Germany is an economic powerhouse boasting the largest economy of Europe, and is in spite of its relatively small population the second largest country of the world in terms of exports.
The financial center of Germany and continental Europe is Frankfurt am Main, and it can also be considered one of the most important air traffic hubs in Europe, with Germany's flag carrier Lufthansa known for being not just a carrier, but rather a prestigious brand, though its glamour has faded somewhat during recent years. Frankfurt features an impressive skyline with many high-rise buildings, quite unusual for Central Europe; this circumstance has led to the city being nicknamed "Mainhattan". It is also the home of the European Central Bank ECB, making it the center of the Euro, the supra-national currency used throughout the European Union. Frankfurt Rhein-Main International Airport is the largest airport of the country, while the Frankfurt Stock Exchange FSE is the most important stock exchange in Germany.
Being a federal republic, Germany is very much a decentralised country, which does justice to the cultural differences between the regions. Most travelers will perhaps only think of beer, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when Germany comes to mind, but Germany's famous alpine and beer culture is mostly centered around Bavaria and Munich. Here the beer is traditionally served in 1 liter mugs but not in Kneipen (pubs and Restaurants). The annual Oktoberfest is Europe's most visited festival and the world's largest fair. Germany's south-western regions, however, are well known for their wine growing areas e.g. Rheinhessen and Palatinate and Bad Duerkheim on the 'German wine route' organises the biggest wine festival worldwide with over 600,000 visitors annually.
The fall of the wall in 1989 and the subsequent German Reunification are the main events of recent German history. Today most Germans as well as their neighbours support the idea of a peaceful reunified Germany and while the eastern regions still suffer from higher unemployment and of brain-drain, the reunification process is overall seen as a success. October 3rd is celebrated as the day of "German National Unity" or "Reunification Day".
Cars are a symbol of national pride and social status. Certainly manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen VW are world famous for their quality, safety and style. This quality is matched by Germany's excellent network of roadways including the renowned Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits that attract speed hungry drivers. There are actually speed tourists who come to Germany just to rent an exotic sports car and fly down the autobahn! Amazingly for its size Germany is home to the third largest freeway/motorway network in the world. Germany also features an extensive network of high speed trains - the InterCityExpress ICE.
Most cities have a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. In fact, some politicians e.g. the Mayor of Berlin and the foreign minister and stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.
Germans are generally friendly,although the stereotype that they can be stern and cold is sometimes true. Just be polite and proper and you'll be fine.
Germany was the host of the FIFA World Cup 2006.
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 states or federal-states 'BundeslÃ¤nder'. The federal parliament 'Bundestag' is elected every four years in a fairly complicated system, involving both direct and proportional representation. A party will be represented in Parliament if it can gather at least 5% of all votes or at least 3 directly won seats. The parliament elects the Federal Chancellor 'Bundeskanzler', currently Angela Merkel in its first session, who serves as the head of the government. There is no restriction regarding re-election. The 'BundeslÃ¤nder' are represented at the federal level through the Federal Council 'Bundesrat'. Many federal laws have to be approved by the council. This can lead to situations where Council and Parliament are blocking each other if they are dominated by different parties. On the other hand, if both are dominated by the same party with strong party discipline which is usually the case with CDU-CSU-FDP coalitions, its leader has the opportunity to rule rather heavy handedly, the only federal power being allowed to intervene being the Federal Constitutional Court 'Bundesverfassungsgericht'.
The formal head of state is the President 'BundesprÃ¤sident', who is not involved in day-to-day politics and has mainly ceremonial and representative duties. He can also suspend the parliament, but all executive power lies with the chancellor. The President of Germany is elected every 5 years by a specially convened national assembly, and is restricted to serving a maximum of two five year terms.
The two largest parties are center-right CDU 'Christlich Demokratische Union', Christian Democratic Party and center-left SPD 'Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands', Social Democratic Party. Due to the proportional voting system, smaller parties are also represented in parliament. Medium-sized parties of importance are center-right CSU 'Christlich Soziale Union', Christian Social Party, the most important party in Bavaria which collaborates at the federal level with the CDU, liberal FDP 'Freie Demokratische Partei', Free Democratic Party, the Green party 'Bündnis 90/Die Grünen', since summer 2005, the new Left Party 'Die Linke', a socialist party with significant strength in East Germany, the result of a merger between the Party of Democratic Socialism PDS legal successor of GDR's state party, SED (Socialist Unity Party) and the Alternative for Work and Social Justice WASG founded by SPD's ex-leader, Oskar Lafontaine, to accommodate SPD's former left wing creating an alternative to Gerhard SchrÃ¶der's "Agenda 2010" policy, and, since 2011, the Pirates' Party 'Piratenpartei', a civil rights and liberties movement. There have been some attempts by extreme right-wing parties NPD - National Democratic Party / REP - Republicans to get into parliament, but so far they have failed the 5% requirement except in some East German state parliaments, currently Saxony and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; extreme left-wing parties MLPD - Marxist-Leninist Party / DKP - German Communist Party virtually only have minimal influence on administrative levels below state parliaments.