Germany in a Nutshell

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 18th September 1999

What is the History of Germany?

  • The concept of Germany as a distinct region originates with Julius Caesar, who called the unconquered area east of the Rhine Germania, to distinguish it from Gaul (France).
  • In 962, Otto I became the first Holy Roman Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.
  • In the Late Middle Ages, the regional dukes, princes, and bishops gained power at the expense of the emperors. After Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation in 1517, the northern states became Protestant, while the southern states remained Catholi leading to the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), and tremendous destruction; more than 1/4 of the population and 1/2 of the male population in the German states were killed.
  • 1648 marked the effective end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of the modern nation-state system, with Germany divided into numerous small kingdoms, duchies and principalities , such as Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Austria and other states, which also controlled land outside of the area considered "Germany".
  • After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars from 1803–1815,. Prussia, with its capital Berlin, grew in power under the leadership of the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck leading to the formation of the German Empire unifiying the various states as the German Reich (or realm) in 1871.
  • By 1900, Germany was already the dominant power on the European continent and led the Central Powers in World War I (1914–1918) against France, Great Britain, Russia and (by 1917) the United States. Defeated and partly occupied, Germany was forced to pay war reparations by the Treaty of Versailles and was stripped of its colonies as well as of home territory to be ceded to Belgium, France, and Poland, and was banned from uniting with German-settled regions of Austria.
  • The German Revolution of 1918–19 put an end to the federal constitutional monarchy and resulted in the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich an unstable parliamentary democracy.
  • In the early 1930s, the worldwide Great Depression hit Germany hard, as unemployment soared and people lost confidence in the government. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. His Nazi Party quickly established a totalitarian regime, eventually annexing Austria, invading the German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia wand initiating World War II in Europe with the invasion of Poland
  • After Germany lost the war, German territories were split up, Austria was again made a separate country, deNazification took place, and the Cold War resulted in the division of the country into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany, West Germany was rearmed in the 1950s under the auspices of NATO but without access to nuclear weapons. The Franco-German friendship became the basis for the political integration of Western Europe in the European Union.
  • In 1989, the Berlin Wall was destroyed, the Soviet Union collapsed, and East Germany was runited with West Germany in 1990. Since reunification, there have been 16 länder or federal states: three city states – Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen – and 13 regions: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.
  • By the end of the century Germany was one of the economic powerhouses of Europe, contributing about one-quarter of the eurozone's annual gross domestic product.

Germany - Snippets of Information

• Germany was the first country in the world to adopt daylight saving time – DST, also known as summer time - in 1916, in the midst of WWI, in an attempt to conserve energy.
• Prison escape is not punishable by law in Germany – German law maintains that it’s a basic human instinct to be free and therefore, prisoners have the right to escape jail. Escapes, however, rarely go unpunished because prisoners are held liable if they cause damage to property or inflict bodily harm against any individual upon their breakout.
• It’s illegal to run out of fuel in the German Autobahn – although not forbidden, motorists are only allowed to stop in the legendary highway for emergencies and having an empty tank of gas is not counted as an emergency.
• German law ban names that don’t denote a gender or use a family name as a first name. In 2014, the most popular children’s names were Sophie/Sofie for a girl and Maximilian for a boy.
• Fanta originated in Germany as a result of the Second World War – due to a trade embargo that prevented importing Coca-Cola syrup into Germany, the head of Coca-Cola in the country decided to create a domestic product for the market using available ‘leftover’ products like whey and apple pomace. It’s the second oldest brand of the Coca-Cola Company and the second most popular drink outside of the United States.
• College education in Germany is free even for internationals – tuition fees for bachelors' degrees in public universities was abolished in 2014, due to politicians thinking that having to pay for higher education is ‘socially unjust’.

• Over 800 million currywurst - a sausage served with a spicy sauce- are eaten in Germany each year. There’s even a museum in Berlin dedicated to the popular snack.
• German is the language with the most native speakers in Europe – besides Germany having the largest population in the EU, the German language was once the lingua franca of central, eastern and northern Europe.
• Germany’s capital centre has shifted seven times – these cities have all at one time or another been capitals of modern-day German territory: Aachen (during the Carolingian Empire), Regensburg, Frankfurt-am-Main, Nuremberg, Berlin, Weimar (unofficially, during unrest in Berlin), Bonn (and East Berlin), and, since 1990, Berlin again.
• Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten is the largest zoo in the world
• Germany has more cultural centres than any other country – it had 6,200 museums, 820 theatres, 130 professional orchestras and 8,800 libraries in 2013. More people going to exhibitions than to soccer matches.
• Germans are Europe’s second largest beer consumers after the Czechs. There are more than 1,200 breweries producing over 5,000 brands of beer.
• Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany since 2005, has been ranked as the world’s second most powerful person and the highest female ranking ever. In 2009, Mattel celebrated 50 years of Barbie by producing an Angela Merkel Barbie doll.

Is Germany a Rich Country?

  • With a GDP of $3.5 trillion, Germany is the largest economy in Europe and one of the largest in the worldGerman small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for around 52 percent of Germany’s entire economic output – these mittelstand (SMEs) employ some 14 million workers. And Germany is one of the world’s largest car producers – selling 6 million cars in 2015. VW’s Golf is one of the best selling cars of all time.
  • Like other highly developed, service-oriented social market economies, Germany has one of the highest standards of living in the world

Is Germany in the EU?

  • Germany was a founder member of the EU
  • Germany is the fifth largest country in Europe, covering an area of 357,022 square kilometres; only Ukraine, France, Spain and Sweden are bigger.
  • Germany is the EU’s largest economy – with a gross domestic product (GDP) of EUR 3.49 trillion and lies in fourth place in the world behind the US, China and Japan.

What is There to See and Do in Germany?

My first big trip abroad -and travelling solo - was to Germany. I was 15 and I travelled on the ferry and train to stay with my pen pal in Annweiler am Trifels. I was going with a school friend, but she went down with appendicitis and I journeyed alone. I was terrified, but I was very excited about making my first trip and so I went. I bought the wrong train ticket to Dover, but the guard didn’t say anything. A German guy carried my bag onto the boat and gave me some of his bottled beer- Lowenbrau. I didn’t like it much. I found my berth on the overnight sleeper and tried to talk to the people in the carriage. I was so nervous I cried. They were all kind.

The Trifels was pretty, green and hilly wine country. It was genteel living. My pen pal’s father was the mayor and I learned to drink herb tea (not to add milk) and eat kuchen. I went to school,was stared at and attended the end of term disco. We went to Mannheim Speyer and Baden Baden on day outings. I even spoke a little German.

Otherwise, Germany is a country I’ve passed through – quite a few times. The autobahns are good, mostly lined with forest and the drivers intolerant. We camped overnight and visited cities en route.

Don and I drove through Germany on our way to Austria and Yugoslavia (so long ago Yugoslavia was one country.) We went via Heidelberg (quaint medieval houses, herring and potato salad and Cologne and Koblenz for the meeting of the waters. Past infamous Nuremberg. Don wouldn’t stop in Munich. The ring road was frenetic and we couldn’t work out the best place to turn off. No GPS in those days. I was working from the AA road atlas.

Tony and I drove to Austria to ski at Obergurgl. On the way back we hugged the banks of Lake Konstanz and sauntered through flower beds of spa town Baden Baden (musical fountains and Schwarzwaldertorte) before driving back through wine country close to Annweiler, my first port of call. (German wine tastes so much better chilled in those large green goblets on the banks of the Mosel).

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