Germany is the seventh largest country in area in Europe, with a total area of 356,970 sq km (137,827 sq mi). The country has a varied terrain that ranges from low-lying coastal flats along the North and Baltic seas, to a central area of rolling hills and river valleys, to heavily forested mountains and snow-covered Alps in the south. Several major rivers and canals traverse the country and have helped make it a transportation center.
The country has a total of 82,398,326 people (2003 estimate). Germany is overwhelmingly urban, and most people lead a prosperous, comfortable lifestyle, with adequate leisure time and comprehensive social welfare benefits. Berlin is the capital and largest city, although Bonn, which was the provisional capital of West Germany, is still home to some government offices. The principal language is German, and two-thirds of the people are either Roman Catholic or Protestant.
Germans have made numerous noteworthy contributions to culture. Among the many outstanding German authors, artists, architects, musicians, and philosophers, the composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven are probably the best known the world over. German literary greats include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Thomas Mann.
Germany has a large and modern industrial economy and is a leading producer of products such as iron and steel, machinery and machine tools, and automobiles. Germany is an economic powerhouse in the European Union (EU), and a driving force behind greater economic integration and cooperation throughout Europe.
Its central location in Europe has made Germany a crossroads for many peoples, ideas, and armies throughout history. Present-day Germany originated from the AD 843 division of the Carolingian empire, which also included France and a middle section stretching from the North Sea to northern Italy. For centuries, Germany was a collection of states mostly held together as a loose feudal association.
From the 16th century on, the German states became increasingly involved in European wars and religious struggles. In the early 19th century, French conquest of the German states started a movement toward German national unification, and in 1815, led by the state of Prussia, the German states formed a confederacy that lasted until 1867.
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