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Europe, Germany

Germany, Federal Republic of (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 did not become a unified 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, with a total area of 356,970 sq km (137,827 sq mi). The country 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 major rivers and canals traverse the country and have helped make it a transportation center.

The country has a total of 83,251,851 people (2002 estimate). Germany is overwhelmingly urban, and most people lead a prosperous, comfortable lifestyle, with adequate leisure time and comprehensive social welfare benefits. 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 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.

Germany has a large and modern industrial economy and 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.

Its central location in Europe has made Germany 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 it 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 and was led by Adolf Hitler. In 1939 Nazi Germany plunged the world into a new global conflict, World War II.

In 1945 the Allied Powers of Britain, 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, 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 elaborate border fortifications to stop the exodus of millions of East Germans to the more prosperous and democratic West Germany. In 1989 the collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe was marked by the breaching of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of German reunification, which was governed under the West German Basic Law, or constitution. The two Germanys were reunited on October 3, 1990, as the Federal Republic of Germany. Despite its joy at unification, Germany faced a variety of social and economic problems as it tried to absorb millions of new citizens and to blend disparate cultures and institutions.

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