Capital city: Berlin
Population: 80.5 million (Destatis)
Government: Federal parliamentary constitutional republic
Currency: Euro (EUR, €)
Main languages: German, English
Main religions: Christianity, although atheism and agnosticism are also prevalent
Consisting of 16 states governed as a federal democracy, Germany sits at the centre of Europe and its influence on the region is keenly felt both economically and politically. Despite its turbulent twentieth-century history of wars and division, the recovery and growth of the country since the reunification of East and West Germany is remarkable, and residents today enjoy an extremely high standard of living.
With over 80% of the population regarding themselves as ethnically German and well over 90% German by nationality, Germany is less multicultural than some countries in Europe. However, freedom of movement within the EU has seen the country diversify and there are thriving international communities in and around the major cities. Germans are typically stereotyped as efficient, disciplined and organised – all of which have some basis in truth, although wit and irony are just as characteristically German.
A nation of keen travellers, ‘get up and get out’ is an excellent way to summarise the German approach to leisure time. Closer to home, activities including jogging, Nordic walking and cycling are popular with all generations, while younger Germans are increasingly attracted by extreme sports like kitesurfing. Winter sports are also a part of life, while football is the major spectator sport. Organised civic clubs and community groups remain an important part of life, and Germans also enjoy a huge number of festivals such as the famous Oktoberfest. For more information, consult the German National Tourist Board’s interactive map.
Food and drink
As the country that invented the hot dog and the hamburger, it would be easy to write off German cuisine as fast food. In truth, Germany has so many traditional specialities that it is difficult to categorise. Dishes such as Schnitzel and Spätzle come in a number of regional variations, while it’s believed that German butchers produce over 1,500 varieties of Wurst (sausages). Cafe culture is big in Germany, with afternoon coffee and cake a long-time tradition. Although beer is the most famous of German exports, the country has a growing reputation for producing quality wine too.
Although the official language is German, English is widely taught in schools and the majority of Germans are fairly comfortable speaking in English. With an increasing number of European migrants living in Germany, a number of other major European languages are also heard, and English is sometimes used as a common language in more cosmopolitan areas.
Accents and dialects
German is characterised by a range of different accents and dialects, some of which can be difficult to understand even for native German speakers. The major distinction is between so-called High German and Low German, although even these dialects still display vast regional differences.
Germany’s northern climate is temperate, with warm summers and fairly mild winters. As you travel further south and east the weather becomes more continental. Temperatures in summer can reach 35°C (95°F), but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule and the average is more like 20°C (68°F). Snowfall is relatively common in winter but is rarely heavy or prolonged, except in mountainous regions.
Safety and security
Germany is one of the safer countries in Europe, with serious crimes rates fairly low. Theft and verbal abuse are probably the most common criminal incidents. However, it is wise to take precautions such as not travelling alone at night and taking care around large crowds – particularly after festivals or sporting events where large amounts of alcohol are on offer. Germany does have something of a reputation for football hooliganism, but serious incidents remain rare.