Introduction

The Federal Republic of Germany is the largest country in Central Europe in both population and size. It is bordered to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, and to the north by the Baltic Sea, Denmark, and the North Sea. It has a temperate seasonal climate over a territory of 137,847 square miles.

With the largest economy in Europe, Germany is also the world’s biggest nation in exports. Yet, its size is small compared with most of the other powerful nations in the world. The famous beer culture of Germany is centered in Munich, the biggest city in Southern Germany. Munich is also the site of the Oktoberfest, the most visited festival in Europe and the largest fair in the world. In addition, the southwestern regions of Germany are famous for their wine growing areas like Palatinate and Rheinhessen. The biggest wine festival worldwide with over 600,000 visitors annually is organized by Bad Duerkheim on the “German wine route.”

People

Germany has the highest total population in the European Union with 82 million inhabitants, despite its fertility rate being one of the lowest in Europe. Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart are the most populous cities of Germany.

In 2004, approximately seven million foreign citizens were registered in Germany with 19% of the country’s residents of foreign or partially foreign descent (either both or one of the parents is of foreign descent). Of these, the largest group (at 2.7 million) is from Turkey, and the majority of the rest is from European countries such as Croatia, Greece, Italy, Poland and Serbia.

However, the number of immigrants seeking asylum or claiming German ethnicity (mostly from the former Soviet Union) has been declining since 2000. This was a consequence of Germany’s formerly rather unrestricted laws on asylum and immigration.

Geography

Germany’s geographical elevation ranges from the highest point of 9,717 feet at the Zugspitze of the Alps in the south to the shores of the North Sea in the northwest and the Baltic Sea in the northeast with the lowest point at Wilstermarsch at 11 feet below sea level. Between the mountain ranges lies the forested uplands of Central Germany and the low-lying lands of Northern Germany that are traversed by the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe, which are among the major rivers of Europe. Most of Germany has a temperate seasonal climate in which humid westerly winds predominate. Winters are mild and summers tend to be cool, though temperatures can exceed 30 °C (86 °F) for prolonged periods.

History

Ancient documents reflect that a region named Germania was inhabited by several Germanic peoples before AD 100. German territories were later included in the central part of the Holy Roman Empire from the 10th century that lasted until 1806. During the 16th century, Northern Germany was the center of the Protestant Reformation. Yet, the first unification into a modern nation-state happened during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

During World War II, Germany formed the Axis Powers with Italy and Japan. After losing the war, Germany was divided into two separate states in 1949 as a result of the victory of the Allied Powers. Subsequently, the Berlin Wall was erected to separate East Germany from West Germany along the lines of the Allied occupation. By 1957, West Germany was among the founding members of the European Community. After more than 28 years of German division, the Berlin Wall fell overnight in November 1989, and the two states were unified in 1990. By 1993, the European Community became the European Union. As part of the Schengen zone, Germany adopted the Euro as its currency in 1999.

Famous Attractions

Wind-swept hills and the vacation destinations on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany include Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Meckleburg-Western Pomerania, and Schleswig-Holstein. Wine country and modern cities sharply cut by the breathtaking Rhine Valley and Moselle Valley in IWestern Germany include North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland. Hesse and Thuringia are located in the green heart of Germany with some of the most important historical and financial cities and the ancient Thurigian Forest in Central Germany.

Highlighted by the historical capital Berlin and rebuilt historic Dresden, the Florence of the Elbe, in Eastern Germany would be Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. To see the Black Forest, the Alps, and the Oktoberfest, (the Germany of lederhosen and postcard pictures), travel to Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Fourteen cities belong to the historic highlights of Germany. These include Augsburg, Erfurt, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Mainz, Münster, Osnabrück, Potsdam, Regensburg, Rostock, Trier, Wiesbaden and Würzburg. Cologne Cathedral is one of the finest church buildings in the Christian world. Gargantuan proportion and unequaled craftsmanship made it a defining example of Gothic architecture.

Nightlife

Berlin, a haven for shoppers, offers diversity with elegant clubs, galleries and restaurants. Dusseldorf, Germany's capital of fashion, right along the shores of the river Rhine, the "Altstadt" and the "Medienhafen" are among the best places in Germany to enjoy a vibrant nightlife. Hamburg, Germany's second largest city, is famous for its harbor as well as its liberal and tolerant culture. Don't miss the Reeperbahn with its night clubs and casinos. Hamburg is also popular for its many musicals. Munich, Bavaria's beautiful capital city and the third largest city in Germany, is the site of the famous Oktoberfest and the gateway to the Alps.

Culture

While historically Germany was called “The Land of Poets and Thinkers,” it is difficult to identify a specific German tradition separated from the larger framework of European high culture. There are 240 subsidized theatres, hundreds of symphonic orchestras, thousands of museums and over 25,000 libraries spread over the 16 states.

Germany claims some of the world's most renowned classical music composers, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. Numerous German painters have enjoyed international prestige through their work in diverse artistic styles. German literature can be traced back to the Middle Ages as notable German philosophers have helped shape western philosophy since the Middle Ages.

Cuisine

Variety in German cuisine is reflected by regional differences. For example, the southern regions of Bavaria and Swabia share a culinary culture with Switzerland and Austria. Pork, beef, and poultry are the main varieties of meat consumed in Germany, with pork being the most popular. Throughout all regions, meat is often eaten in sausage form. More than 1,500 different types of sausage are produced in Germany.

The most popular vegetables are potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips, spinach, and beans. Organic food has gained a market share of around 3.0%, and is predicted to increase further. With its many immigrants, Germany has adopted many international dishes into its cuisine and daily eating habits. Italian dishes like pizza and pasta, Turkish and Arab dishes like döner kebab and falafel are well established, especially in bigger cities. Beer is the German national drink. Consumption per person is declining, but at 122 quarts annually, it is still among the highest in the world.