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Federal Republic of Germany (German Bundesrepublik Deutschland), major industrialized nation in Central Europe, a federal union of 16 states (Lander). Germany has a long, complex history and rich culture, but it was not unified as a nation until 1871. Before that time, Germany had been a confederacy (1815-1867) and, before 1806, a collection of separate and quite different principalities.

Germany is the seventh largest country in area in Europe. It has a varied terrain that ranges from low-lying coastal flats along the North and Baltic seas, to a central area of rolling hills and river valleys, to heavily forested mountains and snow-covered Alps in the south. Several of Europe’s most important rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe, traverse the country and have helped make it a transportation center.

Germany is overwhelmingly urban. Berlin is the capital and largest city, although Bonn, which was the provisional capital of West Germany, is still home to some government offices. The principal language is German, and two-thirds of the people are either Roman Catholic or Protestant.

Germans have made numerous noteworthy contributions to Western culture. Among the many outstanding German authors, artists, architects, musicians, and philosophers, the composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven are probably the best known the world over. German literary greats include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Thomas Mann.

A major industrialized nation, Germany is home to the world’s third largest economy, after the United States and Japan. Germany is a leading producer of products such as iron and steel, machinery and machine tools, and automobiles. Germany is an economic powerhouse in the European Union (EU), and a driving force behind greater economic integration and cooperation throughout Europe.

Germany’s central location in Europe has made it a crossroads for many peoples, ideas, and armies throughout history. Present-day Germany originated from the ad 843 division of the Carolingian empire, which also included France and a middle section stretching from the North Sea to northern Italy. For centuries, Germany was a collection of states mostly held together as a loose feudal association. From the 16th century on, the German states became increasingly involved in European wars and religious struggles. In the early 19th century, French conquest of the German states started a movement toward German national unification, and in 1815, led by the state of Prussia, the German states formed a confederacy that lasted until 1867.

Once unified under Otto von Bismarck in 1871, Germany experienced rapid industrialization and economic growth. During the early 20th century Germany embarked on a quest for European dominance, leading it into World War I. Germany’s defeat in 1918 triggered political and economic chaos. An ultranationalist reaction gave rise to the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, which gained power in the 1930s under German leader Adolf Hitler. In 1939 Nazi Germany plunged the world into a new global conflict, World War II.

In 1945 the Allied Powers of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) defeated Germany in World War II. The Allies agreed to divide the country into four zones of occupation: the British, American, French, and Soviet zones. When the wartime alliance between the Western powers and the Soviet Union broke up in the late 1940s, the Soviet zone became the Communist-led German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany. The three Western zones formed the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), or West Germany. Control of Germany's historic capital of Berlin was also divided between the two German states, despite its location deep within East Germany. In 1961 East Germany built the Berlin Wall and other elaborate border fortifications to stop the exodus of millions of East Germans to the more prosperous and democratic West Germany.

In 1989 Germans from the East and West breached the Berlin Wall, an event that symbolized the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the beginning of German reunification. Amid joyful celebrations, the two Germanys were reunited on October 3, 1990, as the Federal Republic of Germany. However, Germany soon faced numerous social and economic difficulties as it attempted to absorb millions of new citizens and blend different cultures and institutions. Many of these difficulties—including chronically high unemployment and reduced levels of economic growth—were among the most important challenges facing Germany in the early 21st century.

Sources

For younger readers

Ayer, Eleanor. Germany: In the Heartland of Europe. Marshall Cavendish, 1995. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

Blashfield, Jean K. Germany. Children's Press, 2003. For readers in grades 6 to 9.

Nickles, Greg, and Niki Walker. Germany. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2001. For readers in grades 4 to 8.

Germany: History

Ayer, Eleanor H.; Helen Waterford; and Alfons Heck. Parallel Journeys. Simon & Schuster, 1995. The true stories of Helen, a Jewish girl, and Alfons, a boy who joined the Hitler Youth. As adults, they publicly speak about the horrors of World War II and the importance of peace. For middle school and high school readers.

Barnouw, Dagmar. Germany 1945. Indiana University Press, 1997. A study of postwar Germany through Allied and German photographs.

Bessel, Richard. Germany after the First World War. Oxford University Press, 1993. Study of the effect of World War II on German society.

Carr, William. A History of Germany, 1815-1990. 4th ed. Routledge, 1992.

Corum, James S. The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War: 1918-1940. University Press of Kansas, 1997. The story of the German air force that secretly reformed itself after World War I to become a formidable force in World War II.

Craig, Gordon A. Germany, 1866-1945. Oxford University Press, 1978. Political and military history through defeat in World War II.

Dulffer, Jost. Nazi Germany, 1933-1945: Faith and Annihilation. St. Martin's, 1996. A study of the Third Reich.

Fuhrmann, Horst. Germany in the High Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 1986. An examination of Germany's political history from 1050 to 1200.

Heyes, Eileen. Children of the Swastika: The Hitler Youth. Millbrook, 1993. A description of the Nazi youth organization designed to foster devotion to the Nazi Party. For high school readers.

Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany. 3 vols. Princeton University Press, 1989. Standard, comprehensive history from the Reformation to 1945; first published in the 1960s.

Nicholls, A. J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler. 3rd ed. St. Martin's, 1991. Concise political history.

Schoonover, Thomas D. Germany in Central America: Competitive Imperialism, 1821-1929. University of Alabama Press, 1998. Germany's role in Central American history.

Spencer, William. Germany Then and Now. Watts, 1994. Two thousand years of German history. For middle school and high school readers.

German Literature

Furness, Raymond, and Malcolm Humble, eds. A Companion to Twentieth Century German Literature. 2nd ed. Routedge, 1997. Surveys the work of over 400 contemporary authors of German-speaking countries.

Garland, Henry, and Mary Garland. The Oxford Companion to German Literature. 3rd ed. Oxford, 1997. Covers literature, philosophy, culture.

Sagarra, Eda, and Peter N. Skrine. A Companion to German Literature: From 1500 to the Present. Blackwell, 1997, 1999. Thorough study of the development of literary culture in the German-speaking countries of Europe.

Schlant, Ernestine. The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust. Routledge, 1999. An examination of what Germans have not been writing about since World War II and why.

Stoehr, Ingo Roland. German literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Camden House, 2000. Traces literary development in the German-speaking countries from 1900 to the present.

Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen, ed. The Cambridge History of German Literature. Cambridge University Press, 1997, 2000. Encyclopedic chronicle of German literature.

Weedon, Chris, ed. Post-War Women's Writing in German: Feminist Critical Approaches. Berghahn, 1997. Comprehensive coverage of often overlooked contemporary female authors.

German Politics, Society, and Culture

Chapin, Wesley D. Germany for the Germans? The Political Effects of International Migration. Greenwood, 1997. The political history of German immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Craig, Gordon A. The Germans. New American Library, 1991. National characteristics molded by culture and history.

Flint, David. Germany. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1994. Examines various aspects of Germany, including population, culture, and industries. For middle school readers.

Hanrieder, Wolfram F. Germany, America, Europe: Forty Years of German Foreign Policy. Yale University Press, 1988.

Maier, Charles S. Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany. Princeton University Press, 1997. A political history of East Germany, focusing on the events of 1989.

McAdams, A. James. Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification. Princeton University Press, 1993. Studies the 40-year relationship between the two Germanies and the problems of unity in present-day Germany.

Nicholls, Anthony James. The Bonn Republic: West German Democracy, 1945-1990. Longman, 1997. Study of the politics and economic conditions of West Germany.

Taylor, Ronald S. Literature and Society in Germany. Barnes & Noble, 1980. Effects of radical social change on authors and their works.

Willett, Ralph. Americanization of Germany, 1945-1949. Routledge, 1989. American cultural influences and the U.S. postwar occupation.

Zelikow, Philip D. Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. Harvard University Press, 1995. Examines the events that led to German reunification.

Contributors

Harrington, Joel E, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University. Author of Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany.

Merld, Peter, M.A., Ph.D. Shepard Stone Professor, Free University, Berlin, Germany. Author of German Unification in the European Context. Editor of The Federal Republic at Forty-Five.

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