An Introduction to Germany

I have travelled to Germany many times over the years and every time I am in Germany, almost the first thing I do is head to a Street Cart selling Bratwurst sausage on a bread roll with some mustard, ketchup and sauerkraut. Cheap, easy to eat and tasty – and for me it marks my arrival in Germany.

Welcome to Germany – a great country to visit.

Frankfurt Airport (Frankfurt Flughafen) is one of the busiest airports in Europe and Frankfurt may well be the airport you fly into from overseas. It is very efficient and well sign-posted and there are Regional trains that head to the centre of Frankfurt every few minutes – the main central Railway station in Frankfurt itself being the Hauptbahnhof(Main), about 12 minutes away. There is also the Fernbahnhof at the Airport that has some long distance trains leaving for many other cities in Europe, but most trains will leave from the Hauptbahnhof (Main) Station.

You can also book on this website Rail Europe and Eurail tickets. The DB Deutsche Bahn is the main German Train Company.

In catching a train in Germany – railway stations being called in German ‘Bahnhof’, you will see well marked signage that tells you the platform number and destinations along with a time of arrival, which might say 8.57 or a time like this, and sure enough in almost all cases the train will arrive at 8.57.

Platforms may also designate a carriage number on the platform itself too and you need to make sure that you are standing on the right place to board the right carriage and Class (First class or second class) that is set down on your ticket. The trains don’t stop for long. Many seats are pre-booked and numbered so again you need to sit in your allocated seat number, particularly if it is a busy train.

Having said that, German transport is very well organised and efficient, making it easy and pleasurable to travel by train. Some trains can get very crowded too, particularly if it is a Commuter train. A large number of people, including the station Ticket Officers also speak good English, but obviously German is the preferred language.

Summer in the months of June, July, August, is the time when most Europeans take their holidays, but while the winter months will be cold with snow – this can equally be a good time to see Germany too. The famed Christmas Markets start to appear in November and certainly a Christmas with snow, Christmas lights and decorations all adds to a memorable time. The Springtime and Autumn/Fall months mostly have less people travelling and better rates for accommodation.

Germany has a population of around 81 million people with the biggest city being Berlin with a population of 3.2 million and the next three biggest cities being Hamburg 1.7 million, Munich 1.2 million and Cologne 965 million people, though these figures reflect just the city more so than the city and its commuter area of population. Most of the German population is spread out in smaller cities, towns and villages across the country, with most of the cities having populations of less than 500,000 people.


Germany has a reputation for Engineering, Technology and efficiency and many German companies sell their products and services around the world, perhaps the most famous of these companies and brands are VW – now the world’s biggest car company, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Porsche. Both Porsche and Audi are part of the VW Company. Other companies that are almost as well known are Bayer, Bosch, Siemens, SAP, Allianz Insurance, BASF but there are many others.

Germany is a heavily industrialised country, but at the same time there is a rich culture and many beautiful places to see and hopefully the information on this website will be helpful to you.


Germanic tribes lived in the region that is now defined as Germany for thousands of years, the region referred to by Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar (100BC-44BC) as ‘Germania’, with three  Roman Provinces established along the Rhine River – Germania Superior , Germania Inferior and Raetia on the Upper Rhine covering north to the River Danube.

The best place to see the remains of the Roman Empire era is in the German City of Trier where there is the stone built Porta Nigra (Black Gate) built in 180AD that has a dual archway and a construction of two and partly 3 storeys above it and 100 metres of stone columns leading to it. In Trier too there is the even older arched stone bridge (Romerbrucke) over the Moselle River built around 152AD and the Imperial Baths and massive Basilica of Constantine.  
The Romans also between 83AD and 260AD built the Limes Germanicus – walls, watchtowers and fortifications – much as they did with Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland.  The Limes Germanicus was some 568 Kilometres long (353 Miles)stretching from the North Sea to roughly Switzerland, and while most of it no longer exists, there are sections that you can still walk or cycle and also some of the Forts have been reconstructed. See for more information and also a map of the walking trails. There is also the UNESCO World Heritage site of Saalburg Fort – north-west of the city of Bad Homburg (near Frankfurt). See

The most powerful of the Germanic Tribes were the Franks with Charles the Great (Charlemagne) (747AD-814AD) establishing the Frankish Empire, which was fragmented after his death, divided between his sons, with a number of Duchies (Dukedoms) established.  Charlemagne’s Crypt is located in Aachen Cathedral.

In 936 Otto the Great (Otto the 1st ) (912AD-973AD) was crowned  King over the Duchy of Saxony and then in 962AD Otto the Great  was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope XII in Rome, living in Rome before returning to Aachen in 972, a year before his death.

The Holy Roman Empire brought Christianity or more specifically Roman Catholicism to Germania, with the Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Monks, Priests and Nuns being the “Messengers of God”, with God to be feared. They as God’s messages also had the means to forgive or for a payment in goods, services, money or kind, to give out “Indulgences”.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged many of the Roman Catholic practices, including “Indulgences” and was ex-communicated in 1521 by the Pope for his thoughts and teachings. This led to the establishment of the Lutheran Church though the Reformation which gained a stronghold in the north of Germany, while the South remained Catholic, while both remained as part of the Holy Roman Empire.

Ultimately, the Protestant north and Catholic South would clash and there was a disastrous war between the two sides lasting 30 years from 1618 to 1648. Some 8 million people are said to have died in the 30 Year War, and at the war’s end, the influence and control of the Holy Roman Empire would be at an end in Germany, though it would survive in other parts of Europe until 1806 when it was finally dissolved. Switzerland and the Netherlands also gained their independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1648 too.

The 30 Year War’s end would lead to the establishment of a number of Duchies and ultimately States - Prussia, Saxony, Austria and Bavaria being the main ones. They each had their Royal Families and Kings (Kaisers) and through marriages, there were alliances and connections that enabled the Royal families to establish their power bases and relationships across Europe. This didn’t necessarily follow that wars and battles would never happen.

In the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte and his French Army were defeated by a combined forces led by the British Duke of Wellington, the Prussian, Russian, Dutch and Austrian troops were there too.

German Unification eventually came in 1871 when Prussian Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was able to unite Germany (excluding Austria) in a war against France – the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870 –May 1871) when Napoleon III was defeated and a Treaty signed at Versailles which annexed the French Provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. This would be reversed at the end of World War I when both Alsace and Lorraine became part of France once more – the Peace Treaty again signed in Versailles in the same room as the Treaty had been signed in 1871.

Bismarck maintained unity over Germany but when Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) came to the throne on the death of his father, Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888), things changed and Bismarck was dismissed.  The new Kaiser then took a more aggressive role in pushing for German recognition and power expanding on both its industrial and military power.

If you read the French, Luxembourg and Belgium Military sections of this website – you will be able to read more about the two World Wars.

Both World Wars resulted in massive loss of life on both sides of the War – including those fighting and civilians who were bombed, shot, fell ill, captured, were wounded, or in World War II taken to concentration or labour camps.

An estimated 38 million people died in World War I and in World War II, an estimated 60 million people died. Many more would suffer the lasting effects of the damage or loss of limbs, eyesight, hearing, speech, breathing and the emotional trauma caused by the wars.

At the end of World War One, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and fled to neutral Netherlands where he lived until his death in 1941 and under the Treaty of Versailles Germany was forced to admit its guilt in starting the War, lost its claims to Alsace, Lorraine and its colonies, and paid substantial reparations as payment for war damage.

The end of World War One saw the end of the Kaiser’s rule and in Germany a new democracy movement evolved in the creation of the Weimar Republic in 1918. The new Republic started off with grand plans for liberalising Germany, but those plans were short lived as Germany began to suffer the Great Depression and by 1933 the Weimar Republic was no more and the Government  changed with the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) becoming Chancellor and leading Germany once more into War.

The end of World War Two saw Germany split into two halves, West Germany and East Germany, East Germany coming under Stalin’s Communist control of Russia and the Soviet Union and West Germany coming under the control of the Allied powers of Britain, France and the United States.

Russia had suffered more deaths in World War Two than any other country, its death toll estimated to be around 11 million soldiers but somewhere between 7 and 20 million others wounded or dying.   

Berlin, the former Capital of Prussia and then Germany too, would become an isolated city state in East Germany with a long narrow corridor or road and rail connecting West Berlin to West Germany and in 1961 a 3.6 metre high wall was constructed around West Berlin by East Germany.

The Berlin Wall would become a symbol of repression and when the Soviet Union (USSR) collapsed, the infamous Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, with East Germany and Western Germany united once again in 1990. The Capital of West Germany, Bonn, had been the de-facto capital of Germany but with reunification, in 1991 the official Capital of the united Federal Republic of Germany returned to Berlin with the Bundestag (Parliament) once more in Berlin too.

During the Second World War, Germany was extensively bombed and many cities and building were damaged or completely destroyed.

Both Dresden and Berlin were heavily bombed, but many other German cities and industrial areas were bombed too and also shelled by artillery.

Wars take a human toll but also scar the landscape and destroy the built environment, but as with all disasters there is a recovery time and buildings and infrastructure mostly get restored or replaced with new buildings and infrastructure.

The end of the war brought jubilation for the Allies and in Germany too – though the harsh reality of border changes and new Political masters resulted in massive movement of people. Between 1944 and 1947 some 12 million Germans fled from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Eastern German regions to West Germany and many also then migrated to the USA, Canada, Australia and other countries, to get away from the deprivations of war, food rations and the Political turmoil in Europe.

In Wars over the centuries there was in most cases, a clear winner and loser, with the winner taking   “the spoils of War” extracting payment from the loser in money, land, people, gold, ships, armaments, castles or other means, and in many cases executing the leaders of the losing side and making sure that the losers were greatly weakened so that they could not fight again.

When the four Allied Powers of Britain, USA, France and Russia met in 1945 they all wanted their ‘piece of flesh’.

Adolf Hitler had committed suicide and his body had been burnt, but that still left many Nazi leaders who could be tried for “War Crimes”.  The main question was how best to weaken Germany and be repaid for the massive cost of the War itself, but at the same time not weaken Germany so much so that it became too weak to look after its own people or pay reparations to the Victors.

Huge reparation payments were demanded and the German land borders reverted to what they had been in 1937. The Soviets took many Germans to work as forced labourers and the allies and Russians also used Germans to clear land mines; all signs of Nazi Germany were removed; War Crimes Trials began and to me one of the most interesting claims made by the Allies was to take ownership over all German Patents that had been granted or filed.

The USA also under ‘Operation Paperclip’  in 1945 organised by the US Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency, secretly, with President Truman’s Approval interrogated and took over 1600 German Scientists, Engineers and Technicians to work in the USA, a plan to capture their intellect and use it to advance their own military, technical and aerospace technology.  Some 3700 of their families also came too.

The Russians also had a similar plan too and under ‘Operation Osoaviakhim’ in October 1946 they took some 2000 German Scientists to Russia too along with their families. Some of these had worked on the German V2 Rockets, and both the USA and Russia would in time enter a Space Race.

There were also very different views too at this time between the four Allies with France, Britain and the USA having Democratic Governments and Russia under Stalin being a Soviet Communist Regime under Marxism-Leninism principles.

The views of the Allies would also change too as time moved on, with Britain, France and USA no longer seeing Russia as an ally, but more of a threat to the security of Europe.
In 1948, Russia refused to work with the 3 other Allies in the “Quadripartite Administration” of Germany, the working arrangement that had been formulated in 1945 as the means of administering Germany.

By 1949 East Germany had become officially a Communist State, under Soviet control and the ‘Cold War’ began with Europe divided into two very separate parts – Eastern Europe and Western Europe with opposing political philosophies.  

Under the Communist Regime, Russia extracted as much as possible from East Germany, whereas under the US Marshall Plan, approved by Congress in 1948, substantial funding , some US $12 Billion was put into restoring Western Europe and particularly West German  Industry.

By 1955 West Germany had been transformed – a “Wirtshaftswonder” an Economic Miracle, and while West Germany advanced, East Germany remained moribund.  

It would take until 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union for the two Germanys to become one again and in 1991 Berlin became the capital of a united Germany. West Germany was then confronted with the costs of helping, subsidized and incentivising their East German citizens and companies to develop and prosper.

In a number of German Cities there are museums and memorials that tell the long history of Germany including the times of both World War One and World War Two, Nazi Era and the Holocaust.

As a tourist, you will no doubt see some of these Museums and memorials and maybe visit a Concentration Camp like Bergen-Belsen or Dachau.

Today, Germany is a proud and successful country and has been at the forefront of accepting refugees fleeing from Syria and other war torn countries, with a large stream of Refugees, said to be a million people arriving in Germany in 2015.

The Refugee Crisis and Immigration has not been without problems and it remains very controversial not just in Germany, but in many countries around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg in northern Germany, but also has both German and Polish heritage. Her humanitarian stand in allowing large numbers of Refugees to enter and stay in Germany has been both applauded and widely criticized, but her stand has possibly been formed through by her understanding of European, German and Polish history.


Happy Travels

Geoff Stuart

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