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Germany[]

History[]

While various "Germanic" peoples have occupied northern-central Europe for thousands of years, the modern political entity known as "Germany" is extremely young, created almost single-handedly by the imperialistic Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck some 140 years ago. During its brief existence Germany has had a profound effect - for good and for bad - on human history.

Climate and Terrain[]

Germany encompasses a variety of terrains, from snow-covered mountains in the south to rolling hills in the west to the flatlands of the east to the coast in the north. It is crossed by several major rivers which provide water for crops and transport for goods. Its hills and mountains are poor with natural resources and its plains are not very fertile. Germany has a temperate climate and abundant rainfall, ideal for European-style agriculture.

Pre-History[]

For centuries northern-central Europe has been occupied by Germanic people, roughly defined as people who speak Germanic languages (rather than say the Romanic languages of Italy, France and Spain). Evidence suggests that Germanic tribes lived in northern Germany as far back as the Bronze Age. It appears that during this period Southern Germany was originally populated by peoples of Celtic origin; they were however eventually "Germanized" as the Germanic tribes' influence spread south. At first a new culture called Celti-German came but eventually this region was fully Germanized.

The Romans[]

The first historical information on the Germanic tribes comes to us from about 50 BC, when the Roman general Julius Caesar encountered and fought various tribes while conquering the province of Gaul (an area roughly encompassing modern France). Caesar established the eastern border of Gaul at the Rhine River, beyond which most of the "barbaric" German tribes lived.

The Romans and Germanic people maintained an uneasy peace (punctuated by various raids and border skirmishes) for some forty years until approximately 10 BC, when the Roman armies invaded Germanic territory from two directions, crossing the Rhine to the west and the Danube to the south. This proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation: the barbarians were astonishingly tough opponents and a number of Roman legions were destroyed. The humiliated Romans retreated to the previous borders of the Danube and the Rhine, no further incursions were attempted for several centuries, and the two sides coexisted more or less peacefully until 350 AD.

During that period there was a good deal of commerce between the Romans and the Germans, with the Germans trading raw material in exchange for Roman manufactured and luxury goods. Over time the Germans learned advanced agricultural techniques from the Romans, and they even began using Roman money.

Enter the Huns[]

As the fourth century progressed, the Germanic tribes began to come under increased pressure from "Hunnish" tribes migrating into Germanic territory from further east. This pushed the Germanic people into Roman territory. Over the next fifty-odd years parts of Rome were overrun by the Visigoths, Suebi and Vandals. The city of Rome itself was sacked several times, and several Roman emperors died fighting the invaders. The Romans eventually came to terms with some of the invaders, granting them territory and some measure of protection from the advancing Huns.

With the death of Attila in 435 the Hun Empire collapsed, and the Germanic tribes no longer needed Rome's protection. A number of tribes declared their independence from Rome, and within a short period a Visigoth kingdom was established in southwest Gaul, a Burgundian kingdom was declared in southeast Gaul, a Frankish kingdom was established in the north, and the Lombard kingdom was created on the Danube – and the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist.

The Franks[]

Once established in north-western Gaul, the Franks (the Germanic peoples in Roman Gaul) began to expand eastward across the Rhine and back into non-Romanized Germanic territory, where the non-Romanized Germanic tribes remained as stubbornly independent as ever. The subjugation of the tribes spanned three centuries of war, conquest, rebellion, treachery, punishment, and more war. Religion was one of the great impediments to peace: the Franks had become Christian and they sought to spread the gospel into the barbarian lands. The Germanic tribes were pagans but quickly abandoned their religion.

The Franks themselves were not a unified monolithic entity: they spent as much time fighting themselves as they did battling external foes. The earliest line of rulers, the Merovingians, remained in power until the middle of the seventh century, when they were overthrown by the Carolingians, former stewarts of the Merovingians. The Carolingians were blessed with a series of extremely able kings who, allied with the Catholic Church, extended Frankish power across much of central Europe.

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire[]

The greatest of the Carolingians, Charlemagne (742-814) was a brilliant military leader and a canny politician. He continued his father's and grandfather's subjugation of the Germanic tribes, and he extended his empire into southern France and then Italy. In exchange for protecting Rome from the Saracens and the Byzantines, the Pope crowned him Emperor. Today Charlemagne is considered to be one of the founders of France and of Germany, not to mention the first man to unite Western Europe since the Romans.

Upon Charlemagne's death, his only son Louis I (Louis the Pious) assumed the throne. Louis had more than one son, and they soon deposed of him and fought bloody wars about the empire. Many years would pass before any single person would again rule so large a portion of Europe.

The Rise of Germany (Part I)[]

Louis the Pious' son, Louis the German, inherited the eastern portion of the Frankish Empire, in what would become Medieval Germany. Much of his reign was spent fighting the Slavs, the Vikings and his brothers, inheritors of the middle and western portions of Charlemagne's empire (the areas which would later become France and the Benelux countries). Louis the German ruled for some 50 years (ca. 825-876), providing political stability to his war-torn kingdom. When not engaged in battle with his neighbors, Louis was an early patron of German letters who promoted the creation of monasteries in his kingdom.

The Middle Ages[]

In the two centuries following Louis' reign, power devolved to local authorities, resulting in a patchwork of smaller mostly independent duchies who became independent political units in everything but name. Following the death of the last Carolingian German king, the German dukes elected first a Frankish duke to be king, but when he proved incompetent the title went to a Saxon duke.

The Saxons remained in power for some centuries. They successfully held off the attacks of the eastern barbarians (though an attempt to expand German power east proved disastrous). By the late 10th century Otto I had invaded and conquered much of the Slavic lands in the east. Pope John XII crowned him Emperor, beginning a powerful alliance between the German state and the Church that lasted over a century.

This alliance was not permanent, however. Eventually, the popes grew to resent the German kings' increasing power over the Church's property and personnel. Reformers within the Church decried the corruption of bishops and abbots who purchased their positions from kings and duchies (the sin of "simony"), claiming that only the pope should make such appointments. Matters reached a peak in 1075, when King Henry IV demanded that Pope Gregory VII abdicate; Gregory responded by excommunicating Henry. Facing a civil war, Henry was forced to beg the pope for forgiveness. The pope gave it, but Henry was badly weakened and was unable to quash the rebellion, which dragged on for some 20 years. Although Henry IV survived, the German monarchy was permanently weakened by the struggle.

During this period German power continued to grow in Central Europe, as German kings and duchies conquered and colonized non-German territory to the east and west. King Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa), who reigned from 1152–1190, campaigned to reconquer Lombardy and Italy. Although unsuccessful against the Lombards, he (and his heirs) did make substantial gains in Italy. Frederick died in 1190, while leading the ill-fated Third Crusade towards the Holy Land. According to legend he drowned while bathing.

The Fall of Germany (Part I)[]

Frederick's heirs were unable to unify the increasingly fragmented Germany, and when Frederick II, Barbarossa's grandson, died in 1250, the crown was left vacant for some time. Although others would eventually claim the crown, none would again wield true monarchical power.

By the late 14th century the dissolution of Germany was all but complete.

The Rise of Germany (Part II)[]

Germany would remain divided for some five long centuries. By the 18th century Austria (under the Habsburgs) and the kingdom of Prussia were the two dominant powers; at the beginning of the 19th century both were engaged in the desperate struggles of the Napoleonic wars that convulsed Europe. In the Congress of Vienna in 1814 which followed Napoleon's defeat, many of the states which comprised the old German empire were joined together in the German Confederation. Austria and Prussia both sought to dominate the Confederation; their incessant squabbling and jockeying for position left the new state weak and divided.

In 1861 King William I of Prussia appointed Otto von Bismarck Prime Minister of Prussia. Three short years later Bismarck led his country into war with Denmark, adding Schleswig-Holstein to the growing Prussian State. In 1866 Prussia went to war against Austria, after Bismarck's cunning machinations left the Habsburg Empire isolated and vulnerable. Prussia easily defeated its once mighty competitor, driving Austria from the Confederation.

In 1870 Prussia went to war with France, utilizing its incomparable railroad network to launch a lightning assault that the French were totally unprepared for. The French were crushed and the Prussians claimed the disputed territories of Alsace-Lorraine. Having decisively beaten the only two land powers who might have stopped them, Bismarck and the Prussians announced the formation of the German Empire, the direct ancestor of modern Germany. Germany would dominate central Europe for the next 50 years.

The Fall of Germany (Part II)[]

The story of World War I is well known. At heart, that war was a horrible failure of diplomacy as lesser men tried to emulate Bismarck's tactics. In the years leading up to that cataclysmic event, the Great Powers of Europe found themselves almost helplessly falling into two armed camps, each side linked together by a labyrinthine of diplomatic agreements which left little room for actual diplomacy. Country A was treaty-bound to Country B, who had promised to come to Country C's aid if it went to war with Country D, who was similarly allied to Countries E, F, and G.

In 1914 the entire house of cards came tumbling down following a blatant attempt to engulf Serbia by Austria-Hungary. Using the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian nobleman by a Serbian anarchist as an excuse, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia honored its treaty with Serbia and declared war on Austria-Hungary, and Austria-Hungary's ally Germany mobilized its forces to attack Russia, which caused France (still smarting from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine 40 years earlier) to mobilize against Germany. England, France and Russia's ally, had little choice but to also declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Although it enjoyed great initial success early in the war, crippling Russia and overrunning half of France, Germany and its allies were unable to deliver the final killing blow to its enemies, and the war degenerated into a hideous stalemate which lasted for four horrible years of trench warfare. Britain's command of the seas and the United States' entry into the war finally broke Germany's will to resist. Sick of war, under pressure on all fronts and seeing no chance of victory, the German people revolted. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands; the Germans declared a Republic, and on November 11, 1918 they signed an Armistice agreement. By war's end some 15 million people had been killed and much of Europe was a stinking wasteland of mud, corpses and unexploded ordnance.

The victors were not overly kind to Germany following the war. France took back the disputed territories of Alsace-Lorraine, and the allies imposed huge war reparations on the already-destitute country, which was forbidden to maintain a significant military. (Austria-Hungary fared no better: the empire was dismembered on ethnic lines into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and the Ottoman Empire was similarly hacked into pieces.)

Germany was prostrate, bankrupt, and under threat of occupation if it did not pay huge sums of money to its neighbors (who it should be noted in fairness were not in much better shape themselves and who desperately needed the money to rebuild). Many wondered if Germany would ever be able to recover from the catastrophe of World War I.

The Rise of Germany (Part III)[]

Again, the events leading up to World War II are well-known. Trading upon the anger and humiliation felt by the German people, Adolf Hitler and his fascist Nazi (National-Socialist) party gained control of the German government. The Germans rebuilt their country, economy and military with astonishing rapidity, while Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other minorities were persecuted with increasing ferocity.

While Germany's former enemies watched supinely, Hitler united Germany with Austria, then gobbled up Czechoslovakia. Isolated by France, England and the US, Stalin's Communist Russia helped Germany dismember helpless Poland. This caused France and England to declare war against Germany, but neither country had the military power to launch an offensive war against Hitler's growing army.

In 1940 Germany invaded France via the Netherlands, Belgium and the Low Countries. France's defenses were outflanked, and the German tanks made short work of the inferior French and British armaments. In a little over a month France had surrendered and the British had been driven off of the continent.

In 1941 Germany turned its attention to the East. The mighty German war machine carved a bloody swath into the belly of the Soviet Union, destroying entire Soviet armies hurled into its path to stem the assault. By late 1941 Germany seemed on the verge of destroying Soviet Russia and achieving undisputed mastery of continental Europe.

The Fall of Germany (Part III)[]

Despite its early astonishing successes, Germany was unable to destroy the Soviet Union. Crippled by Stalin's purge of the officer's corps some years before and ill-equipped and ill-trained, the Soviet army fought heroically to stem the German advance. Though it cost them huge, terrible casualties to do so, the Red Army halted the Germans before they could capture Leningrad or Moscow, buying Stalin time to train and equip a huge military force with which to launch his counter-offensive.

In the Western Front, things were looking no better for Germany. The United States had entered the war (following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), and American and British forces began to undermine German power first in Africa and then Italy. As the Russian forces ground their way west against extraordinary German resistance, the Americans and British invaded France, opening up another front against Hitler's forces. Bled white and unable to defend fronts, the German army finally collapsed. Hitler committed suicide, and in May 7-8 1945 Germany surrendered.

Germany paid heavily for its transgressions. Millions of Germans died in the war, including a staggering number of German Jews who were murdered by their German countrymen. The Soviet Union (which itself suffered tens of millions of casualties) expanded its borders westward into Polish territory and Poland was in turn awarded German eastern territory, including all of Prussia, where fifteen million Germans were driven from their homes into what remained of Germany. Germany herself was divided and occupied by the Allies, Russia occupying Eastern Germany while France, the United Kingdom and the United States occupied Western Germany and half of Berlin.

The Rise of Germany (Part IV)[]

In the years after World War II Germany has made yet another remarkable comeback. Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, East and West Germany have reunited, becoming once again an economic powerhouse unrivaled in Europe. Germany has become an enthusiastic member of the European Union, and perhaps most astonishingly, a close friend and ally of France. The German people seem to accept responsibility for their nation's horrible crimes in World War II and seem determined to make sure that they never reoccur. In short, Germany has become a powerful force for world peace and unity in the twenty-first century.

German Trivia[]

  • The German Autobahn is the oldest motorway network in the world – it has no enforced speed limit and only a maximum advisory speed of 130 kmph, which equals about 80 mph.
  • The world's oldest savings bank was established in Oldenburg in 1786.
  • There are over 1,300 beer breweries in Germany, making almost 5,000 different kinds of beer. The Germans consume the 3rd largest amount of beer per year, after the Irish and the Czechs: roughly 31 gallons per person per year.
  • The Ulm Cathedral is the tallest church in the world – its main spire measures 161.5 m (530 ft) in height.
  • Gummi Bears were invented by a German confectionist, Hans Riegel, in 1922.

Angela Merkel[]

Angela Dorothea Merkel is a German politician serving as Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as the leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 2000 to 2018. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union and the most powerful woman in the world.

Merkel was born in Hamburg in then-West Germany and moved to East Germany as an infant when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, received a pastorate in Perleberg. She obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986 and worked as a research scientist until 1989. Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, and briefly served as a deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected East German Government in 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, Merkel was elected to the Bundestag for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has been reelected ever since. As the protégée of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel was appointed as the Federal Minister for Women and Youth in Kohl's government in 1991, and became the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 1994. After her party lost the federal election in 1998, Merkel was elected Secretary-General of the CDU before becoming the party's first female leader two years later.

Following the 2005 federal election, Merkel was appointed Germany's first female chancellor at the head of a grand coalition consisting of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the 2009 federal election the CDU obtained the largest share of the vote, and Merkel was able to form a coalition government with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). At the 2013 federal election, Merkel's CDU won a landslide victory with 41.5% of the vote and formed a second grand coalition with the SPD, after the FDP lost all of its representation in the Bundestag. After the 2017 federal election the CDU was again the largest party, and she was reelected to her fourth term on 14 March 2018.

In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of Merkel's consistent priorities has been to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. Merkel played a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and she has been referred to as "the decider". In domestic policy, health care reform, problems concerning future energy development and more recently her government's approach to the ongoing migrant crisis have been major issues during her Chancellorship. She has served as senior G7 leader since 2014, and previously from 2011 to 2012. In 2014 she became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union.

Unique Components[]

Leopard 2[]

The Leopard 2 is a main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the 1970s for the West German Army. The tank first entered service in 1979 and succeeded the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. It is armed with a 120 mm smoothbore cannon, and is powered by a V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and 12 other European countries, as well as several non-European nations, including Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Singapore, and Turkey. The Leopard 2 was used in Kosovo with the German Army, and has seen action in Afghanistan with the Danish and Canadian contributions to the International Security Assistance Force, as well as also seeing action in Syria with the Turkish Armed Forces against ISIS and the YPG.

Mittelstand[]

Mittelstand commonly refers to small and medium-sized enterprises in German-speaking countries, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, however Britain also has its own. The term Mittelstand proves difficult to translate and causes a lot of confusion. The majority of definitions define the Mittelstand as a statistical category and most commonly suggest that Mittelstand firms are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs; German, kleine und mittlere Unternehmen or KMU) with annual revenues up to 50 million Euro and a maximum of 499 employees.

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