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Prosperous Germany: Rich Cultural Heritage, Turbulent Recent Past

Date Posted: 2000-07-14

Germany is the fourth largest country in area in Europe, with a population of about 82 million. German society boasts a high standard of living, ample leisure time and comprehensive social welfare benefits. With a large and modern industrial economy based on products such as iron and steel, machinery and automobiles, Germany is a leading economic power in the European Union (EU). Its currency, the deutsche mark, is one of the strongest in the world.

Germany has made significant cultural contributions in the form in architecture, literature, philosophy, and most markedly in religion and music. German composers such as Bach, Beethovan, Mozart, and Brahms, are among the world's best known. Theologian Martin Luther is credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation by publishing of his Ninety-five Theses in 1517. Ironically, religion plays a very small role in modern German society, and church attendance is quite low.

Since the German states were first unified in 1871, the country's history has been marked by war and internal conflict. Twice in the 20th century, Germany played the role of aggressor against its European neighbors, prompting the Allied nations to impose military occupation after World War II. For the next four decades Germany was a battlefield of the cold war, before being reunified in 1990 as the Federal Republic of Germany.

Despite the current prosperity, Germany has its share of social problems. In the early 1990s, the unification of East and West Germany, combined with a large influx of foreigners, led to many economic and social problems, including increased taxes, housing shortages, strikes, rising crime rates and unemployment, with which the current administration continues to struggle.

Moderate Chancellor Schroeder, Friend to Business

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, 56, was born in Mossenberg, a small town in Germany's northern state of Lower Saxony. Forced to drop out of school to help support his widowed mother, Schröder did not complete his high school education until the age of 22. He then earned a law degree in 1976, and launched his political career as a member of the Social Democratic Party. In federal elections in September 1998, Schröder's party defeated the centrist coalition government of Helmut Kohl, the longest serving German chancellor of the 20th century.

During that campaign, Schröder based his platform on policies such as reducing taxes for low-income families, restructuring the military, easing barriers to German citizenship for immigrants, and closing nuclear power plants in Germany. At the same time, he worked to present himself as a moderate and a friend to business and industry. Schröder said his top priority would be to reduce Germany's unemployment rate, which was 10 percent at the time of the elections.

At G8 Germany Wants Global Action on Poverty, Crime and Weapons

As one of the world's leading exporting nations, Germany's foreign policy is largely based upon economic concerns. Germany has committed itself to helping reform the global financial system and to encourage political and economic stability in Europe, especially within the EU. Like most of the other G-8 nations, Germany is focusing its attention on "global" issues such as international crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, characterizing them as "challenges which individual states are no longer able to master alone."

Germany has also called on other industrialized nations to help reduce "the prosperity gap" between themselves and developing countries through open trade markets. A key phrase in Germany's policy toward developing countries is "sustainable development," which must include provisions for such global considerations as poverty, population growth and environmental protection.

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