Area 137,845 square mi (357,021 square km)
Population 80.89 million 2014
Capital Berlin Highest
Point 9,721 ft (2,963 m)
Lowest Point -11 ft (-3.54 m)
GDP $3.853 trillion 2014
Primary Natural Resources iron ore, coal, potash, timber, lignite.
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC of Germany is one of the largest countries and has the largest population in Europe after RUSSIA. Germany borders the NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, and LUXEMBOURG to the west; FRANCE to the southwest, SWITZERLAND and AUSTRIA to the south; the CZECH REPUBLIC to the southeast; POLAND to the east; and the Baltic Sea, DENMARK, and the North Sea to the north. Germany is a federal republic that reunited with the former German Democratic Republic in 1990. The legislature is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Bundestag, based on popular representation, and the Bundesrat, which represents Germany’s 16 states, or Lander. The president serves as head of state, while the chancellor serves as the head of government. The major cities of Germany are Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Munich, and Dresden.
Germany is divided into three regions: the northern lowlands, the central highlands, and the southern alpine region. The northern lowlands extend from east to west from the Baltic to the North Sea and southward to Wittenberg. The northern lowlands are mostly flat plains with marshes and lakes. The land is fertile and has been used for grazing and agriculture. The central highlands are mountainous and forested. The Harz Mountains straddle the center of Germany and once formed the border between East and West Germany, while the Erzebirge Mountains form the boundary with the Czech Republic. To the west is the RUHR VALLEY, which contains Germany’s mineral wealth and is the center of its coal and steel industries. In the center of Germany lies the Thuringian Forest. To the south are the Bavarian Alps, which form the border with Austria. The Black Forest lies in southwestern Germany in Bavaria.
Rivers play a significant role in the economic life of Germany. The RHINE, which carries more traffic than any other European river, flows northward from Switzerland, straddles between France and Germany, and empties to the North Sea. The Elbe River begins in the Czech Republic, flows through Hamburg, and empties in the North Sea. The Weser River begins in central Germany, flows through Bremen and Bremerhaven before emptying into the North Sea. The Oder and Neisse rivers form the boundary with Poland before emptying into the Baltic Sea. A network of canals called the Mittelland Canal connects the Elbe, Weser, and the Ems.
The climate in Germany is generally temperate, averaging 48 degrees F (9 degrees C). In January the average temperature ranges from 21 to 34 degrees F (-6 to 1 degree C), and in July the average temperature ranges from 61 to 68 degrees F (16 to 20 degrees C). Winters and summers are wet, cool, and cloudy. The south receives the most precipitation with a yearly average of about 78 in (198 cm), mostly in the form of snow. The central uplands receive an average annual rainfall of 59 in (150 cm), while the northern lowlands receive 28 in (71 cm).
Humans have inhabited what is now Germany for at least 400,000 years, evidenced by the discovery of the Homo Erectus species known as the “Heidelberg Man.” Homo sapiens remains have been traced to about 300,000 years. Between 1800 and 400 B.C.E., the Germanic tribes arose and established their dominance in the region.
The Roman historian Tacitus identified over 60 German tribes. Over the centuries, the Roman Empire kept watch over the Germanic tribes along its borders along the Rhine and the Danube. In 9 B.C.E., the Roman Empire met its worst military defeat at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest when three legions under Publius Varus were annihilated by an alliance of tribes under their leader Hermann. The disaster at Teutoburg Forest cost Rome its provinces east of the Rhine and ended its expansion. The weakness of Rome in the third and fourth centuries allowed the Germanic tribes to encroach into Roman territory in the west. In 476, Romulus Agustulus, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by the German chieftain Odoacer. By the early Middle Ages, Italy and Western Europe were divided into Germanic kingdoms. The Roman Catholic Church, however became a civilizing influence upon the Germanic conquerors.
The history of medieval Germany is one of failed attempts to create a unified state. The Franks were the first German power that sought to dominate Central Europe. In 768, Charlemagne assumed leadership of the Franks and expanded his domains from the Danish peninsula to the north to the ADRIATIC SEA in the south and from Brittany in the west to the Elbe in the east. On Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans. Under Charlemagne, this new empire had the beginnings of a central government but fell under the dissension of his heirs. In 843 under the Treaty of Verdun, Charlemagne’s empire was divided among his three grandsons. Charles the Bald inherited the Kingdom of the Franks, which became France. Lothair inherited the imperial title and received a region from the North Sea, which ran through the Rhine River and into Rome. Louis received Francia orientalis, which became Germany.
After centuries of conflict between competing dynasties, the imperial crown passed to the Habsburg family in 1438, where it remained for the rest of the Holy Roman Empire’s existence. The Habsburg rulers of Germany used the Holy Roman Empire, as purely a means to strengthen their family’s domains in Austria, rather than to create a unified German state. The Habsburgs reached the apex of their power and prestige when Charles V inherited both the imperial crown, and the crown of Spain, which included its holdings in the Netherlands, Naples, and the Americas. At the same time, Charles V reaped the whirlwind of the Protestant Reformation, as Martin Luther defied the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in 1517. Germany’s hopes of unification were dashed in 1555 through the Peace of Augsburg, which left each German ruler to decide the religion of his particular state. Germany and all of Europe became embroiled in religious warfare, culminating in the Thirty Years’ War. The war ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, which confirmed the Peace of Augsburg, ensuring the sovereignty of the 300 states of the Holy Roman Empire.
Out of the numerous German principalities arose Prussia, which rivaled with Austria for supremacy. Prussia grew from the traditional electorate of Brandenberg in northeastern Germany with holdings along the Baltic coast. Since the 17th century, the electors of Brandenburg-Prussia strengthened their armies into a well-trained fighting force led by its aristocratic class, known as the Junkers. The Prussian army distinguished itself in wars against Poland and SWEDEN. In 1701, Frederick, the elector of Brandenburg, as proof of his state’s rise in fortunes, declared himself the King of Prussia.
In 1740, Frederick II (later, the Great) took advantage of the death of Charles VI and the succession of his daughter, Maria Theresa, by invading the Austrian province of Silesia, inaugurating the War of the Austrian Succession. By the Treaty of Aachen in 1748, Frederick retained Silesia. Maria Theresa launched another war, the Seven Years’, to regain Silesia, only to end in defeat. Victory in these two wars assured Prussia of a place among the great powers of Europe. Prussia enhanced its prestige further by taking part in the Polish Partitions between 1772 and 1795.
The French Revolution and the resulting Napoleonic Wars were a turning point in the history of Germany. Prussia and Austria joined Britain and Russia in fighting Napoleon’s forces from mastering all Europe and the revolutionary ideas he took with him. The rise of Napoleon fundamentally altered the arrangement of the German states. Accepting political reality, Francis II put an end to the Holy Roman Empire and declared himself emperor of Austria. Prussia suffered major defeats at the Battle of Jena in 1807 and lost significant territories in the west and its Polish holdings in the east. In 1813, the German states united against Napoleon and defeated him at the Battle of the Nations, paving the way for his downfall.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 attempted to restore some of the balance of power that was disrupted by the French Revolution and Napoleon. Even though the Holy Roman Empire was never restored, the German states were reorganized into the German Confederation under Austrian leadership as a result of the diplomacy of Klaus von Metternich. Prussia regained some of its eastern territories and acquired the Rhineland. Prussia again asserted its claim leadership through the creation of the Zollverein, or customs union, which eliminated trade barriers among the German states. Conservative reaction was evident in the Carlsbad Decrees passed in 1819, which forbade student associations and dissent. Legitimacy was the order of the day.
The influence of the French Revolution continued to persist, however. Nationalist movements arose among intellectuals who wished to unite Germany based on language and culture. Liberals wanted a government based on limited government, popular sovereignty, political rights, and freedom and equality for all individuals. In 1848, revolution once more spread throughout Europe. In Frankfurt, a group of intellectuals formed an assembly to envision a unified state that carried those ideals and, with the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly, was Germany’s last chance to create a unified democratic state.
What the Frankfurt Assembly could not accomplish through resolutions (the unification of Germany) was made possible through political maneuvering and skillful diplomacy. In 1858, Otto von Bismarck rose as chancellor of Prussia. Between 1864 and 1871, his sole purpose was the strengthening of securing Prussian supremacy within the Confederation. At the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, Bismarck declared an end to the German Confederation and expelled Austria from leadership among the German states. Bismarck consolidated Prussian influence by creating the North German Confederation in 1867, which was a federal entity of northern German states under the leadership of the king of Prussia. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 resulted from Bismarck’s machinations to incite France into declaring war against Prussia, bringing the southern German states into his fold. By 1871, Prussia had defeated France, and King William I of Prussia was declared Emperor of Germany, with Bismarck as his chancellor.
The new German Empire was a federal structure that was created by the consent of the princes, rather than the German people. Voting and representation were based on a formula that favored the upper classes. The federal structure overwhelmingly represented Prussia, the largest state in the empire. Between 1871 and 1878 Bismarck launched an unsuccessful campaign against the Catholic Church in Germany, called the Kulturkampf, by expelling Catholic religious orders and imposing a secular educational system. Keeping an eye against revolutionary movements, Bismarck established the beginnings of a welfare state by creating workers’ compensation laws and a pension system for retired workers. After unification, German economic productivity rose, outstripping that of its neighbors. In foreign policy, Bismarck sought to assure other European powers that Germany had no territorial or colonial ambitions and sought to live peacefully.
When Emperor William II ascended to the throne, he sought to take Germany on a different course. After dismissing Bismarck, ending his decades of service as chancellor, Germany embarked upon an aggressive foreign policy. Through Weltpolitik, or geopolitics, Germany began acquiring colonies and enlarging its navy, which caused great concern for Britain. Bismarck’s successors caused Germany to become diplomatically isolated in Europe. By unwisely giving full support to Austria in its dispute with Serbia in 1914, World War I erupted, whose devastating results were unforeseen. After four years of trench warfare and the deprivations imposed by the British blockade, Germany erupted into revolution. William II abdicated and fled to Holland in 1918.
The Weimar Republic replaced the monarchy in 1918 and sued for an armistice. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, imposed harsh penalties for Germany. The treaty stripped Germany of territory as well as its colonies, imposed occupation in the Rhineland, abolished its navy, imposed restrictions on its army, and imposed enormous reparations, which severely devalued its currency. The German people viewed the Weimar Republic as complicit in Germany’s degradation. In the early 1920s, Germany was caught in the struggles between the communists and radical right-wing forces in their battles for control. Economic stability returned in 1925 but was shattered in 1929 with the coming of the Great Depression, bring Germany to a dark chapter in its history.
In 1933, after unsuccessful attempts by succeeding governments to solve Germany’s economic woes, 37 percent of the voters elected the National Socialist Party into the Reichstag. Adolf Hitler, a former German corporal and rising star of the Nazis, was invited to become chancellor of Germany by conservatives who sought to take advantage of his growing popularity. Hitler began consolidating his grip on the German government through taking on emergency powers after the Reichstag fire, which was blamed on the Communists. The Enabling Act gave the Nazis full power and
eliminated all political opposition. Hitler then turned on the Jews, whom he blamed for Germany’s ills, by eliminating them from government positions. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1934 removed Jews from German economic and social spheres.
In 1936, Hitler began the territorial aggrandizement of Germany by reoccupying the Rhineland. In 1938, the Anschluss of Austria was achieved, uniting the two German-speaking countries. Hitler succeeded in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia without Allied opposition. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, setting off World War II. In less than two years, Germany conquered most of Europe. While simultaneously prosecuting a war against the Allies, Hitler and the Nazis carried forward the Final Solution and attempted to eradicate all European Jews by constructing concentration camps throughout Europe. By the end of the war, the Nazis had murdered 6 million Jews, including Poles, Gypsies, and other minorities. World War II ended with Germany’s defeat and occupation by the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.
In 1949, two German states arose. The Federal Republic of Germany was composed of American, British, and French sectors in the west, and the German Democratic Republic consisted of the Soviet sector in the east. The city of Berlin remained occupied by the four Allied countries until 1994. West Germany was a capitalist democratic state whose economy recovered in the immediate postwar years. Bonn served as the capital of West Germany until a decision could be reached regarding reunification.
East Germany, with its capital in East Berlin, was a bulwark of communism that had shut its borders with the West by the 1960s. Berlin remained the source of Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the West. By the 1970s, West Germany began the policy of Ostpolitik, which opened relations with East Germany and Eastern Europe. In 1989, with reforms in the Soviet Union and growing popular discontent, the Iron Curtain came down with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the opening of borders. By 1990, east and west were reunified within the Federal Republic of Germany. Since then, the costs of reunification have been enormous in bringing eastern Germany to Western standards, engendering discontent. In 1999, Germany moved its capital from Bonn to Berlin and joined eleven other countries in the EUROPEAN UNION in adopting the euro as the unified currency.
Though initially joining with the United States in solidarity after the attacks in New York and near Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, Germany opposed the American and British invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Germany has the third largest economy in the world after the United States and Japan. Throughout the postwar period West Germany has instituted a generous welfare state that shares its wealth with its citizens. However, the costs of reunification and the rise of its aging population have put pressure on the German government to cut back on its benefits.