Germany is the largest country in Central Europe. It is bordered to the north by Denmark, to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Germany is a federation of 16 states, roughly corresponding to regions with their own distinct and unique cultures. Germany is one of the most influential nations in European culture, and one of the world’s main economic powers. Known around the world for its precision engineering and high-tech products, it is equally admired by visitors for its old-world charm and “Gemütlichkeit” (coziness) or hospitality. If you have perceptions of Germany as simply homogeneous, it will surprise you with its many historical regions and much local diversity for its relatively small size.
Cultural and historical attractions
When thinking of Germany, beer, lederhosen and Alpine hats quickly come to mind, but these stereotypes mostly relate to Bavarian culture and do not represent Germany as a whole. Germany is a vast and diverse country with 16 culturally unique states that only form a political union since 1871.
If you’re still looking for the cliches, the Romantic Road is a famous scenic route along romantic castles and picturesque villages. With its fairy tale appearance, the Neuschwanstein Castle could be considered the most iconic of German castles. The walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has a beautiful mediaeval centre that seems untouched by the passage of time. Similar typical German towns can be found elsewhere in the country, like Augsburg, Bamberg, Celle, Heidelberg, Lübeck, and Quedlinburg. Your picture postcard visit to Germany will be complete with a visit to the beer halls of Munich and a peek of the Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Germany is a modern industrial nation, and the Wirtschaftswunder is best represented by the industrial heritage of the Ruhr. Hamburg is another economic powerhouse with the second busiest port of the continent. Frankfurt is the financial centre of Germany, and of Europe as a whole, as it is the base of the European Central Bank. Its skyline comes close to those found at the other side of the Atlantic. The fashion city of Düsseldorf, media industry of Cologne, and car companies in Stuttgart each represent a flourishing sector of the German economic miracle.
A completely different experience can be found in Berlin, a city unlikely to be found anywhere else on the planet. While architecturally an odd mismatch of sterilised apartment blocks, post-modernist glass and steel structures, and some historic left-overs, it has a laid-back atmosphere and a culture of internationalism that accepts everyone as a “Berliner”. Its turbulent history gave rise to an enormous wealth of historical attractions, among them the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, Fernsehturm, Holocaust Memorial, Rotes Rathaus, and the DDR Museum. But do not miss out the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood if you want to feel like a true Berliner.
The Schöningen Spears are 8 wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age, that were found between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt, Germany, together with approx. 16,000 animal bones. More than 300,000 years old they are the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons in the world and they are regarded as the first evidence of the active hunt by Homo heidelbergensis. These discoveries have permanently changed the picture of the cultural and social development of early man.
Due to its size and location in Central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes. In the north, Germany has an extensive coastline along the North Sea and the Baltic Seas in a vast area known as the North German Plain. The landscape is very flat and the climate is rough with strong winds and mild, chilly temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that press water into the German Bight, tidal variations are exceptionally high, creating the Wadden Sea. Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. The East Frisian Islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Favourite white sand resorts along the Baltic Sea include Rügen and Usedom.
The central half of Germany is a patchwork of the Central Uplands, hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hill ranges are tourist destinations, like the Bavarian Forest, the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains, and Saxon Switzerland. The Rhine Valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country’s most important area for wine and fruit growing.
In the extreme south, bordering Austria, Germany contains a small portion of the Alps, Central Europe’s highest elevation, rising as high as 4000 m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze at 2962 m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. Along the country’s southwestern border with Switzerland and Austria lies Lake Constance, Germany’s largest fresh-water lake.
Germany offers virtually every activity you can imagine. Most Germans are members of a sports club and visit cultural events less often. Due to the federal structure every region has its own specific activities.
Germany is crazy about football and the German Football Association DFB is the biggest FA association in the world with 6.35 million members (8% of the German population) in more than 25,000 clubs. Every village has a club and the games are the main social event on weekends. Participation is strongly encouraged.
In the winter many people go skiing in the Alps in Bavaria close to Munich.
Almost every middle-size German city has a spa (often called Therme) with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, sun roofs etc. The sauna areas are coed and people are nude there.
Germany has world class opera houses (especially Berlin, Bayreuth, and Munich) and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is known as one of the Top3 orchestras in the world. Several theatres in bigger cities play outstanding classical and contemporary plays. Germanys prides itself in the wide varierty of cultural events and every city works out a cultural agenda.
Musicals are popular in Germany. Although there are some touring productions from time to time, most shows stay in a specific city for a few years. Most shows belong to the company called “Stage Entertainment”. The main ‘musical cities’ are Hamburg (for example The Lion King), Berlin (for example Blue Man Group), Oberhausen (Wicked), Stuttgart (for example Dance of the Vampires), Bochum (Starlight Express) and Cologne.
(all the above from http://wikitravel.org/en/Germany)
LGBT rights in Germany
Germany has been one of the most progressive European nations on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights. The German Empire and Nazi Germany each reversed the previously tolerant policies using §175. Especially during the Weimar Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, activists campaigned for its repeal. The laws were attenuated in 1950, repealed in practise in East Germany in 1968 and in full in a reunified Germany in 1994.
Law regarding same-sex sexual activity
There are no laws against same-sex sexual activity in Germany.
Male-male sexual activity was prosecuted under sodomy laws throughout Western Europe from the Middle Ages, and was made a crime nationally under Paragraph 175 in 1871, the year the federal German Empire was formed. The law was extended under Nazi rule, and convictions multiplied by a factor of ten to about 8,000 per year. Penalties were severe, and 5,000 – 15,000 suspected offenders were interned in concentration camps, where most of them died.
The Nazi additions were repealed in East Germany in 1950, but homosexual relations between men remained a crime until 1968. West Germany kept the more repressive version of the law, legalizing male homosexual activity one year after East Germany, in 1969. The age of consent was equalized in East Germany through a 1987 court ruling, with West Germany following suit in 1989; it is now 14 years (16/18 in some circumstances) for female-female, male-male and female-male activity.
Berlin celebrates a month long Pride season, culminating in the Christopher Street Pride March. www.csd-berlin.de
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(since 1968 in East Germany, 1969 in West Germany)|
|Equal age of consent||(since 1987 in East Germany, 1989 in West Germany)|
|Anti-discrimination laws||(since 2006 in employment, other laws vary by Bundesland)|
|Recognition of same-sex couples as registered partnerships||(since 2001)|
|Step-child adoption by same-sex couples||(since 2004)|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|Gay men and women allowed to serve openly in the military||(since 2000)|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
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