Federal Republic of Germany (German Bundesrepublik Deutschland), major industrialized nation in Central Europe, a federal union of 16 states (Länder). 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. Today, Germany is overwhelmingly urban. Berlin is the capital and largest city. Germany 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 Germany a transportation center.
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 one of the world’s largest economies. The country 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 (see German Confederation). 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 faced long-term social and economic challenges as it absorbed millions of new citizens and sought to blend different cultures and institutions. Its difficulties included chronic high unemployment and reduced levels of economic growth. © "Germany" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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