With a population of appr. 83 million inhabitants, Germany is one of the larger countries in Europe. It covers an area of 358.000 square kilometers. Population density is high with 232 inhabitants per sq. kilometer. The official native language is German. 60% of the Germans are Christians, followed by 5,5 % Muslims, 1,5% other religions and 33,0% who do not consider themselves to be religious. The main holidays are January 1st, January 6th, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, the national holiday on October 3rd, November 1st and Christmas on the 25th and 26th of December.
Germany has gone through many changes, wars, times of peace and times of conflict in its history. For most of the two millennia that Central Europe has been inhabited by German-speaking peoples, such as the Eastern Franks, the area now called Germany was divided into hundreds of states, many quite small, including duchies, principalities, free cities, and ecclesiastical states. Not even the Romans united what is now known as Germany under one government; they managed to occupy only its southern and western portions.
Medieval Germany was marked by division. As France and England began their centuries-long evolution into united nation-states, Germany was racked by a ceaseless series of wars among local rulers. The Habsburg Dynasty's long monopoly of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire provided only the semblance of German unity. Within the empire, German princes warred against one another as before. The Protestant Reformation deprived Germany of even its religious unity, leaving its population Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist. These religious divisions gave military strife an added ferocity in the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), during which Germany was ravaged to a degree not seen again until World War II.
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 left German-speaking Europe divided into hundreds of states. From the mid-1790s until Prussia, Austria, and Russia defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and drove him out of German territory, much of the area was occupied by French troops. Napoleon's officials abolished numerous small states; as a result, in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, German territory consisted of only about 40 states.
During the next half-century, pressures for German unification grew. Scholars, bureaucrats, students, journalists, and businessmen agitated for a united Germany that would bring with it uniform laws and a single currency and that would replace the benighted absolutism of petty German states with democracy. The revolutions of 1848 seemed at first likely to realize this dream of unity and freedom, but the monarch who was offered the crown of a united Germany, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, rejected it.
Despite the opposition of conservative forces, German unification came more than two decades later, in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, when Germany was unified and transformed into an empire under Emperor Wilhelm I, king of Prussia. Unification was brought about not by revolutionary or liberal forces but rather by a conservative Prussian aristocrat, Otto von Bismarck.
Although united Germany had a parliament, the Reichstag, elected through universal male suffrage, supreme power rested with the emperor and his ministers, who were not responsible to the Reichstag. The Reichstag could contest the government's decisions, but in the end the emperor could largely govern as he saw fit. Supporting the emperor were the nobility, large rural landowners, business and financial elites, the civil service, the Protestant clergy, and the military.
In World War I (1914–18), Germany’s aims were annexationist in nature and foresaw an enlarged Germany, with Belgium and Poland as vassal states and with colonies in Africa. However, Germany’s military strategy, involving a two-front war in France and Belgium in the west and Russia in the east, ultimately failed. Germany’s defeat in 1918 meant the end of the German Empire.
A republic, the Weimar Republic (1919–33), was established with a constitution that provided for a parliamentary democracy in which the government was ultimately responsible to the people. The new republic's first president and prime minister were convinced democrats, and Germany seemed ready at last to join the community of democratic nations. But the Weimar Republic ultimately disappointed those who had hoped it would introduce democracy to Germany. By mid-1933 it had been destroyed by Adolf Hitler, its declared enemy since his first days in the public arena. In January 1933, leading conservative politicians formed a new government with Hitler as chancellor. They intended to harness him and his party (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis), now the country's largest, to realize their own aim of replacing the republic with an authoritarian government. Within a few months, however, Hitler had outmaneuvered them and established a totalitarian regime. Only in 1945 did a military alliance of dozens of nations succeed in deposing him, and only after his regime and the nation it ruled had committed crimes of unparalleled enormity known as the Holocaust.
In the aftermath of World War II (1939–45) and following occupation by the victorious powers (the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France), Germany came to consist of two states. One, East Germany, never attained real legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, fell farther and farther behind economically, and had to use force to prevent its population from fleeing to the West. The other, West Germany, was resoundingly successful. Within two decades of defeat, it had become one of the world's richest nations, with a prosperity that extended to all segments of the population.
In 1990 German unification overcame the geographic separation of the two German states, including an infamous wall between West Berlin and East Berlin, but economic integration still has not been achieved satisfactorily. 30 years after the re-unification, Germany enjoys economic strength and success, but faces the challenges of finding its role in a new globalized world and in an European Union asking for reforms and new debates on EU integration.