Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Germany

My last post on the Nations of the World covered France, and I swore the next time I'd pick an easier country. It hasn't worked out that way, howeever: Germany also has a long and complicated history. In fact, it's been divided into several countries as recently as 1990, all with their own histories and cultures. Today, Germany is united and is one of the economic superpowers of the world. Its chancellor is one of the most powerful and respected women on earth, and one of its citizens now leads the Roman Catholic Church as Pope Benedict XVI.

Total Area: 137,803 sq. mi. (356,910 sq. km.), slightly smaller than Montana
Population: 82,422,299
Language: German
Monetary Unit: euro
Capital: Berlin
President: Horst Koehler (since 2004)
Chancellor: Angela Merkel (since 2005)
Religion: 34% Protestant, 34% Roman Catholic, 3.7% Muslim, 28.3% other

The ancient tribes of Germany resisted Roman conquest with mixed success, establishing the Rhine River as the empire's eastern boundary from 6 BC until the fifth century. German troops served in the roman legions, and Germanic invasions contributed to the fall of Rome.

Most of Germany was united during the reign of Charlemagne in the early ninth century, called the Holy Roman Empire. When Charlemagne died in 843, his empire was divided between his three sons, and the eastern region became the heart of what is now Germany. This gave some political unity to the fragmented German territories, but that unity was fragile. Germans themselves were often more loyal to their local feudal lords than to the emperor, and large areas along the North Sea and Baltic coasts were contolled by commercial leagues rather than by political rulers.

The Hanseatic League cleared the sea of pirates, substituted order for chaos in northern European trade, organized the merchant class into powerful associations, and promoted the liberation of cities from feudal control. In time the league became oppressive, forcing cities into membership by boycotts or violence. Through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it spread German influence over Denmark, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church began to be seen by Germans as unwanted foreign influence, which siphoned wealth out of Germany to support the machinations of the Italian and French popes. With the Reformation of Martin Luther (1517), religious divisions added to Germany's existing political fragmentation. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) resulted in the extinction of the Holy Roman Empire, and left Germany without even a shred of unity. Germany consisted of 39 independent states. Prussia rose to prominence under Frederick the Great, and in a series of wars through the mid-19th century, conquered the rest of Germany.

After the defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia declared the establishment of the German Empire, which reached its apogee under its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Thus Germany became a major European power, with a booming industrial economy, a signifigant colonial empire, and growing military might.

The nation's disastrous defeat during World War I led to the brutal terms of the Treaty of Versailles, making World War II imminent. After the onset of the world economic depression in 1929, Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement gained increasing power, both at the polls and through the activity of gangs of armed thugs who intimidated political rivals into submission. Hitler's annexation of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland eventually led to the outbreak of World War II, which defeated Hitler's regime and left the cities of Germany in ruins.

Germany was divided into West and East territories, symbolized by the Berlin Wall which seperated West from East until the collapse of European communism in 1990. West Germany joined the Council of Europe in 1951, and was admitted to NATO in 1955. East Germany remained overshadowed by the USSR until Germany was reunified in 1991.

By 1996, unemployment was at an all-time postwar high, leading to the election of Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party. Schroeder won re-election in 2002, mostly because he opposed the US invasion of Iraq. Faced with an enduring recession, growing unemployment, and budget deficits, Schroeder was defeated in the 2005 elections by Angela Merkel.

Because much of it was destroyed during World War II, Gemany has been rebuilt as one of the most modern nations of Europe, although it still maintains some of its classical style. Its hospitals and universities are among the best in the world. Germany also boasts a proud literary tradition. The Grimm Fairy Tales are widely renowned, and have inspired hundreds of plays, musicals, and films in dozens of countries.

Germany enjoys one of the highest per capita Gross domestic Products, and is currently a member of the G-8, a loosely knit group of the largest economic powers.

For my previous posts on Nations of the World, click here.

No comments: