The history and society of Germany

Early history until the middle ages

Early German tribes are thought to have originated from a mixture of peoples from the Baltic Sea Coast.  They put down roots in the northern part of the European continent in 500 BC and by 100 BC they had spread to the central and southern parts of present-day Germany.  Roman attempts at invasion resulted in numerous battles between the two parties and prompted the Romans to build the Limes, a 300 km long fortification of towers and walls, in the first century AD.

The Roman Empire eventually fell and the Germanic tribes continued their spread into present day Germany.  The conquest of Roman Gaul by Frankish tribes in the late fifth century became a milestone of European history; and the triumphant Franks went on to become the founders of a civilized German state.

Middle Ages to German Union

Medieval Germany was dominated mainly by struggles within the German Empire as well as with the Catholic Church, and so the geographic spread of the country changed continuously over the centuries.  Germany’s central Europe location meant that the country was active in international trade as well as manufacturing and therefore prospered during the fourteenth and fifteenth century.  But in 1618, the Thirty Years' War began, and by its end in 1648 large parts of Germany were devastated. Politically, Germany was even less united than before and a long period of economic decline began.

World War I and World War II

At the end of World War I, Germany faced a devastating defeat.  A democratic parliament emerged from the ashes, which was at first dominated by many popular parties.  Over time, mainly through the Great Depression, the more radical parties became stronger, and finally in 1933 the national socialists gained power when Adolf Hitler was appointed as chancellor.  While his party assumed brutal and absolute authority over Germany, their expansionist foreign policy led to the Second World War and the unrivalled horror of the Holocaust.  The state only came to an end in 1945 with Germany’s unconditional surrender.

East and West Germany

The remains of Nazi Germany were divided into four zones, each controlled by the four occupying allied powers – the United States, Britain, France and the Soviets.  The capital, Berlin, was divided similarly despite the city lying deep within the Soviet zone. 

Despite original intentions to jointly govern Germany, tensions resulted in the French, British and American zones forming the Federal Republic of Germany (including West Berlin) in 1949.  The excluded Soviet zone then formed the German Democratic Republic which included East Berlin.  The prospering West drew people from the East but a stop was put to this in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built.

During the following four decades, both German countries chose to follow completely different paths, politically and economically.  After a short but powerful period of peaceful manifestations in Eastern Germany, on November 9, 1989 the GDR border police unexpectedly opened the Berlin Wall.  Almost a year later the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany.

Many differences between both German States have disappeared but at many places, traces of Eastern Germany can still be found, which is one of many reasons to travel through Germany.

Society and Culture

Germany has a vibrant, rich and interesting cultural life.  Names like Einstein, Beethoven and Bach can already be identified with the traditional culture of the country.  Germans are pretty fond of watching and participating in all sorts of sports, games, concerts and contests and they also have a great appreciation for the arts.  Germany’s rich cultural heritage is also visible in its architecture – a diverse mix of the modern and historical.


Just under two thirds of Germans consider themselves Christians, and around a third say they have no religion or are members of a non-Christian faith community such as Muslim or Jewish.

*The Small Print

We’ve tried to make this destination guide as accurate as possible but please double check the essentials like visas, health and safety, airport information etc with the relevant authorities before you travel.  STA Travel takes no responsibility for loss, injury or inconvenience caused as a result of this guide.  All prices listed are in the currency of the destination, unless otherwise stated.

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