When it comes to getting to know a country, a glossary usually comes in handy. Browse our Germany glossary for a first overview of fundamental aspects of German history, politics, culture, and economy, from A as in Anthem to Z as in Zugspitze.


Anthem, National

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany fails to mention a national anthem. As a result, following its founding in 1949, the state initially did not have an official national anthem. However, since 1991, the German national anthem has officially consisted of the third verse of what is known as the Lied der Deutschen or the Deutschlandlied (Song of the Germans), which was written in 1841 by Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874) on the island of Helgoland. The words of the Song of the Germans were written to the melody of the second movement of the Emperor Quartet by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). (


Basic Law

The Basic Law is the legal and political foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany. After it had been approved by the Parliamentary Council, the Basic Law came into force on May 23, 1949. It sets out the fundamental legal and political order for the Federal Republic of Germany. The Basic Law was originally thought of as a temporary solution and provisional arrangement until such time as a constitution for the whole of Germany could be drawn up. When the GDR acceded to the area of validity of the Basic Law on October 3, 1990 it became the constitution of the whole of Germany. (*)


Bauhaus (1919–1933) is considered to be the most famous art, design and architecture college of Classic Modernism. Founded by Walter Gropius it was located in Weimar and later in Dessau. Bauhaus artists and architects created a new, clear, contemporary formal language, much of which still exerts an influence today. The most famous representatives of Bauhaus include Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. (*)

Berlin in the "Golden Twenties"

Between 1924 and 1929, the period of economic upswing and political calm led to a brief but highly productive period, whose presence was felt most of all in the capital city Berlin. The metropolis became one of Europe’s cultural and scientific hot spots. Technological advances and artistic experimentation in architecture, theater, literature and film all enhanced the overall joie de vivre. The world economic crisis of 1929 was a harbinger of the end of the “Golden Twenties” and the decline of the Weimar Republic. (*)

The Bundesrat

The Bundesrat represents the federal states and alongside the Bundestag is a form of Second Chamber. It is obliged to deliberate on each federal law. As the chamber of the federal states, the Bundesrat has the same function as those Second Chambers in other federal states that are mostly referred to as the Senate. The Bundesrat is made up exclusively of representatives of the federal state governments. The number of votes each state holds is aligned in a sense to the size of its population. (*)

The Bundestag

As Germany’s parliament, the German Bundestag stands at the center of the country’s political life and is its supreme democratic organ of state. The legislative process is one of the most important tasks performed by the German Bundestag. All laws are deliberated on and adopted in Parliament. Some acts require the consent of the Bundesrat, the organ through which Germany’s 16 constituent states – the Länder – participate in the legislation and administration of the Federation. The Bundestag also elects the Federal Chancellor. Since 1999, the Bundestag has had its seat at the Reichstag Building in Berlin. (


Chancellor, Federal

The Federal Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag after being proposed by the Federal President. The Federal Chancellor then proposes to the Federal President which ministers should be appointed/dismissed. The Federal Chancellor heads the Federal Government in keeping with rules of procedure authorized by the Federal President. He bears responsibility for the Government vis-à-vis the Bundestag and in the case of national defense is supreme commander of the German Armed Forces. (*)

Constitutional Court, Federal

The Federal Constitutional Court is based in Karlsruhe and consists of two senates, each with eight judges, one half of whom is elected by the Bundestag, the other half voted by the Bundesrat. Each judge is appointed for 12 years and is not eligible for re-election. (*)

Cultural Federalism

Given its federal structure, in Germany culture is the core area where the 16 states possess sovereignty. The Basic Law accords the Federal Government few powers on cultural questions, and thus most cultural institutions are maintained by the states and municipalities. This independent cultural life in the states has led to cultural centers arising all over the country. There are world- class cultural offerings to be found even in smaller cities. The German Cultural Council functions at the national level as the politically independent working party of the Federal cultural associations and discusses cross- disciplinary matters of cultural policy. (*)


There are many sides to cultural life in Germany: From North to South there are many theaters and professional orchestras. With its art museums with diverse internationally renowned collections, the museum world is of quite unparalleled quality. Young German painting is equally vibrant, and is long since part of the international scene. In addition, Germany is one of the major book nations and the many dailies and thousands of magazines go to show how lively the German media world is. Moreover, German films are once again a great success at home and abroad. (*)


Deutsche Mark

The Deutsche Mark (DM), or German mark, was the official currency of West Germany and, from 1990 onwards, all of unified Germany. It was first issued under Allied occupation in 1948 replacing the Reichsmark, and served as the Federal Republic of Germany's official currency until the introduction of euro notes and coins in early 2002.The Deutsche Mark ceased to be legal tender immediately upon the introduction of the euro - in contrast to the other eurozone nations, where the euro and legacy currency circulated side by side for up to two months. One Deutsche Mark was divided into 100 Pfennig. (


Economic Miracle

The term “economic miracle” refers to West Germany’s swift economic recovery following the Second World War. The prerequisites were the reconstruction of production facilities to the highest technical standards, the introduction of the deutschmark and massive financial support on the part of the USA through the Marshall Plan. By the late 1950s Germany had emerged as one of the leading economic nations. (*)

Economic Policy

In line with the federal system, structuring and coordinating economic and financial policy is the joint task of central government, the federal states and munici­palities. They cooperate in various committees. Furthermore, the Federal Government seeks the advice of independent economists. Every January the Federal Government presents to the Bundestag and the Bundesrat the Annual Economic Report, which among other things describes the government’s economic and financial goals for the year as well as the fundamentals of its planned economic and financial policy. One prerequisite for economic life in Germany being able to function is free compe­tition, which is protected by the law against restrictions on competition. It prohibits anti-competitive practice on the part of both companies and the state. Likewise, company mergers, state subsidies and market barriers are assessed to establish whether they impair competition. (*)

Education, Science and Research

Germany is a land of ideas. Education, science and research play a central role here. The German education and university system is undergoing a profound process of renewal that is already bearing fruit: Germany is one of the countries most preferred by foreign students, a hub of cutting-edge international research and a constant source of new patents. (*)

Electoral System

The German electoral system is based on slightly modified, i.e., so-called personalized, proportional representation. Each voter has two votes, the first of which is for a candidate in his or her constituency, the second for a state list of candidates put up by a particular party. The number of seats a party holds in the Bundestag is determined by the number of valid second votes it receives. (*)


The euro is the currency of the European Monetary Union and after the US dollar the second most important member of the international currency system. Together with the national central banks, the European Central Bank (ECB), headquartered in Frankfurt/Main, is responsible for monetary policy with regard to the euro. The euro was physically introduced in “Euroland”, including Germany, on January 1, 2002, having served as a currency of deposit since the beginning of 1999. (*)


Federal States

The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 federal states. The powers of the state are divided up between government as a whole, the Federal Government and the federal states. The latter have independent, if limited government authority. (*)

Five-Percent Threshold

Only those parties are taken into account when allocating seats in the Bundestag as have overcome the following hurdle: they must have polled at least five percent of the vote or won at least three constituencies outright. (*)

Foreign Policy

The primary goal of German foreign policy is to preserve peace and security in the world. The expanded concept of security covers not only questions of conflict prevention, defense, disarmament and arms controls, but also economic, ecological and social issues as well as human rights. This includes a committed effort on behalf of human rights world-wide and a global economy that creates opportunities for everyone, of fostering cross-border environmental protection and an open dialog between the cultures. Foreign cultural and education policy forms an integral part of German foreign policy. (*)

Freedom of the Press and Speech

In Germany, freedom of communication also means that public agencies are obliged to provide journalists with information. The rights of the press are encoded in the press laws of the federal states. These include the duty to publish an imprint, journalists’ duty to take due care in their research and their right to refuse to stand witness or disclose sources. The German Press Council is the voluntary journalism and publishing watchdog: it monitors violations of the duty to take due care in research and of the ethical sides to stories. (*)


Government, Federal

The Federal Government and cabinet is made up of the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Ministers. While the Chancellor holds the power to issue directives, the ministers have departmental powers, meaning that they independently run their respective ministries in the framework of those directives. Moreover, the cabinet abides by the collegial principle, in disputes the Federal Government decides by majority. The affairs of state are managed by the Chancellor. (*)


Health Insurance

Almost all citizens in Germany have health insurance, whether as a compulsory member of the statutory health insurance scheme or a private health insurance scheme. The health insurance companies cover the cost of medical treatment, medication, hospitalization and preventive health care. Contributions to the health insurance scheme are made by employees and employers. Non-employed family members of those in a compulsory health insurance scheme do not pay any contributions. (*)

Historic Responsibility

Germany is profoundly aware of the historic responsibility it bears toward the Jewish community and toward the State of Israel as a result of the crimes of the Nazi regime. This responsibility, a cornerstone of German policy, requires remembrance, reconciliation and ongoing vigilance now and in the future.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust refers to the systematic, bureaucratically planned and the industrially perfected murder of six million European Jews. Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and other people that the Nazis deemed ”unwanted” or “not worthy of living” were also victims. In an unimaginable extermination program these persons were exploited, tortured, humiliated and murdered in death factories and concentration camps. The deaths were preceded by the propaganda-driven enforcement of a racist, anti-Semitic ideology, the swift repeal of civil rights of the Jews, the appropriation of their belongings and their confinement to ghettoes. Not only all state organs but also the military elite, industry, banks, academia and the medical professions were directly involved in the Holocaust. (*)



As early as the 19th century Germany attracted a large number of immigrants and since the 1950s has emerged as the European country with the largest immigrant population. In 1950, there were about 500,000 foreigners in Germany, accounting for a mere one percent or so of the population. Today, they constitute approximately 9% of the population. About every fifth foreigner living in Germany was born here and is a second or third-generation immigrant. (*)



Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967)

The Christian Democrat was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was head of government from 1949 until 1963. As a result of his unflinching West-oriented policies he integrated Germany into the international community, NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). His achievements also include reconciliation with France and his attempts at reconciliation with Israel. (*)



Members of Parliament

Members of the German Bundestag are voted for in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. They are representatives of the entire nation and are not tied to orders and instructions. Exclusion or resignation from a party therefore does not affect their status as members of the Bundestag. In practice, however, membership of a party plays a decisive role, as the members of one and the same party, to the extent that they hold the requisite minimum number of seats, form parliamentary parties, and these shape the face of parliamentary activities. (*)


National Flag

According to Article 22 of the German Basic Law, the colors of the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany are black, red and gold. The black-red-gold tricolour was raised for the first time at the Hambach Festival, a demonstration for freedom and national unity held in 1832. Following the 1918 Revolution, the defenders of the first German republic gathered under the black-red-gold ensign. During the division of Germany, this flag remained the only official symbol that both states had in common, although the GDR later added a hammer, compasses and wreath of grain ears to the German colours. Under the Unification Treaty of 1990, black, red and gold were retained as the national colours of the Federal Republic of Germany. (

National Socialism

National Socialism was the result of a broad-based anti- Semitic, nationalist movement that from 1920 on found expression in the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). The main features of the National Socialist ideology were racism, in particular, anti-Semitism, and the propagation of an Aryan master race, social Darwinism that justified euthanasia and eugenics, totalitarianism and the rejection of democracy, the “alignment of the people” in the sense of their adopting the principle of a Fuehrer, militarism, chauvinism and the ideology of a biologically founded “community of people“, imperialism disguised as “Lebensraum” policy as well as the propaganda events to whip up grass roots support. (*)


Organic Food

Organic agriculture is becoming ever more popular among German farmers. The number of farms working according to organic criteria soared to an unprecedented amount. There are strict criteria governing the classification “organic”: Foodstuffs may not be treated with chemical pesticides or be genetically modified and may only be produced from animals that have been kept in an appropriate manner. (*)


Peaceful Revolution

Within just a few weeks in the autumn of 1989, the East German population staged a spontaneous, non-violent revolution to bring down the ruling authorities. On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall, the very symbol of the division of Germany and the Cold War, fell. The event was preceded by the mass exodus of East German citizens, who fled the country via Prague, Warsaw and the now open border between Hungary and Austria, as well as huge demonstrations, in particular in Leipzig, public protests by famous personalities and civil rights protestors and the increasing demand for freedom to travel. (*)

Pension Insurance

The statutory pension insurance is the most important pillar of old-age provisions. Its financing is split: The monthly contributions paid by employees and employers pay the pensions of those currently in retirement. Through their contributions, those insured acquire some rights when they themselves become pensioners. In turn, coming generations provide for these future rents with their contributions (cross-generational contract). In addition, company and private pensions are the second and third pillars of provisions for old age. Under certain conditions these also enjoy government support. (*)

President, Federal

The Federal President is the head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany. He represents the country in its dealings with other countries and appoints government members, judges and high-ranking civil servants. With his signature, acts become legally binding. He can dismiss the government and, in exceptional cases, dissolve parliament before its term of office is completed. (*)




Following the peaceful overthrow of the East German regime in 1989, reunification of the two Germanies moved that step closer. In the summer of 1990 negotiations about the reunification treaty commenced in Berlin. On October 3, 1990 on the basis of Article 23 of the Basic Law, East Germany acceded to the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany. On December 2, 1990 the first all-German elections to the Bundestag took place. (*)


Social Market Economy

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany does not call for any particular economic order. Yet it is firmly anchored in the principle of the welfare state and therefore excludes a purely free market economy. Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 the country’s economic policy has been hinged on the notion of the social market economy. This concept is an attempt to find a happy medium between a pure market economy and socialism. The social market economy was developed and implemented by Ludwig Erhard, the first Minister of Economics and later German Chancellor. The fundamental idea is based on the principle of freedom of a market economy, supplemented by socio-political methods for keeping a due balance in society. On the one hand, the system is designed to enable market forces in principle to develop freely. On the other hand, the state guarantees a welfare network that protects its citizens from risks. (*)


Transatlantic Partnership

The Transatlantic partnership forms the basis of German and European security. A close and trusting relationship to the United States continues to be of outstanding importance for Germany’s security. However, the Transatlantic partnership is far more than a purely political and military alliance. The close links to the United States have a strong history, rest on shared cultural roots, and are an expression of a profound community of values and interests. (fag)

Two-plus-Four Treaty

The term 'Two-plus-Four Treaty' refers to the ”final provisions with respect to Germany“ of September 12, 1990, which was signed in Moscow by the two Germanies and the four victors of the Second World War (France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA) to safeguard German unity with regard to foreign policy. The treaty re-established the full sovereign unity of Germany. It proclaimed Germany’s borders as final and that the country had no claim to former German territories. (fag) 

U, V, W

Wines from Germany

German wines are produced in 13 wine-growing areas in which around 65,000 vineyards produce a wide variety of typical regional wines. Apart from Saxony and Saale-Unstrut in the East, the German wine-growing areas are concentrated in the southwest and south of the country. Although almost 140 types of vine are planted, only two dozen, primarily the white wines Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, have any real market significance. Of the wine produced in Germany around 65 percent is white and 35 percent red. About a quarter of the nine million hectoliters produced annually is exported, in particular to the USA, Great Britain and the Netherlands. (fag)

X, Y, Z


With 2,962m (9,718 ft), the Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. The border between Germany and Austria goes right through the mountain. There used to be a border checkpoint at the summit, but since Germany and Austria are now both part of the Schengen zone, the border crossing is no longer staffed. The first recorded ascent to the summit was accomplished by a team of land surveyors on  August 27, 1820. The team was led by Lieutenant Josef Naus, who was accompanied by two men named Maier and G. Deutschl. However, local people had conquered the peak over 50 years earlier, according to a 1770 map discovered by the Alpenverein. (


Alphabetical Directory, (c)

National Anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany

Deutsche Nationalhymne Audio File

“Facts about Germany” – in 19 languages

Facts about Germany

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