views updated Jun 08 2018


Germany as a nation did not exist in minds or on the map during the early modern era. Each territory of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Das Heilige Römische Reich deutscher Nation) was its own entity with unique traditions driven by cultural imperatives, politics, religion, and other social variables, to include language. Drama and theater arts in the German territories saw a proliferation of forms derived from the reception of various literary traditions. By 1780, modern German drama came into its own, but the transition leading to that result was complex. Those forms and traditions that were discarded along the way constitute the story of early modern drama in Germany.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw dramatic forms linked to liturgical uses and ecclesiastical traditions. Oral rituals of the Latin mass were linked to the celebratory cycle of the Christian calendar, to the Christmas and Easter messages of birth, death, and salvation. Dramatic enactment served as an entertaining vehicle reinforcing wondrous truths. Raucous and salacious Shrovetide or Carnival plays (Fastnachtspiele) by the likes of Hans Rosenplüt and Hans Folz, warned Carnival revelers in Nuremberg of the foolishness of their excess just prior to Lent.

The recovery in 1493 of plays in Latin modeled after those of the Roman playwright Terence (c. 190159? b.c.e.) by the tenth-century Saxon nun Hroswitha von Gandersheim legitimized and coincided with the rise of the humanist tradition of the Schuldrama (dramas for schools), plays performed by schoolboy actors and university students so as to hone rhetorical skill and Latin fluency. Philipp Melanchthon's 1516 edition of Terence provided an authoritative textual base for both dramatic form and literary language and served as a catalyst for translation of the plays from Latin into German (1540), thereby assuring the spread of classical models. Whether written in German or Latin, Schuldrama was a constant; theater in Germany remained nonprofessional until the eighteenth century.

Martin Luther (14831546) was leery both of the diversions of medieval pageantry and the pre-Christian worldliness of Greek and Roman plays. His mentor Melanchthon, however, convinced him of the efficacy of placing drama in the service of the Reformation. While some playwrights pilloried the Roman Catholic Church, Luther encouraged the production of plays based on biblical sources. Prodigal Son plays, for example, defined the exemplary Christian life grounded in the precepts of faith-alone theology, while Judith dramas portrayed heroic piety confronting blasphemous tyranny, Judith versus Holofernes representing the Lutheran versus the Roman Church. Lutheran schoolmasters and pastors cranked out German-language plays, spreading a Protestant message to cultural centers (notably Strasbourg) and to most corners of the empire and Switzerland. The Catholic religious orders, but especially Jesuit playwrights such as Jakob Bidermann and Jakob Masen, countered, producing Neo-Latin works, the theatricality of which influenced playwrights well into the seventeenth century.

The most prolific playwright of the sixteenth century was Hans Sachs (14941576). Often parodied because of his unrelenting German-language doggerel, the Nuremberg author absorbed classical and medieval literary and historical sources, authoring 128 tragedies and comedies as well as 80 Fastnachtspiele. Not only did he transmit a version of Terence's Eunuch or the medieval romance Tristan und Isolde to the German imagination, but his Fastnachtspiele toned down the blatant profanity of his predecessors, deploying the Shrovetide message of excess just prior to Lent firmly in the service of Reformation instruction. By the early seventeenth century, Sachs was passé, yet he had written the only texts from the era that are still produced in modern Germany.

During the late sixteenth century, German playwrights also derived inspiration from the Italian commedia dell'arte and from traveling troupes of English professional players who toured cities and princely courts throughout the empire. The brand of theater was decidedly histrionic, focused more on slapstick action than on the word. Nicodemus Frischlin's Caminarius in the court-centered play Julius Redivivus (1585) was a lascivious commedia-type. Duke Heinrich Julius von Braunschweig's braggart soldier in the courtly piece named for him, Vincentius Ladislaus (1592), was as indebted to Shakespearean and Italian models as to classical sources. Also set at a court, Ludwig Hollonius's king-for-a-day play, Somnium Vitae Humanae (1605), drew on French sources. Each drama documents the derivative nature of German drama as well as the significance of princely court festival culture in the era; indeed, the first theater building in the empire was constructed by a Hessian prince for his court in Kassel (16041605).

Comedy, as Cicero had written, was a mirror of laughable life, while tragedy ended sadly. Such views were hardly complex or subtle, and with the variegated dramatic conventions competing for the German stage, what was lacking was a coherent theoretical base. A treatise by Martin Opitz (15971639), Das Buch von der Teutschen Poeterey (1624; The book concerning German poetics) filled the void. The author was a culturally patriotic student of Italian Renaissance poetics who simply translated Julius Caesar Scaliger's (14841558) definitions verbatim into German. Opitz's work became authoritative, spawning a host of learned theoretical publications. Playwrights after Opitz knew exactly what was expected of them and wrote accordingly.

Andreas Gryphius (16161664) was honored as the consummate practitioner of literary art. His five tragedies and two comedies, along with lesser-known dramas, established him as the exemplar of the era's sensibility. Leo Armenius oder Fürstenmord (1657; Leo Armenius or regicide) is a case in point. Set in ninth-century Byzantium, the tragedy's text documents the playwright's indebtedness to both Jesuit and Netherlandic drama, even as the action cast in stately Alexandrine lines (iambic hexameter) expresses the theme of human transience (Vergänglichkeit) coupled with a decidedly Lutheran philosophy of history. The drama explored a sociopolitical issue especially pertinent to seventeenth-century European absolutism: regicide, the Fürstenmord of the title. Subsequent dramas by Gryphius addressed the tragic fate of figures from both the distant and the recent past, for example, that of the English King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649. In Ermorderte Majestät oder Carolus Stuardus (1657; Murdered majesty or Charles Stuart), Gryphius reconfigured the regicide as a martyrdom; the king became a latter-day Christ, a spin reflecting both the playwright's agenda and the political ideology of the absolutist era.

Gryphius's Absurda Comica oder Herr Peter Squentz (1658; Comic absurdities or Mr. Peter Squentz), seems to be a takeoff on A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the protagonist being a German Peter Quince from Shakespeare's "Pyramus and Thisbe" play within a play. Yet research has shown that Gryphius could not have known Shakespeare's text directly, even as he dramatized the tragic comedy of errors derived from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Instead, Gryphius explicitly satirized the ineptness of Hans Sachs, even as he dissembled Opitz's rigid definition of comedy. The oft-performed tragicomedy argued for the admissibility of chaotic absurdity on the German stage. On the other hand, Horribilicribrifax (1663), featuring two preposterous braggart soldiers, was more in line with Greek and Roman comedy, with commedia dell'arte traditions, and with the German conventions of the form. As a result of the cessation of hostilities, the pair is down on its luck and now in pursuit of eligible ladies. The happy-end marriage, a comedic process of reintegration, dramatized pertinent issues after the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War (16181648).

The six tragedies by Daniel Casper von Lohenstein (16351683) focused on protagonists of the Roman, Egyptian, and Turkish past, on exotic figures such as Nero, Cleopatra, and Sultan Sulieman. Grand passions, explicit eroticism, and absolute power drove both the action and the highly charged literary language. Such extravagance commented on and echoed the absolutism of the German empire and marked Lohenstein as a tragedian of skeptical rationalism, the antithesis of a religious playwright. During the eighteenth century, Lohenstein was censured, while a lesser literary talent, the schoolmaster-playwright Christian Weise (16421708) authored eighteen comedies and four tragedies in the tradition of the Schuldrama, plays that anticipated eighteenth-century trends of theater in the service of the Enlightenment.

The publication of Johann Christoph Gottsched's (17001766) Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen (1730; Attempt at a critical poetics for the Germans) a century after Opitz's treatise signaled the shift to thinking in line with the Enlightenment. Opitz had repeated sixteenth-century Italian descriptions of drama. Gottsched looked to French playwrights for his models: to the tragedies of Pierre Corneille (16061684) and Jean Racine (16391699), to the comedies of Philippe Destouches (16801754) and Charles Dufresny (16481724). Gottsched's definitions of comedy and tragedy were proscriptive (rather than merely descriptive), arguing for the adherence to French-inspired classicist form as well as for the moral function of theater.

It was in the sächsische Typenkomödie (Saxon comedy) that Gottsched's moralizing views were realized. For the playwrights from the territory of Saxony, a comic figure's laughable fixationfor example, hypochondriawas considered to be directly related to the character's lack of rationality. Comedy was not laughter for laughter's sake; the play presented both the irrational trait and the process leading to its abandonment. The members of the audience laughed knowingly about the failing and reveled in its correction, a notion in line with the optimistic rationality of the Enlightenment era (Aufklärung).

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (17281781), Germany's prototypical Aufklärer, well knew the moral intent of Saxon comedy. In Der junge Gelehrte (1748; The young scholar), his first truly popular play, he satirized his own precocious intellect. Yet Lessingwasalsoattunedtotheeffectof "sentimental comedy" as practiced by the English, the French, and by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (17151769). If the audience could be moved to tears (comédie larmoyante), this too might effect moral betterment. In this variant, comedy became ever more earnest, and nowhere more profoundly than in Lessing's play Minna von Barnhelm oder das Soldatenglück (1767; Minna von Barnhelm or the soldier's fortune). The protagonists, the lovers Minna and Tellheim, were not only laughable types (Tellheim, a braggart soldier), but also individuals movingly caught up in a near tragic comedy.

With Lessing, German drama came into its own. In 1755, he published Miss Sara Sampson, a sentimental bourgeois tragedy indebted to an English text. His 17. Literaturbrief (1759; Seventeenth literary letter) delivered a massive critique of Gottsched and the French playwrights, even as he championed Shakespeare. With the tragedy Emilia Galotti (1772), he took on the depravity of an absolutist prince bent on the seduction of middle-class Emilia. That the tragedy was first performed at a prince's court assured its impact and Lessing's notoriety. Like Gryphius, he did not shrink from criticizing sociopolitical institutions even as he sought to advance the greatest goal of the Enlightenment, the education of humanity. Nathan der Weise (1779; Nathan the wise) presented his vision of religious tolerance between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in dramatic form.

The era of the Enlightenment in Germany experienced a refinement of literary language. With the exception of the blank verse in Nathan, all of Lessing's dramas were written in prose, it being true to life. During the same period, German theater gradually became professional. The itinerant troupes of players, generally thought of as vagrants, were hired for residence at this court or that. Even though the permanent establishment of a Nationaltheater in Hamburg failed, actors and actresses gained a footing. Furthermore, the Hamburg experiment yielded Lessing's Hamburgische Dramaturgie (17671769; The Hamburg dramaturgy), a compilation of reviews of stage performances in Hamburg and essays on the nature of drama and theater. Most importantly, Lessing took on Aristotle's theory of tragedy, redefining the genre in terms of the Enlightenment: tragedy was to effect not only an emotional response, but also a moral change in the viewers.

Lessing's death in 1781 marked the transition from early modern to modern drama. He had introduced Germany to future directions; it has been argued that Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) drama was a radicalized extension of the Enlightenment. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832) expressed his admiration of Shakespeare in 1771 and went on to write Götz von Berlichingen (1773). Goethe purposefully transgressed against the norms of French classicism, as he passionately depicted the titanic proportions of a very Shakespearean Götz. Friedrich Schiller (17591805) championed rebellious youth in Die Räuber (1781; The robbers), later updating Lessing in the bourgeois tragedy Kabale und Liebe (1784; Intrigue and love), like Lessing's Emilia Galotti an indictment of the depravity of absolutism in Germany. Finally, Schiller's essay Die Schaubühne als moralische Anstalt betrachtet (1785; The stage as a moral institution) went both Gottsched and Lessing one better, laying the groundwork for what was soon to become the drama and theater of the German Klassik.

See also Dutch Literature and Language ; German Literature and Language ; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von ; Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb ; Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim ; Luther, Martin ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von .


Primary Sources

Demetz, Peter, ed. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Nathan the Wise, Minna von Barnhelm, and other Plays and Writings. New York, 1991. Translations of essential plays and writings into English.

Gillespie, Gerald, ed. German Theater before 1750. New York, 1992. Excellent introduction and translation of six plays: Hrotswitha von Gandersheim, Dulcitius; Hans Sachs, Fool Surgery (Das Narrenschneiden); Paul Rebhun, Susanna; Andreas Gryphius, Leo Armenius; Daniel C. von Lohenstein, Sophinsba; Johann E. Schlegel, The Dumb Beauty (Die stumme Schönheit).

Halbig, Michael C., trans. The Jesuit Theater of Jacob Masen, Three Plays in Translation with an Introduction. New York, 1987. Translation of the Latin plays Rusticus Imperans, Maurice, and Androphilus.

Hinderer, Walter, ed. Friedrich Schiller, Plays. New York, 1983. A translation of Intrigue and Love and Don Carlos.

Leidner, Alan C. Sturm und Drang. New York, 1992. Helpful introduction and translation of plays by Lenz, The Soldiers, Wagner, The Childmurderess, Klinger, Storm and Stress, and Schiller, The Robbers.

Listerman, Randall W., ed. Hans Sachs. Nine Carnival Plays. Ottawa, 1990. Helpful introduction and translation of The Nose Dance, The Stolen Bacon, The Calf-Hatching, The Wife in the Well, The Farmer with the Blur, The Evil Woman, The Grand Inquisitor in the Soup, The Dead Man, The Pregnant Farmer.

Secondary Sources

Abbé, Derek van. Drama in Renaissance Germany and Switzerland. Parkville, Australia, 1961. A useful overview.

Aikin, Judith P. German Baroque Drama. Boston, 1982. Chapters on drama to include festival and musical culture.

Alexander, Robert J. Das deutsche Barockdrama. Stuttgart, 1984. An indispensable handbook.

Aylett, Robert, and Peter Skrine, eds. Hans Sachs and Folk Theatre in the Late Middle Ages: Studies in the History of Popular Culture. Lewiston, N.Y., 1995.

Bacon, Thomas I. Martin Luther and the Drama. Amsterdam, 1976.

Eckardt, Jo-Jacqueline. Lessing's Nathan the Wise and the Critics, 17791991. Columbia, S.C. 1993. A useful study of the tradition of scholarship on Lessing as a playwright.

Ehrstine, Glenn. Theater, Culture, and Community in Reformation Bern, 15231555. Leiden and Boston, 2002. Examination of ten plays in a Swiss sociocultural context.

Fick, Monika. Lessing-Handbuch: LebenWerkWirkung. Stuttgart, 2000. The most up-to-date of numerous handbooks on Lessing and his works.

Gillespie, Gerald E. P. Daniel Casper von Lohenstein's Historical Tragedies. Columbus, Ohio, 1965.

Hardin, James, ed. German Baroque Writers 15801660. Detroit, 1996. Up-to-date scholarship and bibliographies on writers including the playwrights Avancini, Balde, Bidermann, von Birken, Gryphius, Heinrich Julius of Brunswick, Klaj, Opitz, Rist, and Stieler.

Hardin, James, and Christoph E. Schweitzer, eds. German Writers from the Enlightenment to Sturm und Drang, 17201764. Detroit, 1990. Up-to-date scholarship and bibliographies on writers including Gottsched, Lessing, among many others.

Hardin, James, and Max Reinhart, eds. German Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation 12801580. Detroit, 1997. Up-to-date scholarship and bibliographies on writers including the playwrights Folz, Frischlin, Manuel, Rebhun, Sachs, Waldis, Wickram, Wimpfeling, and also Luther and Melanchthon.

Hinck, Walter. Das deutsche Lustspiel des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts und die italienische Komödie. Stuttgart, 1965. Valuable study of German adaptations of commedia dell'arte traditions.

Hinck, Walter, ed. Handbuch des deutschen Dramas. Düsseldorf, 1980. An indispensable handbook.

Hoffmeister, Gerhart, ed. German Baroque Literature: The European Perspective. New York, 1983. Informative chapters on dramatic theory, theater, and drama.

The Lessing Yearbook / Jahrbuch. Vols. 1 (1969)34 (2001). Richard E. Schade, managing editor. Scholarship on Lessing and the literary culture of the German Enlightenment.

Michael, Wolfgang F. Das deutsche Drama der Reformationszeit. Bern and New York, 1984. An indispensable handbook.

Parente, James A. Religious Drama and the Humanist Tradition, Christian Theater in Germany and the Netherlands 15001680. Leiden and New York, 1987.

Parente, James A., Richard E. Schade, and George C. Schoolfield, eds. Literary Culture in the Holy Roman Empire, 15551720. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991. Five chapters on drama and theater.

Price, David. The Political Dramaturgy of Nicodemus Frischlin. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1990. Authoritative study of the Neo-Latin playwright.

Schade, Richard E. Studies in Early Modern Comedy 15001650. Columbia, S.C., 1988. An introductory overview of scholarship and chapters on five plays as well as Terence-reception and drama theory.

Spahr, Blake Lee. Andreas Gryphius: A Modern Perspective. Columbia, S.C., 1993. A useful overview.

Wailes, Stephen L. The Rich Man and Lazarus on the Reformation Stage, A Contribution to the Social History of German Drama. Selinsgrove, Pa, 1997. Scholarship on ten plays of the sixteenth century.

Richard E. Schade


views updated May 29 2018


POPULATION: Over 82 million (ethnic German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%, Italian 0.7%, Greek 0.4%, Polish 0.4%, other 4.6%)
LANGUAGE: Standard German (Hochdeutsch)
RELIGION: Protestant; Catholic; Methodist; Baptist; Mennonite; Society of Friends; Islam, small numbers of Jews; Unaffiliated or other


Germany, an independent republic in north central Europe, is one of the continent's largest and most populous nations. Although it has played a pivotal role in European and world history, it has only been a single, unified nation for less than 100 years of its entire history. Originally settled by nomadic tribes, the area that now makes up Germany originally was part of what was called the Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of a cluster of partially independent cities and states. In 1871 the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck succeeded in creating a unified Germany, which subsequently became involved in two world wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), both of which it lost. Following the defeat of Nazi-controlled Germany in World War II (1945) and its postwar occupation by the victorious allied powers, the American, French, and British zones were combined in 1949 to create the democratic Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), while in the same year the Soviet zone became the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Since its inception in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany has been a strong proponent for European unity. It has been an active supporter of the European parliament and of the various councils that have been formed to integrate the economies and political institutions of the member states. Because of its economic strength, Germany has often been referred to as the "locomotive of Europe."

Both Germanys recovered from the devastation of the war with impressive speed. However, progress was faster and more dramatic in the west than in the east, and nearly three million East Germans fled to West Germany seeking improved living conditions and greater political freedom. Finally, in 1961, the East Germans put up the Berlin Wall and sealed off the nation's borders to prohibit all further emigration to the west. In the late 1980s, Germany became caught up in the changes sweeping over Communist Eastern Europe, and the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 became one of the most memorable symbols of the Communist system's ultimate collapse. In March 1990 the East Germans held their first free elections, and the two German nations were reunified on October 3 of that year. The German Democratic Republic went out of existence, and West Germany's constitution, laws, and currency were extended to the east, as well as its market-based economy.

Today, the Federal Republic of Germany is one of the largest countries in Europe. It is a prominent member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a powerful engine behind the European Union integration. Germany advocates for closer political, economic, and defense cooperation among the European countries and strongly supports the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This modern cosmopolitan state actively supports the development of democratic institutions and propagates gender equality. In November 2005 a vote in the Bundestag (House of Representatives or lower house) made Angela Merkel Germany's first woman chancellor.


Germany's main regions are the Bavarian Alps (which form the boundaries with Austria and Switzerland); the South German Hill Region that contains the Black Forest; the Central Uplands (including the Harz Mountains and the Th uringian Forest); and the North German Plain. Major rivers include the Rhine in the west and the Danube, which flows from west to east. Reunified Germany has the largest population of any European Union (EU) state.

Since the 1950s, significant numbers of foreign workers have immigrated to Germany from countries including Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Poland, and other Eastern European countries. By the end of 1991, Germany harbored a foreign population of close to 6 million. As of 2007, 91.5% of the German population were ethnic Germans, 2.4% Turks, Italians amount to 0.7%, Greeks to 0.4%, Polish comprise 0.4% and others account for 4.6%.

Germany consists of 16 federal states called Bundesländer. Federal states have designated governmental powers somewhat similar to those of the United States. Before the unification East Germany had 15 districts. However, they were reconstructed and reduced to five so-called "new states" (die neuen Länder). Hence, following unification, western Germany has 11 Bundesländer and eastern Germany has five.


Standard German, or Hochdeutsch, is the nation's official language, but many different dialects are spoken throughout the country and have a strong influence in most areas. Low German, spoken along the North and Baltic sea coasts and on Germany's offshore islands, is close to Dutch and even English (examples: Standard German Wasser is Low German Water, Standard German Apfel is Low German Appel). Sorbian is a Slavic language spoken by approximately 60,000 people, and a number of different languages, including Turkish, are spoken by Germany's immigrant populations.

Approximately half of all Germans are fluent in English. Many Germans from the former East Germany speak Russian. Also, many Russian Germans who recently returned to Germany speak Russian. About 3% of Germans are fluent in French.


Wanderers Nachtlied
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch:
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur! Balde
Ruhest du auch.

(Translation follows.)

Over the mountaintops
There is peace,
In all the treetops,
You feel
Barely a breath:
The little birds are silent in the woods.
But wait! Soon
You too will be at rest.


The most famous body of German lore is the Nibelungenlied, dating back to ad 1200. Its characters, such as Siegfried, Brunhilde, and Hagen, have become famous to millions through the operas of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle. During World War II, the Allies called the German fortifications along the French border the Siegfried Line. A prominent role in German folklore is played by a set of tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th-century. The Tales of the Brothers Grimm is one of the most frequently translated books in the world.

Another legendary figure in German folklore is Till Eulen-spiegel. He was a 14th century peasant, famous for his wit and irreverence. Impudent trickster, Till Eulenspiegel loved to play practical jokes on people in authority exposing their greed and folly, hypocrisy and foolishness. Till's story was first written down in the 16th century. It then became the inspiration for an orchestral work by Richard Strauss and a poem by Gerhardt Hauptmann.


About 68% of the German population belongs to a Christian Church. An estimated 34% of Germans are Protestants and nearly 34% are Catholics. The Protestants live mainly in the north of the country and the Catholics in the south. Other denominations, some with increasing membership, include Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends. The social and charitable work of the churches is an integral part of German society. Churches provide formidable support for hospitals, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, schools, and day-care centers. At the same time the German Basic Law guarantees freedom of faith and freedom of religion and declares that no one may be discriminated against due to their faith or religious opinions. Even though religion plays an important role in Germans' daily lives, there is no state church in Germany and no control of the churches by the state.

Before the 1930s, Germany had a Jewish population of around 530,000. However, the great majority fled or was killed in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. As of 2008 there were approximately 100,000 Jews living in Germany, a number that is expected to increase. Many of them arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The largest Jewish community in Germany exists in Berlin comprising more than 11,000 members. The inflow of workers from foreign countries and their families brought to Germany religious communities that were previously unrepresented. Hence, today approximately 3 million Muslims live in Germany, most of them coming from Turkey


Germany's many holidays include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Labor Day (May 1), and Christmas. St. Nicolas Day is the Children's most favorite holiday when they

find treats and gifts in their socks in the morning. Many different local festivals are celebrated depending on a region. Similarly, the observance of some religious holidays varies from one region to another. Catholic areas celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi (11 days after Pentecost) and All Saints' Day (November 1), while Lutheran regions observe Reformation Day (October 31) and Repentance and Prayer Day (the third Wednesday in November).

One of Germans' most favorite holidays without a doubt is Christmas. Many Germans decorate their homes with a Christmas tree. In fact, the Christmas tree tradition is believed to have originated in Germany in the 17th century. German Christmas trees are often decorated with real candles. Germans begin their Christmas festivities a month in advance with Christmas Markets or Weihnachtsmarkte. Open each weekend in December in many towns these unique markets sell candles, Christmas trees, seasonal goods, handmade crafts, art, delicious celebration food, warm spiced wine and more. The best Christmas Markets are believed to be in Rothenburg, Nürnberg, Bamberg, Ulm, Augsburg and Munich.

A famous regional German holiday is Oktoberfest. This beer drinking jamboree is held in several different cities in Germany, but the true Oktoberfest is the specialty of Munich. Traditionally this festival is celebrated in October, after the harvest is already gathered. This is the time to get together, relax, sing traditional songs and have lots of fun and drink beer.

Another spectacular local festival is Fasching or Karneval (depending on a region). Except for Oktoberfest, it is the one time of year when many typically sedate Germans loosen up and go a little crazy. Fasching and Karneval celebrations vary from region to region and take place at different times of the year depending on the date of Easter. Some of Germany's best known celebrations are held in Cologne, Mainz, Munich, and Rottweil. But of course Cologne's Karneval is not really the same as Munich's Fasching. Today Fasching and Karneval involve elaborate parades. Marchers often would wear large cartoonish heads lampooning regional and national politicians. Another part of the celebration involves parade royalty (princes, princesses) and a sort of "counter-government" during the season. The highlight of the parade is masks and carnival costumes of all kinds of forest creatures, fairytale characters and such. Participants take great pride in their attire and sometimes spend a year or more to complete their garb. The jolly atmosphere accompanying the parades and intricately crafted masks and costumes with patterns rooted in medieval times, take the observer to the heart of German ancient traditions.


Germans live in a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, the rites of passage that many young people undergo are religious rituals. Both Catholics and Protestants have confirmation ceremonies symbolizing rites of passage from youth into adulthood when one is expected to be mature enough to voluntarily assume responsibility for one's religious faith. A secular rite of passage that marks for the German atheists the transition from childhood to adulthood is a specially-designed ceremony known as the Jugendweihe, or "youth consecration." This somewhat controversial 150-year-old ritual was mainly celebrated in eastern Germany during the past 50 years and is now introduced to all of the Germany's non-religious teenagers.

In addition, a student's progress through the education system considered to be a rite of passage and is celebrated by many families with graduation parties. Marriage signifies rite of passage in societal status. Moreover military or civil service marks passage from teenage years to responsible adulthood for men. German young men between the ages of 18 and 25 are subject to conscription into the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces. At present, the length of service is nine months. Training and garrison duty is usually near the young man's home town. Conscientious objectors can engage in substitute service in hospitals, nursing homes, and similar civil protection organizations. Civil service obligation extends to 100 hours each year for six years.


Popular stereotypes cast the Germans as diligent, industrious, efficient, and rather humorless. However, German humor does exist, but it tends toward the farcical and slapstick. Regional differences make it hard to pin down a national character or set of traits. The division between north and south is older and deeper than that between the formerly divided east and west so that the strong sense of regional pride is incorporated into the federal system of German government and often attributed to personal traits of people. The Rhinelanders of the north are said to be easygoing and good-natured, while the Bavarians of the south are characterized as lively and excitable. Frisians, who live between the North and Baltic Seas, have a reputation for being taciturn and tend to be the object of jokes based on their perceived lack of sophistication. On the whole, however, Germans seem to be more serious and aloof than Americans.

In Germany, it is customary to shake hands when you greet another person. A man waits for a woman to extend her hand before shaking it and in mixed company men shake a woman's hand before a man's. The most common greetings (with regional differences) are Guten Morgen (good morning), Guten Tag (hello), and Guten Abend (good evening). You might also hear the basic hello said as "Hallo." Commonly used Auf Wiedersehen means goodbye and Gute Nacht means good night. Among friends, relatives, and with young people, the more familiar Tschüss! is used in place of Auf Wiedersehen.

As tradition has it, only family members and close friends can address each other by their first names. Others are expected to refer to each other using titles and surnames, although this trend is now changing. Pointing and wiggling the index finger to one's own head is an insult to another person. Instead of crossing one's fingers for luck as in America, Germans squeeze their thumbs. Germans greatly value punctuality. For example if guests are invited for dinner at 7:00 p.m., they will arrive sharply at 7:00 p.m. or just a few minutes later. Guests often bring a small gift with them-a box of candies or an odd number of flowers for the hosts.


Germans take great pride in their homes, spending about 10% of their income on home furnishings and decoration. The destruction wrought during World War II left Germany with a severe housing shortage, which was addressed more successfully in the former West Germany than in the east, although housing prices in the west were very high. In East Germany, families were often placed on housing waiting lists for years. Although the leaders of unified Germany initially promised that conditions in the east would match those in the west by the mid-1990s, housing conditions in the west are still superior. Throughout the country, families generally live in small houses or apartments with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and one or two bedrooms. Young children often share a bedroom.

Germans receive high-quality medical care. Based on 2008 data, the average life expectancy is 76 years for men and 82 years for women. Although Germany has a comprehensive health care system, the government imposed spending limits for drugs, doctors' fees, and hospital costs in 1992 to offset rising health care costs. The German love of beer has taken its toll on the nation's health: alcoholism follows smoking as one of the nation's leading causes of death. Another social challenge faced by Germans is a negative population growth rate. Although improved over recent years, the population growth rate is -0.033%.

Germany's transportation system is one of the best developed in Europe. The country's highway system, called the Autobahn, begun in the 1930s, was one of the first in the world. Today it contains over 10,900 km (6,500 mi) of roads and, unlike highways in the United States, the Autobahn has no speed limits. However, to combat pollution and traffic congestion, Germans are encouraged to travel by public transportation rather than by car; railways and cross-country buses connect all parts of the country. In fact, most Germans take environmental issues seriously. Public recycling bins can easily be found throughout public spaces. Regular apartment buildings have at least six different garbage containers designated for specific kinds of garbage ranging from glass and plastic to biodegradable garbage allowing people to recycle their waste.

In the past Germany was known to be a conservative state. Now, however, its society is shaped by a plurality of life styles and ethno-cultural diversity. In addition to traditional marriages other forms of coexistence are becoming prominent. Traditional gender roles have eroded. Yet, despite all these social changes, the family remains the most important social unit.

Although the unification of Germany took a toll on its affluent and technologically powerful economy, Germany remains one of the strongest economies in the European Union. After the post-unification period of stagnation with an average economic growth rate of 0.7% and chronically high unemployment reaching 14%, Germany attained stronger gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2.6 % and a considerable fall in unemployment to about 8%. The modernization and integration of the eastern German economy is still an expansive affair, requiring roughly $80 billion per year. However, a previous comprehensive set of reforms of labor market and welfare-related institutions in tandem with Chancellor Merkel's economic policies gradually improved and strengthened the German economy. Thus, in 2007, the German GDP amounted to an impressive $2.833 trillion or $34,400 per capita. At the same time, similarly to other EU states, the German economy faces long-term challenges of European economic integration and globalization, high oil prices, tighter credit markets, and slowing growth abroad.


Germans generally have small families with one or two children. Although the father is generally conceived to be the head of the family, both parents usually work. German children are taught to be polite and respectful to their elders, although as teenagers they tend to become somewhat rebellious. Most young people prefer to move out from their parents' house as soon as they enter university or become wage earners. Young people usually marry in their late twenties although it is increasingly common for people to live together before or instead of marriage. Some people prefer legal marriages while others favor religious ceremonies.

The Germans referred to the traditional role of women in terms of "three K's": Kirche (church), Küche (kitchen), and Kinder (children). Today, however, German women enjoy legal equality with men. Similarly to women in other countries German women are challenging the restrictions that have traditionally been placed on them. Because of recent laws protecting the rights of unwed mothers and their children, an increasing number of unmarried couples are living together, either with or without children.


German clothing styles are similar to those in United States, but with a distinctively European flavor. It is difficult to designate a specific German fashion, yet it can be said that Germans are distinguished by a classic yet simple style. Cosmetics are worn but sparingly. Sloppy or untidy attire is considered inappropriate in public. Internationally known German clothing brands include Hugo Boss, Willy Bogner, and Strenesse. Among eminent German fashion designers are Karl Lager-feld, Wolfgang Joop, and Jil Sander. Legendary model Claudia Schiffer is yet another well-known figure in the world of fashion and design.

Traditional regional costumes are reserved for festivals and celebrations. At festivals such as the popular Oktoberfest in Munich, one still sees traditional outfits such as black feathered hats, white shirts, embroidered suspenders, and Lederhosen (leather shorts) for men, and white lacy peasant blouses, black embroidered bodices, and white aprons for women. Regional costumes are especially popular in southern Germany. The traditional journeyman's outfit of the carpenters' guild, for example, may still be seen in some areas. It consists of a felt hat, a black corduroy suit with pearl buttons, bell-bottomed trousers, and a red kerchief worn around the neck.


The traditional German diet is high in starch (noodles and dumplings in the south, potatoes in the north). Würste (sausages)—in hundreds of varieties—are a staple throughout the country, as is bread, which many eat with every meal. While it may be delicious, the traditional German diet, with its cold meats, starches, sugary desserts, and beer, is high in calories and cholesterol, and many Germans are trying to modify their eating habits in order to improve their health.

Most Germans eat their main meal at noon and prefer a lighter, often cold supper. Germans keep knife and fork in their hands while eating. Hands should be kept above the table with wrists resting on the edge and it is considered bad manners to keep hands under the table.

Different regions have their own specialties with every region known for its own kind of wurst (sausage). Weisswurst and Black Forest cherry cake is a specialty of the south, and Labskaus (stew), seafood dishes, and bean soup with bacon (Bohnensuppe mit Speck) of the north. A few other renowned German dishes are Kartoffelsalat (German potato salad), herring salad, Sauer und Suess Gedampfter Kohl (steamed sweet and sour cabbage) and Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes). German luscious desserts include Berliner Krapfen (jelly doughnuts from Berlin), Marzipankugeln (marzipan balls), Apfelpfannkuchen (apple pancakes) and of course Lebkuchen (gingerbread).

In addition, the Germans are famous for their love of beer. German beer gardens date back to the Middle Ages, when brewers planted chestnut trees around their storage areas to protect the beer from the sun. Multiple varieties range from a dark amber, hoppy Altbier and strong, dark Weizenbock to a pale, malty Bavarian Helles, a light, with more prominent hop character Pilsener and a full, bitter-sweet and delicately hopped Spezial. Furthermore, Germans take pride in their sparkling wine called Sekt. This delicious wine is made exclusively from grapes produced in Germany. Sekt is typically less austere and lower in alcohol than French sparkling wine.

Also, Germany produces the loveliest, lightest and most delicate white wines in the world. Low in alcohol and exquisitely balanced, German wines are known for their charm and subtle nuances. The wines made in Germany are extremely diverse, although they do have some commonalities. Especially acclaimed varieties are Riesling, Silvaner, Kerner, Scheurebe, Ruländer/Grauburgunder and Müller-Th urgau.


Education in Germany is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 18. Although it is administered independently by each of Germany's 16 federal states, the basic pattern is the same throughout the country. The four years of primary school (Grundschule) are followed by several different options. Students may spend two years in "orientation grades" and then six years in a Realschule in preparation for technical college, or they may spend five years in a Hauptschule, followed by a three-year vocational apprenticeship. The other principal option is the nine-year gymnasium education that prepares students for a university. In addition, however, some states offer the comprehensive system (Gesamtschulen), a system that had also been used in the former East Germany, where all students attend a single school from the fifth year onward. University attendance is still almost free—students have to pay only a small fee, although this is changing.

Currently, the German education system is undergoing a profound transformation. In this manner, policymakers and university administrations initiated a series of reforms to adapt the university system to new international standards. These innovations involve the switch to staggered degrees such as bachelor's and master's degrees and the introduction of tuition fees and admission tests. Among other changes are the emergence of private facilities for academic training and the development of the stronger strategic alliances between universities and institutes outside the higher education system.

Another important reform in the sphere of education is the "excellence initiative." This initiative is geared toward promoting post-graduate systems, outstanding centers in specific fields of research, and the research portfolios of nine top universities (the LMU and TU in Munich, TU Karlsruhe, RWTH Aachen and the universities of Konstanz, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Freiburg, and the FU Berlin). The goal of the reforms is to strengthen research facilities and to ensure excellence of faculty and high quality of tertiary education. The incentives aim to reestablish Germany's leading position in education on the international level.


Germany is famous for its great baroque, classical, and romantic composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner. Well-known 20th-century composers include Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Karlheinz Stock-hausen, Carl Orff, and Hans Werner Henze. The Bayreuth opera festival has been a national tradition since its founding by Richard Wagner. In literature, among the greatest German names stand Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, Heinrich Heine and Rainer Maria Rilke. Modern German writers include Georg Kaiser, Bertolt Brecht, Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann, Marie-Luise Kaschnitz, Günter Grass, and Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll.

A distinguished name in German art is that of Albrecht Dürer, whose masterpieces embrace both paintings and wood-cuts. In the 20th century, German artists have been associated with expressionism and an artistic movement known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), which advocated greater freedom in art. In 1919, German architect Walter Gropius founded the famous Bauhaus school of art and design, which stressed form based on function.


The total labor force of Germany numbered over 43 million people in 2006. Of these nearly 2 million were foreign workers, including Turks, citizens of the former Yugoslavia, and Italians. The German work day begins early. Many people employed in factories start work at 7:00 am, and most stores and offices are open by 8:00. On average Germans work 40 hours per week, which is also the average work week for the European Union. German men and women retire around 61 years of age.

The largest proportion of Germans are employed in services (nearly 70% of the economy is composed of service industries), followed by traditional industry, with merely 3% employed in agriculture. Germany's top employer is Deutsche Post (German Postal Service). Employing over 500,000 people, its total revenue amounts to $58.58 billion. The second largest employer is a world known electronics company: Siemens. With total revenue of $90.68 billion Siemens provides employment for 461,000 people. Next in line are two of Germany's auto manufacturers, Volkswagen and Daimler AG. Operating on a worldwide scale, Volkswagen develops vehicles and engines, as well as produces and sells passenger cars, commercial vehicles, trucks and buses. Daimler AG is a producer of the Mercedes-Benz, Maybach (luxury automobiles), and Smart (micro hybrid cars) and is the world's 13th largest car manufacturer.

As the success of the Siemens and German auto-manufacturers demonstrates, Germans can boast superior engineering and technological advances. German inventors are credited with a remarkable number of important items. For example, Felix Hoffmann produced the first aspirin tablet, the creation of modern printing press is attributed to Johannes Gutenberg, and Hans Riegel introduced the world to Gummy Bears. Needless to say, German engineered cars have long been the standard for the auto industry worldwide.

The standard of living of Germans is comparatively high even after the economic challenges caused by unification. There is an extended social safety net that provides German citizens with considerable job security. Wages are reasonably high, making the German labor force one of the best paid in the world. However, there are more than 7 million foreigners living and working in Germany, 1.5 million foreigners who have taken German citizenship, and some 4.5 million repatriates. The integration of foreigners and provision of equitable work benefits and salaries have been an on-going challenge.


Most Germans greatly enjoy sports. In 2007 Germany could boast over 87,000 sport clubs, and approximately 27 million people-or one third of Germany's population-are members of sport clubs. In addition, nearly 12 million Germans engage in sports without belonging to any particular affiliation. Sports are usually run by private regional organizations, but they are also supported by federal government.

Soccer (Fussball) is Germany's most popular sport. Some of its teams have international reputations, and its national soccer association boasts over 4 million members. There are thousands of amateur soccer clubs throughout Germany and more than 6.3 million Germans are members of the Deutsche Fussballbund (German Football Federation). In 2006 Germany proudly hosted the FIFA World Cup.

In addition to soccer, Germany has a tradition of world-class gymnasts. Other popular sports include shooting, hand-ball, golf, horseback riding, and tennis (a sport in which the Germans can claim three of the world's top players: SteffiGraf, Boris Becker, and Tommy Haas). Swimming is very popular too and almost every town has a public Schwimmbad (swimming pool). American football and baseball are not very widespread, but are increasing in popularity.

Recreational sports include hiking, bicycling, camping, sailing, and swimming. The mountainous areas have hundreds of kilometers of picturesque hiking trails. In winter, skiers flock to the German Alps to enjoy both downhill and cross-country skiing. Generally, Germans excel at winter sports, and have won Olympic gold medals for luge, bobsled, and speed skating. Recently, Formula 1 race-car driving has become one of the most popular spectator sports in Germany. Particularly it rose in popularity when Michael Schumacher, the German racer for the Ferrari team, won the World Championship two years in a row.


Many Germans enjoy relaxing around the television set; over 90% of the population owns one, and more than half of all Germans watch television on a daily basis. The use of television and radio is not free—people have to pay a small monthly fee. German teens, like those in other countries, like to buy and listen to the latest pop music recordings. The German people enjoy the scenic forest, mountain, and lake regions of their country while engaging in various outdoor activities, including hiking and jogging (special jogging trails are called Trimmdich-Pfade, or "keep-fit trails"). Cultural entertainment available in all major cities and many smaller ones include museums, concerts, exhibits, and historic sites.

Many Germans have as many as six weeks of paid vacation during the year. And Germans love to travel. Common vacation destinations include the beaches of the North and Baltic Seas, and the mountains, such as Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest, and the Harz Mountains. Since Germans love the sun, Italy, Greece, Spain, and even Egypt have become favorite vacation spots for many families. When vacations begin, the Autobahn, Germany's interstate highway system, is usually plugged up by the mass of cars moving south. The Germans call this " Verkehrsstau "—traffic jam.


In their homes or in small shops, German craftspeople still produce traditional works of art and souvenirs. As in many other countries, each German region has its own folk craft tradition. For example Bavarians are particularly known for their wood carvings. As a whole, however, German handwork is famous for its painstakingly crafted intricate decorations and colorful styles. In ancient times German craftsmen used to be organized in guilds and the process of becoming a craftsman involved being a Lehrling (apprentice). Apprenticeship involved traveling from town to town getting employed temporarily by different Meister (masters). Through this process an apprentice gradually perfected and enriched his skills. The remnants of these practices still survive in some parts of Germany.

German Christmas markets are a perfect place to look for German handicrafts. Choice of crafts ranges from traditional German angels and nutcrackers to smoking men, with all kinds aromatic essences rising from their pipes. Handcrafted clocks (including the cuckoo clocks), beer steins, figurines, Christmas ornaments, wooden dolls, music boxes and other types of woodcarvings don't exhaust the list. The Crystal Road and the Porcelain Road in Bavaria are other important centers of centuries-old glassblowing tradition. Running through the Bavarian Forest they offer a wide variety of traditional glass-works and crystal figurines called Hummel figurines. Zwiesel is yet another great place for delicate glass sculptures.

There is no city in the world that manufactures finer cutlery then Solingen. The Solingen tradition perfected over many generations offers Puma's most prominent knives: Universal Jagdtaschenmesser and the famous Great White Hunter. Several other knife producers operating from Solingen include Kissing Cranes, Richartz, Hen and Rooster, Bulldog Brand, German Eye, Hubertus, Herbertz and others.

The Erzgebirge region in Southeast Germany offers its own tradition of craftsmanship. Working in generations-old, family-based workshops, men and women of Erzgebrige carry on a unique tradition of wood-carving, producing objects of singular beauty and universal appeal. Commonly these items reflect popular folk motifs, but no two craftsmen approach them in the same way. In addition to world-famous Räuchermännchen (hand-carved smoking figures), pyramids and nutcrackers and other local crafts, Erzgebirge is also known for ethnic events that include the Bergparade, a traditional once-yearly music parade and the Erzgebirge folklore festival.


The expenses of unification and a worldwide recession weakened the German economy in the early 1990s. The social, political and economic integration of East and West Germany remains an issue. Furthermore, Germany encounters a demographic challenge. The proportion of elderly people in the population mounts while growth rate is at negative 0.03%. Other challenges that Germany continues to confront entail cutting back pollution and resolving the shortage of affordable housing.

Moreover, Germany faces numerous problems caused by the increasing number of immigrants. Discrimination and even violence against immigrants from the Middle East and southern Europe are some of the most prevalent concerns. Returning from the former Soviet Union, repatriates of German descent deepen the problem. To address this challenge, the German government implemented a series of reforms to better integrate immigrants into German society. The reforms made it easier for immigrants to acquire German citizenship. Also, the new immigration law provided for the first time an all-embracing legal framework that considers all aspects of immigration policy.

In addition Germany confronts protracting unemployment at 8 % and inflation of 2%. Since the mid-2000s, the federal government has implemented extensive economic reforms attempting to meet these challenges. Those reforms did address economic stagnation in the short term, but did not completely cure the existing problems. Germany takes a great pride in being a welfare state that considers the social protection of all its citizens to be a priority. However, this comprehensive system of health, pension, accident, long-term care, and unemployment benefits exhibits significant flaws and is in need of fundamental reforms.


For the past several decades, traditional gender roles in Germany underwent significant transformation. If under Hitler, German women were expected to give up work and bear children and were reduced in their social activity to a purely biological purpose, the situation is completely changed now. There has been impressive progress with regard to equal rights for women stipulated in the Basic Law. Based on 2006 data, in the sphere of education girls have outnumbered boys: in elementary schools girls comprise 56% of graduates, and women account for 54% of students in degree courses at universities. Needless to say, more and more women are embarking on professional careers.

German women also established themselves in politics. There is considerable representation of female members in the SPD and CDU, the two main political parties in Germany. Furthermore, the proportion of women in the Bundestag (lower house of the German parliament) is constantly increasing. To compare, in 1980 women amounted to 8% of all members of parliament, while in 2005 this figure had risen to almost 32%. Besides, in 2005 Angela Merkel became the first female German chancellor. Today, Merkel is the leader of a wave of women public servants entering and transforming the local and national political scene.

As of 2008, 67% of women in Western Germany and 73% in Eastern Germany worked. At the same time, men generally have a full-time job, while women, especially those with small children, work only part-time. Although women account for approximately a third of the labor force, men earn higher salaries. Statistics indicate that female workers earn 74% of their male counterparts' pay and salaried staff only 71%. This means that even though women gained power in politics, a large number of women still work in lower-paid positions or are underpaid. And in certain instances women still encounter substantial obstacles. To illustrate, only 15% of university professors are female and only one third of female university students are research assistants.

Furthermore, in a majority of cases women do the prevailing share of housekeeping work. Many fathers enjoy spending time with their children but women, even though employed, dedicate at least twice as much time as their husbands to taking care of their children. In the recent past it was almost exclusively women who have taken parental leave. Yet in the first nine months after introduction of parental support, the proportion of fathers who took leave to concentrate on childcare almost trebled, to 9.6 %.

Although Germany still faces gender inequality issues, the traditional role of a housewife has been very much circumscribed. The German Law provides a firm foundation for German women on their way to true equality. Currently, German women direct their main efforts towards obtaining equality in the workplace and towards achieving equal pay for equal work. And as past experience demonstrates, these efforts have every opportunity to succeed.


Ardagh, John. Germany and the Germans: An Anatomy of Society Today. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

CountryReports.Org. Germany. (11 May 2008).

Eidson, John R. "Germans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Europe). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Eurostat. "EU vs. US Working Hours, Employment, Education & Retirement Statistics." 14 August 2007. (11 May 2008).

Facts about Germany. (11 May 2008).

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.

German Culture site. "German Women and 3 K's." (11 May 2008).

Germany in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1994.

German Embassy, Washington, DC. "Culture and Life". (26 May 2008).

Hargrove, Jim. Germany: Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1991.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1978.

Lye, Keith. Passport to Germany. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992.

My Global Career 500. (23 May 2008).

Oppenheimer, Paul. Till Eulenspiegel, His Adventures. Oxford University Press, 1995.

—revised by A. Golovina Khadka


views updated Jun 11 2018




POPULATION: Over 81 million

LANGUAGE: Standard German (Hochdeutsch); Sorbian; Turkish

RELIGION: Protestantism; Catholicism; Methodist; Baptist; Mennonite; Society of Friends; small numbers of Jews and Muslims


Germany is one of Europe's largest nations, with one of the largest populations. Although it has played a major part in European and world history, it has been a single, unified nation for less than 100 years. The area that now makes up Germany originally was a cluster of partially independent cities and states. In 1871 the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck created a unified Germany. In this century, Germany fought in two world wars (World War I, 19141918, and World War II, 19391945), and lost both.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the nation was divided by the countries that had defeated it: the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The American, French, and British zones were combined in 1949 to create the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). That same year, the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Germany was separated for four decades.

Both Germanys recovered from the damage of the war with impressive speed. However, progress was faster and more dramatic in the West than in the East. Because of this, nearly three million East Germans eventually fled to West Germany, seeking better lives. Finally, in 1961, the East Germans put up the Berlin Wall and sealed off the nation's borders.

In the late 1980s, however, Germany became caught up in the changes sweeping communist Eastern Europe. The destruction of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 became one of the most important symbols of the communist system's collapse. In March 1990, the East Germans held their first free elections. The two German nations were reunited on October 3, 1990.


Germany's main regions are the Bavarian Alps (which form the boundaries with Austria and Switzerland), the South German Hill Region, the Central Uplands, and the North German Plain. Major rivers include the Rhine in the west and the Danube, which flows from west to east.

Germany has the second largest population of any European countryover 81 million. More than 90 percent of the people are ethnic Germans, descended from Germanic tribes. Since the 1950s, significant numbers of foreign workers have come into Germany from countries including Turkey, Italy, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia. By the end of 1991, Germany had a foreign population of close to 6 million.


Standard (or High) German is the nation's official language, but many other dialects are spoken throughout the country. Low German is spoken along the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts and on Germany's offshore islands. It has some features in common with Dutch and even English (examples: Standard German Wasser, Low German Water; Standard German Apfel, Low German Appel ). Sorbian is a Slavic language spoken by approximately 60,000 people in eastern Germany. A number of different languages, including Turkish, are spoken by Germany's immigrant populations.

Germans must get government approval for the names of their children. Male children must have obviously male names, and female children must have obviously female names. Names must also be chosen from a pool of distinctly German names. These include Dieter and Helmut for boys and Katarina and Christa for girls.



The most famous German folktale is the Nibelungenlied dating back to ad 1200. Its characters, including Siegfried, Brunhilde, and Hagen, have become famous around the world through the operas of Richard Wagner (181383).

Another important set of tales was collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the nineteenth century. Tales of the Brothers Grimm is the second most frequently translated book after the Bible.


About 30 percent of Germans belong to the official Protestant church. An estimated 28 percent of the population is Catholic. The Protestants live mainly in the north, and the Catholics, in the south. Other Christian denominations include Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Before the 1930s, Germany had a Jewish population of about 530,000. However, the great majority fled or were killed by the government during World War II (193945). Today, only about 40,000 Jews live in Germany. Most of these are recent refugees from Russia. Muslims (followers of Islam) now account for nearly 3 percent of the population. They are mostly guest workers from Turkey.


Germany's legal holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Good Friday (late March or early April), Easter (late March or early April), Pentecost (in May), Labor Day (May 1), and Christmas (December 25). Many different local and regional festivals are celebrated as well. Even the observance of some religious holidays varies from one region to another. Catholic areas celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi (eleven days after Pentecost) and All Saints' Day (November 1). Lutheran regions observe Reformation Day (October 31) and Repentance and Prayer Day (the third Wednesday in November). In December, there are special Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkte) in many towns. They sell candles, Christmas trees, and other seasonal goods.


Germans live in a modern, industrialized Christian country. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, many familes mark a student's progress through the education system with graduation parties.

German young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are subject to being drafted into the armed forces. As of the late 1990s, the length of service was one year. Duty is usually near a young man's home town. The German armed forces are an important part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense alliance. Conscientious objectors (people whose religious beliefs do not allow them to participate in warfare) can engage in substitute service in hospitals, nursing homes, and similar institutions. As of the late 1990s, conscientious objectors' service obligation was fifteen months.


Germans are usually thought of as hardworking, efficient, and without a sense of humor. These are stereotypes, of course, but there is some truth to them. Regional differences make it hard to pin down a national character or set of traits. The division between north and south is older and deeper than that between the formerly divided East Germany and West Germany. The Rhine-landers of the north are said to be easygoing and good-natured, while the Bavarians of the south are thought of as lively and excitable. Frisians, who live between the North Sea and Baltic Sea, have a reputation for being quiet and unsophisticated.

On the whole, however, Germans tend to be more serious and aloof than Americans. In Germany, it is customary to shake hands when you greet another person.

The most common greetings (with regional differences) are Guten Morgen (good morning), Guten Tag (hello), Guten Abend (good evening), and Gute Nacht (good night). Auf Wiedersehen means "goodbye."


Germans take great pride in their homes; most spend about 10 percent of their income on home furnishings and decoration. Families live in small houses or apartments with a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and one or two bedrooms. Young children often share a bedroom.

Germans receive high-quality medical care, and the life expectancy (the average age a person can expect to live to) is seventy-two years for men and seventy-nine years for women. The German love of beer has taken its toll on the nation's health: alcoholism follows smoking as one of the nation's leading causes of death.


Most Germans have small families, and Germany today has one of the world's lowest birthrates.

German children are taught to be polite and respectful to their elders. An increasing number of unmarried couples are living together, either with or without children. In fact, a recent study found that 40 percent of German couples under the age of thirty-five are not married. About three out of every ten German marriages end in divorce.

Traditionally, Germans referred to the role of women in terms of "three K's": Kinder (children), Kirche (church), and Küche (kitchen). Today, however, German women have legal equality with men. Like others throughout the world, German women are challenging the restrictions that have been placed on them. Although women account for roughly a third of the labor force, men still are usually paid higher salaries.


Germans wear modern Western-style clothing for everyday and formal occasions. However, at festivals such as the popular Oktoberfest in Munich, one may still see traditional clothes such as black feathered hats, white shirts, embroidered suspenders, and Lederhosen (leather shorts) for men. On such occassions, women will wear lacy white peasant blouses, black embroidered bodices, and white aprons.

Regional costumes are especially popular in southern Germany. The traditional outfit of the carpenters' guild (craft association), for example, may still be seen in some areas. It consists of a felt hat, a black corduroy suit with pearl buttons, bell-bottomed trousers, and a red kerchief worn around the neck.


The traditional German diet is high in starch (noodles and dumplings in the south, potatoes in the north). Würste (sausages)in hundreds of varietiesare a staple throughout the country. Bread is usually eaten at every meal. In addition, the Germans are famous for their love of beer.

Various regions have their own special foods. They include Weisswurst (light-colored sausage) and Black Forest cherry cake in the south. Labskaus (stew), seafood dishes, and bean soup with bacon (Bohnensuppe mit Speck ) are favorites in the north. Spaetzle, tiny dumplings, are enjoyed by all Germans. A recipe for spaetzle follows.




  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth (canned is fine)
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup bread crumbs


  1. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. In a smaller bowl, blend broth, eggs, and milk.
  3. Add liquid to flour mixture, beating vigorously for about 2 minutes.
  4. Force dough through a large-holed colander.
  5. Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. Gently add the dough bits, and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Spaetzle will float to the surface when done.
  6. Drain spaetzle and rinse with cold water.
  7. Melt butter in a skillet, and add boiled spaetzle. Cook, shaking the pan, until the spaetzle are lightly browned. Sprinkle finished spaetzle with bread crumbs and serve.

While it may be tasty, the traditional German diet, with its cold meats, starches, sugary desserts, and beer, is high in calories and cholesterol. Many Germans are trying to change their eating habits in order to improve their health.

Most Germans eat their main meal at noon and prefer a lighter, often cold, supper. Germans keep the knife and fork in their hands while eating and consider it bad manners to place a hand under the table, on one's lap.


Education is free and required between the ages of six and eighteen. After four years of primary school (Grundschule), there are different roads students may take. They may spend two years in "orientation grades" and then six years in a Realschule in preparation for technical training. Or they may spend five years in a Hauptschule, followed by a three-year apprenticeship, a system in which a student learns a trade by working alongside a skilled worker.

The other option is a nine-year gymnasium program that prepares students for a university education. In addition, however, some states offer the comprehensive system (Gesamtschulen), in which all students attend a single school from the fifth year onward. This system was also used in the former East Germany. University attendance is free of charge.


In music, Germany is famous for its great composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750), Ludwig van Beethoven (17701827), Felix Mendelssohn (180947), Robert Schumann (18861963), Johannes Brahms (183397), and Richard Wagner (181383). Well-known twentieth-century composers include Paul Hindemith (18951963), Kurt Weill (190050), Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928), Carl Orff (18951982), and Hans Werner Henze (1926).

In literature, Germany's greatest names include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832), Friedrich von Schiller (17591805), Heinrich Heine (17971856), and Rainer Maria Rilke (18751926). Modern German writers include Bertolt Brecht (18981956), Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann (18751955), Günter Grass (1927), and Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll (191785).

A great early name in German visual arts is that of Albrecht Dürer, whose masterpieces include both paintings and woodcuts. In the twentieth century, German artists worked in the Expressionist movement. In 1919, German architect Walter Gropius founded the famous Bauhaus school of art and design. This school had a great influence on architecture around the world.


The total labor force of Germany numbers over 37 million people. Of these, nearly two million are foreign workers, including Turks, citizens of parts of the former Yugoslavia, and Italians.

The German workday begins early. Many people employed in factories start work at 7:00 am, and most stores and offices are open by 8:00. Laborers in industry usually work a little more than thirty-five hours a week. Two of Germany's largest employers are auto manufacturers. Daimler Chrysler (producer of the Mercedes-Benz) employs over 320,000 people worldwide. Volkswagen has a total work-force throughout the world that is nearly as large. Nearly half of all German workers belong to labor unions.

The standard of living of the Germans is very high. It is higher, in fact, than in any previous generation. There is an extensive social security net and job security is very important. Wages are high, making the German labor force one of the best paid in the world. The German currency, the Deutsche Mark (German Mark), ranks among the strongest currencies in the world.


Football (the game that Americans call soccer) is Germany's most popular sport. Some German teams have an international reputation, and the national soccer association has over four million members. Germany has a tradition of world-class gymnasts. Other popular sports include shooting, handball, golf, horseback riding, and tennis. In tennis, Germany has produced two recent world masters: Steffi Graf and Boris Becker.

Recreational sports include hiking, bicycling, camping, sailing, and swimming, as well as both downhill skiing and cross-country skiing in the country's alpine regions.


Many Germans enjoy relaxing around the television set. Over 90 percent of the population owns a TV, and more than half of all Germans watch television daily. The use of television and radio is not free; people have to pay a small monthly fee. However, both television and radio are nearly free of commercials.

The German people enjoy the scenic forest, mountain, and lake regions of their country while engaging in hiking and jogging, and other outdoor activities. Cultural activities available in all major cities and many smaller ones include museums, concerts, exhibits, and historic sites.

Most Germans have as many as six weeks of paid vacation during the year. Vacation destinations include the mountains and the beaches of the North and Baltic seas. Since Germans love the sun, Italy, Greece, Spain, Egypt, and Florida have become favorite vacation spots for many families.


In their homes or in small shops, German craftspeople still produce works of art and souvenirs, including the cuckoo clocks for which they are famous. The wood carvings produced in Bavaria are world-famous.


The high cost of the unification of East and West Germany, plus a worldwide recession, weakened the German economy in the early 1990s. Other challenges facing Germany include reducing pollution and providing enough housing at prices people can afford. As unemployment has increased, tensions between immigrants and Germans have led to discrimination and even violence.

The area that was East Germany still requires much social and economic rebuilding to make up for the lower living standards that took place there under the communist government.


Germany in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1994.

Hargrove, Jim. Germany. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1991.

Lye, Keith. Passport to Germany. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992.

Porter, Darwin. Frommer's Comprehensive Travel Guide (Germany '95). New York: Prentice-Hall Travel, 1994.


German Embassy, Washington, DC. [Online]Available, 1998.

German Tourism Bureau. [Online] Available, 1998.


views updated Jun 11 2018


ETHNONYMS: Alemanes (Spanish), Allemands (French), Deutschen (German)


Identification. The Germans are a cultural group united by a common language and a common political heritage. In the past, the term "German" could rightly be applied to many of those now regarded as Dutch, Swiss, or Austrian. These peoples developed separate identities as their lands split Politically from a broader German area. Other regional identitiesfor example, Bavarian, Prussian, Saxon, and Swabianwere largely subordinated to a common German identity in the course of a nationalist movement that began during the Napoleonic Wars and led to the founding of the German Reich in 1871. Today's Germans include especially the citizens of the newly reunited Federal Republic of Germany, though enclaves of ethnic Germans persist in parts of eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.

Location. Germany fits roughly between 47° and 55° N and 6° and 15° E. Prior to World War II, however, Germany included other surrounding territories and extended eastward into what is now Poland and the western regions of the former Soviet Union. The German terrain rises from the Northern coastal plain to the Bavarian Alps in the south. The Rhine, Weser, Elbe, and Oder rivers run toward the north or northwest, emptying into the North and Baltic seas and draining northern, central, and southwestern Germany. The Danube has its source in the Black Forest and then runs eastward, draining southern Germany and emptying eventually into the Black Sea. Germany has a temperate seasonal climate with moderate to heavy rainfall.

Demography. Following normal modern European patterns, Germany's population rose from about 25 million in 1815 to 67 million in 1914, despite the loss of more than 3 million emigrants. The population continued to rise in the first half of this century, though this trend was hindered by heavy losses in the two world wars. When World War II ended, approximately 7 million ethnic Germans left Eastern Europe and resettled in Germany. An additional 3 million East Germans fled to West Germany before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The current population of Germany is estimated to be about 78,000,000, with 61,500,000 residing in the western Länder, or federal states, and 16,500,000 in the new states of former East Germany. In 1986 West Germany's growth rate was slightly negative and East Germany's nearly zero. The population is, however, augmented by more than 4.5 million foreign workers and a new wave of immigrants from eastern Europe. Since antiquity, Germany's largest settlements have been located along the river valleys and the northern coast. Today, three-quarters of the population occupies urban settlements in these areas. Nevertheless, less than half of about 100 independently administered cities in Germany have a population of more than 200,000, and only three citiesBerlin, Hamburg, and Munichhave more than a million inhabitants.

linguistic Affiliation. German belongs to the Germanic Branch of the Indo-European Family of languages. The major German dialect groups are High and Low German, the Languages of the southern highlands and the northern lowlands, respectively. Low German dialects, in many ways similar to Dutch, were spoken around the mouth of the Rhine and on the northern coast but are now less widespread. High German dialects may be divided into Middle and Upper categories, which, again, correspond to geographic regions. The modern standard is descended largely from East Middle High German and was shaped in part by the Lutheran Bible and by the language of officialdom in the emerging bureaucracies of the early modern period. The standard was firmly established with political unification in the late nineteenth century, and twentieth-century migrations have further contributed to dialect leveling. Nevertheless, local and regional dialects have survived and in some places have reasserted themselves.

History and Cultural Relations

German-speaking peoples first entered the historical record when tribal groups migrating southward reached the Roman frontiers along the Rhine and the Danube. Some crossed over and merged with southern or western European populations; others stayed behind to farm or to build on the outposts abandoned by Rome. In the Middle Ages, the area now known as Germany presented a variegated sociogeographic landscape, characterized by both peasant agriculture and riverine and coastal commerce. Rival royal and noble houses sought to establish administrative bases through expanding their domains, controlling clerical appointments, or, by the thirteenth century, colonizing the eastern marches. As the struggles among emperors, popes, and nobles continued, many cities enjoyed political autonomy and prosperity. Urban manufacture and commerce suffered during the Religious wars, when the German princes tried to co-opt the church administration and consolidate their territories. Conflicts beginning with the Protestant Reformation culminated in the Thirty Years' War, which devastated central Europe economically and fragmented it politically. By 1648 Germany was divided into more than 300 small principalities. France's revolutionary army struck the first blow for centralization by bringing western Germany under direct French rule and organizing the rest of Germany into a handful of tributary states. On the eve of Napoleon's defeat, Germany spawned a nationalist movement that in many ways anticipated similar movements in eastern Europe and the third world. Because of its famous army and the industrial strength of its newly acquired Rhine Province, Prussia prevailed over Austria in the struggle for intra-German hegemony. Germany was united in 1871 under a partially liberalized but still largely autocratic Prussian regime. Germany's bid for global hegemony failed in World War I and again under Hitler in World War II. In 1949 the zones occupied by the French, British, and Americans combined to form the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and later that same year the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The two German states persisted as Western and Soviet client states until 1989, when reform in the Soviet Union contributed to the fall of the East German regime. The new German currency union was formed on 1 July 1990, and political unification followed on 3 October.


Industry and Trade. The tradition of urban handicrafts and riverine commerce, large and readily available coal deposits, and economic and political union all contributed to the dramatically successful industrialization of the Rhine-Ruhr region and the Elbe River valley in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Following World War II, West Germany again emerged as one of the strongest economies of the West European industrial core. East Germany's socialist economy was successful by Eastern bloc standards, but it crumbled when it was incorporated into the West German market. In the last decade of the twentieth century, the new federal states of the east face wholesale rebuilding. Germans describe their economy as a "social market," where the welfare state ameliorates the extreme effects of competitive private enterprise. Automobiles, aircraft, chemicals, machine tools, and optical and electronic equipment are among the most Important products of Germany's export-oriented economy. German industry is distinguished by long-range planning; cooperation between private enterprise, government, banks, and unions; and a highly skilled work force. In the postwar period, West Germany has traded primarily with European Community partners and NATO allies, but the reunited Germany is renewing traditional trade relationships with eastern Europe and the peoples of the former Soviet Union.

Agriculture and Land Tenure. In Germany, the reform of feudal land tenure was not completed until the late nineteenth century. East of the Elbe, where Prussian nobles had managed large estates, reform resulted in the creation of a landless rural proletariat. Peasants of the highly subdivided southwest were often forced to migrate either to the cities or overseas, though some became owners of small farms. The free northern peasantry was most successful in making the transition from feudal obligations to private ownership, though here too expropriation and consolidation were Common. The Nazis espoused an agrarian ideology, but the trend toward industrialization and rural depopulation continued. The southwestern and northern zones now lie in former West Germany, where 5 percent of the work force is employed on privately owned farms averaging just 16 hectares. Under the now defunct East German regime, the Prussian estates were transformed into large-scale, state-run agricultural enterprises, which employed 11 percent of the work force. In both regions, further reduction in agricultural production may be anticipated, since the state subsidies that sustained it have been withdrawn or are under attack.

Division of Labor. Germany's work force includes laborers, entrepreneurs, clerical workers and other employees, managers and administrators, and professionals. Class Membership is determined partly through education and Individual ability and partly through family background. German labor is represented by well-organized and aggressive unions, which, however, often cooperate with capital and the state in long-range economic planning. German women are accorded equality in the workplace de jure, though equal pay, child care, maternity benefits, and abortion are still subjects of debate and shifting legislation.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The Germans trace descent bilaterally and employ an Eskimo kinship terminology. Many of the standard kin terms are recognizable as English cognates, though there is some variation by dialect.

Marriage and Domestic Unit. Today's marriages are Individualistic "love matches" but similarities in class, ethnicity, and religious affiliation are often considerations in these matches. The household is based on the nuclear family, which joins occasionally with members of a wider kindred in the course of the annual festive cycle. Divorce is a legally codified dissolution of marriage; Germans resort to divorce in about three out of ten cases. Since recent legislation protects the rights of unwed mothers and their offspring, many Germans are forgoing or postponing marriage: in 1987 an estimated 40 percent of West German couples under 35 were unwed.

Inheritance. Rights to private property and legal Inheritance, guaranteed by the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, are typically exercised within the nuclear family or the wider kindred. Now that East Germany is subject to West German law, the courts will be busy resolving the conflicting claims to property resulting from a half-century of expropriation under the Nazi and Socialist party regimes.

Socialization. Germany's school system differs from state to state, but in most cases students are split between vocational and university preparatory tracks. The vocational track includes nine years of school and further part-time vocational training, with a paid apprenticeship. The university preparatory track requires attendance at the humanistic Gymnasium and successful completion of the Abitur, a university entrance examination. Germany has a highly differentiated System of higher education, including sixty-two universities and technical colleges in former West Germany and fifty-four in former East Germany.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Modern German voluntary associations, or Vereine, first appeared among the bourgeoisie during the Enlightenment but spread throughout the population as laws governing free assembly in the various German states were liberalized in the course of the nineteenth century. Prior to 1848, voluntary associations were typically both nationalist and republican in orientation. After the founding of the Reich, they split into politically opposed bourgeois, Catholic, and working-class blocs. Under the Third Reich, Germany's dense network of voluntary associations was co-opted by the Nazi party. East Germany's Socialist Unity party pursued a similar strategy but, again, with less success. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany guarantees German citizens the right to free assembly, and voluntary associations are correspondingly numerous. Today, club life helps shape the local festive calendar and is an important constituent of local identities and status relations. Many local associations belong to umbrella organizations and thus help integrate members into social networks beyond the community.

Political Organization. The Federal Republic of Germany has succeeded in realizing many of the liberal reforms first proposed at the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 and first attempted during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Germany is now a parliamentary democracy, where public authority is divided among federal, state, and local governments. In federal elections held every four years, all citizens who are 18 or older are entitled to cast votes for candidates and parties, which form the Bundestag, or parliament, on the basis of vote distribution. The majority party or coalition then elects the head of the government. Similarly, states and local communities elect parliaments or councils and executives to govern in their constitutionally guaranteed spheres. Each state government also appoints three to five representatives to serve on the Bundesrat, or federal council, an upper house that must approve all legislation affecting the states. Germany's most important political parties are: the Christian Democratic Union and its corresponding Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union; the Social Democratic party; the Free Democratic party; the Greens; and the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the East German Socialist Unity party. In the latter 1980s, the right-wing Republican party gained some seats in local and regional councils, but after the fall of the East German regime their constituency dwindled. The first free all-German national election since 1932 was held on 2 December 1990 and resulted in the confirmation of the ruling Christian Democratic/Free Democratic coalition.

Germany's free press produces hundreds of daily newspapers with a total circulation of 25 to 30 million. Post, telephone, and telegraph facilities are federally owned and managed. Radio and television stations are "corporations under public law," which are run by autonomous bodies and monitored by political parties in proportion to their representation in state and federal parliaments. These measures are intended to prevent the media from being manipulated for propaganda purposes, as they were by the Nazis and, with somewhat less success, by the former East German government. As of 1973, East Germans had legal access to West German television broadcasts, which contributed in no small measure to undermining the legitimacy of the Socialist regime.

Social Control. It has often been noted that German Society still retains a small-town ethos, which arose in the early modern period under conditions of political and economic particularism. Indeed, many Germans adhere to standards of Bürgerlichkeit, or civic morality, that lend a certain neatness and formality to behavior in everyday life. Public standards are further enforced by a strong emphasis on the rule of law. This is, perhaps, in part a legacy of Germany's bureaucratic tradition and in part a response to the criminal activities of the Hitler regime. Today, Germany is regulated by a larger body of legislation than exists in either Britain or France.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The Germans have been predominantly Christian since the early Middle Ages. A large German-Jewish minority was driven out or destroyed by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945; it is represented today by a returning community of perhaps 100,000. Approximately 56 percent of all Germans are Protestant and 37 percent Roman Catholic. Protestant populations are concentrated in the northern, central, and eastern regions, and Catholics predominate in the south and in the Rhineland. Since the eighteenth century many Germans have opted for secular alternatives to religion, including rationalism, romanticism, nationalism, socialism, and, most recently, consumerism or environmentalism.

Ceremonies. Germany's festive calendar includes a cycle of Christian holidays, which are observed especially but not exclusively by Catholics. In October, many towns celebrate harvest festivals that combine regional traditions with Modern tourist attractions. Carnival, or Fastnacht, is celebrated throughout Germany but especially in the Rhineland and the south. The carnival season begins on 11 November and ends on Mardi Gras with parades and "fools' assemblies" organized by local voluntary associations.

Arts. Germans have made major contributions to all of the typically Western fine arts, especially music. The folk traditions of Germany's various provinces declined with industrialization and urbanization, but some are still maintained as expressions of local patriotism or in connection with the promotion of tourism. A distinctively German cinema had its origins in the Weimar Republic and was revived in West Germany after the war. Postwar themes in German literature and cinema include especially the Nazi past, the Westernized or Socialist present, and resulting problems of German identity.

Medicine. Germans were among the leaders in the Development of both Western biomedicine and national health insurance. Biomedical health care in Germany is extensive and high-quality. Alongside biomedicine there is a strong German tradition of naturopathic medicine, including especially water cures at spas of various kinds. Water cures have been opposed by some members of the West German biomedical establishment but are regularly subsidized by statutory West German health insurance agencies.

See alsoAustrians; German Swiss; Silesians


Applegate, Celia (1990). A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ardagh, John (1987). Germany and the Germans: An Anatomy of Society Today. New York: Harper & Row.

Craig, Gordon (1982). The Germans. New York: Meridian.

Lowie, Robert H. (1954). Toward Understanding Germany. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peukert, Detlev (1987). Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life. London: B. T. Batsford.

Spindler, George (1973). Burgbach: Urbanization and Identity in a German Village. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Walker, Mack (1971). German Home Towns. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.



views updated May 21 2018




Identification. The estimated 2,038,341 Germans who lived in Russia as of January 1989 constituted the single largest ethnic minority group without a settlement area of its own. Compared to the more than 100 other non-Russian nationalities living in the Soviet Union, the Germans are the fifteenth-largest ethnolinguistic group.

Location. Just before and during the Nazi offensive on Russia that began on 22 June 1941 and lasted until 1944, the entire Soviet German population was deported from their settlements in the European part of Russia to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Soviet Central Asia, which, depending on the case, they were strictly forbidden to leave until 1955 or even 1956. Subsequent internal migrations led to the formation of new and concentrated settlements. According to 1989 figures, 41 percent of all Soviet settlements where Germans were in the majority were in Russia itself; 47 percent in Kazakhstan; 5 percent in Kirgizia; and 2 percent in Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, and the Ukraine respectively; the rest lived in the Baltic states and in Transcaucasia, Moldavia, and Byelorussia. Very few Germans lived in settlements with an existing German majority. Settlements of this kind came into being in the Altai, Omsk, and Orenburg regions and in northern Kazakhstan at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, Germans have remained in the minority.

Demography. The January 1989 census showed the male-female ratio within the German population of the Soviet Union to be 51 percent to 49 percent. The estimate of 2,038,341 Germans of Soviet citizenship was based on statements made by the respondents. Statistics show that some of these Germans had previously indicated a different nationality because of discrimination against Germans. No details are available on the way the census was carried out.

Linguistic Affiliation. Germans living in the former Soviet Union speak several dialects and foreign languages depending on their generation. At the time of emigration, settlers tended to group together according to place of origin and religious denomination. Thus, the respective dialects were the main form of communication in the German settlements in the European part of Russia until they were destroyed between 1941 and 1944. Countless German settlements were founded in the Orenburg District, northern Kazakhstan, western Siberia, and Kirgizia at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, however, and were left largely undisturbed during World War II. In these areas German dialects are still the most usual medium of communication for the older to middle generations. In the Mennonite villages of the Orenburg, Omsk, and Altai regions, there is a particularly high instance of children who only speak in German dialect. The most common dialects still to be found are Lower and Middle West German (West Prussian/Rhine-Frankonian, Palantine, Upper Hessian), East German (Silesian), and Upper German (Alemannian, Swabian, Alsatian, and North Frankonian). During the twentieth century internal migrations led to a growth in mixed dialects.

Until as late as 1941, High German was still spoken in German settlement schools (i.e., in the Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic of the Volga Germans). As a result, some in the older generations still demonstrate a fairly comprehensive knowledge of literary German. After 1941, however, German schools ceased to exist and have not been reopened. In the average Russian school, German is inadequately taught owing to the dispersion of settlements, political discrimination, and insufficient opportunity to preserve the spoken language. The process of assimilation or, to be more precise, Russification, has been rapid. In 1926, 95 percent of Germans living in the Soviet Union declared German to be their mother tongue; this had dropped to 75 percent by 1959, to 66.8 percent by 1970, and to 57.7 percent by 1979, and to an all-time low of 48.7 percent in 1989. In many families this process of linguistic decay means that the older generation speaks dialect and High German; the middle generation a Russian dialect and, in some cases, High German; and the children can speak only Russian. There is a marked difference between the languages spoken by the urban and rural populations. The assimilation of German urban populations is far more advanced in Russian-speaking areas than it is among rural populations in the republics of Central Asia. In major towns and cities, 44.88 percent of the men interviewed said their mother tongue was German, compared to 51.82 percent of the women. In rural areas, the comparable figures are 62.03 percent and 68.55 percent for men and women respectively.

History and Cultural Relations

The first Germans to forge links with Russia were the German missionaries and merchants who traveled there over 1,000 years ago; their stay in Russia, however, was relatively brief. Grand Duke Ivan III (1462-1505) brought in doctors, apothecaries, architects, and military officers from many European countries including German principalities. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the largest increase in German settlers.

Large-scale immigration began as a consequence of the manifestos laid down by Catherine II (the Great) on 4 December 1762 and 22 July 1763, encouraging foreign immigration to Russia. The manifesto drawn up in 1763 granted particularly favorable conditions to new immigrants, including complete exemption from military service, religious freedom, the opportunity for self-government, several years' tax exemption, and immigration support. During the years 1764 to 1767, between 23,000 and 29,000 German colonists settled in Russia. Most came from Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, northern Baden, and the Rheinprovinz, but some from France, Sweden, and Holland. Although some of the immigrants colonized areas near St. Petersburg, most gravitated toward the Volga Lands, setting up 104 colonies near the city of Saratov. The second major phase of immigration started in 1789 and lasted, despite periodic lulls, until 1863. During this period, immigrants consisted mainly of Mennonites and Protestants entering the southern Ukraine; a further 55,000 people immigrated to Russia from Württemberg, Baden, Palatinate, Lorraine, Alsace, and Switzerland. The immigrants were to help secure Russia's borders and develop districts long since fallen into disuse as new areas of commercial productivity. By 1914 there were 3,500 German colonies, and the total German population was estimated at 2,338,500.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the urban and rural German populations were divided into national and religious communities, with numerous well-developed clubs and societies. At this time many German officials, merchants, and citizens actually formed part of the Russian upper class and, because they owned land, the rural Germans were wealthy and living apart from the surrounding peasant population. Every year they employed tens of thousands of Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and others for seasonal work in southern Russia and the Caucasus, which encouraged the spread of German farming methods and machinery among Russian and Ukrainian farmers. Moreover, elements of Ukrainian and Russian Baptism can be traced back to the Bible-class teachings (Stunde ) of the Swabian Germans.

As a result of immigration, trade in crafts flourished, and milling and material production (sarpinka ) became well established in the Volga Lands. The production of agricultural tools and equipment was particularly successful in the southern Ukraine, and the Johann Hoehn factory (in Odessa), which produced plows, grew to be the largest of its kind in southern Russia. As a result of the termination of self-government in 1871 and the reinstatement of general liability for military service in 1874, however, the internal political climate took a dramatic turn for the worse. In addition, the pan-Russian movement demanded the expulsion of Germans from the western district of Russia (in Volhynia) and new alien laws. The withdrawal of privileges, combined with the increasing Russification, eventually led to the emigration of 18,000 Mennonites to the United States (1872-1873); 10,000 colonists left for Brazil (1890), and several thousand more emigrated to Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

During World War I, anti-German feeling in Russia reached a high pitch, and in the winter of 1915-1916 approximately 200,000 Germans were deported from Volhynia to other parts of the country. All Germans were to have been deported from the European part of Russia to Siberia and Central Soviet Asia by the end of 1917, a plan that could never fully be put into effect because of the Revolution in 1917. After the fall of Czar Nicholas II and the subsequent proclamation of civil rights and rights to self-determination, various ethnic groups in Russia began to seek autonomy. The German autonomy movement was centered in Odessa, Moscow, and Saratov. The Commission for German Affairs in the Volga Lands was finally set up in Saratov in May 1918, and on 19 October 1918 the German colonies of the Volga Lands were granted autonomous status, the first instance of national autonomy in Soviet Russia. In 1924 the district was transformed into the Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic of Volga Germans (ASSRVG). In the twenties and thirties, German provinces existed in the Ukraine, the Crimea, Transcaucasia, around Orenburg, in northern Kazakhstan, and in the Altai region. In the ASSRVG and the German provinces, German became the official language and was spoken in the schools. Numerous newspapers, journals, and books were printed, and the education system ran from kindergarten to university.

Following the seizure of power in Germany by the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) party, conditions for Germans in the former Soviet Union deteriorated. In 1938 the autonomous German provinces were disbanded, and after Hitler had declared war on the Soviet Union, Germans were deported on a large scale to Siberia and Central Soviet Asia. The Germans in the Volga Lands were subsequently accused of collaborating with the enemy and the ASSRVG was eliminated. By 1941, 226,000 people had already been moved to the eastern parts of the country, with most men and women being drafted into the Worker's Army (Trudovaja Armija). Approximately 895,000 Germans were deported during the course of World War II. In 1956 the rest of the German population was placed in special settlements under the supervision of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD).

As a result of political and social changes, conditions have greatly altered for the Germans in Russia. Today they find themselves in a diaspora, and many are scattered among Muslim communities. Since 1941 political and legal discrimination have turned the Germans into the outsiders of Soviet society; at the same time, cultural pressure and assimilative processes have resulted in widespread adaptation to Slavic values.


The geographic distribution of the German population in the former Soviet Union was determined by state regulations and by the need for workers in new centers of industrial growth, as well as by deportations to Novaya Zemlya and Siberia. To this day the German population displays the high degree of mobility it acquired out of economic and political necessity. An analysis of German settlement patterns in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1989 shows a consistently large German population in Russia and Ukraine and a rapidly expanding population in Kazakhstan and Kirghizia during the same period.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to 1917 most Germans in Russia were employed in agriculture, particularly in cereal growing and animal breeding. The chief source of income in the Crimea and Transcaucasia was viniculture. The social and employment structures were significantly affected, however, by the dispossession of property and the deportations that took place between 1941 and 1945. In 1989, 53 percent of the Germans living in Russia were urbanized (on a national average), whereas the other 47 percent lived in the country. The statistics vary according to republic and region. In Uzbekistan, for example, 88 percent of the German population is urban; the comparable figures are 71 percent in the Ukraine and 54 percent in the former Soviet Union. In the primarily agrarian provinces of Kazakhstan and Kirgizia, the corresponding data are 49 percent and 42 percent respectively.

Industrial Arts. The handicrafts and decorative arts that had flourished before 1917 lost much of their importance following the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and continue to play a significant role only in rural areas.

Trade. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries streets lined exclusively with German stores were to be found in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Odessa, and other cities. Regular street markets were held in the settlements and a number of German-owned trading firms distributed industrial and farming products throughout Russia. Today farming is the only industry in which Germans pursue private production. Surplus dairy products, meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables are sold at the kolkhoz markets or purchased by state distribution agencies.

Division of Labor. Within the sphere of agriculture, German men in Russia tend to work the machinery (as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union), whereas women tend to be employed in the fields and in animal care. Within the sphere of industry, the occupations chosen depend on jobs available.

Land Tenure. The ownership and utilization of land have always differed from region to region. In the Volga Lands approximately 30 to 35 hectares would be allocated to individual German colonists at the time the settlements were founded, whereas in southern Russia and Bessarabia 60 to 65 hectares were more usual. Land allocations (for viniculture) were significantly smaller in the Crimea and Transcaucasia. In Volhynia, land was not allocated but leased. In other regions of Russia, economic success and the increase in the population led to the foundation of secondary settlements (daughter colonies) and increased ownership of land. In the pre-Revolutionary period, 5 to 9 percent of the population in southern Russia consisted of German settlers who owned up to 38 percent of the land. In 1917, however, all Russian land was nationalized and between 1928 and 1932 was transformed into collectives (kolkhoz) or state property (sovkhoz).

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The rural German population tended to have larger families (six to twelve children) than those living in the cities, with the biggest families usually consisting of three or four generations. The number of children born in each family dropped to an average of two to three in rural homes and one to two in urban-based families after private land ownership was abolished and no longer provided a source of income. The accelerating trend toward urbanization has also influenced the decline in the birthrate.

Marriage. In the rural areas before 1917, Germans tended to marry within their religious communities. Following the demise of the church in the twenties and thirties, however, religious differences came to play less of a role, and by the end of World War II, they were no longer a consideration. The number of interethnic marriages has greatly increased in the meantime. By the end of the seventies, at least 47.5 percent of all married Germans in the Soviet Union had chosen a partner of another nationality. This percentage was lower in the Central Soviet Asian republics and in Kazakhstan. Mixed marriages occur most frequently with Russians and Ukrainians.

Inheritance . Prior to the Russian Revolution, land in the Volga Lands was the property of the mir and usufruct was periodically redistributed. In German colonies in southern Russia, German laws regulating the inheritance of the farm by the youngest son were in effect, but were superseded by Russian inheritance laws after self-government was abolished in 1871. Since the nationalization of lands and of the means of production in 1917, individuals have the right only to use, not to own, domestic buildings and farmland. The property and leasing laws passed in 1990 have brought little change.

Socialization. The older generation used to be held in respect, as were clergymen and teachers in rural communities. Urbanization has reduced families to two generations, thus changing the role played by older relatives.

Sociopolitical Organization

Since 1941 the Germans have been an ethnic minority without territory of their own. As such, they do not have any form of representation or administration. There were German delegates in the soviets at various levels leading up to the Deputy Congress of the USSR, but they represented their constituencies and not an ethnic group. In March 1989 a society called "Rebirth" was founded in Moscow. Its main aims were to reestablish the political and legal rights of Germans and to reinstate the ASSRVG and the German provinces. The society had approximately 50,000 members in April 1990.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Before the Revolution, about 65 percent of the Germans in Russia were Lutheran and 25 percent Catholic, the others being Mennonite, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Adventist. Religious communities were set up by the consistorial districts of St. Petersburg and Moscow of the Evangelical Lutheran Russian church (1832). The Catholic communities belonged to the diocese of Tiraspol (1848), and the bishopric was in Saratov. Religious communities like these fell apart in the thirties, however, because of the militant atheism of the time, widespread church closures, and the persecution of priests and the faithful alike. Religious life underwent a revival (the beginnings of ecumenicism) during the years of the mass deportation and work camps (1941-1956). The first religious communities to be granted state approval after World War II were a Lutheran community in Akmolinsk (in 1957) and a Catholic community in Frunze (in 1969). There are now about 300 Lutheran communities in the former Soviet Union with 150,000 to 200,000 active members. Since October 1989 these communities have established the German Evangelical Lutheran church. The number of practicing Catholics in Russia remains unknown, but there are roughly 25 to 30 Catholic communities in existence. In the mid-1980s the total number of German Baptists was estimated at 50,000 to 80,000, and a total of 50,000 is assumed for the Mennonites.

Arts. Germans in the former Soviet Union managed to preserve the cultural heritage of their home country until the middle of the twentieth century. The dissolution of concentrated settlements and the processes of acculturation and assimilation have since led to an accelerating loss of the traditions and customs that were previously handed down by word of mouth.

Death and Afterlife. Practicing Christians in Russia uphold the views on death and the afterlife that prevail in their particular religious denomination. Germans with a more atheistic bias believe that death is merely a biological process that puts an end to life.


Bartlett, Roger P. (1979). Human Capital: The Settlement of Foreigners in Russia, 1762-1804. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eisfeld, Alfred (1985). Deutsche Kolonien an der Wolga 1917-1919 und das Deutsche Reich. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Kahle, Wilhelm (1974). Geschichte der lutherischen evangelischen Gemeinden in der Sovet-union, 1917-1938. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Long, James W. (1979). The German-Russians: A Bibliography of Russian Materials with Introductory Essay, Annotations, and Location of Materials in Major American and Soviet Libraries. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Long, James W. (1988). From Privileged to Dispossessed: The Volga-Germans, 1860-1917. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Pinkus, Benjamin, and Ingeborg Fleischhauer (1987). Die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion: Geschichte einer nationalen Minderheit im 20. Jahrhundert. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Stumpp, Karl (1980). Das Schrifttum über das Deutschtum in Russland: Eine Bibliographie. 5th ed. Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.



views updated May 21 2018


The question of the identity of the peoples who were first called Germans is immensely complex. Three main approaches to the subject are historical, archaeological, and linguistic.


The earliest description of peoples called Germans is in Julius Caesar's commentary about his military campaigns in Gaul between 58 and 51 b.c. Caesar's remarks formed the basis for later Roman use of the name and thus for subsequent medieval and modern applications. Any discussion of the identity of the early Germans must begin with Caesar. The Greek writer Posidonius (135–51 b.c.) may have mentioned peoples he called Germans, but his works do not survive.

Two assertions by Caesar are of particular importance. One is that the peoples east of the Rhine were Germans, whereas those west of the river were Gauls (whom ancient Greek writers called Celts). The other is that the Germans had a less complex society than did the Gauls. Unlike the Gauls, the Germans had no towns, little agriculture, and less-developed religious rituals, and they spent much of their time hunting and fighting. From Caesar onward, Roman writers called the peoples east of the Rhine and north of the Upper Danube Germans. It is not known what these groups called themselves. It is very unlikely that they thought of themselves as any kind of single people, at least before many of them united to face the threat of Roman conquest.

In his work known as the Germania, published in a.d. 98, the Roman historian Tacitus described in greater detail the peoples whom Caesar had called Germans. From the second half of the sixteenth century, when the manuscript of his writing was rediscovered and translated, the account of Tacitus formed the basis for many studies of the early Germans. Much of his description was applied even to groups who lived many centuries after the peoples he called Germans. Well into modern times, scholars interpreted his work as if it were an ethnographic account of peoples in northern Europe beyond the Roman frontier.

Approaches to the writings of Caesar and Tacitus have become more critical. Many historians believe that Caesar's assertions that the peoples east of the Rhine were Germans was politically motivated, to portray the Rhine as a border between Gauls and Germans and thus a cultural frontier at the eastern edge of peoples whom he was fighting to conquer. Much of Caesar's description of the Germans as a simpler people than the Gauls may have been based on long-held Roman ideas about the geography and the peoples of northern Europe. Caesar had little direct contact with groups east of the Rhine, and his remarks about them were made in the context of his primary concern, which was the conquest of Gaul.

A century of critical study of Tacitus has led to the conclusion that his Germania should be approached primarily as a literary work, rather than an ethnographic one. Many believe that his descriptions of the Germans tell more about Roman attitudes and values than about the peoples of northern Europe. Whereas Roman writers, following Caesar and Tacitus, regarded Germans and Gauls as distinct peoples, Greek authors, such as Strabo and Cassius Dio, considered them part of the larger group of peoples whom they called Celts. Later Roman and medieval writers built upon the traditions of their predecessors, classifying many peoples identified in later centuries—such as Burgundians, Franks, Goths, and Langobards—as Germans.


The archaeological evidence shows a much more complex situation than Caesar and Tacitus describe. When Caesar was writing, between 58 and 51 b.c., the peoples east of the upper and middle Rhine were very much like those west of the Rhine against whom Caesar was fighting. Large fortified towns known as oppida dominated the landscape. As at the oppida in Gaul, the archaeology shows complex economic and political organization, with mass production of pottery and iron tools, minting of coins, and long-distance trade with much of Europe, including Roman Italy. East of the lower Rhine, however, the archaeology indicates a different kind of society, without the large oppida and with smaller-scale manufacturing and commerce. In this region Caesar's assertion about lack of towns corresponds to the archaeological evidence, but his statements about undeveloped agriculture and the major role of hunting are proved wrong by the archaeology. Intensive farming and livestock husbandry had been practiced in the region for some four thousand years before Caesar's time.

The style of material culture, especially metal ornaments and pottery, in much of the region east of the lower Rhine is known as Jastorf, and it contrasts with the La Tène style characteristic to the south and west. Earlier archaeologists have linked La Tène style with Celts (Gauls) and Jastorf style with Germans, but studies show that such direct connections between styles and peoples named by Roman and Greek writers are unwarranted.

Throughout the Roman period (50 b.c. to a.d. 450), the archaeology shows regular interactions—some peaceful, some violent—between the Roman provinces west of the Rhine and the unconquered lands to the east. Many graves east of the Rhine contain fine products of Roman manufacturing, such as pottery, bronze vessels, ornaments, and even weapons. Such settlements as Feddersen Wierde in Lower Saxony show that trade with the Roman world brought both wealth and social change to communities in these regions.


The category "Germanic" as it applies to language is difficult to investigate before the time of the Roman conquests because the Iron Age peoples did not leave writings. Roman and Greek observers did not use language as a criterion in distinguishing the peoples of northern Europe, probably because they did not know enough about the native languages. When runes were developed in northern parts of the continent (by people familiar with Latin), probably in the first or second century a.d., they indicate the presence of a well-developed language that linguists classify as Germanic.

In the Rhineland, where many inscriptions survive from after the Roman conquest, some names can be linked with Germanic and others with Celtic languages. Certain names even combine elements of the two linguistic traditions. Probably in much of temperate Europe at the time of Caesar and Tacitus, many people spoke languages that could not be classified easily as either Germanic or Celtic today but that included elements associated with both of those categories.

See alsoOppida (vol. 2, part 6); Manching (vol. 2, part6); Gergovia (vol. 2, part 6); Kelheim (vol. 2, part 6); Langobards (vol. 2, part 7).


Bazelmans, Jos. "Conceptualising Early Germanic Political Structure." In Images of the Past: Studies on Ancient Societies in Northwestern Europe. Edited by N. Roymans and F. Theuws, pp. 91–129. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1991.

Beck, Heinrich, ed. Germanenprobleme in heutiger Sicht. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999.

Beck, Heinrich, Heiko Steuer, and Dieter Timpe, eds. Germanen, Germania, Germanische Altertumskunde. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998.

Lund, Allan A. Die ersten Germanen: Ethnizität und Ethnogenese. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1998.

Pohl, Walter. Die Germanen. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2000.

Todd, Malcolm. The Early Germans. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Wells, Peter S. Beyond Celts, Germans, and Scythians: Archaeology and Identity in Iron Age Europe. London: Duckworth, 2001.

Peter S. Wells


views updated Jun 08 2018



Earliest Settlers. German-speaking people were among the first people to settle the eastern coast of North America. Even among the first colonists to Virginia in 1607 there were a few Germans. Others settled in New Netherland and were among those speaking the eighteen different languages heard in New Amsterdam by the French Jesuit priest Father Jogues. By 1673 New York had as many as 2,400 Germans. Most came because of economic hardship in their homeland made even worse by various European wars, but some came for religious freedom. This earliest trickle of peoples was largely disorganized as families or individuals found their way to America. These included men such as Johannes Kelpius, one of the religious hermits who lived in caves on the banks of the Wissahickon Creek in Pennsylvania and practiced fortune-telling. Later migrations were more organized. Between 1683, when Francis Daniel Pastorius established Germantown outside Philadelphia, and 1783, some 125,000 German speakers came to British North America. Especially important was the immigration of German pietists in congregations, such as the Lutherans and Moravians. Some were driven out of Europe by overpopulation and land scarcity; known as hard workers and good farmers, they were actively recruited to come to America. Other nations also tried to recruit Germans. Between 1717 and 1721 the French Company of the Indies would send some 1,300 German speakers to the Gulf Coast. Most of these immigrants would die shortly thereafter of disease, and those who were left would abandon the lower Mississippi.

Palatines. From 1709 to 1714 approximately 3,000 Germans from the Palatinate, pushed out of their Rhineland homes by the aftermath of war and lured by promotional literature and the promise of free passage, sailed to New York and North Carolina. The 2,300 or so Palatines sent to New York were settled on the Hudson River to engage in manufacturing lumber and naval stores. Unfortunately, promised economic support did not materialize because of political changes in England that called for an end to this kind of expenditure. The New York Germans saw themselves as oppressed, and their attempts to settle on what seemed to be unoccupied lands on the Schoharie River failed. Disgusted at what they considered to be breaches of contract and frightened by potential religious persecution, they moved to Pennsylvania. The 600 or so Palatines who left for North Carolina eventually joined with some German-speaking Swiss, and together they founded the town of New Bern. This settlement made an inauspicious beginning as illness, French privateers, mismanagement, and an Indian war in 1711 all wreaked havoc on those who survived. Nonetheless, New Bern was rebuilt and incorporated in 1723.

Salzburgers. In 1729 the archbishop of Salzburg decided to convert the Lutherans in Salzburg to Roman Catholicism. Over the next three years some 30,000 Protestants left, most of them fleeing to England. There they seemed like good prospects for the new colony of Georgia, and with a grant from Parliament, and two German ministers, the first group of 42 families sailed for America in 1734. They created Ebenezer and New Ebenezer on the Savannah River, and by 1742 both towns had 250 settlers.

Moravians. The people called Moravians were German Protestants who lived on the lands of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony. Religious persecution caused them to look elsewhere, and in 1735 and 1736 some 35 young men arrived in Savannah, Georgia. The outbreak of a war with Spain made these pacifists suspect, and between 1738 and 1740 they moved to Pennsylvania. Count Zinzendorf, one of the few European noblemen to come to America, traveled to Pennsylvania to set up a settlement even though he did not stay. In 1741 the Moravians bought land in Pennsylvania and founded the community of Bethlehem. In 1752 they also bought a tract of land in North Carolina that they called Wachovia, named for their lands in Europe. The first group of male brethren arrived in 1753 and celebrated their arrival by composing a song that began We hold arrival lovefeast here / In Carolina land; / A company of Brethren true, / A little pilgrim band. Married couples first arrived in 1755. The settlements survived, and Moravian influence can still be seen today.


Kenneth Coleman, Colonial Georgia: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1989);

Aaron Spencer Fogelman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 17171775 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996);

Adelaide L. Fries, The Road to Salem (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972);

Gillian Lindt Gollin, Moravians in Two Worlds: A Study of Changing Communities (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967);

Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina, third edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973);

A. G. Roeber, The Origin of Whatever Is Not English among Us: The Dutch-speaking and the German-speaking Peoples of Colonial British America, in Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire, edited by Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 220283;

Daniel H. Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).


views updated Jun 27 2018

Ger·man / ˈjərmən/ • n. 1. a native or national of Germany. ∎  a person of German descent: Sudeten Germans. 2. a West Germanic language used in Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland, and by communities in the U.S. and elsewhere. See also High German,Low German. 3. (in full German cotillion) a complex dance in which one couple leads the other couples through a variety of figures and there is a continual change of partners. • adj. of or relating to Germany, its people, or their language. ORIGIN: from Latin Germanus, used to designate related peoples of central and northern Europe, a name perhaps given by Celts to their neighbors; compare with Old Irish gair‘neighbor.’


views updated May 17 2018

ger·mane / jərˈmān/ • adj. relevant to a subject under consideration: that is not germane to our theme.DERIVATIVES: ger·mane·ly adv.ger·mane·ness n.


views updated May 11 2018

ger·man / ˈjərmən/ • adj. archaic germane. ∎  (of a sibling) having the same parents: my brothers-german.

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