Welcome to Germany
Explore Our Best Destinations Germany
Prepare for a roller coaster of feasts, treats and temptations as you take in Germany’s soul-stirring scenery, spirit-lifting culture, big-city beauties, romantic palaces and half-timbered towns. There’s something undeniably artistic in the way Germany’s scenery unfolds – the corrugated, dune-fringed coasts of the north; the moody forests, romantic river valleys and vast vineyards of the center, and the off-the-charts splendor of the Alps, carved into rugged glory by glaciers and the elements.
All are integral parts of a magical natural matrix that’s bound to give your camera batteries a workout. Get off the highway and into the great outdoors to soak up the epic landscapes that makes each delicious, slow, winding mile so precious. You’ll encounter history in towns where streets were laid out long before Columbus set sail, and in castles that loom above prim, half-timbered villages where flower boxes billow with crimson geraniums.
The great cities – Berlin, Munich and Hamburg among them – come in more flavours than a jar of jelly beans but will all wow you with a cultural kaleidoscope that spans the arc from art museums and high-brow opera to naughty cabaret and underground clubs. Experiencing Germany through its food and drink will add a rich layer to your memories (and possibly your belly!).
You’ll quickly discover that the local food is so much more than sausages and pretzels, schnitzel and roast pork accompanied by big mugs of foamy beer. Few countries have had as much impact on the world as Germany, which has given us the Hanseatic League, the Reformation and yes, Hitler and the Holocaust, but also the printing press, the automobile, aspirin and MP3 technology.
It is the birthplace of Martin Luther, Albert Einstein and Karl Marx, of Goethe, Beethoven, the Brothers Grimm and other heavyweights who, each in their own way, have left their mark on human history.
Capital of Germany: Berlin
Official language: German language, German Deutsch, official language of both Germany and Austria and one of the three official languages of Switzerland
The currency: Euro
Climate: Northwestern and coastal Germany has a maritime influenced climate which is characterized by warm summers and mild cloudy winters
Population: 81.41 million (2015 census)
President: Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Prime Minister: Angela Merkel
Calling code: The international calling code is +49
The chronology of German events since the end of the Second World War has been dramatic and extraordinarily eventful. After Germany’s defeat, the country was occupied by the four Allied powers-the U.S., the U.K., France and the Soviet Union. In 1949, the zones under control of the three western nations united to become the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). In the same year, the eastern part of the country, under control of German Communist authorities and the Soviet Union, was declared a separate German State and became the GDR. On October 3, 1990, following the revolutionary changes of late 1989, the Federal Republic and the GDR joined to form a reunified Republic of Germany that extended the constitution and laws of the former West Germany to five new eastern States.
The city of Berlin, surrounded by East Germany, had a special status in the immediate postwar period and was under the military occupation of the four allies under a
By 1948, Soviet violation of Four-Power Agreements from the immediate post-war days increasingly had isolated their zone from those parts of Berlin occupied by the Western powers and the division of the city began to take shape. The Berlin airlift of food and supplies in 194849 was an Allied response to Soviet efforts to use their control of overland access to Berlin to force the Western powers from the city. The Berlin Wall, the infamous dividing line between East and West Berlin, went up almost overnight in August 1961 in an effort to stem the tide of East Germans departing for the West. The Wall remained in place as a physical and psychological barrier until November 1989 when, under the pressure of weeks of peaceful protests throughout the GDR and changes in Soviet policy, it suddenly collapsed along with the government that had built it. One year later, Germany was unified. In 1991, the German Parliament, the Bundestag, made the historic decision to move the German Government and Parliament back to Berlin from Bonn where it had been located in a “provisional capital” since 1949.
One of Europe’s largest countries, Germany encompasses a wide variety of landscapes: the tall, sheer mountains of the south; the sandy, rolling plains of the north; the forested hills of the urbanized west; and the plains of the agricultural east. At the spiritual heart of the country is the magnificent east-central city of Berlin, which rose phoenixlike from the ashes of World War II and now, after decades of partition, is the capital of a reunified Germany, and the Rhine River, which flows northward from Switzerland and is celebrated in visual art, literature, folklore, and song. Along its banks and those of its principal tributaries-among them the Neckar, Main, Moselle, and Ruhr-stand hundreds of medieval castles, churches, picturesque villages, market towns, and centres of learning and culture, including Heidelberg, the site of one of Europe’s oldest universities (founded in 1386), and Mainz, historically one of Europe’s most important publishing centers. All are centerpieces of Germany’s thriving tourist economy, which brings millions of visitors to the country each year, drawn by its natural beauty, history, culture, and cuisine (including its renowned wines and beers).
The name Germany has long described not a particular place but the loose, fluid polity of Germanic-speaking peoples that held sway over much of western Europe north of the Alps for millennia. Although Germany in that sense is an ancient entity, the German nation in more or less its present form came into being only in the 19th century, when Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck brought together dozens of German-speaking kingdoms, principalities, free cities, bishoprics, and duchies to form the German Empire in 1871. This so-called Second Reich quickly became Europe’s leading power and acquired colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. That overseas empire was dismantled following Germany’s defeat in World War I and the abdication of Emperor William II. Economic depression, widespread unemployment, and political strife that verged on civil war followed, leading to the collapse of the progressive Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. After gaining power in 1933, Hitler established the Third Reich and soon thereafter embarked on a ruinous crusade to conquer Europe and exterminate Jews, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, and others.
Germany, officially Federal Republic of Germany, German Deutschland or Bundesrepublik Deutschland, country of north-central Europe, traversing the continent’s main physical divisions, from the outer ranges of the Alps northward across the varied landscape of the Central German Uplands and then across the North German Plain.
Geography and Climate
Unified Germany comprises 16 states (Lander in the plural; singular: Land), of which three (Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg) are city-states. Berlin, with a population approaching four million, is surrounded by the State of Brandenburg, with the Brandenburg Land capital at Potsdam, a city that adjoins Berlin on the southwest. Bavaria is Germany’s largest land. Germany’s population exceeds 82 million and, with a total land area of only 137,800 square miles (slightly smaller than the State of Montana), the nation is one of the most densely populated and urbanized in Europe.
Germany has five distinct geographical areas and widely varying landscapes. From north to south these are: the flat north German lowlands; the hills and the low mountains of the Mittelgebirge; the west and south German plateaus and mountains (including the Black Forest, the Schwarzwald); the south German Alpine foothills and lake country; and the Bavarian Alps with the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain, 9,717 ft.) near Garmisch.
The most important rivers are the Rhine, the Weser, the Elbe, the Main, the Oder, and the Danube. The first three flow northward, emptying into the North Sea. The Main is a tributary of the Rhine. The Danube, starting as a spring in the beautiful, historic town of Donaueschingen in southwest Germany, flows east 1,725 miles to meet the Black Sea in Romania. Lake Constance (Bodensee), Germany’s largest lake, lies at the border separating Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Germany is in the Temperate Zone and enjoys frequent weather changes, sometimes daily. The country has four distinct seasons with rainfall frequent in most months, especially in the autumn. Winter temperatures and snowfall tend to be more extreme in the southern part of the country where the average elevation is higher, but even low-lying Berlin has snowfalls and winter temperatures which occasionally dip below 10°F. Summer temperatures are usually cooler than Washington, D.C., although short summer hot spells are common.
The dialectal divisions of Germany, once of conspicuous significance for the ethnic and cultural distinctions they implied, persist despite leveling and standardizing influences such as mass education and communication and despite internal migration and the trend among the younger, better-educated, and more-mobile ranks of society to speak a standard, “accentless” German. The repository of dialectal differences now lies more with the rural populace and the longtime native inhabitants of the cities.
Standard German itself is something of a hybrid language in origin, drawn from elements of the dialects spoken in the central and southern districts but with the phonetic characteristics of the north predominating. Indeed, the pronunciation of standard German is an arbitrary compromise that gained universal currency only in the late 19th century. Even today the most “accent-conscious” of the well-educated speak with the coloration of their native district’s dialect, especially so if they are from the southern regions.
The three major dialectal divisions of Germany coincide almost identically with the major topographic regions: the North German Plain (Low German), the Central German Uplands (Central German), and the southern Jura, Danube basin, and Alpine districts (Upper German). Of the Upper German dialects, the Alemannic branch in the southwest is subdivided into Swabian, Low Alemannic, and High Alemannic. Swabian, the most widespread and still-ascending form, is spoken to the west and south of Stuttgart and as far east as Augsburg. Low Alemannic is spoken in Baden-Württemberg and Alsace, and High Alemannic is the dialect of German-speaking Switzerland. The Bavarian dialect, with its many local variations, is spoken in the areas south of the Danube River and east of the Lech River and throughout all of Austria, except in the state of Vorarlberg, which is Swabian in origin.
The Central German, or Franconian, dialect and the Thuringian dialect helped to form the basis of modern standard German. The present-day influence of Thuringian is of greatest significance in Thuringia, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt states. East Franconian is spoken in northern Bavaria, South Franconian in northern Baden-Württemberg. The Rhenish Franconian dialect extends northwest from approximately Metz, in French Lorraine, through the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hessen. Moselle Franconian extends from Luxembourg through the Moselle valley districts and across the Rhine into the Westerwald. Ripuarian Franconian begins roughly near Aachen, at the Dutch-Belgian border, and spreads across the Rhine between Düsseldorf and Bonn into the Sauerland.
The dialect known as Low German, or Plattdeutsch, historically was spoken in all regions occupied by the Saxons and spread across the whole of the North German Plain. Although it has been largely displaced by standard German, it is still widely spoken, especially among elderly and rural inhabitants in the areas near the North and Baltic seas, and is used in some radio broadcasts, newspapers, and educational programs. Tiny pockets of Frisian, the German dialect most closely related to English, persist. Foreign immigration, more widespread education, the influence of the United States, and globalization also have helped create a polyglot of languages in major German cities.
The Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 divided German Christians between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) introduced the principle that (with some exceptions) the inhabitants of each of Germany’s numerous territories should follow the religion of the ruler; thus, the south and west became mainly Roman Catholic, the north and east Protestant. Religious affiliation had great effect not only on subjective factors such as culture and personal attitudes but also on social and economic developments. For example, the willingness of Berlin to receive Calvinist religious refugees (Huguenots) from Louis XIV’s France meant that by the end of the 17th century one-fifth of the city’s inhabitants were of French extraction. The Huguenots introduced numerous new branches of manufacture to the city and strongly influenced administration, the army, the advancement of science, education, and fashion. The Berlin dialect still employs many terms of French derivation.
Population movements during and after World War II brought many Protestants into western Germany evening the numbers of adherents of the two religions In the former West Germany most people, whether or not they attended church, agreed to pay the church tax levied with their income tax; the revenue from this tax has been used to support community centres, hospitals, senior citizens’ centres and group homes, and the construction of church buildings in the former East Germany. The centrality of religion in Germany has meant that religious leaders, especially the Roman Catholic hierarchy, sometimes exercise considerable influence on political decisions on social issues such as abortion.
In East Germany Protestants outnumbered Roman Catholics about seven to one. Although the constitution nominally guaranteed religious freedom, religious affiliation was discouraged. Church membership, especially for individuals who were not members of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), was a barrier to career advancement. Similarly, youth who on religious grounds did not join the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) lost access to recreational facilities and organized holidays and found it difficult, if not impossible, to secure admission to universities. Not surprisingly, formal church affiliation was relatively low, amounting to only about half the population, compared with nearly seven-eighths in West Germany. However, Protestant (Lutheran) churches did act as rallying points for supporters of unofficial protest groups, leading ultimately to the demonstrations that toppled the communist government in 1989.
Lutherans and Roman Catholics in Germany now are about equal in number. Small percentages of Germans belong to what are known as the free churches, such as Evangelical Methodists, Calvinists, Old Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and (by far the largest) Eastern Orthodox. The number of people professing no religion (Konfessionslose) has sharply increased and now represents about one-fifth of all Germans. Because of large-scale Turkish immigration, Muslims now account for some 5 percent of the total population. Only a few thousand German Jews survived the Holocaust. During the 1990s, however, Germany’s Jewish population quadrupled, the result of significant immigration from Eastern Europe (especially Russia). There are now some 100,000 Jews in the country, and Berlin, with Germany’s largest concentration of Jews, has experienced a modest rebirth of its once thriving Jewish community.
With a population totaling more than 80 million persons, Germany has one-quarter of the population of the European Union. It is the largest nation in Europe after Russia even though, in size, it is smaller than either France or Spain. Today, over 85 million people speak German as their mother tongue.
Many Americans call Germany home. There are thousands of U.S. military men and women including retirees, Government employees, representatives of U.S. businesses, academics and their family members throughout Germany. Relationships between Germans and Americans are generally very positive. Many older Germans remember the assistance provided by the U.S. Marshall Plan after World War II and the commitment and aid pro
vided by the Berlin Airlift in 1948. America’s steadfast support of German democracy, especially during the crises of the Cold War, adds to the generally positive reputation of the U.S. in Germany. Many Germans travel or have traveled to the U.S. for business or pleasure and many learn English from the earliest years in school. English is a common second language, especially in the western parts of Germany, although some German-language ability is necessary everywhere for a rewarding living and cultural experience.
The International School of Düsseldorf has over 600 students in grades kindergarten through thirteen (postgraduate or international baccalaureate). Almost half the students are American; the next largest nationality is German, and the balance are from Britain, The Netherlands, Japan and other nations. The language of instruction is English. Other options include the German public schools, the Japanese international school or the French Lycee. Adult education in English is limited although some courses are available through university extension programs offered at nearby American military installations. There is no accredited international school in Cologne.
Germany’s Culture and the Arts
The world knows the “Land of Ideas” not just from its products “Made in Germany” but also as the “land of poets and thinkers”. More than 20 million tourists travel to Germany every year. Some tourists enjoy the unique cultural range with a huge music and theatre scene. Others holidays in Germany by mountaineering in the Alps or swimming off the North Sea and Baltic coasts.
Museums and Exhibitions
You might expect a country like Germany to have plenty of museums and exhibitions. But you may be astonished by how many there actually are.
Theatre in Germany
Theatre is an institution in Germany – no doubt about that. So, if you like watching plays, listening to operas, or would perhaps like to take part in some amateur dramatics, you’ll find it here.
Musicals, Operas and Concerts
Germany’s reputation as a centre of top-class music education is also reflected in its musical life. Operas, concerts and musicals thrive and flourish. “Look” and “hear” for yourself.
Culture of Reading
Germans are readers. Literature plays an important role in German society, whether in a reading chair, at the bookshop or on the bus or tram. Come and read about this national passion.
A leading cultural institution: The Goethe Institute
The Goethe Institute is Germany’s leading cultural institution and maintains an extensive network around the world. The website offers a comprehensive range of information on everyday life in Germany, and on the country’s culture and society
Festivals and Holidays
New Years in Germany
The year’s first public holiday arrives on 1 January (New Year’s Day). This is the time when the New Year’s resolutions begin: How long will the diet work? Do you really go running every day? New Year’s Eve is not a public holiday, but it is the last day of the year and ends with fireworks at midnight to say farewell to the past year and hello to the new one.
German Holidays of Christian Origin
Many festivals and holidays in Germany are of Christian origin. The most important ones are Christmas and Easter. Christmas is usually celebrated with the family at home. On Christmas Eve (Heiligabend) families get together around the decorated Christmas tree, exchange presents and celebrate the birth of Christ. In the weeks leading up to Easter, chocolate bunnies and eggs can be seen (and bought) in shops everywhere. Part of the tradition is to hide the eggs away for the children to find. Easter is the time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Overview of important German national public holidays:
• New Year’s Day (1 January)
• Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
• Easter Monday
• 1 May (Labour Day) – often accompanied by May Fires
• Whit Monday
The Day of German Unity (3 October)
Christmas Eve on 24 December is not a public holiday. But shops do shut in the afternoon, so that the celebrations can begin.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day (25/26 December) are public holidays
Shops, offices, agencies, schools and universities are closed on public holidays and Sundays.
International festivals and holidays
However, Germany has become a multicultural country. So, it can come as no surprise that the nationals of other countries living in Germany also celebrate their festivals and holidays. Turks, Greeks, Italians, Poles, Russians, Croatians and Spaniards, Arabs, Brits, Americans, and Australians, the French, Koreans and many more all have their special festivals and holidays and celebrate these together with Germans and other nationals.
Regional holidays and festivities
Every region has its own festivals and parties in Germany. Carnival, wine festivals in the winegrowing regions, and beer festivals in others, including the not-to-be-missed Oktoberfest in Munich