Germany’s location in Central Europe has meant that throughout history many peoples—all with their own cultures, ideas, languages and traditions—have traversed Germany at one time or another. Thus Germany’s culture has received many influences over the centuries.
Germany’s present geopolitical configuration is quite young, as it reunified the eastern and western portions into a single entity in 1990. Germany was formed in 1871 during the leadership of Otto von Bismarck in an attempt to create a Germanic power base. World War I was fought during the last years of the German Empire. Germany, as part of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria), was defeated by the Allies with much loss of life. The German Republic was created in 1918 when, having been defeated in World War I, Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1933, with an environment of poverty, disenfranchisement of the people, and great instability in the government, Germany gave way to the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Within a month of taking office, Hitler suspended normal rights and freedoms and assumed absolute power. A centralized totalitarian state quickly resulted. In a move to expand Germany, Hitler started to expand its borders. Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 kicked off what would become World War II. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and declared war on the United States. After Germany’s defeat, the country was divided into East Germany, controlled by the Soviet Union, and West Germany, controlled by the Allied powers.
The Iron Curtain divided the two Germanys, with the Berlin Wall dividing the city of Berlin. The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall were major symbols of the Cold War. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and the two Germanys were reunited in 1990.
German reunification in 1990 posed some challenges for the economy. Notably, the East German infrastructure was far behind that of the West. In an effort to update transportation systems, telecommunications, and other areas needed to support industry and commerce, enormous amounts of money had to be poured into the system. While there has been considerable success in the renewal of infrastructure, unemployment in former East Germany is still significantly higher, and the necessary retraining of the workforce is ongoing and expensive.
Watch this quick video which sums up some of Germany’s history:
Germany has a social market economy with a highly skilled labor force, a large capital stock, a low level of corruption, and a high level of innovation. It is the world’s third-largest exporter of goods. Being home to the modern car, the automotive industry in Germany is regarded as one of the most competitive and innovative in the world. Well-known international brands include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, SAP, Volkswagen, Audi, Siemens, Allianz, Adidas, and Porsche.
Germany is also a major tourist destination and is the 7th most visited country in the world. The Black Forest, Bavaria, the Alpine south, a variety of medieval castles, national parks, and a vibrant assortment of festivals such as Oktoberfest attract millions of tourists to Germany every year.
Language, religion, and education have been strong cultural forces in Germany. German is the official language of the country and the one spoken by most of its people. More than 60 percent of Germans self-identify as Christian, and another 30 percent self-identify as agnostic or atheistic. During the Cold War, East Germany was under a Communist government that promoted a nonreligious ideology, resulting in a high percentage of people with agnostic or atheistic beliefs in that part of Germany.
After the United States, Germany is the second most popular immigration destination in the world.
Things Germany is famous for include:
- Oktoberfest – a folk festival that has been held since 1810
- Classical music by composers such as Bach, Händel, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, and Strauss
- The Protestant reformer: Martin Luther
- Cuckoo clocks
Some German foods are:
France covers 211,209 square miles and is the second-largest European country; Ukraine is slightly larger in physical area. The physical landscapes of France vary widely from the northern low-lying coastal plains to the Alpine ranges of the east. Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alpine range at 15,782 feet, is located in France near the Italian border. In the far south, the Pyrenees run along the border with Spain. The south-central region of the country is home to the Massif Central, which is a plateau and highland region made up of a large stretch of extinct volcanoes.
During the colonial era, France was a major naval power and held colonies around the world. The French Empire was the second largest at the time. The French language is still used for diplomacy in many countries. Though the French Empire no longer exists, France has progressed into a postindustrial country with one of the most developed economies in the world. It is a major player in European affairs, the EU, and the United Nations (UN).
Agriculture is an important sector of the French economy, as it has been for centuries, and is tied to industry through food processing. Food processing industries employ more people than any other part of the French manufacturing sector. If you think of cheese and wine when you think of France, you have identified two of its largest food processing endeavors, along with sugar beets, meats, and confectionaries. World-renowned wines are produced in abundance, sometimes in areas that bear their names, such as in Burgundy, around the city of Bordeaux, and in Champagne in the Loire Valley. French cuisine and fashion have long been held in highest esteem worldwide and are a source of national pride. Food and wine are important elements of the French way of life, and each region of France boasts a suite of famous dishes.
France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world! Some things France is famous for are:
- Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) – a medieval Catholic cathedral (a big thank you to Malachi for his comment and help in identifying the correct cathedral!)
- Artists such as Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Seurat, Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh
- Famous composers such as Claude Debussy and Érik Satie
- Haute couture fashion (think Chanel and Dior)
- Versailles – the royal residence of France from 1682-1789
- The Louvre – the world’s largest art museum in Paris, France
✎ Germany’s involvement in WW2 featured Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 kicked off what would become World War II.
✎ Berlin was separated into two parts during the Cold War.
✎ Germany is a major tourist destination.
✎ France is the second-largest European country.
✎ Agriculture is an important sector of the French economy.
✎ French cuisine and fashion have long been held in highest esteem worldwide.
Next: Benelux Countries
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Image and additional information credits:
By Directorate of Intelligence, CIA – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gm.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25235894
Germany locator map
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14677009
By Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37675506
By Anton von Werner – Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2481294
Europe WWII Axis military conquests
By Morgan Hauser, derived from File:Second world war europe 1943-1945 map en.png and File:Second world war europe 1941-1942 map en.png by users Jarry1250 and ArmadniGeneral, respectively. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14619311
By Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27899216
By Heribert Pohl — Thanks for half a million clicks! from Germering bei München, Bayern – O’zapft is! Münchens 5 Jahreszeit hat begonnen – O’zapft is! Munich 5 season, the Oktoberfest has begun, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34099468
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=552755
By Gürgi – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3720379
Black forest cake
By Mikelo – , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3147883
By Brücke-Osteuropa – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22848311
By Ra Boe / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18919726
By Rainer Z … – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3905895
By Carlos Varela – https://www.flickr.com/photos/c32/4851613522/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32201510
By David Monniaux – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=168053
By Tournachon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39663297
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37690091
Cuckoo clock info
By Johan Bakker, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38255047
Monet – Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge
By Claude Monet – the-athenaeum.org , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5749305
By Sunny Ripert – originally posted to Flickr as Arc-en-ciel comestible, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10438294
By NJGJ – photography by NJGJ, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1363259
By Arnaud 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56281821
By DC – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070518
By Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15781169
By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16126578
Notre Dame: By DXR / Daniel Vorndran, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36208575