, 1941, the United States) in the fight against the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan).
During the war German forces occupied major parts of Europe and continued the persecution of Jews wherever they went. However by 1945, the Allied forces had succeeded in defeating the Axis powers. Hitler committed suicide, and Germany suffered immensely as the Allies bombed German ports and harbors, completely destroying the country’s infrastructure.
In 1945 at the Potsdam Conference, the Allies divided Germany into four military zones with three zones forming the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the Soviet-occupied zone forming the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
The former German capital of Berlin, which was located in East Germany, was split down the middle between East and West. In West Germany, democracy was restored; it benefited greatly from the American plan for the reconstruction of Europe. By 1960 West Germany had a robust economy.
In East Germany a Communist government assumed power, with the backing of Poland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The oppressive policies of this government and lack of opportunities in the region forced many East Germans to move to the more prosperous West Germany.
Eventually on August 13, 1961, in an attempt to prevent East Germans from crossing over to West Germany via West Berlin, the Communist regime of East Germany erected the infamous Berlin Wall, a concrete wall about 12 feet high.
It surrounded all of East Berlin. Efforts by East Germans to cross over the wall to a better life resulted in many deaths and imprisonments.
Finally in 1989, there were widespread demonstrations in Leipzig and Berlin against the Communist government. The growing discontent and disillusionment led to its fall. As a result on November 9, 1989, East German authorities allowed many East Germans to cross over to West Germany via West Berlin and brought down the Berlin Wall.
On August 31, 1990, a reunification agreement was signed between officials of West and East Germany; the agreement came into effect on October 3, 1990, which was called the Day of German Unity (Tag der deutschen Einheit), or Unity Day.
In the 21st century Germany has one of the strongest economies in the world and is a principal member of the European Union (EU). Putting its Nazi past behind, Germany has been transformed into one of the most respected republics in the world. It is a member of the United Nations (UN), Group of Eight (G8), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At present Germany is also seeking a permanent seat on the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC).
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Located in central Europe the Federal Republic of Germany is flanked by Switzerland and Austria to the south, Luxembourg and France to the southwest, the Netherlands and Belgium in the northwest, Denmark and the North Sea and Baltic Sea to the north, and the Czech Republic and Poland to the east.
The Alps are situated in the southern part of Germany, while the central parts of Germany are covered with forests. Important European rivers such as the Danube, Rhine, and Elbe flow through the region between the central uplands and the lowlying areas of northern Germany. Mount Zugspitze, located in the Alps, is the highest point in Germany and stands 9,718 feet high. The lowest point is Neuendorfer/Wilstermarsch, which is 12 feet below sea level and is located in the low-lying region of northern Germany.
Germany’s climate is mainly cool and temperate.
The climatic conditions in the eastern parts of Germany often display continental features and are marked by warm summers, extremely cold winters, and sparse rainfall. However in the northern and northeastern parts of Germany, the climate displays oceanic features and is characterized by heavy rainfall (throughout the year), mild winters, and cool summers. The central and southern parts of Germany experience a transitional climate marked by both oceanic and continental climatic conditions.
A wide variety of flora is found in Germany, which includes buttercups, cyclamen, orchids, pulsatilla, gentians, alpine roses, and edelweiss, as well as trees such as the birch, chestnut, oak, beech, maple, and ash. Germany is also home to a wide variety of animals and birds such as raccoons, alpine marmots, beavers, wild goat, snow hare (hare with white fur), sea eagles, golden eagles, falcons, white storks, sandpipers, and cranes.
ECONOMY One of the leading industrialized nations in the world, the Federal Republic of Germany is a unified democratic state composed of 16 landes (states).
Berlin is the capital. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Germany is the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and Japan. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Germany was the largest exporter in the world in 2004, for the second year in a row. Its major export items include machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, metals, textiles, as well as agricultural products such as hops (Germany is the second largest producer of hops, the key ingredient in beer, in the world), cabbage, apples, pears, potatoes, oats, and rye.
The service sector, including tourism, is the largest contributor to Germany’s GDP. On the industrial front, Germany has the distinction of being the largest and most technologically advanced producer of trucks, automobiles, iron, steel, machine tools, and electronics. Germany is home to automobile giants such as Volkswagen and Daimler Chrysler, and global market leaders such as Siemens. In the shipbuilding industry it is also the world leader.
An important member of the European Union (EU), Germany is one of the EU countries that have accepted the Euro (common currency of many member nations of EU) as the national currency.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Germany has a rich cultural heritage. Almost 92 percent of the nation’s population is ethnic German, but the country is also home to a substantial number of Italian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish peoples. In addition most of the refugees of the former Yugoslavia have been absorbed by Germany.
Germany is the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation movement, and almost 34 percent of the country’s population is Protestant, while 34 percent are Roman Catholic. Around 4 percent of the population adheres to Islam, while almost 28 percent adhere to other religions or are not affiliated with any organized religion.
German is the official language of the country and is the second most widely spoken language in Europe (after Russian). It is also the third most popular foreign language taught around the world, as well as in the EU.
Germans love music of all types, whether classical, rock and roll, hip-hop, or folk. Some of the most popular forms of German music include: volksmusik (traditional style of music that involves duets and yodeling), neue deutsche welle (music derived from punk rock), krautorock (kraut is British slang for German and refers to the style of music played by experimental bands in Germany in the 1970s), and German hip-hop.
Germany is sometimes referred to as das Land der Dichter und Denker (the Land of Poets and Thinkers), because it is the home of such worldrenowned composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Carl Orff, and Richard Wagner, as well as great philosophers including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and Gottfried Leibniz, and scientists such as Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, Johannes Kepler, Max Planck, and Robert Wilhelm Bunsen.
Besides being the birthplace of great poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, and Friedrich Schiller, Germany is also home to great engineers and inventors, including Gottlieb Daimler (of DaimlerChrysler), Ernst Werner von Siemens, Rudolf Diesel, Karl Benz, Johann Gutenberg, Nicolaus Otto, and Karl Braun. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation movement, was also German.
Famous German novelists of the 20th century include Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, and Günter Grass, all winners of the Nobel Prize for literature.
German cuisine is hearty. Classic dishes include rote griitze (fruit soup), Helgolander Krabbensalat (Helgoland’s shrimp salad), bulleten (meat balls), sauerfleisch (meat made with fish gelatin), soleier (pickled eggs), handkäs (a dish made of sour cream and cheese), badener schneckensüpple (an herb-flavored snail broth), and spannferkel (spit-roasted baby pig).
Germans also love cakes and desserts, and some of the favorites include Schwarzwälder kirschtorte (Black Forest cake), Dresdner stollen (a Christmas fruitcake shaped like a wrapped infant and covered with confectioner’s sugar), and welfenspeise (a vanillaflavored dessert made with wine), to name only a few.
The preferred German beverage is beer or wine. Other beverages include sekt (a kind of wine), soft drinks such as radler (a light beer mixed with apple juice or lemonade) and limo (lemonade mixed with sweetened sparkling water).
Until the 1700s, the first name given to most boys in southern and central Germany was Johann, although they were given different second names (middle names). To avoid confusion, they were known mainly by their second names. Similarly, the first name of most girls in the regions was either Anna or Maria, and they each had a different middle name that they were usually known by.
In northern and northeastern Germany in the mid-1800s, there was a tradition of giving a child three to five names, since the number of names reflected the family’s status. People in these regions believed that the higher the status of a family (or a person), the more names should be given to the child.
In the 21st century, German children are relieved from homework or household chores on their birthdays. Also, a special birthday cake is put on the dinner table early in the morning and an elderly member of the family decorates it with the number of candles corresponding to the child’s age as well as with one extra candle for good luck. Many families also put a special wooden birthday wreath on their kitchen or dining tables. This wreath has holes that hold the candles as well a special hole to hold a life candle, which is bigger than the others. The life candle is lit every year until the child turns 12.
The candles are lit and allowed to burn the entire day. After dinner, the family gathers around the birthday cake and sings a birthday song for the child. Before blowing out the candles, the child is asked to make a wish. According to tradition, if all the candles are blown out in one try, then the wish will come true. Everyone gives gifts to the child, wishing him or her a year filled with happiness.
In Germany people observe the rites of the denomination of Christianity to which they belong when they marry. Most weddings take place in a church and are solemnized in the presence of a priest or minister, family members, and friends. It involves an exchange of wedding vows and wedding rings. In Germany, the couple wears their engagement rings on the left hand. Then, following the ceremony, the same rings are moved to the fourth finger of the right hand. Engagement rings are commonly plain gold bands; rarely, if ever, a diamond.
In northern Germany, friends and family members play tricks on the bride and the groom. While they are getting married in the church, for example, friends of the couple might go to the newlyweds’ house, place all the furniture on the roof, and lock the doors to the house. After the couple returns home, they are faced with the challenge of finding a way inside their locked home. After they manage to do that, they have to put all the furniture back inside their house on their own. No outside help is provided, and family and friends watch merrily as the newlyweds are made to work on their wedding day.
In the regions of Rheinland-Pfalz and IdarOberstein, friends and family members throw old dishes on the streets, and the bride and the groom have to sweep the streets to clean it. This is an ancient custom, and people believe that if the couple can clean the street then their marriage will be excellent.
After this ritual it is customary for the groom’s best man and other wedding witnesses to kidnap the bride and take her to a local restaurant or bar. The groom rescues his bride from the “kidnappers” and also pays for all their feasting and drinking.
These rituals are followed by a wedding reception, which involves a lot of singing and dancing. In accordance with tradition the bride and the groom dance the first dance, traditionally a waltz.
Then, the groom and his mother and the bride and her father dance the second dance. Later the groom’s father dances with the bride’s mother.
At around midnight the bride takes off her veil and hands it to the woman who is next in line to get married.
In Germany burial rituals are regulated by law. Cremation along a riverside, scattering of ashes in the rivers, burial in the backyard, and open caskets are prohibited.
By law Germans must bury their dead in graveyards after leasing burial plots from the government. Germans have to pay the authorities a substantial amount to obtain these leases, which generally last for a period of 20–30 years. If the lease is not renewed when it expires the family has to remove the headstone from the burial site, and the plot is dug up and leased to another family.