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.
OFFICIAL NAME: Federal Republic of Germany
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal republic
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: German
AREA: 134,838 square miles (349,223 square kilometers)
MAJOR RIVERS: Rhine, Elbe, Main, Danube
Germany’s central and southern regions have forested hills and mountains cut through by the Danube, Main, and Rhine river valleys. In the north, the landscape flattens out to a wide plain that stretches to the North Sea. Between these extremes, Germany is a country of incredible variety.
Germany’s location at the heart of Europe has shaped its history both for good and bad. It borders nine neighbors, more than any other European country.
Germany’s largest wooded area, and its most famous, is in the southwest near the Swiss border. This is the Black Forest, a mountainous region full of pines and fir trees. This forest contains the source of the Danube, one of Europe’s longest rivers.
The German government works hard to protect the country’s wildlife. There are 97 nature reserves in Germany, the biggest of which is the Black Forest. Despite these efforts, though, many species are at risk of extinction, including certain species of whales, beavers, and minks.
Germany’s major unspoiled habitats are in two main regions. The flat northern coast is home to sea life and wading birds, while the forested hills and mountains in the south are the best place to find wildcats, boar, ibex, and other large mammals.
The lakes and wetlands along Germany’s coastlines are important stopover points for many migrating birds. The government has set up reserves for the birds’ protection.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Today almost one in every ten Germans comes from a foreign country. That is more than at any time in history. The largest minority are Turkish, who started coming in the 1950s to work. About two-thirds of Germans are Christians.
Germany has been called the “Land of Poets and Thinkers.” Germans are famous in all forms of art, but particularly classical music. Germany’s famous composers include Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, and Beethoven.
President: Joachim Gauck
The opposition Social Democrats and Greens nominated him after the resignation of President Christian Wulff in February over a housing loan scandal, and the governing centre-right coaltion parties agreed to support him.Joachim Gauck, a human-rights campaigner and former East German dissident, became president in March 2012.
Mr Gauck stood for the largely ceremonial presidency in 2010, losing to the government’s preferred candidate Mr Wulff.
Mr Gauck, like the Christian Democrat chancellor, Angela Merkel, has a background in the Lutheran Church in East Germany – he was a pastor there, as was Mrs Merkel’s father.
An active anti-Communist from an early age whose father was exiled to a Soviet forced-labour camp for several years, Mr Gauck was a leader of the opposition New Forum in the last days of the East German dictatorship.
He served in the first and last democratic East German parliament, which put him in charge of investigating the archives of the Stasi secret police.
He continued this task after the reunification of Germany, earning the admiration of all but diehard Communists for his work in exposing the crimes of the Communist era.
Mr Gauck describes himself as a “liberal left conservative”, and has expressed support for the policies of both Social-Democrat and Christian-Democrat coalition governments on a non-partisan basis.
In recent years he has concentrated on campaigning against both left and right extremist threats to Germany’s democratic system.
Born in Rostock in 1940, Mr Gauck has four children by his wife, from whom he is separated. His partner since 2000 is the journalist Daniela Schadt, who will take on the ceremonial duties of First Lady.
Chancellor: Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female chancellor, swept back to power in general elections in September 2009.
Mrs Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), first took office in an 2005. As a result of the vote’s close result, she became chancellor in a “grand coalition” involving the CDU, its Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
In 2009, her party secured another four-year mandate with enough votes to dump the previous awkward coalition with the SPD in favour of an alliance with the smaller, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
The coalition faced the tough challenge of dealing with the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis. Mrs Merkel won plaudits for her calm handling of the situation, but her ability to weather a storm was put to an even more severe test once the full scale of the crisis in the eurozone began to emerge early in 2010.
As one of the richer countries in the EU, Germany was faced with the prospect of having to make huge contributions to bailouts for debt-ridden countries such as Greece, and popular resentment over this triggered a political backlash at home.
In May 2010, Mrs Merkel’s coalition lost a key regional vote, and with it her majority in the powerful upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. The following March, her party also lost the key state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, traditionally a CDU stronghold.
In December 2011, Mrs Merkel told the Bundestag that Europe was working towards setting up a fiscal union in a bid to resolve the debt crisis. But she also also reiterated her opposition to the European Central Bank issuing “eurobonds” backed by all eurozone members.
Angela Merkel became leader of the CDU in 2000 after her predecessor Wolfgang Schaeuble resigned in connection with the party funding scandal that also tainted her long-time mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
She was born in Hamburg in 1954 but grew up in East Germany where her father was a Protestant clergyman. She holds a doctorate in physics.
She divorced her first husband Ulrich Merkel in 1982 and has been married to publicity-shy chemistry professor Joachim Sauer since 1998. She has no children.