Germany is a federal parliamentary republic in western-central Europe. It includes 16 constituent states and covers an area of 357,021 square kilometres (137,847 sq mi) with a largely temperate seasonal climate. Its capital and largest city is Berlin. With 81 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous member state in the European Union. After the United States, it is the second most popular migration destination in the world.
Various Germanic tribes have occupied northern Germany since classical antiquity. A region named Germania was documented before 100 CE. During the Migration Period the Germanic tribes expanded southward. Beginning in the 10th century, German territories formed a central part of the Holy Roman Empire. During the 16th century, northern German regions became the centre of the Protestant Reformation.
Germany is a great power and has the world's fourth-largest economy by nominal GDP, as well as the fifth-largest by PPP. As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world's third-largest exporter and importer of goods. It is a developed country with a very high standard of living, and it maintains a comprehensive social security, a universal health care system and diverse environmental protection laws.
From its roots, culture in German states has been shaped by major intellectual and popular currents in Europe, both religious and secular. Historically Germany has been called Das Land der Dichter und Denker ("the land of poets and thinkers"), because of the major role its writers and philosophers have played in the development of Western thought and culture. People with German ancestry make up a significant portion of population in the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Argentina. A German cultural influence can be observed in these countries.
Germany is well known for such folk festival traditions as Oktoberfest and influential Christmas customs, which include Advent wreaths, Christmas pageants, Christmas trees, Stollen cakes, and other practices.
Germany is well known for its diverse tourist routes, such as the Romantic Road, the Wine Route, the Castle Road, and the Avenue Road. The German Timber-Frame Road (Deutsche Fachwerkstraße) connects towns with examples of these structures. There are 40UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Germany, including the old town cores of Regensburg, Bamberg, Lübeck, Quedlinburg, Weimar, Stralsund and Wismar. Germany's most-visited landmarks include i. e. Neuschwanstein Castle, Cologne Cathedral, Berlin Bundestag, Hofbräuhaus Munich, Heidelberg Castle, Dresden Zwinger, Fernsehturm Berlin and Aachen Cathedral. The Europa-Park near Freiburg is Europe's second most popular theme park resort.
Most of Germany has a temperate seasonal climate dominated by humid westerly winds. The country is situated in between the oceanic Western European and the continental Eastern European climate. The climate is moderated by the North Atlantic Drift, the northern extension of the Gulf Stream. This warmer water affects the areas bordering the North Sea; consequently in the northwest and the north the climate is oceanic. Germany gets an average of 789 mm (31 in) precipitation per year. Rainfall occurs year-round, with no consistent dry season. Winters are mild and summers tend to be warm: temperatures can exceed 30 °C (86 °F).
The east has a more continental climate: winters can be very cold and summers very warm, and longer dry periods can occur. Central and southern Germany are transition regions which vary from moderately oceanic to continental. In addition to the maritime and continental climates that predominate over most of the country, the Alpine regions in the extreme south and, to a lesser degree, some areas of the Central German Uplands have a mountain climate, with lower temperatures and greater precipitation.
Responsibility for educational supervision in Germany is primarily organized within the individual federal states. Optional kindergarten education is provided for all children between three and six years old, after which school attendance is compulsory for at least nine years.
Primary education usually lasts for four to six years and public schools are not stratified by academic ability at this stage.
Secondary education includes three traditional types of schools focused on different academic levels: the Gymnasium enrols the most gifted children and prepares students for university studies; the Realschule for intermediate students lasts six years and the Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education.
The Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) unifies all secondary education. A system of apprenticeship called Duale Ausbildung (dual education) does not lead to an academic degree. Instead, it allows students in vocational training to learn in a company as well as in a state-run vocational school. This model is highly regarded and reproduced all around the world.
Most of the German universities are public institutions, and students have traditionally studied without fee payment. The general requirement for university is the Abitur, a qualification normally based on continuous assessment during the last few years at school and final examinations. However, there are a number of exceptions, depending on the state, the university and the subject. Academic education is open to international students and is increasingly common.
In the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2008, six of the top 100 universities in the world, and 18 of the top 200, are in Germany. The established universities in Germany include some of the oldest in the world, with Heidelberg University (established in 1386) being the oldest in Germany. Heidelberg is followed by Leipzig University (1409), Rostock University (1419), Greifswald University (1456), Freiburg University (1457) and the University of Munich (1472).
German cuisine varies from region to region and often neighboring regions share some culinary similarities (e.g. the southern regions of Bavaria and Swabia share some culinary traditions with neighboring regions in Switzerland and Austria). International varieties such as pizza, sushi, Chinese food, Greek food, Indian cuisine and doner kebab are also popular and readily available, also thanks to diverse ethnic communities.
Bread is a significant part of German cuisine and German bakeries produce about 600 main types of bread and 1,200 different types of pastries and rolls (called Brötchen). German cheeses account for about a third of all cheese produced in Europe. In 2012 over 99% of all meat produced in Germany was either pork, chicken or beef. Germans produce their ubiquitous sausages in almost 1,500 varieties, including Bratwursts, Weisswursts, and Currywursts. In 2012, organic foods accounted for 3.9% of total food sales.
Although wine is becoming more popular in many parts of Germany, especially in German wine regions, the national alcoholic drink is beer. German beer consumption per person stands at 110 litres (24 imp gal; 29 US gal) in 2013 and remains among the highest in the world. German beer purity regulations date back to the 1400s and were the world's oldest active food-quality legislation until their repeal in 1993.
The Michelin Guide of 2015 awarded eleven restaurants in Germany three stars, the highest designation, while 38 more received two stars and 233 one star. Overall, German restaurants have become the world's second-most decorated after France.
German is the official and predominant spoken language in Germany. It is one of 24 official and working languages of the European Union, and one of the three working languages of the European Commission. German is the most widely spoken first language in the European Union, with around 100 million native speakers.
Recognized native minority languages in Germany are Danish, Low German, Sorbian, Romany, and Frisian; they are officially protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The most used immigrant languages are Turkish, Kurdish, Polish, the Balkan languages, and Russian. Germans are typically multilingual: 67% of German citizens claim to be able to communicate in at least one foreign language and 27% in at least two.
Standard German, called Hochdeutsch, is a West Germanic language and is closely related to and classified alongside English, Low German, Dutch, and the Frisian languages. To a lesser extent, it is also related to the East (extinct) and North Germanic languages. Most German vocabulary is derived from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Significant minorities of words are derived from Latin and Greek, with a smaller amount from French and most recently English (known as Denglisch). German is written using the Latin alphabet. German dialects, traditional local varieties traced back to the Germanic tribes, are distinguished from varieties of standard German by their lexicon, phonology, and syntax.