Germans - Orientation

Identification. The Germans are a cultural group united by a common language and a common political heritage. In the past, the term "German" could rightly be applied to many of those now regarded as Dutch, Swiss, or Austrian. These peoples developed separate identities as their lands split Politically from a broader German area. Other regional identities—for example, Bavarian, Prussian, Saxon, and Swabian—were largely subordinated to a common German identity in the course of a nationalist movement that began during the Napoleonic Wars and led to the founding of the German Reich in 1871. Today's Germans include especially the citizens of the newly reunited Federal Republic of Germany, though enclaves of ethnic Germans persist in parts of eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.

Location. Germany fits roughly between 47° and 55° N and 6° and 15° E. Prior to World War II, however, Germany included other surrounding territories and extended eastward into what is now Poland and the western regions of the former Soviet Union. The German terrain rises from the Northern coastal plain to the Bavarian Alps in the south. The Rhine, Weser, Elbe, and Oder rivers run toward the north or northwest, emptying into the North and Baltic seas and draining northern, central, and southwestern Germany. The Danube has its source in the Black Forest and then runs eastward, draining southern Germany and emptying eventually into the Black Sea. Germany has a temperate seasonal climate with moderate to heavy rainfall.

Demography. Following normal modern European patterns, Germany's population rose from about 25 million in 1815 to 67 million in 1914, despite the loss of more than 3 million emigrants. The population continued to rise in the first half of this century, though this trend was hindered by heavy losses in the two world wars. When World War II ended, approximately 7 million ethnic Germans left Eastern Europe and resettled in Germany. An additional 3 million East Germans fled to West Germany before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The current population of Germany is estimated to be about 78,000,000, with 61,500,000 residing in the western Länder, or federal states, and 16,500,000 in the new states of former East Germany. In 1986 West Germany's growth rate was slightly negative and East Germany's nearly zero. The population is, however, augmented by more than 4.5 million foreign workers and a new wave of immigrants from eastern Europe. Since antiquity, Germany's largest settlements have been located along the river valleys and the northern coast. Today, three-quarters of the population occupies urban settlements in these areas. Nevertheless, less than half of about 100 independently administered cities in Germany have a population of more than 200,000, and only three cities—Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich—have more than a million inhabitants.

linguistic Affiliation. German belongs to the Germanic Branch of the Indo-European Family of languages. The major German dialect groups are High and Low German, the Languages of the southern highlands and the northern lowlands, respectively. Low German dialects, in many ways similar to Dutch, were spoken around the mouth of the Rhine and on the northern coast but are now less widespread. High German dialects may be divided into Middle and Upper categories, which, again, correspond to geographic regions. The modern standard is descended largely from East Middle High German and was shaped in part by the Lutheran Bible and by the language of officialdom in the emerging bureaucracies of the early modern period. The standard was firmly established with political unification in the late nineteenth century, and twentieth-century migrations have further contributed to dialect leveling. Nevertheless, local and regional dialects have survived and in some places have reasserted themselves.

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