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Germany History, Language and Culture
History of Germany
The territory that we now know as Germany was for many centuries a loose collection of independent (and often warring) states, occupied by rulers including the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Habsburgs. Unification was attained after a victory in the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. There followed a period of political, military and economic advancement that placed it as a genuine world power.
Following defeat in WWI, however, the Treaty of Versailles saw the country sliced and diced. Germany was forced to cede parts of its territory to surrounding nations as well as to pay significant reparations – a punishment that would prove crippling for the already ailing German economy.
It was these dire economic circumstances, amplified by the worldwide economic Depression of 1929 and a growing tide of racism in Europe that gave rise to the emergence of the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party, making Adolf Hitler head of state. His notorious legacy remains a shocking historical blight. Initial military success in WWII ended in further defeat for Germany, although this time, the country's economy recovered more quickly.
After the war, Germany's borders were once again redrawn, and the country and its capital city, Berlin, were divided. For more than 40 years, the communist East Germany was cut off from the US-allied West. In 1989, the Berlin Wall, which separated the eastern districts of the city from the west, started to be dismantled. Reunification took place shortly after in October 1990.
From 1995 onwards, a new leadership under would-be chancellor Gerhard Schröder emerged to challenge the long-standing Helmut Kohl Christian Democrat (CDU) government. Schröder came to power in 1998, his reign coming to an end amid confusion following September 2005's inconclusive election. Germany faced weeks of uncertainty resulting in a deal that saw Angela Merkel sworn in as Germany's first female chancellor.
Since then, Merkel has guided Germany through the global recession, helping to ensure a quick recovery for the country with stimulus packages. In 2013, she was sworn in for her third four-year term and in 2014, Merkel became the longest serving incumbent head of state in the European Union. In 2018, Merkel announced that her current term will be the last one as a political leader.
Did you know?
• Germans take their downtime very seriously, which is why shopping on Sunday is strictly forbidden, except for special occasions like leading up to Christmas in certain cities.
• Ordering a beer at a bar in Germany? If you don't want to give away your non-native status, be sure to use your thumb to indicate that you want one drink rather than your index finger.
• Oktoberfest, Munich's world-famous beer festival, actually begins in September.
Religion in Germany
Approximately 28% Roman Catholic, 26% Protestant, 5% Muslim, with Jewish and other non-Christian minorities. Over one third of the population is atheistic.
Social Conventions in Germany
Handshaking is customary, and it is considered rude to address people by their first name unless invited to do so. Normal courtesies should be observed. Before eating, it is normal to say "guten Appetit" to the other people at the table to which the correct reply is "Danke, gleichfalls" (“Thank you, the same to you”). If you’ve been invited to eat at a German house, it is customary to present the hostess with unwrapped flowers (according to tradition, you should always give an uneven number, and it is worth noting that red roses are exclusively a lover's gift).
In shops and other businesses, courtesy dictates that visitors should utter a greeting such as "guten Tag" (or "grüß Gott" in Bavaria) before saying what it is that they want; to leave without saying "auf Wiedersehen" or "tschüss" can also cause offence. Similarly, when making a telephone call, asking for the person you want to speak to without stating first who you are is impolite. Casual wear is widely acceptable, but more formal dress is required for some restaurants, the opera, theatre, casinos and important social functions. Smoking is prohibited where notified and on public transport and in most public buildings.
Language in Germany
German is the official language. Regional dialects often differ markedly from standard German. Minority languages include Danish and Sorbic, while English is widely spoken by a large part of the population.
- Beer = Bier
- Closed = Geschlossen
- Danger = Gefahr / Vorsicht
- Do you speak English? = Sprechen Sie Englisch? (polite) / Sprichst du Englisch? (informal)
- Doctor = Arzt / Ärztin (female)
- Eight = Acht
- Eighty = Achtzig
- Entrance = Eingang / Einfahrt (vehicles)
- Exit = Ausgang / Ausfahrt (vehicles)
- Fifty = Fünfzig
- Five = Fünf
- Forty = Vierzig
- Four = Vier
- Friday = Freitag
- Goodbye = Auf Wiedersehen / Tschüs (informal)
- Hello = Guten Tag
- Hotel = Hotel
- How are you? = Wie geht es Ihnen? (polite) / Wie geht es dir? (informal)
- How much does it cost? = Wieviel kostet das?
- I'm very well = Mir geht es gut
- I don't understand = Ich verstehe nicht
- I feel ill = Ich fühle mich unwohl
- Menu = Speisekarte
- Monday = Montag
- My name is = Mein Name ist
- Nine = Neun
- Ninety = Neunzig
- No = Nein
- One = Eins
- One Hundred = Hundert
- One Thousand = Tausend
- Open = Geöffnet
- Please = Bitte
- Restaurant = Restaurant
- Saturday = Samstag
- Seven = Sieben
- Seventy = Siebzig
- Six = Sechs
- Sixty = Sechzig
- Sunday = Sonntag
- Ten = Zehn
- Thank you = Danke
- Thirty = Dreissig
- Three = Drei
- Thursday = Donnerstag
- Today = Heute
- Toilets = Toiletten / WC
- Tomorrow = Morgen
- Tuesday = Dienstag
- Twenty = Zwanzig
- Two = Zwei
- Wednesday = Mittwoch
- Where is ? = Wo befindet sich ?
- Wine = Wein
- Yes = Ja