For some forty-five years, between 1945 and late 1990, the German people lived in a divided land. During most of that period, Germany was made up of two separate states: the Federal Republic of Germany (known as West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany). The two Germanys were divided not only by a border, but by opposing political systems as well. West Germany had a democratic form of government. East Germany was a Communist state.

The division of Germany was a result of its defeat in World War II. In 1945, at the end of the war, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation by the victorious Allies — the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. In 1949, West Germany was formed from the U.S., British, and French zones; and East Germany from the Soviet zone.

In October 1990 the two Germanys were reunited.

The great majority of Germans live in urban areas (cities and large towns). Aside from Berlin, the capital and most populous city, the largest cities are in western Germany. It is the most densely populated part of the country and one of the most densely populated areas in Europe.

Many urban areas had to be rebuilt after the destruction of World War II. There is still a housing shortage, especially in the west because of the millions of immigrants who fled there from the eastern region.

Reducing Regional Differences

Life in most of western Germany's cities, towns, and villages has become much the same, although the pace of life is faster in the cities. In the small villages, people still take pride in local customs and they may wear traditional dress on holidays and other special occasions. Regional dialects can still be heard. But, with a few exceptions, the great historical differences that once existed among the regions have all but disappeared.

There are several reasons for this development. In the postwar period, millions of refugees from the east settled throughout Germany, including Protestants in traditionally Catholic areas and Catholics in Protestant areas. In addition, the boundaries of the former West German states were drawn up in most cases by the Western allies — the United States, Britain, and France — who were not especially interested in keeping the country's historic regions intact.

Television has also played a major role in reducing regional differences. People throughout the country watched the same television programs or listened to national radio networks. There were fewer programs with a regional emphasis.

Food and Drink

Each region of Germany has its own specialties. Bavaria is famous for its Knödel (dumplings). The Hamburg area is known for its delicious seafood dishes. Westphalian pumpernickel, or black bread, and German rye bread are also popular in many other countries. Venison (deer meat), rabbit, and other kinds of game are served in many parts of Germany. Cold fruit soups are another German specialty. Favorite foods all over Germany include Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet), pork chops, herring, and sauerbraten (beef marinated in vinegar and spices before roasting). Sausages, in all their many varieties, are served everywhere, from little street stands to the finest restaurants. However, Germans have become more health-conscious in recent years. They eat less fatty foods and prefer a more balanced diet.

Beer and wine are the favorite alcoholic drinks. Germany is famed for its beers and its white wines. The best-known German wines come from the Rhine and Moselle river regions.

Sports and Festivals

Soccer is the favorite German sport. Gymnastics, swimming, horseback riding, tennis, hiking, and handball are also popular. Winter sports, such as skiing and ice-skating, draw thousands of families to the Bavarian Alps and other winter resorts.

Germans love celebrations. During the months of September and October, the Rhineland celebrates the wine harvest. There are weeks devoted to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn and to Johann Sebastian Bach at Ansbach. Richard Wagner's operas are performed at Bayreuth in July and August. Berlin is the site of numerous film, theater, and music festivals. During the Oktoberfest in Munich, large amounts of food and beer are consumed. The annual Children's Festival at Biberach always draws large crowds.

Many small medieval towns in the south present historical plays. The passion plays, which are usually given at Easter time, dramatize Christ's last days on earth. The most famous passion play is presented in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau. It has been staged in the summer every ten years since the 1630s to celebrate the town's deliverance from the Black Plague.

The pre-Lenten season is celebrated with carnivals in Munich, Cologne, and some other areas. But the most important German holiday is Christmas. During this season the kitchens have a delicious smell of homemade fruitcake, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), and all kinds of cookies. Christmas trees are decorated with silvery strands of "angel hair" and many white candles. On Christmas Eve, carols are sung and gifts are exchanged.

Cultural Heritage

Germany has made impressive contributions to the arts and sciences over the centuries. Many German writers, composers, philosophers, painters, architects, and scientists have had an impact far beyond the country's borders. During the years of Nazi rule in Germany (1933–45), however, scores of artists and scientists fled the country or were forced into exile. Many lent their talents to their adopted countries, but they left a void in Germany that lasted well into the postwar period.

Dorothea Spada
Contributor, Die Stuttgarter Zeitung

Gerard Braunthal
Author, West German Social Democrats, 1969–1982

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Germany was reunited as one country in 1990. Why did Germany break up in the first place? List some of the problems that Germany is facing while trying to become one country again? Imagine the Governor decided to split your state in half. What would be some of the pros and cons?