Germany is Europe’s most industrialized and populous country. Famed for its technological achievements, it has also produced some of Europe’s most celebrated composers, philosophers and poets.
Achieving national unity later than other European nations, Germany quickly caught up economically and militarily, before defeats in World War One and Two left the country shattered, facing the difficult legacy of Nazism, and divided between Europe’s Cold War blocs.
Germany rebounded to become the continent’s economic giant, and a prime mover of European cooperation. With the end of the Cold War, the two parts of the country were once again united, although the economy of the former east continues to lag behind that of the former west.
Germany’s economic success since World War Two is to a large extent built on its potent export industries, fiscal discipline and consensus-driven industrial relations and welfare policies. It is particularly famed for its high-quality and high-tech goods.
Germany’s export-dependent economy was initially hit hard by the global financial crisis of 2008-9, which triggered the worst recession since 1949. But by 2010, its exports had helped the country to rebound more robustly than most other EU members.
However, an ageing population has led to concern over the continued viability of Germany’s high welfare and health spending. There is also a debate about how to improve integration of the many post-war immigrants whose labour helped fuel the economic boom.
In addition, the former Soviet-dominated east has struggled to catch up with the west since reunification, while people in the west have had to pay a higher than expected financial price for unity.
The pain of Germany’s Nazi legacy remains a sensitive issue. Out of the devastation of the Second World War grew an awareness of the need to guard against any such catastrophe recurring in Europe.
In the 1950s Germany was one of the six founding nations of the European Economic Community from which the European Union eventually developed and in which Germany is a key player. Franco-German cooperation was central to European economic integration in the 1980s and 1990s.
After decades of lagging behind its economic strength, Germany’s international profile has been growing. The country sent peacekeepers to the Balkans and its forces have been involved in operations in Afghanistan. Germany has also taken a firm line with Russia over the international crisis triggered by the latter’s conflict with Ukraine.
The country has famous beer brewing traditions. Beer purity laws dating back to 1516 limit the fermentation ingredients to malted grain, hops, yeast and water.
As the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, among others, Germany’s gift to European music is colossal, while Goethe, Heine, Kant and Thomas Mann are giants in the world of letters and philosophy.