germany flag red black yellow waving pole

Country of the Week: Germany

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in the European nation of Germany. With a long and impactful history, there’s quite a lot to delve into – so let’s get started!

  • Capital (and Largest City): Berlin
  • Population (2015): 81,292,400 (17th)
  • Total Area: 357,168 km² (63rd)
  • Official Language: Germany
  • Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
germany castle white bavaria alps

The Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps is one of Germany’s most recognizable landmarks

History

We begin where we usually do when it comes to European countries, an age of barbarian tribes and Roman incursions. Germanic tribes managed to occupy much of what Germany is today, though the Romans did claim some of the south and western regions. Overall however, Germania stood strong as the land beyond the great Roman Empire.

The swift fall of the Roman Empire was followed centuries later by the rise of Frankish monarch Charlemagne. Once he died, his vast kingdom was divided amongst his heirs. The eastern part became known as the Holy Roman Empire, and made up much of the German region. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire grew in stature – becoming one of the major players in European politics.

The end of the medieval era was very tumultuous for the people of the Holy Roman Empire – largely due to the onslaught of the Black Death and the Protestant reformation. The religious cataclysm began in Germany when Martin Luther, a monk, published ‘The Ninety-Five Theses’ in 1517, which challenged the supremacy of the Catholic Church. This jump started centuries of religious warfare and persecution, both inside and outside of Germany.

The 18th and early 19th centuries was a hugely chaotic time for all of Europe. While the powerful Hapsburg Dynasty controlled the Empire, they were challenged on all fronts. After numerous concessions weakened the German state, Napoleon’s France soon moved in and exercised de facto control over much of the territory. After Napoleon’s downfall, the Congress of Vienna helped establish the German Confederation. Over the next several years, the influence of Prussia over the other states within Germany increased.

The stature of Prussia continually increased under Otto von Bismarck with the newfound power winning victories against Austria and France. Soon, Prussia was at the centre of the new ‘German Empire’. The country also flexed its colonial muscles, especially in Africa. The increasing power of Germany led the Empire to seek out allegiances in the complicated web of European diplomacy, with nearly every country having picked a side.

So when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914, it should come as no surprise that a European wide war soon followed. Germany itself was a part of the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary among others – though it was the dominant member. The so-called Great War lasted four years, at which the end result was a German defeat at the hands of the Allies. The Treaty of Versailles that followed demanded heavy reparations from Germany – many of which were viewed as harsh and unjust within the country.

These concessions and the economic depression that followed gave rise to one of the darkest regimes in human history. With the German people looking for an answer and return to former glory, the fascist Nazi Party (led by Adolf Hitler) soon rose to power. With an expansionist and staunchly nationalistic policy, the Nazi’s soon established an aggressive, totalitarian state that persecuted minorities (especially the Jews).

We’ve all heard this story a hundred times. Germany invaded Poland, and in so doing kick started the deadliest war the world has ever known. Nearly six years of fighting brought countries to their knees but eventually the Allies (led by Britain, the US, and the Soviet Union) defeated Germany and its ally Japan – with Hitler committing suicide in his bunker as his enemies closed in around him. It wasn’t until the end of the war that the full scope of the Nazi atrocities was revealed. In what is now known as the Holocaust, over 10 million civilians were killed in a systematic combination of death and concentration camps.

After the war Germany was divided amongst the victorious Allies – into the Soviet administered East and the West (administered by the Americans, British, and French). In addition, the capital Berlin was split in half, despite lying in the Eastern part of the country. While West Germany received a great deal of financial aid and soon grew into a prosperous country with a market economy, East Germany became a communist state under the jurisdiction of the USSR. Germany, and especially Berlin, was seen as a centre of the Cold War with the Berlin Wall a particularly symbolic divider between East and West.

Eventually tensions thawed and the fall of the Berlin Wall came to symbolize the end of an era. In 1990, Germany was finally unified, with the West seen as the preceding state (meaning the new Germany retained all the international memberships of the former). Germany has become a very active member in the European community (particularly the EU) and is generally viewed as the preeminent bankroller and power behind the euro. While this has caused tensions with some of the struggling countries (read: Greece), Germany remains one of the wealthiest and most powerful European states.

church village water mountains germany

The small, lakeside town of Rottach-Egern

Culture

Modern day Germany has a variety of influences, with both religious and secular shifts in European society impacting the centrally located country a great deal. Germany has also had a major impact in the world of arts – whether it be painting, architecture, or music.

Though not typically viewed on the same culinary level as France or Italy, Germany is nonetheless home to many recognized and distinctive dishes. Sausage is perhaps the most common and famous example of German cuisine – while pork is the most commonly consumed meat. The country is also well known for its beer, with many renowned brands calling the country the home.

The most popular sport should be no shock – soccer. The national team is one of the most successful in the world, having won the European Championship 3 times and the World Cup 4 times (including the most recent one in 2014). The domestic league is also the stomping ground of one of the world’s best teams – Bayern Munich. Formula One is well followed in Germany, with many of the sport’s top drivers hailing from the country.

oktoberfest germany men dancing lederhosen beer traditional culture

Oktoberfest in Munich is a celebration of traditional Bavarian culture

Geography

Germany is one of Europe’s larger countries and has a diverse landscape. With a northern coastline on the North and Baltic Seas, the country’s geography includes the Alps, dense forests, important rivers, and more. Its central location has made Germany a major player in regional politics over the years, with only Russia bordering more European countries.

Germany is home to many large cities that are amongst the most commercially important in Europe. Heavy bombing during WWII has also resulted in widespread reconstruction and some very modern cityscapes compared to many other European countries. Major urban centres include the capital Berlin, the Bavarian city of Munich, commercial and transportation hub Frankfurt, among many others.

mountains alps bavaria germany hut landscape

Europe’s most famous mountain range, the Alps, can also be found in Germany

Did you know?

  • Beer is officially a food in Germany
  • Oktoberfest takes place during September
  • The German ‘two’ is shown with the thumb and pointer finger
  • There’s no extra punishment for trying to escape from prison
  • The first magazine was launched in the 17the century in Germany
  • It’s illegal to run out of gas on the highway
  • Most of the autobahn has no speed limit
  • A wedding tradition involves the kidnapping of the bride by the groom’s friends, who then take her to various taverns
  • Doner kebabs are the most popular snack in the country
  • There are no fees for college tuition
city berlin river skyscraper tower Germany

Berlin – Germany’s capital and largest city

Last Word

Despite a dark 20th century, Germany’s long and proud early history and recent success should not be overlooked. As a regional and global leader, we can be assured that Germany will be at the forefront of progress and cooperation.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE). Be sure to check out our Currency Spotlight for more information on the euro.

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