Germany is a country in western Europe; its capital is Berlin. The country is made up of the North German Plain, the Central German Uplands (Mittelgebirge), and the Southern German Highlands. The Bavarian plateau in the southwest averages 1,600 feet above sea level, but it reaches 9,721 feet in the Zugspitze Mountains, the highest point in the country. Germany’s major rivers are the Danube River, the Elbe River, the Oder River, the Weser River, and the Rhine River. A Germany river cruise along any of these rivers is a cruise through history and culture. River cruise visitors can see ancient castles, venerable institutions of higher learning, stunning mountain views, and cosmopolitan cities. Although it is the second most populous European country (after Russia), Germany is only about the size of Montana.
The territory that was to become Germany was first settled during the Nordic Bronze Age or pre-Roman Iron Age by Scandinavian tribes. These tribes encountered other tribes along the way—the Celtic tribes of Gaul and the Slavic and Baltic tribes in eastern Europe. The origin of the country’s name is not certain, but it dates back to the 3rd century B.C. in the form “Germania” and may have derived from the Celtic word gair (neighbor) or gairm (battle-cry). The Germans call their country Deutschland, which means “land of the people.”
From the 9th century until 1806 the Holy Roman Empire dominated much of Europe. Ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs, the Empire was a collection of several hundred independent states. During the 19th century, the German Confederation, a league of 39 sovereign states, was founded; in 1871 Germany was unified as a modern nation-state. Like most other European nations, Germany participated in the colonial movement with colonies in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.
Germany suffered a major defeat in World War I, in the aftermath of which the Weimar Republic was founded. Conditions gave rise to the National Socialist (Nazi) movement and in 1933 the Third Reich, eventually defeated in World War II. In 1945 the country was occupied by the Allies (US, UK, France, Soviet Union). With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG participated in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC, which became the EU, and NATO, while the Communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War facilitated German reunification in 1990. Since reunification, Germany has taken a leading role in NATO and the European Union.
For centuries, Germany has been an intellectual leader, producing many of the world’s most important philosophers (Kant, Hegel, Marx, Engels, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger), mathematicians and scientists (Gauss, Leibniz, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Röntgen), inventors and industrialists (Gutenberg, Geiger, Zeppelin, Daimler, Diesel, Benz), artists (Dürer, Ernst), filmmakers (Murnau, Lang, Herzog, Wenders, Fassbinder), writers (Goethe, Hesse, Brecht, Mann) and musical composers (Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Wagner).
Although Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, it was also the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century. Today the country is 62% Christian, about half Catholic (mostly in the south) and half Protestant (mostly in the north), with much smaller Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu minorities. About 30% of Germans do not identify with any religion.
The country is a leading manufacturer of high-quality automobiles and other technologies. It has a well-developed infrastructure, including a network of high-speed intercity trains. Each major river has also played a role in Germany’s systems of travel and shipping. The Danube River was used for transport long before the expansion of the Roman Empire. Today, many river cruise vessels and international ships travel the Danube River. The Rhine River is also an international river, shaped by modern technology to be a river along which cruise ships can navigate. The Elbe River, on the other hand, is a predominantly natural river; its course has been little altered to accommodate cruise and shipping vessels. No matter which river you choose for your Germany river cruise, an enchanting cruise adventure awaits you.