Main article: History of Germany
The German language and the feeling of "Germanhood" go back more than a thousand years, but the state now known as Germany was unified as a modern nation-state only in 1871, when the German Empire, dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia, was forged. This was the second German Reich, usually translated as "empire", but also meaning "realm".
The first Reich – known for much of its existence as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – stemmed from a division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, which was founded by Charlemagne on December 25th, 800, and existed in varying forms until 1806.
During these almost thousand years, the Germans expanded their influence successfully with help of the organization of the Catholic Church, Northern Crusades and the Hanseatic League. In 1530, the attempt of Protestant Reformation of Catholicism turned out to have failed, and a separate Protestant church was acknowledged as new state religion in many states of Germany. This led to inter-German strife, the Thirty Years War (1618) and finally the Peace of Westphalia (1648), that resulted in a drastically enfeebled and politically disunited Germany, unable to resist the stroke of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the Reich was overrun and dissolved in 1806.
The lasting effect of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire came to be the division between Austria, formerly the leading state of Germany, from the more western and northern parts. Between 1815 and 1871 Germany consisted of dozens of independent states, thirty-nine of which formed the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund).
The second Reich, the German Empire, was proclaimed January 18th, 1871, in Versailles after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This was mainly the result of the efforts of Otto von Bismarck, Germany's most prominent statesman of the 19th century, among other things known for fighting Socialists with social reform and Catholic influence in the so called Kulturkampf.
After the Holy Roman Empire was subdued by France in the Napoleonic Wars, France was for long perceived as Germany's arch-enemy. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Germany revenged, but also during World War I, the invasion of France (1914) was a chief objective. After initial advances, World War I amounted to a slow war in the trenches, killing many on both sides. When the war ended in 1918, Germany's emperor was forced to abdicate, and after a quenched revolution the German Empire was succeeded by the democratic Weimar Republic.
The Peace Treaty of Versailles held Germany responsible for the war. Economic hardship due to both the peace conditions and the world wide Great Depression is typically pointed to in order to explain why anti-democratic parties, both right-wing and left-wing, were increasingly supported by German opinion leaders and voters. In the extraordinary elections of July and November 1932, the anti-democratic Nazis got 37,2% and 33,0% respectively. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and by the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, a wide majority of the parliament effectively disbanded the constitution of the Weimar Republic.
The Third Reich was that of the Nazis, which lasted 12 years, from 1933 to 1945. In 1934, Hitler affirmed total control of government, when he also succeeded the President of Germany.
His policy of annexing neighbouring territories may have been one of several reasons that led to the outbreak of World War II in Europe on September 1, 1939. Initially, Germany and her allies had many military successes, and gained control over most of Europe's mainland. After the Soviet Union and the United States entered the war, the momentum in the war switched, signaled by the Wehrmacht's dramatic defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd). On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered after the Red Army had occupied Berlin where Hitler had committed suicide. The war resulted in large losses of territory, 15 million Germans expelled, and 45 years of division, during which the country was split up into West Germany and East Germany, founded in 1949.
After the fall of Communism in Europe, Germany was reunited in 1990. Together with France the new Germany is playing the leading role in the European Union. Germany is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defense and security apparatus. The Chancellor recently also claimed a permanent seat for Germany in the UN Security Council.
Main article: Politics of Germany
Germany is a constitutional federal republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1949 'constitution' called Grundgesetz (Basic Law). It has a parliamentary system in which the head of government, the Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), is elected by the parliament.
The parliament, called Bundestag (Federal Assembly), is elected every four years by popular vote in a complex system combining direct and proportional representation. The 16 Bundesländer are represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), which—depending on the subject matter—may have a say in the legislative procedure. Lately, there has been much concern about the Bundestag and the Bundesrat blocking each other, making effective government very difficult.
The function of head of state is performed by the Bundespräsident (Federal President), whose powers are mostly limited to ceremonial and representative duties.
The judiciary branch includes a Constitutional Court called Bundesverfassungsgericht, which may ultimately overturn all acts by the legislature or administration if they are deemed unconstitutional; as well as a Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), responsible for appeals from lower state court. All lower courts are created by the Bundesländer.
Main article: States of Germany
Germany is divided into sixteen Bundesländer (singular Bundesland), or federal statess: