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Germany Today

Germany’s long and tumultuous history remains clouded by the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. How a civilized European nation slipped into the state of barbaric inhumanity that existed during the Nazi era is a question that continues to haunt survivors, occupy historians, and shadow the Germans themselves. Memorials to the victims of the Holocaust are scattered throughout Germany, perhaps most poignantly at the sites of the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps.

As a result of that harrowing chapter in its modern history, which resulted in the devastation of its cities, the disarmament of its military machine, and the deaths of millions of people, Germany became a strongly pacifist country, and the use of military force in world conflicts always arouses controversy amongst its citizens.

The other big political issue that has affected Germany’s contemporary consciousness is the separation of the country into two opposing regimes: capitalist West, communist East–from 1961 to 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, signaled an enormous shift in German life. Though most East Germans embraced the democratic changes that came with reunification, there were many who resented what they saw as a wholesale takeover of their country and who were suddenly exposed to the uncertainties and economic ruthlessness of a free-market economic system. By the time the Wall came down, East Germany was in many respects a broken country, a corrupt police-state with dwindling resources, decaying infrastructure, and a legacy of environmental pollution that will be a long-term challenge to clean up. The cost of reunification was far higher than predicted and took a toll on people’s economic and emotional lives. Outdated, state-controlled industries that could not compete in a free market economy were scrapped, jobs were lost, crime–most troublingly, neo-Nazi hate crimes–rose. Yet Germany moved forward.

Today, it’s one of the most prosperous country in Europe and has been for many years. A nation of savers, it never gave in to the easy-credit credo and had stronger regulations and more oversight in its banking industry. Germany is a country where labor unions remain strong despite attempts to whittle away their power.

And when it comes to sponsoring and supporting arts and culture, Germany is right there at the top. The generous subsidies that once helped every town and city to operate its own opera house and theatre have been reduced, in some cases eliminated, but the arts scene remains vigorous, part of a long tradition the Germans regard as essential.

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