Europe's strongest economic and industrial power, Germany is also
the most populous European country outside Russia. Fertile northern
plains stretch south from the North and Baltic Seas changing to
central highlands and then rising to the rugged Schwarzwald (Black
Forest) in the southwest and to the Alps in the far south.
Germans are highly urbanized; about 86 percent live in cities and
towns. With one of the world's lowest birthrates, Germany is a
magnet for foreign workers—some 7.3 million immigrants live here.
Some German industry is well known (Daimler Chrysler, Siemens, and
Volkswagen); some, like Transrapid (the maglev railway) and Nordex
wind turbines, represent new environment-friendly technology.
"Wir sind ein Volk—We are one people," sang crowds on November 9,
1989, as East Germans breached the Berlin Wall. A year later, just
after midnight on October 3, 1990, Germany was reborn. One people,
divided since the end of World War II, had one country again. Yet
German unity is relatively new. Disparate Germanic principalities
did not come together until 1871, when the king of Prussia became kaiser (emperor) of Germany.
The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 to stop East Germans from fleeing
west. Rejoining two populations after 45 years of separation has
been difficult. The economy in eastern Germany remains weak—the
population is declining as young people go west for jobs. A bright
spot in the east is Berlin as the construction boom continues in
Germany's capital and largest city; tourists come to see the
innovative architecture, including the Reichstag building with its
glass dome. A founding member of the European Union, Germany
stands to gain from increased trade with the 2004 addition of the
Czech Republic, Poland, and others to EU membership.
Before its unification in 1871, Germany was a loose confederation of
states, the largest of which was Prussia. And although all of the
states adopted one national identity after unification, to this day
they are aware of their individual traditions and histories.
Germany is now divided into 16 states, the boundaries of which were
largely determined after the Second World War. Each of the states
has its own capital and regional government. In some areas, people
speak regional dialects of German that non-locals find difficult to
understand: Plattdeutsch in the North, Sächsisch in parts of the
East and Bayerisch in the South, to name a few.
Travelling between Bavaria in the South, Lower Saxony in the North
and Rhineland in the West, you will see many differences in food,
attitudes and culture and to really get the most out of a trip to
Germany, it is well worth getting to know these variations.
Southern Germany, for instance, is predominantly rural and Catholic
and feeds the touristic stereotype of fairytale castles and
timber-framed houses in quaint old towns. The north of the country,
on the other hand, is more urbanised and mainly Protestant.
Even stronger than the North-South division is the East-West
division which grew up over 40 years of separate history. Here, the
differences are less folksy and more social, political and economic.
Text source: National
Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition, 2004