Understanding Germany - Fodor's Germany - Fodor's

Fodor's Germany - Fodor's (2016)

Understanding Germany

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Name in local language: Deutschland

Capital: Berlin

National anthem: Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans)

Type of government: Federal republic

Administrative divisions: 16 states

Independence: January 18, 1871 (German Empire unification); U.K., U.S., U.S.S.R., and France formally relinquished rights to post-World War II zones on March 15, 1991

Constitution: October 3, 1990, National Holiday celebrating the Unification of Germany

Legal system: Civil law system with indigenous concepts; judicial review of legislative acts in the Federal Constitutional Court

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Legislature: The German government is parliamentary, and a democratic constitution emphasizes the protection of individual liberty, prioritizes human rights, and establishes a division of powers in a federal structure. The chancellor (prime minister) heads the executive branch of the federal government. The duties of the president (chief of state) are largely ceremonial; the chancellor exercises executive power.

The bicameral parliament consists of the Bundestag (Federal Assembly), with 622 seats elected by popular vote under a system combining direct and proportional representation. A party must win 5% of the national vote or three direct mandates to gain representation and members serve four-year terms. The Bundesrat (Federal Council) possesses 69 votes; state governments are directly represented by these votes; each has 3 to 6 votes depending on population and is required to vote as a block.

The Bundestag elects the chancellor; current chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) was first sworn to office on November 22, 2005, and elected once again on September 27, 2009. The Bundesrat elects the president; Christian Wulff (CDU) was elected to this position on June 30, 2010.

Population: 81.5 million

Population density: 593 people per square mi

Median age: Female 46, male 43.7

Life expectancy: Female 82.44, male 77.82

Infant mortality rate: 3.54 deaths per 1,000 live births

Literacy: 99%

Language: German (official)

Ethnic groups: German 91.5%; other 6.1%; Turkish 2.4%

Religion: Protestant 34%; Roman Catholic 34%; unaffiliated and other 28.3%; Muslim 3.7%

Discoveries and inventions: Printing press with movable type, aka “Gutenberg Press” (1440), globe (1492), harmonica (1821), Bunsen burner (1855), Periodic Table of Elements (1864), contact lenses (1887), diesel engine (1892), X-ray (1895), Aspirin (1897), Geiger counter (1912), Gummi Bears (1922), electron microscope (1931), helicopter(1936), ballistic missile (1944), the Pill (1961), automobile airbag (1971)


Land area: 348,672 square km (134,363 square mi), slightly smaller than Montana

Coastline: 2,389 km (1,484 mi) along North Sea, Baltic Sea

Terrain: Lowlands in north, uplands in center, Bavarian Alps in south; highest point: Zugspitze 9,721 feet

Natural resources: Arable land, coal, copper, iron ore, lignite, natural gas, nickel, potash, salt, timber, uranium

Natural hazards: Flooding

Environmental issues: Emissions from coal-burning utilities and industries contribute to air pollution; acid rain, resulting from sulfur-dioxide emissions, is damaging forests; pollution in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from rivers in eastern Germany; hazardous waste disposal


Currency: euro

Exchange rate: €0.71 = $1

GDP: €2.1 trillion ($2.96 trillion)

Per capita income: €28,806.10 ($40,631)

Unemployment: 7.4%

Workforce: 43.35 million; services 67.8%; industry 29.7%; agriculture 2.4%

Major industries: Cement, chemicals, coal, electronics, food and beverages, iron, machine tools, machinery, shipbuilding, steel, textiles, vehicles

Agricultural products: Barley, cattle, cabbages, fruit, pigs, potatoes, poultry, sugar beets, wheat

Exports: €950 billion ($1.34 trillion)

Major export products: Chemicals, foodstuffs, machinery, metals, textiles, vehicles

Export partners: France 10.2%, U.S. 6.7%, U.K. 6.6%, Italy 6.3%, Netherlands 6.7%, Austria 6%

Imports: €794 billion ($1.153 trillion)

Major import products: Chemicals, foodstuffs, machinery, metals, textiles, vehicles

Import partners: France 8.2%, Netherlands 8.5%, U.S. 5.9%, Italy 5.9%, U.K. 4.9%, China 8.2%, Belgium 4.3%, Austria 4.3%, Switzerland 4.2%


Germany has five main political parties. With 239 seats in the Bundestag, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CDU/CSU) represents the political majority. It is generally conservative on economic and social policy and more identified with the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is one of the oldest organized political parties in the world. Stressing social welfare programs, the SPD has a powerful base in the bigger cities and industrialized states and currently holds 146 seats. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) supports free trade and reducing the role of the state in economic policy. It is libertarian on social issues and currently holds 93 seats in the Bundestag. The Left Party formed in 2007 with a foreign policy shaped by its rigid opposition to foreign military deployments and its proposition to replace the free market system with a return to socialist principles. It currently holds 76 seats in the Bundestag. The Greens formed in the late 1970s when environmentalists organized politically in their opposition to nuclear power, military power, and certain aspects of highly industrialized society. Currently, 68 seats in the Bundestag are held by the Greens.

Germany was one of the founding members of the European Union, dating back to the first formation of a European community with the Roman Treaties of 1957. However, since the establishment of the euro as the common currency in 2002, the transition has not been smooth, leaving political fallout that has been difficult to overcome. Unemployment rose to its highest postwar levels and cutbacks in benefits, which were necessary to meet requirements for the euro, were met with strikes and protests. In 2001 Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s support for the U. S. invasion of Afghanistan strained his coalition. Schröder opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, but disagreement between the Social Democrats and the Greens continued to slow the political agenda. In 2005 federal elections were held after Chancellor Schröder asked for a Bundestag, or vote of confidence on the SPD-Greens coalition. The July 1, 2005, confidence motion failed and President Koehler called for elections to be held on September 18, 2005, a year earlier than planned. The results of the main parties of the 2005 Bundestag elections were as follows: CDU 35.2%, SPD 34.2%. After several weeks of negotiations, the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed to form a “grand coalition” under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. She and the new cabinet were sworn in on November 22, 2005.

Bundestag elections were held again on September 27, 2009. The results were as follows: CDU/CSU 33.8% (239 seats); SPD 23% (146 seats); FDP 14.6% (93 seats); LP 11.9% (76 seats); Greens 10.7% (68 seats). As a result of the losses by the SPD and the gains by the FDP, the alliance of the CDU/CSU and FDP received an outright majority of seats, ensuring that Angela Merkel would continue as chancellor.


✵Germany is the world’s largest recycler of paper. Almost 80% gets reused, compared to about 35% in the United States.

✵Germany routinely submits more patent applications than any other European country.

✵Between the world wars Germany’s inflation was so high that $1 equaled more than 4,000,000,000,000 German marks.

✵There are 13 breeds of dogs that people are not allowed to breed or sell in Germany because they are labeled “attack dogs.” Twenty-nine other breeds are considered potential attack dogs and must be muzzled when walked.

✵German citizens are required to pay special taxes on their dogs.

✵In 1916, Germany became the first country to institute Daylight Saving Time.

✵Munich’s Oktoberfest was officially named the world’s largest beer festival in 1999, when 7 million people consumed a record 1.5 million gallons of beer in 11 beer tents standing on a site as large as 50 football fields.

✵Many holiday customs originated in Germany, including the Christmas Tree and the Easter Bunny.

✵The German Brothers Grimm transcribed more than 200 children’s fairy tales, including our adopted classics Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and of course, Hansel and Gretel.

✵Germany is considered one of the greenest nations of Europe with 14 national parks, 101 nature parks, and 15 biosphere reserves all containing 9,700 km of posted hiking trails and 50,000 km of biking paths throughout the country.

✵The Reinheitsgebot, decreed in 1516, is the world’s oldest food law establishing that beer can only be brewed from water, hops, yeast, and malt with no added preservatives. With these purest of ingredients, beer is not considered a form of alcohol in Bavaria, but rather a delicious form of food.

✵The traditional wedding procession music “Here Comes the Bride” originates from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin.”


ca. 5000 BC Indo-Germanic tribes settle in the Rhine and Danube valleys.

ca. 2000-800 BC Distinctive German Bronze Age culture emerges, with settlements ranging from coastal farms to lakeside villages.

ca. 450-50 BC Salzkammergut people, whose prosperity is based on abundant salt deposits (in the area of upper Austria), trade with Greeks and Etruscans; Salzkammerguts spread as far as Belgium and have first contact with the Romans.

9 BC -AD 9 Roman attempts to conquer the “Germans”—the tribes of the Cibri, the Franks, the Goths, and the Vandals—are only partly successful; the Rhine becomes the northeastern border of the Roman Empire (and remains so for 300 years).

212 Roman citizenship is granted to all free inhabitants of the empire.

ca. 400 Pressed forward by Huns from Asia, such German tribes as the Franks, the Vandals, and the Lombards migrate to Gaul (France), Spain, Italy, and North Africa, scattering the empire’s populace and eventually leading to the disintegration of central Roman authority.

486 The Frankish kingdom is founded by Clovis; his court is in Paris.

497 The Franks convert to Christianity.


776 Charlemagne becomes king of the Franks.

800 Charlemagne is declared Holy Roman Emperor; he makes Aachen capital of his realm, which stretches from the Bay of Biscay to the Adriatic and from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. Under his enlightened patronage there is an upsurge in art and architecture—the Carolingian renaissance.

843 The Treaty of Verdun divides Charlemagne’s empire among his three sons: West Francia becomes France; Lotharingia becomes Lorraine (territory to be disputed by France and Germany into the 20th century); and East Francia takes on, roughly, the shape of modern Germany.

911 Five powerful German dukes (of Bavaria, Lorraine, Franconia, Saxony, and Swabia) establish the first German monarchy by electing King Conrad I. Henry I (the Fowler) succeeds Conrad in 919.

962 Otto I is crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope; he establishes Austria—the East Mark. The Ottonian renaissance is marked especially by the development of Romanesque architecture.


1024-1125 The Salian dynasty is characterized by a struggle between emperors and the Church that leaves the empire weak and disorganized; the great Romanesque cathedrals of Speyer, Trier, and Mainz are built.

1138-1254 Frederick Barbarossa leads the Hohenstaufen dynasty; there is temporary recentralization of power, underpinned by strong trade and Church relations.

1158 Munich, capital of Bavaria, is founded by Duke Henry the Lion. He is deposed by Emperor Barbarossa, and Munich is presented to the House of Wittelsbach, which rules it until 1918.

1241 The Hanseatic League is founded to protect trade; Bremen, Hamburg, Köln, and Lübeck are early members. Agencies are soon established in London, Antwerp, Venice, and along the Baltic and North seas; a complex banking and finance system results.

mid-1200s The Gothic style, exemplified by the grand Köln Cathedral, flourishes.

1349 The Black Death plague kills one-quarter of the German population.


1456 Johannes Gutenberg (1400-68) prints the first book in Europe.

1471-1553 The Renaissance flowers under influence of painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528); Dutch-born philosopher and scholar Erasmus (1466-1536); Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), who originates Protestant religious painting; portrait and historical painter Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543); and landscape-painting pioneer Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538). Increasing wealth among the merchant classes leads to strong patronage of the revived arts.

1517 The Protestant Reformation begins in Germany when Martin Luther (1483-1546) nails his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, contending that the Roman Church has forfeited divine authority through its corrupt sale of indulgences. Luther is outlawed, and his revolutionary doctrine splits the Church; much of north Germany embraces Protestantism.

1524-30 The (Catholic) Habsburgs rise to power; their empire spreads throughout Europe (and as far as North Africa, the Americas, and the Philippines). Erasmus breaks with Luther and supports reform within the Roman Catholic Church. In 1530 Charles V—a Habsburg—is crowned Holy Roman Emperor; he brutally crushes the Peasants’ War, one in a series of populist uprisings in Europe.

1545 The Council of Trent marks the beginning of the Counter-Reformation. Through diplomacy and coercion, most Austrians, Bavarians, and Bohemians are won back to Catholicism, but the majority of Germans remain Lutheran; persecution of religious minorities grows.


1618-48 Germany is the main theater for the Thirty Years’ War. The powerful Catholic Habsburgs are defeated by Protestant forces, swelled by disgruntled Habsburg subjects and the armies of King Gustav Adolphus of Sweden. The bloody conflict ends with the Peace of Westphalia (1648); Habsburg and papal authority are severely diminished.


1689 Louis XIV of France invades the Rhineland Palatinate and sacks Heidelberg. At the end of the 17th century, Germany consolidates its role as a center of scientific thought.

1708 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) becomes court organist at Weimar and launches his career; he and Georg Friederic Handel (1685-1759) fortify the great tradition of German music. Baroque and, later, rococo art and architecture flourish.

1740-86 Reign of Frederick the Great of Prussia; his rule sees both the expansion of Prussia (it becomes the dominant military force in Germany) and the spread of Enlightenment thought.

ca. 1790 The great age of European orchestral music is raised to new heights with the works of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

early 1800s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is part of the Sturm und Drang movement, which leads to Romanticism. Painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) leads early German Romanticism. Other luminary cultural figures include writers Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) and Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811); and composers Robert Schumann (1810-56), Hungarian-born Franz Liszt (1811-86), Richard Wagner (1813-83), and Johannes Brahms (1833-97). In architecture, the severe lines of neoclassicism become popular.


1806 Napoléon’s armies invade Prussia; it briefly becomes part of the French Empire.

1807 The Prussian prime minister Baron vom und zum Stein frees the serfs, creating a new spirit of patriotism; the Prussian army is rebuilt.

1813 The Prussians defeat Napoléon at Leipzig.

1815 Britain and Prussia defeat Napoléon at Waterloo. At the Congress of Vienna the German Confederation is created as a loose union of 39 independent states, reduced from more than 300 principalities. The Bundestag (national assembly) is established at Frankfurt. Already powerful Prussia increases its territory, gaining the Rhineland, Westphalia, and most of Saxony.

1848 The “Year of the Revolutions” is marked by uprisings across the fragmented German Confederation; Prussia expands. A national parliament is elected, taking the power of the Bundestag to prepare a constitution for a united Germany.

1862 Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) becomes prime minister of Prussia; he is determined to wrest German-populated provinces from Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) control.

1866 Austria-Hungary is defeated by the Prussians at Sadowa; Bismarck sets up the Northern German Confederation in 1867. A key figure in Bismarck’s plans is Ludwig II of Bavaria. Ludwig—a political simpleton—lacks successors, making it easy for Prussia to seize his lands.

1867 Karl Marx (1818-83) publishes Das Kapital.

1870-71 The Franco-Prussian War: Prussia lays siege to Paris. Victorious Prussia seizes Alsace-Lorraine but eventually withdraws from all other occupied French territories.

1871 The four South German states agree to join the Northern Confederation; Wilhelm I is proclaimed first kaiser of the united empire.


1882 The Triple Alliance is forged between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Germany’s industrial revolution blossoms, enabling it to catch up with the other great powers of Europe. Germany establishes colonies in Africa and the Pacific.

ca. 1885 Daimler and Benz pioneer the automobile.

1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II (rules 1888-1918) dismisses Bismarck and begins a new, more aggressive course of foreign policy; he oversees the expansion of the navy.

1890s A new school of writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), emerges. Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus gives German poetry new lyricism.

1905 Albert Einstein (1879-1955) announces his theory of relativity.

1906 Painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) helps organize Die Brücke, a group of artists who, along with Der Blaue Reiter, create the avant-garde art movement expressionism.

1907 Great Britain, Russia, and France form the Triple Entente, which, set against the Triple Alliance, divides Europe into two armed camps.

1914-18 Austrian archduke Franz-Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo. The attempted German invasion of France sparks World War I; Italy and Russia join the Allies, and four years of pitched battle ensue. By 1918 the Central Powers are encircled and must capitulate.


1918 Germany is compelled by the Versailles Treaty to give up its overseas colonies and much European territory (including Alsace-Lorraine to France) and to pay huge reparations to the Allies; Kaiser Wilhelm II repudiates the throne and goes into exile in Holland. The tough terms leave the new democracy, called the Weimar Republic, shaky.

1919 The Bauhaus school of art and design, the brainchild of Walter Gropius (1883-1969), is born. Thomas Mann (1875-1955) and Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) forge a new style of visionary intellectual writing.

1923 Germany suffers runaway inflation. Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, a rightist revolt, fails; leftist revolts are frequent.

1925 Hitler publishes Mein Kampf (My Struggle)

1932 The Nazi party gains the majority in the Reichstag (parliament).

1933 Hitler becomes chancellor; the Nazi “revolution” begins. In Berlin, Nazi students stage the burning of more than 25,000 books by Jewish and other politically undesirable authors.


1934 President Paul von Hindenburg dies; Hitler declares himself Führer (leader) of the Third Reich. Nazification of all German social institutions begins, spreading a policy that is virulently racist and anticommunist. Germany recovers industrial might and re-arms.

1936 Germany signs anticommunist agreements with Italy and Japan, forming the Axis; Hitler reoccupies the Rhineland.

1938 The Anschluss (annexation): Hitler occupies Austria. Germany occupies the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), in November, marks the Nazis’ first open and direct terrorism against German Jews. Synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses are burned, looted, and destroyed in a night of violence.

1939-40 In August Hitler signs a pact with the Soviet Union; in September he invades Poland. War is declared by the Allies. Over the next three years there are Nazi invasions of Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Alliances form between Germany and the Baltic states.

1941-45 Hitler launches his anticommunist crusade against the Soviet Union, reaching Leningrad in the north and Stalingrad and the Caucasus in the south. In 1944 the Allies land in France; their combined might brings the Axis to its knees. In addition to the millions killed in the fighting, more than 6 million Jews and other victims die in Hitler’s concentration camps. Germany is again in ruins. Hitler kills himself in April 1945. East Berlin and what becomes East Germany are occupied by the Soviet Union.


1945 At the Yalta Conference, France, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union divide Germany into four zones; each country occupies a sector of Berlin. The Potsdam Agreement expresses the determination to rebuild Germany as a democracy.

1946 East Germany’s Social Democratic Party merges with the Communist Party, forming the SED, which would rule East Germany for the next 40 years.

1948 The Soviet Union tears up the Potsdam Agreement and attempts, by blockade, to exclude the three other Allies from their agreed zones in Berlin. Stalin is frustrated by a massive airlift of supplies to West Berlin.

1949 The three western zones are combined to form the Federal Republic of Germany; the new West German parliament elects Konrad Adenauer as chancellor (a post he held until his retirement in 1963). Soviet-held East Germany becomes the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).

1950s West Germany, aided by the financial impetus provided by the Marshall Plan, rebuilds its devastated cities and economy—the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) gathers speed. The writers Heinrich Böll, Wolfgang Koeppen, and Günter Grass emerge.

1957 The Treaty of Rome heralds the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC); West Germany is a founding member.

1961 Communists build the Berlin Wall to stem the outward tide of refugees.

1969-74 The vigorous chancellorship of Willy Brandt pursues Ostpolitik, improving relations with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and acknowledging East Germany’s sovereignty.

mid-1980s The powerful German Green Party emerges as the leading environmentalist voice in Europe.


1989 Discontent in East Germany leads to a flood of refugees westward and to mass demonstrations. Communist power collapses across Eastern Europe; the Berlin Wall falls.

1990 In March the first free elections in East Germany bring a center-right government to power. The Communists, faced with corruption scandals, suffer a big defeat but are represented (as Democratic Socialists) in the new, democratic parliament. The World War II victors hold talks with the two German governments, and the Soviet Union gives its support for reunification. Economic union takes place on July 1, with full political unity on October 3. In December, in the first democratic national German elections in 58 years, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s three-party coalition is reelected.

1991 Nine months of emotional debate end on June 20, when parliamentary representatives vote to move the capital from Bonn—seat of the West German government since 1949—to Berlin, the capital of Germany until the end of World War II.

1998 Helmut Kohl’s record 16-year-long chancellorship of Germany ends with the election of Gerhard Schröder. Schröder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) pursues a coalition with the Greens in order to replace the three-party coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), and Free Democratic Party (FDP).

1999 The Bundestag, the German parliament, returns to the restored Reichstag in Berlin on April 19. The German federal government also leaves Bonn for Berlin, making Berlin capital of Germany again.

1999-2003 For the first time since 1945, the German army (the Bundeswehr) is deployed in combat missions in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.


2000 Hannover hosts Germany’s first world’s exposition, expo 2000, the largest ever staged in the 150-year history of the event.

2005 Chancellor Schröder asks for a vote of confidence in parliament and fails. After a new election in September, Angela Merkel (CDU) becomes the new chancellor with a “grand coalition” of CDU/CSU and SPD.

2005 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the oldest person to be elected pope and the first German since 1523, becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

2006 Germany hosts the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the world’s soccer championship.

2007 Angela Merkel as German chancellor and also in her role as the then President of the Council of the European Union hosts the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

2008 Chancellor Merkel (CDU) together with her minister of Finance Steinbrück (SPD) announce at a specially called nationwide TV press conference the safety of all private savings accounts.

2009 In Bundestag elections the alliance of the CDU/CSU and FDP receive an outright majority of seats, ensuring that Angela Merkel continues as chancellor.

2013 In December, Angela Merkel begins her third term as chancellor. She forms a grand coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). The right-wing Populist Party AFD (Alternative für Deutschland), founded in the same year, fails to enter the Bundestag.

2014 For the first time, Germany adopts a minimum wage of €8.50 an hour.

2015 The German government insists on draconian conditions at EU talks that give Greece a third bailout package and prevents its exit from the eurozone.

2015 As thousands of Syrian war refugees enter Germany, Angela Merkel reminds Germans of their moral responsibility to offer protection to the persecuted.

2015 Volkswagen admits to deceiving U.S. consumers and the EPA with software that cheated emissions testing.