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The traditional courier staple of the thumbnail historical sketch is inconceivable for Germany. Its history is just too labyrinthine and confusing. You are better off confining yourself to local histories. The possible exception is the twentieth century. The general themes are well known: WW I, the Weimar Republic, rampant inflation, the emergence of the Nazis, WW II, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, the division of Germany, the economic miracle, the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Wall and Reunification. For this reason, to aid with your commentary, a list of the crucial events in this period is given at the end of this section.
There is always mileage in the stereotypical German themes of efficiency, humourlessness, beer and sausages, Alles-Verboten-Land, cars, money and Christmas.
The following introductory pages are not intended to provide the basis for a coherent commentary. They are just a collection of random facts, figures and curiosities.
Germany today occupies an area of 139,000 square miles. Its population is 82,000,000 (a quarter of the European Union). This figure includes about 5,000,000 Ausländer or foreigners.
Germany has the most archaic and controversial citizenship law dating from 1913. This attributes citizenship by descent only. This means that every year 150,000 children born in Germany of non-German parents remain foreigners and do not have voting rights even though they grow up in Germany.
Politically it is made up of 16 Länder:
The five biggest cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt.
At the time of writing (1998), the Chancellor is Helmut Kohl. If he wins the election in late 1998 he will become Germany's longest-serving Chancellor. (Addendum: But he lost. The new Chancellor is Gerhard Schröder.)
The three biggest companies are Daimler-Benz, Siemens and Volkswagen. Siemens is the nation's biggest employer, with nearly 400,000 employees.
The average working week is one of the shortest in the world at 38.5 hours. Wages are certainly the highest in Europe and are thought to be the highest in the world.
The tax burden is incredibly heavy. Top rate of income tax (1997) is 53%; bottom rate is 26%. These exorbitant rates have been under review for years.
At the time of writing (1998) unemployment is very high. In Germany as a whole it is 11.4%. In western Länder 9.9%, in eastern Länder 18.6%. The figures are projected to fall in the west and rise in the east.
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries account for 1% of GDP.
Industry (construction, manufacturing, mining) 32% of GDP.
Services (government, trade, transport, commercial etc.) 67% of GDP.
Part-time farming (as a supplement to the major source of income) is common in the south, especially in the Black Forest.
Germany is 75% self-sufficient in food. It is the world's fourth largest exporter of food and drink. For goods in general, it is the world's largest exporter, having recently overtaken the U.S.
The economy as a whole is the third largest in the world, a quarter the size of the U.S. economy and a third the size of the Japanese.
Frankfurt-am-Main, home of the Bundesbank and 42,000 bankers, is regularly voted Europe's most boring city. Its nickname is Bankfurt.
The country has virtually no oil reserves and little natural gas. Heavy industry is largely confined to the steel industry (Krupps, Thyssen) and to coal mining which employs 80,000 people.
One third of Germany is covered in forest. Forestry employs 800,000 people. 55% of woodland is in state hands. One third of all trees are sick.
The Green Party is the third force in German politics (after the two main parties of the CDU and SPD).
Recycling is compulsory and, as a general principle, rigorously observed. It is estimated that Germans recycle 50% of glass bottles, 42% of waste paper and 70% of tires.
More Germans travel abroad than any other nationality. Favourite destination is Austria, followed by Spain and then Italy.
Along with the Italians, the Germans are the world's leading spa-goers. There are 20,000 registered spa towns or Kurorte in the country.
German higher education is in long-term crisis. There are currently 1,000,000 university places for 2,000,000 university students.
Between 1820 and 1920 more immigrants went to the U.S. from Germany than from any other country.
The Bavarians (190 litres per head) are the world's biggest beer drinkers but Germany as a whole is beaten into second place by Belgium. The Belgians drink annually 150 litres per head, the Germans only 145.
In the 6th floor food hall of Ka De We, the famous Berlin department store, they serve 1,000 varieties of German sausage.
Shopping hours in Germany are extremely restrictive. They open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. On Sundays they shut. On the first Saturday of the month, shops can stay open longer. Some department stores have late opening on Thursdays until 8:30 p.m.
Hannover in Niedersachsen is the only major town in the German-speaking world that does not have its own dialect, where the ordinary language of daily communication with friends and neighbors is Hochdeutsch.
Some Important Dates in Twentieth Century German History
1871 German Empire, the Second Reich, under Kaiser Wilhelm I proclaimed at Versailles. Berlin is made the capital of Germany
1888-1918 Kaiser Wilhelm II.
1914-1918 WW I.
1918 Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on November 9. End of the Second Reich.
1919-1933 Weimar Republic.
1919 Treaty of Versailles. Imposition of fierce reparations, territorial concessions, military limitations.
1919-1923 Economic crisis, crippling inflation.
1923 Munich Putsch fails. Hitler imprisoned (freed 1924).
1923-1929 Economic recovery, partly financed by U.S. capital.
1929 The Great Crash. Economic disaster. Growth of political extremism.
1933 (Jan) Hitler becomes Chancellor.
(Feb) Burning of the Reichstag.
(Dec) Nazis made sole political party.
1934 Death of President Hindenburg, Hitler becomes Führer.
1938 Annexation of the Sudetenland and then of Austria.
1939-1945 WW II.
1945 Hitler commits suicide April 20. Reich surrenders May 8. Liberation of the Death Camps, revelation of Endlosung or "Final Solution." Allied division of Germany into four zones of occupation.
1946-1947 Beginning of the Cold War.
1947 The Marshall Plan to finance reconstruction of Europe, Germany especially.
1948 Soviet blockage of West Berlin. The Berlin airlift.
1949 Creation of Federal Republic and German Democratic Republic.
1949-1963 German rehabilitation, the economic miracle under Konrad Adenauer.
1961 Construction of the Berlin Wall.
1989 Berlin Wall comes down, November 9/10.
1990 Reunification ratified in the Reichstag, October 3 (now Germany's National Day).
1991 Preparations begin for Berlin to become capital of united Germany.
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