Germany's central and southern regions have forested hills and mountains cut through by the Danube, Main, and Rhine river valleys. In the north, the landscape flattens out to a wide plain that stretches to the North Sea. Between these extremes, Germany is a country of incredible variety.
Germany's location at the heart of Europe has shaped its history both for good and bad. It borders nine neighbors, more than any other European country.
Germany's largest wooded area, and its most famous, is in the southwest near the Swiss border. This is the Black Forest, a mountainous region full of pines and fir trees. This forest contains the source of the Danube, one of Europe's longest rivers.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Today almost one in every ten Germans comes from a foreign country. That is more than at any time in history. The largest minority are Turkish, who started coming in the 1950s to work. About two-thirds of Germans are Christians.
Germany has been called the "Land of Poets and Thinkers." Germans are famous in all forms of art, but particularly classical music. Germany's famous composers include Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, and Beethoven.
The German government works hard to protect the country's wildlife. There are 97 nature reserves in Germany, the biggest of which is the Black Forest. Despite these efforts, though, many species are at risk of extinction, including certain species of whales, beavers, and minks.
Germany's major unspoiled habitats are in two main regions. The flat northern coast is home to sea life and wading birds, while the forested hills and mountains in the south are the best place to find wildcats, boar, ibex, and other large mammals.
The lakes and wetlands along Germany's coastlines are important stopover points for many migrating birds. The government has set up reserves for the birds' protection.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
After losing World War II, Germany was in ruins. West Germany recovered to become Europe's richest country, but East Germany, under communist control, fell far behind. After reunification in 1989, Germany spent billions of dollars to modernize the East.
Humans settled in northern Europe about 10,000 years ago, after the end of the last Ice Age. The first people to speak a language similar to modern German probably lived in the area about 5,000 years ago. It was still thousands of years, though, before Germany was created.
Early Germany was a patchwork of small states ruled by dukes and kings. But in 1871, the country was united, through force and alliances, by a politician named Otto von Bismarck.
In the late 19th century Germany began competing with other European countries to set up colonies in Africa and Asia. These tensions led to World War I in 1914, the worst conflict the world had ever seen. Germany and its allies lost the war to Britain, France, the Soviet Union (now called Russia), and the United States.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in 1933 promising to make Germany great again. In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War II. During the war, Hitler created camps in Germany where millions of Jewish people and others were murdered. The war ended in 1945 with the Germans' defeat and Hitler committing suicide.
After World War II, Germany was divided into West and East. The country became the center of a standoff between the Soviet Union and Western powers. This confrontation, which lasted 44 years, was called the Cold War. In 1989, East Germany opened its borders and the Cold War came to an end.