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The country

The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is situated at the heart of Europe and is the gateway between Scandinavia in the north and the Mediterranean region in the south, as well as between the Atlantic west and the central and eastern European states. Germany is the most populous and affluent democracy in Europe, which is bordered by nine neighbouring countries (namely Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark). It is an extremely varied country that is made up of open lowlands, mountain ranges, rivers, lakelands, forests and alpine foothills. It is also a member state of the United Nations and NATO and is a founding member of the European Union.

Germany covers an area of 357,023 km² (compared with 245,000 km² in the UK); the longest distance from north to south as the crow flies is 876 km, and from west to east is 640 km. There are more than 82 million people living in Germany at present (compared with just over 60 million in the UK). The country boasts a great cultural diversity and region-specific traditions, charismatic towns and beautiful scenery. Tourists flock to Germany annually to visit the stylish cities, majestic medieval castles, elegant cathedrals as well as the hundreds of other cultural and historic wonders, both past and present.

The people

Of the 82 million plus people who live in Germany, some 7 million do not have their origins in Germany (approx. 9% of the total population). This produces a cultural diversity which is contributed to by the migrants living in Germany, the various ethnic minorities, the regions and the different states with their various traditions and dialects.

The federal states

Germany is divided into 16 federal states (called Länder). Each of these is responsible for governing and controlling its own affairs. Some of these states boast a long and varied tradition. Throughout history the country has always been divided into different states, but over the course of the centuries the outlook of the German map has changed somewhat in its appearance. The states that exist today were established after the end of World War II in 1945, however they have mostly retained and preserved their ethnic traditions and characteristics, as well as their historical boundaries.

Before unification in 1990, West Germany (FRG) had 11 states, which were established in the zones that were occupied by the Allied forces (United Kingdom, USA, and France) and East Germany (GDR), which was occupied by the Soviet Union, consisted of five states, however in 1952 these were transformed into a total of 14 districts (Bezirke). After the first free elections in East Germany on 18th March 1990, it was decided to create five new states on GDR territory. With reunification on 3rd October 1990, the GDR (i.e. the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) acceded to the Federal Republic. East Berlin was reunited with West Berlin at the same time.

Germany and the world economy

Germany, currently ranking third in terms of total economic output, is one of the world’s prominent economic nations. With regard to exports, Germany is in pole position worldwide. It continues to be an attractive and lucrative market for foreign investors and it offers an extremely well developed infrastructure and a highly-motivated, well-qualified workforce. Outstanding research and development projects (Forschungs- und Entwicklungsprojekte) are additional characteristics of the country.

The harmonic partnership between trade unions and employers provides a high degree of social accord. Reformation of the social security system and the restructuring of the labour market is intended to reduce unnecessary labour costs and to stimulate economic growth, which is relatively low in comparison with other countries in the European Union.

In comparison with other industrial nations, the German economy has an almost unprecedented international focus. German companies generate nearly one-third of their profits through exports alone, and almost a quarter of the jobs are reliant on foreign trade. This high degree of international activity is most evident where companies compete with others on an international stage. Despite the decline in world trade, Germany’s share of exports has increased at a rate which is above average. In addition, the continuous rise in direct investments by international companies in Germany, and by German companies abroad, merely emphasises the prominent position of the German economy. It is reinforced at a national level by a favourable inflation rate and labour costs, as well as by a stable society. 

Society

At the beginning of the 21st Century society in Germany can be categorised as open-minded, modern and tolerant. Family life is still a very important facet of life in Germany. There have been several measures introduced to ensure equality in society and there has been a noticeable shift in the roles played by men and women over the years. More and more couples are now sharing the housework and the task of raising children, while more women pursue professional careers. Living in harmony with people from different cultures and countries has become part and parcel of everyday life: approximately 9% of the German population now has its origins outside Germany. One marriage in every six sees one of the partners in possession a foreign passport. Holidays also form an important aspect of life in Germany, with the majority of the population traveling abroad for their holidays; in 2002 they spent € 56 billion in the process! 

Armed forces

The German military, the Bundeswehr, is made up of the distinct branches of Navy (Deutsche Marine), Army (Heer), Air Force (Luftwaffe), Central Medical Services (Zentrale Sanitätsdienst) and Joint Service Support Command (Streitkräftebasis), which currently employs more than 250,000 personnel. All men between the ages 18-23 participate in national service in the Bundeswehr for at least 9 months. At present there are approximately 50,000 men involved with national service.

 

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