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The People

Germany presently has a population of approximately 82.0 million (including 7.3 million foreigners) and is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe (230 people per square kilometer). Only Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a higher population density.

The population is distributed very unevenly. The Berlin region has been growing rapidly since Germany’s unification and presently has more than 4.3 million inhabitants. More than 11 million people (about 1,100 per square kilometer) live in the Rhine-Ruhr industrial region, where towns and cities are so close together that there are no distinct boundaries between them.

Other concentrations are to be found in the Rhine-Main area around Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Mainz, the Rhine-Neckar industrial region around Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, the industrial area around Stuttgart, and the catchment areas of Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Nuremberg/Fürth.

These densely populated regions contrast with very thinly populated areas such as the heathlands and moorlands of the North German Plain, parts of the Eifel Mountains, the Bavarian Forest, the Upper Palatinate, the March of Brandenburg and large parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

The western part of Germany is much more densely populated than the eastern part, where less than one fifth of the population (15.5 million) live on roughly 30 percent of the national territory. Of the 20 cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants, two are in the eastern part of Germany.

Nearly one third of the population (about 26 million people) live in the 84 large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. But the majority of people in the Federal Republic live in small towns and villages: nearly 6.6 million in municipalities with a population of fewer than 2,000 and 49.7 million in towns with between 2,000 and 100,000 inhabitants.

The population in both the old and new states began to decline in the 1970s because the birthrate was falling. Despite an increase in the number of births in 1996, Germany has one of the lowest birthrates in the world: 10.5 births per 1,000 inhabitants per year (in the western part of the country). The population increase after the Second World War was mainly due to immigration. Some 13 million refugees and expellees entered the present German territory from the former German eastern provinces and Eastern Europe.

There was a continuous strong flow of people who fled from eastern to western Germany until the Berlin Wall was erected by the regime in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1961, which hermetically sealed the border. Beginning in the early 1960s, large numbers of foreign workers came to the Federal Republic of old whose expanding economy needed additional labor which was not available at home.

Regional disparities. The German nation essentially grew out of a number of German tribes such as the Franks, the Saxons, the Swabians and the Bavarians. These old tribes have of course long since lost their original character, but their traditions and dialects live on in their respective regions.

Those ethnic regions are not, however, identical to the present states (Länder), most of which were only formed after the Second World War in agreement with the occupying powers. In many cases the boundaries were drawn without any consideration for old traditions. Furthermore, the flows of refugees and the massive postwar migrations, but also the mobility of the modern industrial society, have more or less blurred the ethnic boundaries.

Since time immemorial, different characteristics have been ascribed to the various regional groups. Natives of Mecklenburg, for instance, are considered reserved, Swabians thrifty, Rhinelanders happy-go-lucky, and Saxons hardworking and shrewd – traditional observations that are gladly perpetuated to this very day in a spirit of good-natured folkloric rivalry.

Integrated ethnic groups. The Lusatian Sorbs are the descendants of Slavic tribes. They settled the territory east of the Elbe and Saale rivers in the 6th century in the course of the migration of peoples that occurred in the early centuries A.D. The first document in which they are mentioned dates from 631. In the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, a Sorbian written language evolved. During the flush of democratic aspirations in the 19th century the Sorbs experienced a phase of national rebirth, yet at the time of the fascist dictatorship in our century plans were made for their annihilation. Reunified Germany has committed itself to encouraging the Sorbian minority. In addition to the Institute for Sorbian Studies at the University of Leipzig, there are a large number of schools, associations and other institutions which are devoted to the cultivation of the Sorbian language and culture.

The Frisians are the descendants of a Germanic tribe on the North Sea coast (between the Lower Rhine and the Ems River) and have preserved numerous traditions in addition to their own distinct language. A Danish minority lives in the Schleswig region of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially around Flensburg.

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The German language

German is one of the large group of Indo-Germanic languages, and within that one of the Germanic languages. It is thus related to Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and Flemish, but also to English. The emergence of a common High German language is attributed to Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible.

Germany has a wealth of dialects. It is usually possible to determine a German’s native region from his or her dialect and pronunciation. These dialects differ greatly: If, for instance, a Frisian or a Mecklenburger and a Bavarian were to carry on a conversation in their respective pure dialects, they would have great difficulty understanding each other.

Moreover, while the country was divided the two German states developed a different political vocabulary. New words were coined which were not necessarily understood in the other part of the country. Nevertheless, the common language was one of the links which held the divided nation together.

German is also spoken as the native language in Austria, Liechtenstein, most of Switzerland, South Tirol (northern Italy) and in small areas of Belgium, France (Alsace) and Luxembourg along the German border. The German minorities in Poland, Romania and the countries of the former Soviet Union have partly retained the German language as well.

German is the native language of more than 100 million people. About one in ten books published throughout the world has been written in German. As regards translations into foreign languages, German is third after English and French, and more works have been translated into German than into any other language.

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