Germany (German: Deutschland), officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland), is a federal republic located in Central Europe and Western Europe. Modern-day Germany is a major economic power, a member of The European Union, G8 and the NATO, and the most developed and richest economy of Europe, with the second largest population in Europe (after Russia) and the largest in Western Europe.
For most of its history, there was no unified German state. The area of land that comprises Germany evolved and shifted repeatedly over the centuries; being divided, subdivided and combined at various times with the current territorial boundary determined by the second unification of 1990 when East Germany and West Germany were finally united into a single nation, after spending the Cold War divided into two republics. Parts of Germany were parceled out to Poland, The Czech Republic while Russia holds the enclave of Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg, hometown and stomping grounds of Immanuel Kantnote ), with the modern borders on the East being the Oder-Neisse line as outlined and demanded by Josef Stalin.
The Germanic tribes were already known to The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire. Unlike the Celts, the Iberians, the Helvetians, the Gauls, and the Illyrians, a good contingent of them resisted subjugation and inflicted on the Romans one of its most famous defeats at the Battle of Teutoburg (albeit led by Arminius, who fought in the Roman army, learnt their tactics and then schooled his Germans to better resist themnote ). Other Germanic tribes faced poorly against the Romans, chiefly the Marcomanni, a confederation of tribes across Central Europe, who were subjugated by Marcus Aurelius.
Still other tribes however, became conquered and assimilated into Rome, with some parts of Germany being founded and established by the Romans (such as Cologne, which incidentally was a place where Roman Jews settled in 321 CE note ).
Germanic soldiers were conscripted as mercenaries to supplement the Roman legions. Near the end of the Western Roman Empire, these mercenaries (eternally called barbarians by the Romans) had actually become the major fighting force of the Romans. They were schooled in Roman tactics and fighting methods, but they were denied the rights of Roman citizenship and promotion out of old prejudices. This eventually led to the end of the Western Roman Empire, the deposition of Romulus Augustus and Julius Nepos in favour of Odoacer. These Germanic tribes eventually became the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths and the Franks. As for the part of Germany that was unconquered, it is believed they interacted, traded and settled in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea with the tribes of the Scandinavian nations, resulting in the spread of the Germanic religion and its gods.
This ancient outline already reveals much of the divisions that made periodic unification and division a recurring problem for Germany. German historians and thinkers of the 19th and 20th Century were fond of pointing out that if one looks closely at the Catholic-Protestant divide of Germany, — Protestants are predominantly in Northern Germany and Catholics in South Germany, then one can find that Protestantism took root in those parts that were unconquered by the Romans, while those that fell under Roman influence went Catholic. Protestantism also took hold among those lands colonized and settled or influenced by those same unconquered Germans (Scandinavia and Englandnote ).
The end of the Western Empire, led to the formation of new states and lands, and Germanic tribes stepped into the vacuum. Rome was occupied by the Ostrogoths, descendants of Odoacer who recent scholarship credit for actually assimilating and briefly attempting to continue the institutions of Rome, albeit hampered by the general decay of the Crisis of the Third Century. The Ostrogoths' work would be undone by the campaigns of Flavius Belisarius which devastated Italy, and nearly left Rome depopulated. Meanwhile, the Franks under Charlemagne formed the Holy Roman Empire (so bestowed by the Pope to spite the Byzantine Empire) and Charlemagne succeeded in Christianizing the remaining pagan holdouts, albeit with famous brutality.
During The Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire became involved in The Crusades. Jews who had settled in the Rhineland became victims of the first pogroms in European history during the People's Crusade. A crusading order called The Teutonic Knights played a major role in Christianizing the Baltic regions, eventually setting up shop in Prussia, the region of Germany that would become the most powerful domain of the HRE and eventually unify and modernize Germany. The Teutonic Knights also encouraged colonization and settlement across Eastern Europe.
The Guelph-Ghillebine conflict between the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire would weaken the empire in favour of the other Kingdoms, especially the French. Towards the end of The Renaissance, Germany became the center of The Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther aided by the Printing Press developed by Johannes Gutenberg, sparked a religious movement that led to the German Peasants War. The spread of Protestantism with its emphasis on work, literacy and a personal connection to God, led to the formation of the Protestant Ethic that led to the development of industry and Capitalism. With the Reformation came the slow development of a standard German Language, but actual German unity was delayed on account of the religious divides and the violence of the Thirty Years' War, which proportionately is still considered the most destructive war in German history.
The late 17th and early 18th Century is seen as the Golden Age, where Germans contributed heavily to The Enlightenment, and became known as The Land of Poets and Thinkers. This was the age of Kant, Gauss, Leibniz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing, among others. German writers were among the European avant-garde, being the first to challenge Neoclassicism and playing a major role in making William Shakespeare a major European writer, as opposed to an English one. In this same time, Prussia under Frederick the Great became a major new power in the Continent, strengthened by the Seven Years' War and playing a major part in the dissolution of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The French Revolution once again divided Germany. Jacobin clubs began forming in parts of Germany, with prominent voices advocating for revolution and democracy. Metz briefly became an independent republic, supported by the French before being crushed. There was no mass support or grounds for the same at the time, and the German Noble hierarchy, aided by French aristocratic emigres were firmly counter-revolutionary, which was reinforced by the recurring victories of the French Revolutionary Army.
When Napoléon Bonaparte became emperor and war was breaking out, he pre-emptively invaded Austria and Germany, ending the Holy Roman Empire permanently and then more or less rewriting and reordering the boundaries of Germany. Thanks to his influence, the borders were radically restructured and of hundreds of states, only around forty were left. More important however was the impact of his reforms in Germany. He introduced meritocracy and administrative modernity, his Civil Code, and most crucially, the de-ghettoization of Jews. At the time, Jews, having been expelled previously from France, Spain, and only recently being allowed back in England, were most prominent in Central Europe (hence the All Jews Are Ashkenazi trope: Ashkenazis are Jews of Central Europe, whose language was Yiddish, formed by a mix of Hebrew and German). Under Napoleon, Jews were allowed equal rights, access to education, work and jobsnote .
However, Napoleon was also...well Napoleon. His rule over Germany did not always endear him, what his execution of publisher Joseph Philip Palm who published a pro-independence publication. Some Germans supported Napoleon while others didn't. The Prussian Army developed a fierce dislike for Napoleon and his supporters, and the military-aristocratic elite formed the core of anti-Napoleonic resistance. After Napoleon's invasion of Russia, he faced his major defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (which was the largest battle in Europe until World War I), with Germans on both sides.
After Napoleon's defeat, Prussia emerged as the dominant power in what was then considered German lands. From this, a loose confederation was formed, including the world's first customs union that didn't involve the simultaneous creation of a political union. For a while, Prussia and Austria struggled for dominance. Supporters of either side were known as Little Germans and Big Germans respectively. This referred not to the size or power of the two states, but of their divergent visions of what a unified Germany should be. The "Big Germans" of Austria wanted a unified Germany that would encompass all of the German-speaking kingdoms and city-states, while the "Little Germans" of Prussia wanted a unified Germany to encompass all of the German-speaking kingdoms and city-states...except Austria.
The elite aristocrats in this time were fiercely reactionary, wanting to turn the clock back and pretend that revolutions were a thing in the past. The Revolutions of 1848 were a rude awakening for many of them, but an even ruder awakening for the revolutionaries themselves, because it highlighted the divisions and lack of organization between the various anti-conservative forces. It was during the Revolution, that the modern German flag (in tricolor format, in the mode of the French) of black, red and gold first made its appearance, as did the popularity of the song that became the national anthem. The Revolutionaries were crushed, many of them became emigres and exiles, many of them going to the United States and becoming active in the Abolitionist and Radical Republican causes (including Carl Schurz, an actual Forty-Eighter revolutionary, and cartoonist Thomas Nast, the son of one). Others stayed in Europe and went underground eventually forming the core of the socialist and social democrat movements, including but not limited to, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The Revolution failed but it did shatter the Conservative Order in place since Waterloo and eventually the same conservatives who clamped down on German Unification came around to it, albeit for their own terms and interests. Otto von Bismarck started a shift among the German conservatives to "a revolution from above". Nationalism, formerly a liberal and left-wing idea, was co-opted by the right and a new majoritarian idea of a unified Germany started to surface. Through diplomatic cunning and careful manipulation, Bismarck managed to weaken non-Prussian states, so that Prussia alone would be the cradle and prime mover and shaker of German Unification, all to better benefit the Junker class.
Victory in the Franco-Prussian War led to the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, which reflected the Kleindeutsche Lösung (solution of a small Germany)— the unification of all German countries except Austria.note .
This led to the formation of Imperial Germany which became a model for rapid industrialization and modernization. Within a few years of beginning industrialization, Germany rapidly closed the gap between itself, France and Britain. It became the richest and most developed nation in Continental Europe, with the largest population. Visitors from other countries, such as the formerly isolationist Japan sent a delegation to Europe and became very interested in German advancement. This inspired the government structure of Imperial Japan, which also formed its own "revolution from above". This is the reason why the Parliament in Japan is also called "Diet".
Being late to unify, the country was able to only establish a handful of colonies in Africa and Oceania. German industry saw the establishment of a strong economy, and their education system saw the cultivation of some of the finest scientists of the turn of the century, such as Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered X-rays, and theoretical physicists Max Planck and Albert Einstein. However, the fact that the country was formed from above with a state-directed economy, which was led by an aristocratic-warrior caste of Junkers, meant that it could not escape the militaristic and expansionist nature of its founding.
Imperial Germany had a Parliament (called the Reichstag) whose lower houses were elected by universal manhood suffrage, but they had no say in domestic and foreign policy which was entirely in the hands of the Kaiser and his fellow chancellors and advisers. The Junkers who owned the majority of land in Prussia and who were active and over-represented in the German government refused to allow agrarian reform and instead proposed satisfying the demands of land by colonization or expanding eastwards, just like the Teutonic Knights did, and just like Frederick the Great did when he invaded and broke apart Poland. This authoritarian form of representative government was proudly declared by German conservatives to signify the "special path" (Sonderweg) of modernization that allowed them to sit on the golden mean that allowed them to avoid the decadent autocracy of the East (Russia), and the decadent democracy of the West (England, France, America). In the second half of the 20th Century, the word Sonderweg would be reinterpreted to signify how Germany's path to modernization did not lead to liberal institutions and allowed archaic aristocratic and feudal characteristics to coexist with a modernized industrial state.
Anyone who proposed curtailing the privileges of the Junkers, such as the Chancellor Caprivi who succeeded Bismarck, was unceremoniously sacked and removed from power. The Germans were paranoid about encirclement by France and Russia, and Bismarck had done his best to prevent or halt an alliance between them, but at the same time they were fearful that Russia belatedly commencing industrialization, with its much larger population, would surpass and overtake them, neutering their advantages.
Germans first helped Russians with loans for advancement, but then passive-aggressively denied or slow-dragged payments, forcing the Russians to turn to the French instead. Likewise, within Germany, social democratic parties were making gains and the growing prosperity only made the demands for increasing rights for workers at home harder to ignore. As such, in the lead-up to World War I, many of Germany's war planners such as Moltke the Younger, von Falkenhayn, and Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, thought that a war could solve their problems. They hoped that Britain would not be involved, but they did also hope that war could allow Germans to expand in the East and in Africa (Mitteleuropa and Mittelafrika was the name of the plans), halt, delay or hamper Russia's industrialization and armament, or possibly trigger its disintegration, and likewise weaken France to the point that it became little more than a client state, while also shutting up the socialists, communists and social democrats.
World War I didn't go exactly according to plan. By the end, the war caused another revolution in Germany, triggered by a mutiny in the naval ranks and supported by the army, Germans were facing the prospect of a famine, and then the Kaiser was forced to Abdicate the Throne, departing to Holland (passing the rest of his life as a mere footnote), while the German generals made way for President Friedrich Ebert of the newly formed Weimar Republic to negotiate and accept the terms of surrender at the Treaty of Versailles, thereby allowing them to lie about the war effort being "Stabbed-in-the-Back" by disloyal Judeo-Bolshevik Socialists.
As it happened, the reparations did not quite cripple the German Economy as early observers, such as J. M. Keynes, predicted. The early years of the Republic were quite harsh but much of this was due to the Spanish Flu epidemic and the small economic depression. The conditions for recovery were still present, since very little of the war had been fought in German territory. The Treaty of Versailles was politically humiliating, but thanks to American and British sentimentalism, was not as punitive as the French wanted. This allowed the conditions of German recovery and military rearmament. This was in turn the reason why Marshal Ferdinand Foch said that the Treaty was merely an armistice for another warnote .
Still the Weimar Republic did improve its formerly belligerent foreign policy and amended it from its early years. Gustav Stresemann won a Nobel Prize for Peace, for healing some of the French-German tensions that had been soured for more than fifty years at that point. The Republic also engaged in trade with the Soviet Union at a time when they weren't recognized by many of the world's powers.
The Nazis and conservatives were fond of seeing the Weimar Republic as doomed to failure and "decadent", supposedly permanently haunted by the defeat of the war. The Weimar years were actually a period of recovery and change. Berlin became the largest city in Europe, and one of the largest in the world, with the biggest population in Europe. Germany became the heart of 20th Century modernism, with Bauhaus architecture, cabaret culture, modern graphic design, and German Expressionism forming itself in this era. Likewise, this was also an era of advancement, with the modern gay rights movement, which had originated in the Imperial years, finding new impetus through the works of Magnus Hirschfield who advocated for LGBT rights.
Nonetheless, there was sharp polarization between urban and rural areas, and the fears of revolution, memories of defeat, and fears of change were barely kept in lid. The Great Depression brought these tensions to the surface resulting in the momentous election of 1933 and the rise of Nazi Germany. The new regime ruled for only 12 years (1933-1945), shorter than the Weimar Republic, and the Kaisserreich. This regime was greatly exceeded by succeeding governments of West, East and Modern Germany. But those 12 years, to the people living through them, and to the ones who survived, really did have enough incidents and memories that made it feel like Adolf Hitler's promised thousand-year reich, leading to judicial murder, purges, autocracy, mass propaganda, rapid rearmament, World War II and genocide against Jews, Romani, Homosexuals, Communists, Slavs, Russians and the disabled, and a seemingly endless list of war crimes.
In the years after German defeat, there was effectively no German government. Germany was governed by military occupying forces by the British, Americans, Russians and the French. After Germany lost that war (with the defeat itself nowadays treated as a liberation by the German public), it was occupied by the four Allies. The nascent Cold War led to the establishment of two Germanies—the FRG and the GDR. note
The Cold War resulted in divisions between America and the Soviet Union. This development was to Germany's benefit, since the American bloc saw an interest in rebuilding and aiding German post-war redevelopment and reconstruction to prevent the communists from coming to power. The result was the Wirtschaftswunder (Economic Miracle) under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer's government saw a great many former Nazis and war criminals released into civil life, and his administration promulgated the "Myth of the Clean Wehrmacht" i.e. that Hitler's crimes and ideology was the work of the Nazi Party and most ordinary Germans did not share in the ideology. Later historians, within Germany it must be said, have successfully debunked this. But it was comforting for people at the time. Adenauer to his credit, also made an effort to pay reparations to Holocaust survivors and invested heavily in Israel.
A different situation happened in East Germany, which was mostly Prussia. The commies finally completed and achieved what liberals and early reformers failed to do. Via Bodenreform, they broke up the Junker manorial estates, demolishing many of them and distributing their lands. The communists were far less willing to forgive war crimes committed in the east (which were more or less buried or ignored in the West during this time). The Prussians were old enemies of Russia, and many Junkers were active supporters of Nazism and Generalplan Ostnote . This land reform and redistribution remains upheld even in West Germany after unification, despite several challenges and claims by descendants for compensation and recovery of property.note . However, for the Soviet Union, East Germany proved to be too much trouble. It was far and away the land that was most developed before Communist takeover, and it would be the most developed Soviet Republic during the Cold War. But on account of that, it needed extra investment and maintenance, and subsidies to provide its citizens with a lifestyle that they were accustomed to. This became harder when West Germany was visibly near enough for them to see and compare with.
These and other crises led to the Berlin Wall, and tensions between West and East Germany. In West Germany, the communist party was banned and those of "suspect" political persuasions were not allowed posts in the government. The youth movement of The '60s, owing to the particular mixture of political culture and historical baggage, took a violent turn with the establishment of Western Terrorists from Germany, the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Revolutionary Zellen (RZ). They were notorious for attacking and assassinating Nazi-era officials who had wormed back into civilian life. Domestic and international terrorism saw many incidents in Germany, the most famous and traumatic being the murder of the Israeli Olympic team in the Munich Olympics at the hands of a Palestinian terrorist group.
The imprisonment of the Baader-Meinhof gang and the kidnapping of a prominent German businessman triggered a small period of Emergency Authority (which was undeclared) that struck some fears and tensions during that time, especially when it ended with the deaths of several gang members at the Stammheim Prison. The deaths were officially ruled as a group suicide, but there were widespread accusations of "foul play".
Anoher problems faced in Germany was immigration. The role of Germany's center as an economic powerhouse in Europe attracted migrant labour from other parts of Europe and the world. The result was the arrival, immigration and settlement of a large number of foreign workers in Germany. Greek and Italian (Sicilian in fact) workers faced some amount of violence, racism and xenophobia in this era, but the demand for cheap labour and the greater liberalization in the young triggered changes in the attitudes of some Germans. Turkish immigrants to Germany have become especially prominent, and within the EU, Germany is one of the few nations whose idea of nationality is tilting towards the Melting Pot multiculturalism, albeit not entirely and not without resistance. East Germany in the same time devolved into a massive surveillance Police State and tensions within East Germany and the poor economy of the Soviet Union led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the Reunification in 1990.
However, the subsequent economic troubles (especially in the former East), which have lasted until today, contribute to the continued existence of a mental divide between East and West, at least among the older generation and older voters. Modern Germany's current problems involve the divide between its domestic interests and the broader foreign interests of the EU. American observers are not happy about Germans not being entirely on board with NATO expansion (they opposed the extension of membership to former Soviet States), and the Iraq War and The War on Terror.
Modern Germans are fairly big on pacifism and isolationism. They are not comfortable with being called to play a bigger role in foreign affairs. Germany's status as the biggest economy in the EU, however, played a huge role when the Great Recession hit, and EU and German lawmakers proposed policies of austerity, which created tensions between Germans and Greeksnote , and the left within and without Germany who have anti-austerity policies. The Syrian Refugee Crisis also led to great tensions within Germany, and a revival of nativism among rural voters.
For a more detailed look, see also the appropriate links below in the History section.
- Dichter and Denker (Famous Germans, excluding politicians. For them, see further below.)
- German Dialects
- German Education System
- German Humour
- German Language
- German Media
- German Peculiarities
- Der Stammtisch
- Skat (card game)
- The Studentenverbindung
- The 16 Lands of Deutschland (The 16 German "states")
- Bonn (Former Capital)
- Nuremberg U Bahn
- The Berlin Republic (Post-1990 Germany)
- The Chancellors of Germany
- Political System of Germany
- Politicians and Parties of Germany (current parties)
- German Political Parties After World War II (history)
- The Presidents of Germany
- We Are Not the Wehrmacht (Bundeswehr - Modern German Military)
- The Thin Formerly Green Line (German Police Forces)
- Deutsche Bahn (German Railways)
- Holy Roman Empire (963 - 1806)
- The Teutonic Knights (Middle Ages)
- Hanseatic League (also Middle Ages)
- Prussian Kings (Early - Mid Modern Era)
- All the Little Germanies (1806 - 1871)
- Imperial Germany (1871 - 1918)
- Prussians in Pickelhauben (Imperial German Military)
- World War I
- Weimar Republic (1918 - 1933])
- Nazi Germany (1933 - 1945)
- Nazis with Gnarly Weapons (Wehrmacht and Waffen SS)
- The Holocaust
- The Gestapo
- World War II
- Cold War
- Iron Curtain
- West Germany (The Bonn Republic) (May 1949 - October 1990)
- East Germany (German Democratic Republic) (October 1949 - October 1990)
- Ossis with Osas (East German People's Army)
- The Stasi
The German Flag
Coat of arms of Germany
The German National Anthem
The German national anthem is the third stanza of the "Lied der Deutschen", more commonly known as "Deutschlandlied", which was written in 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, to a melody composed in 1797 by Joseph Haydn for "Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser", an anthem in honor of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Though the "Deutschlandlied" has three stanzas, only the third is the national anthem, due to certain people being very fond of the first one (and the second sounding a bit chauvinistic nowadays).
- Federal parliamentary republic
- President: Frank-Walter Steinmeier
- Chancellor: Olaf Scholz
- Vice Chancellor: Robert Habeck
- Capital and largest city: Berlin
- Population: 84.270.625
- Area: 357,022 km² (137,847 sq mi) (63rd)
- Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: DE
- Country calling code: 49
- Highest point: Zugspitze (2962 m/9,718 ft) (67th)
- Lowest point: Neuendorf-Sachsenbande (−4 m/−12 ft) (32nd)