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.
Germany stretches out from the Northern and Eastern Sea in the North to the German, Swiss and Austrian Alps in the South. Altitudes are between -4 m and +2.298 m. Bordering countries of Germany are Switzerland (South), Austria (Southeast), Czech Republic (East), Poland (East), Denmark (North), The Netherlands (West), Belgium (West), Luxemburg (West), France (West). Germany is geographically positioned in the center of Europe. The major cities are Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich. The most important rivers in Germany are the Rhine, Danube, Main, Elbe and Weser.
Germany has always been a country of inventors, researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs. The printing press and motor cars were invented in Germany. Robert Koch discovered the importance of bacteria to fight illnesses, radiology and x-ray was discovered in Germany, as well as medical products such as aspirin. Many Germans claim that beer was first time brewed in Germany (many centuries ago), but Germans also invented the bicycle, developed artificial legs and the chip card for computers. The Christmas tree and Christmas markets are inventions from Germany. But talking about achievements, from a historic point of view, the most important achievement of today's Germany are more than 70 years of continuing peace after long times of war and two world wars. This also included social peace. Germany is a country of immigration. Despite all political debates, Germany achieved the social, economic and cultural integration of more than 30 million immigrants during the past decades. Peace with its former enemicies, France and Poland, are important post-war achievements. For today's modern world, Germans invented the mp3 format and - back in 1931 - a "box" today known as television.
"There are no real taboos in Germany that do not apply in other Western countries. Northern Germany (especially Berlin) is more relaxed about etiquette than Southern Germany. However, there are a number of issues considered inappropriate that you should be aware of in order to avoid insulting your German counterparts and disrespecting their views and ideals:
- Do not be afraid to approach Germans. They are very direct and honest people: if they can or want to help you, they will, if not, they will tell you so.
- It is important to bear in mind that Germans speak in a curt manner – this is just the way they are and is not meant as an act of rudeness.
- When making or answering a phone call, first introduce yourself by saying your name (most people use only their last name, but you can also use your first name). It is considered impolite if you do not give your name even when you use other polite greetings such as “hello” or “good morning”.
- It is impolite to cross your arm over people who are shaking hands
- It is rude to chew gum in business environments.
- Talking while your hands are in your pockets is also considered impolite
- When having a meeting or visiting a restaurant, men should always take off their hats.
- Be tactful with regards to the subject of the Second World War. The legacy of the war is well understood by Germans and jokes about it are looked upon as improper. What might appear from an outsider’s perspective to be “an innocent joke” might actually go down in a much more awkward and offensive way.
Although German people are industrious and hard-working, most Germans are very modest. "