Sunday, October 5, 2014

GERMANY: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Finally… I got to Germany, one-half of my heritage.  I was born into a long line of German Lutherans near Hanover who transplanted themselves into southern Indiana, in and around Columbus. My grandmother used to tell me that her grandparents still spoke German, and there were church services still performed in German; however, with the onset of WWII, it stopped being used. It’s the only part of my heritage that I’ll be able to do for my blog since Scotland decided not to be its own country.  OK, whatever. I suppose I can work scones into my menu for the UK when I get to it.

Hohenzollern Castle
Julius Caesar referred to this area as Germania, which lent its name towards the English word for it, Germany.  However, the German word for their country is Deutschland, which descended from an Old High German word meaning “of the people.” In many other languages, the word for Germany is different: Allemagne in French, Alemanha in Portuguese, Alemania in Spanish, etc. These words stemmed from a tribe called the Alemanni who lived in the southern sections of present-day Germany, France, and Switzerland.


Germany lies in north central Europe, surrounded by Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Generally speaking, Germany has the same climate as much of the Midwest in the US: cold winters and warm summers. 

The actual doors of the church burned up centuries ago, so they replaced them with replicas.
The first non-modern human remains were discovered in the Neander valley, giving its name to the term, Neanderthal.  Early Germanic tribes settled in and around the Rhine and Danube Rivers.  They came in contact with various other tribes of people, some on friendly terms, others not so much. Charlemagne has his turn, the Holy Roman Empire has theirs, as well as the Ottoman Empire. Martin Luther made waves in the Catholic Church in 1517 by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the church doors at Wittenberg, which were basically ninety-five things he had problems with and thought that needed changed. Of course, this didn’t go over well with the Catholic Church, and he ended branching off (although that was not his intention) and thus Protestantism was born (you know, related to the word protest); his followers were then called Lutherans. 

SS rally in Nuremberg
The mid-1800s brought along conflict with Prussia, and by the time the 1880s rolled around, Germany was playing its part in the Great African Land Grab as well. After the turn of the century, Germany was again involved in WWI, followed by its own German Revolution. The Nazi Party won power in 1930, and soon the country found itself in WWII and suffering from the effects of the Holocaust. A few years after the end of the war, Germany was divided into East Germany (the communist side) and West Germany (the democratic side), which was also physically divided by a wall down the middle.  I remember watching television in 1990 when the wall was torn down. There are certain moments you never forget. Since its reunification, Germany has taken an active role in the European Union as well as becoming one of the world’s leading economies.

Berlin Wall
Berlin became the capital again once Germany was fully united. (East Berlin was the capital of East Germany when it was divided while West Berlin remained an exclave in West Germany; Bonn was the capital of West Germany at that time.). Berlin is a world-class city – a center for music, arts, education, and high-tech research jobs. It’s also known for its high quality of life and status of being entrepreneur-friendly. With a mix of classical and modern architecture, the city is dotted with world-renowned museums, theatres, nightlife, universities, sports, and shopping. Berlin has also made a name for itself as one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in Europe.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Germany has a highly-skilled labor economy and has companies that are among the top countries in the world in science, medical, and pharmaceutical research (Bayer, BASF); high-tech, electronics, and software engineering (Siemens, SAP); automobile industry (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bosch, Daimler); clothing and beauty supplies (Adidas, Nivea); and banking, financial, and insurance services (Allianz, Deutsche Bank).

Porsche Boxster
While having been the sight of major events in Christian history, only about 62% of Germans claim to be Christian.  A large number of Germans (thought to be between 30-35%) consider themselves to be non-religious, a number that has grown increasingly since the reunification in 1990.  The second-largest religion is Islam, mostly represented by Sunni and Alevites, but other denominations are present as well, especially those from Turkey.  There is a sizable amount of Jews (the third-largest in Europe), Buddhists, and Hindus in Germany as well (the latter two are mostly represented by Asian immigrants). 

Guten Tag = Hello
The official language and most widely-spoken language is German. There are several minority languages that are protected and are recognized by the government: Danish, Low German, Sorbian, Romany, and Frisian.  Most Germans speak one foreign language and a smaller portion can speak two or more. Standard German is a West Germanic language, along with English, Dutch, Low German, and Frisian.

Albert Einstein
Germany has long been a place of scientific breakthroughs and inventions.  Scientists such as Albert Einstein and Max Plank have given us a wealth of knowledge in physics and quantum theory. Wilhelm Röntgen discovered and developed X-ray technology (the Japanese word for X-ray is rentogen, named after him).  German ingenuity led to numerous inventions that have changed the world: Johannes Gutenberg with moveable type printing, Hans Geiger with the Geiger counter [measures radioactivity], Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin with the dirigible airship, Rudolf Diesel with diesel engines, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz and electromagnetic radiation in radio technology, as well as many others. Germany also bred many philosophers such as Nietzsche, Kant, and Schopenhauer. And of course they are known for their breweries, including the world’s oldest brewery, the Weihenstephaner Brewery that brewed its first beer in the year 1040!  I’m pretty sure they’re doing something right if they’ve been in business that long. They’re also known for the Autobahn, one of the only roadways to have no established speed limit throughout much of it. There are over 300 types of bread and 1000 different types of sausage, making this country an excellent gastronomic experience. Of course, the Christmas tree is a German tradition as well. And we can’t forget about Oktoberfest, which is still going on in certain places as I write this, even though technically it starts at the end of September. This is the perfect time to cook food from Germany because it IS October – it’s like kismet. And I’m oh so excited! And hungry. Mostly hungry.

Up next: art and literature

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