Germany After Reunification
We have many articles devoted to Germany's history, but here we want to provide a concise summary of information and facts about contemporary Germany, its people, and its recent history since reunification, when Germany's eastern and western halves were rejoined in 1990. First a short introduction:
Geography and History
Today Germany is the European Union's most populous nation. But Germany as a unified nation is much newer than most of its European neighbors. Germany was created in 1871 under the leadership of chancellor Otto von Bismarck after Prussia (Preußen) had conquered most of German-speaking Europe. Prior to that, "Germany" had been a loose association of 39 German states known as the German League (der Deutsche Bund).
The German Empire (das Kaiserreich, das deutsche Reich) reached its zenith under Kaiser Wilhelm II just prior to the start of World War I (der Erste Weltkrieg) in 1914. After the "War to end all wars" Germany attempted to become a democratic republic, but the Weimar Republic proved to be only a short-lived prelude to the rise of Hitler and the dictatorial "Third Reich" of the Nazis.
Following the Second World War, one man gets most of the credit for creating today's democratic Federal Republic of Germany. In 1949 Konrad Adenauer became the new Germany's first chancellor, the "George Washington" of West Germany. That same year also saw the birth of communist East Germany (die Deutsche Demokratische Republik) in the former Soviet Occupation Zone. For the next forty years, Germany's people and its history would be divided into an eastern and a western part.
But it was not until August 1961 that a wall physically split the two Germanys. The Berlin Wall (die Mauer) and the barbed wire fence that lined the entire border between East and West Germany became a major symbol of the Cold War. By the time the Wall fell in November 1989, Germans had lived two separate national lives for four decades.
Most Germans, including West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, underestimated the difficulties of reunifying people who had been divided and living under very different conditions for 40 years. Even today, more than a decade after the Wall's collapse, true unification is still a goal. But once the barrier of the Wall was gone, Germans had no real choice other than reunification (die Wiedervereinigung).
So what does today's Germany look like? What about its people, its government, and its influences on the world today? Here are some facts and figures.
NEXT: Germany: Facts & Figures
The Federal Republic of Germany (die Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is Europe's dominant country, both in economic power and population. Located approximately in the center of Europe, Germany is about the size of the U.S. state of Montana.
Population: 82,800,000 (2000 est.)
Area: 137,803 sq. mi. (356,910 sq. km), slightly smaller than Montana
Bordering Countries: (from n. clockwise) Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands
Coastline: 1,385 mi (2,389 km) - the Baltic Sea (die Ostsee) in the northeast, the North Sea (die Nordsee) in the northwest
Major Cities: Berlin (capital) 3,477,900, Hamburg 1,703,800, Munich (München) 1,251,100, Cologne (Köln) 963,300, Frankfurt 656,200
Religions: Protestant (Evangelisch) 38%, Roman Catholic (Katholisch) 34%, Muslim 1.7%, Other or non-affiliated 26.3%
Government: Federal republic with a parliamentary democracy. Germany's constitution (das Grundgesetz, Basic Law) of May 23, 1949 became reunified Germany's constitution on October 3, 1990 (now a national holiday, Tag der Deutschen Einheit, German Unity Day).
Legislature: There are two federal legislative bodies. The Bundestag is Germany's House of Representatives or lower house. Its members are elected to four-year terms in popular elections. The Bundesrat (Federal Council) is Germany's upper house. Its members are not elected but are the members of the 16 Länder governments or their representatives. By law the upper house must approve any law that affects the Länder.
Heads of Government: The federal president (der Bundespräsident) is the titular head of state, but he/she has no real political power. He/she holds office for a five-year term and can be re-elected only once. The current federal president is Horst Köhler (since July 2004).
The federal chancellor (der Bundeskanzler) is the German "premier" and political leader. He/she is elected by the Bundestag for a four-year term. The chancellor can also be removed by a no-confidence vote, but this is rare. Following the September 2005 elections, Angela Merkel (CDU) replaced Gerhard Schröder (SPD) as federal chancellor. In November a vote in the Bundestag made Merkel Germany's first woman chancellor (Kanzlerin). Government "grand coalition" negotiations for cabinet positions had also continued into November. For the results see Merkel's Cabinet.
Courts: The Federal Constitutional Court (das Bundesverfassungsgericht) is the highest court of the land and the guardian of the Basic Law. There are lower federal and state courts.
States/Länder: Germany has 16 federal states (Bundesländer) with governmental powers similar to those of U.S. states. West Germany had 11 Bundesländer; the five so-called "new states" (die neuen Länder) were reconstituted after reunification. (East Germany had 15 "districts" each named for its capital city.)
Monetary Unit: The euro (der Euro) replaced the Deutsche Mark when Germany joined 11 other European countries that put the euro into circulation in January 2002. See Der Euro kommt.
Highest Mountain: The Zugspitze in the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian border is 9,720 ft (2,962 m) in elevation (more German geography)
More About Germany:
Almanac: German Mountains
Almanac: German Rivers
German History: History Contents Page
Recent History: The Berlin Wall
Money: Der Euro