Europe's strongest economic and industrial power, Germany is also the most populous European country outside Russia. Fertile northern plains stretch south from the North and Baltic Seas changing to central highlands and then rising to the rugged Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in the southwest and to the Alps in the far south. Germans are highly urbanized; about 86 percent live in cities and towns. With one of the world's lowest birthrates, Germany is a magnet for foreign workerssome 7.3 million immigrants live here. Some German industry is well known (Daimler Chrysler, Siemens, and Volkswagen); some, like Transrapid (the maglev railway) and Nordex wind turbines represent new environment-friendly technology.
"Wir sind ein VolkWe are one people," sang crowds on November 9, 1989, as East Germans breached the Berlin Wall. A year later, just after midnight on October 3, 1990, Germany was reborn. One people, divided since the end of World War II, had one country again. Yet German unity is relatively new. Disparate Germanic principalities did not come together until 1871, when the king of Prussia became kaiser (emperor) of Germany. Defeat in World War I cost Germany its empire and left the nation staggering under heavy reparations. Inflation and unemployment hounded the democratic, but shaky, Weimar Republic. By 1933 a demoralized population had turned to Adolf Hitler. Under Hitler, Germany rearmed and invaded neighboring countries, triggering the Second World War, which killed 55 million people and devastated much of Europe. When Germany surrendered in 1945, it lost eastern lands, like Prussia and Silesia, to the Soviet Union and Poland. The Allies divided the rest of the country, and its capital, Berlin, into four occupation zones. This temporary partition persisted as tensions rose between the U.S.S.R. and other Allied powers. In 1949 the American, French, and British zones formed the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the Soviet Union established the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 to stop East Germans from fleeing west.
Rejoining two populations after 45 years of separation has been difficult. The economy in eastern Germany remains weakthe population is declining as young people go west for jobs. A bright spot in the east is Berlin as the construction boom continues in Germany's capital and largest city; tourists come to see the innovative architecture, including the Reichstag building with its new glass dome. A founding member of the European Union, Germany stands to gain from increased trade with the 2004 addition of the Czech Republic, Poland, and others to EU membership. National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition, 2004