Who we are
Germany at a Glance
German people have a reputation for being disciplined and punctual. Whereas it is for others to judge whether this is true, the label “Made in Germany” indeed remains a seal of quality. German has more native speakers in Europe than any other language. At the same time, Germany is open for people from around the world who are eager to learn and study, or to work in one of the world’s most competitive economies. Below, we provide some introductory information about Germany.
Introduction to Germany
The Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949 as a parliamentary democracy. Its constitution guarantees basic rights to all people, such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression and equality before the law. Berlin was selected as the nation’s capital following the unification of East and West Germany in October 1990. Germany is divided into 16 federal states. Each state has its own political sphere of jurisdiction, e.g. in matters of culture and education.
With a population of more than 80 million people, it is the most populous country in the European Union. The largest German cities are Berlin (3.3 million), Hamburg (1.7 million) and Munich (1.3 million). Germany has been a land of immigration since the 1960s. Today it is home to 6.9 million people of immigrant descent, approximately 8.5 percent of the total population. Most of them have come from Turkey, Italy and Poland.
Germany’s economy is the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Most of Germany’s exports are products made for the areas of electrical engineering, mechatronics, heavy machinery, the automotive industry, environmental technology, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Consumers around the world recognise “Made in Germany” as a seal of quality.
Germany has produced a long list of revolutionary inventions, such as the automobile, the airbag, X-ray technology, Aspirin, the computer, the chip card and the MP3 data compression format. Science and research have a long tradition in Germany and are still highly valued today.
The oldest German university was founded in Heidelberg in 1386. Germany is also called the “land of poets and thinkers”. In addition to such illustrious figures as Kant, Hegel, Adorno, Goethe, Heine, Brecht, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, many contemporary German designers, artists, actors, musicians and athletes are famous around the world.
Source: Study in Germany
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
View of Berlin with the TV Tower
Political and Legal System
The constitution of Germany is called the Basic Law. It determines that Germany is a constitutional state: All state authorities are subject to judicial control. Section 1 of the Basic Law is of particular relevance. It stipulates that respect for human dignity is the most important aspect of the constitution: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”
Among other things, the other basic rights guarantee the freedom to act within the law, equality before the law, freedom of the press and media, freedom of association and protection of the family. According to Article 20, Germany is a federal state, in other words the ruling authorities are divided up into a number of member states and the central state.
Moreover, the Basic Law defines Germany as a welfare state. The welfare state requires the political system to take precautions such that people are guaranteed a decent standard of material well-being in case of unemployment, disability, illness and in old age.
Germany is a parliamentary and federal democracy. The German Bundestag, the constitutional body most present in the public eye, is directly elected by citizens eligible to vote every four years. The most important tasks of the Bundestag are legislation and to oversee the government’s work.
The Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor for the legislative period by secret ballot. Within the Federal Government the Chancellor has the authority to lay down guidelines, in other words determines binding broad policy lines. The Federal Chancellor appoints the federal ministers, and from among them a Deputy Chancellor. In actual fact, however, it is the parties that make up the government that decide which persons will head the ministries they were allocated in the coalition negotiations.
Germany’s federal character is revealed in the large level of independence the 16 federal states enjoy, in particular with regard to the police, disaster control, the law, and culture. For historical reasons the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen are also federal states.
The close links between the federal states and central government is unique, resulting in the state governments having numerous opportunities to play an active role in central government policy. This occurs primarily through the Bundesrat, the upper house, which is made up of members of the federal state governments and is likewise in Berlin.
In terms of protocol the Federal President holds the highest office. He is elected not by the people, but by a Federal Assembly convened specially for the purpose. Half of it is made up of the members of the Bundestag, the other half of members elected by the federal state parliaments in relation to the distribution of seats there. The Federal President holds office for five years and may be re-elected once. Since 2017, Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Federal President.
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, which the population holds in very high esteem, exerts great influence. It is regarded as “the guardian of the Basic Law” and through its important decisions provides a binding interpretation of the constitutional text. In two panels it passes judgement on disputes between constitutional bodies about areas of jurisdiction, and can declare laws to be incompatible with the Basic Law. Any citizen can appeal to the Constitutional Court if he is of the opinion that a law violates his basic rights.
Source: Facts about Germany
The Reichstag in Berlin, seat of the German Parliament
The Grundgesetz (Basic Law), constitution of Germany
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe
German Foreign Policy: An Overview
European integration and the transatlantic partnership remain the cornerstones of German foreign policy. Intensive work on fostering relations with all EU Member States, as well as cooperation in further formats are thus lasting priorities for Germany. However, Germany is also concentrating on establishing and expanding partnerships with new global players.
In recent years, China, India, Brazil and a host of other former developing countries have made huge gains in terms of political and economic clout. These countries are important players as regards shaping globalisation and have increasing international responsibility.
German foreign policy is a policy for peace that involves working towards binding rules and strong multilateral institutions, as well as activities in the fields of disarmament, crisis prevention and peaceful conflict resolution. It focuses on binding rules and effective international institutions that enable orderly and coordinated coexistence in an ever more interconnected world. It endeavours to further enhance proven and essential institutions and structures, such as the EU, NATO, the UN and the G7.
However, new creative elements of order, partnerships and international consultation and negotiation formats will be used in the future as required. Tenacious campaigning for universal and inviolable human rights is an important part of a value-oriented foreign policy.
German foreign policy seeks to make the most of the opportunities globalisation offers and to minimise its risks. In this context, Germany is focusing on new issues such as resource security, climate protection, water-related issues, migration and freedom of the internet.
Source: Federal Foreign Office
Flags of the European Union
United Nations headquarters in New York
A central development-policy task is also carried by six political foundations (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Hanns Seidel Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) receiving funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Among their tasks is the sustainable promotion or establishment of democracy and civil society. That involves strengthening the key institutions in a democratic social order, such as parliaments, political parties and an independent judiciary, as well as promoting good governance and opportunities for civil society participation.
The foundations do not act on behalf of the German government, but only with its agreement and financial support. They thus have opportunities to act in ways which are largely independent of agreements made in the framework of bilateral government development cooperation.
Germany is the largest economy in the European Union (EU) and the fourth largest in the world after the USA, China, and Japan. The German economy has its great innovativeness and strong focus on exports to thank for its competitiveness and global networking. In high-selling sectors, such as car-making, mechanical and plant engineering, the chemicals industry and medical technology, exports account for far more than half of total sales.
In 2014, only China and the USA exported more goods. Germany invests around 80 billion euros annually in research and development (R&D). Many companies are well on the way to “Industry 4.0”, a project destined in particular to advance digitalisation in production engineering and logistics.
Germany is one of the countries with the highest employment rates in the EU and is the country with the lowest youth unemployment percentage. This underscores the value of dual vocational training, which has become an export commodity in its own right and is being adapted by many countries. Factors such as the availability of skilled labour, infrastructure and legal certainty are further characteristics of Germany, which is very high on the list in many international rankings.
Since 1949 the idea of a social market economy has formed the basis of German economic policy. The social market economy guarantees free entrepreneurial activity while at the same time endeavouring to create social checks and balances. Formulated in the post-War years by Ludwig Erhard, who was later to become Federal Chancellor, the concept has kept Germany’s economic development on a successful track. Germany actively engages in shaping globalisation and champions a sustainable global economic system, which offers fair opportunities to everyone.
Accounting for more than 99 percent of all companies, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy. They supplement the corporations listed primarily on the DAX index at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the most important financial centre in Continental Europe. The European Central Bank, which as an EU institution among other things guards the euro’s price stability, is also headquartered in Frankfurt am Main.
Source: Facts about Germany
The container port of Hamburg
Vocational training in a German company
Deutsche Börse (German Stock Exchange) in Frankfurt
The German Education System
In Germany responsibility for the school system is primarily with the 16 federal states. This is why there are different education systems and plans, along with different types of school. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) guarantees the conformity or comparability of the education programmes and the certificates awarded.
In the 2014-5 academic year there were almost 11 million pupils attending 44,880 general-education and vocational schools, with 795,600 teachers giving instruction. Furthermore there are some 969,000 pupils enrolled at 6,620 private general-education and vocational schools. In general, school attendance is compulsory for all children from the age of six for a nine-year period.
At the same time, the promotion of early education at pre-school age and its interlocking with primary schooling is a high-priority issue in education policy. 10,000 all-day schools now have a firm place in the education system. Attendance at state schools is free of charge.
Germany is one of the top places in the world for research and academic training. This is symbolised by the fact that with more than 80 awards, Germany places third among the nations with the most Nobel laureates. In a globalised world in which knowledge is regarded as the most important resource, the country, with its long-standing tradition of research and development, is well positioned in the international competition for the best minds.
Three major aspects shape this vibrant hub of knowledge: the dense network of around 400 higher education institutions, the four internationally renowned non-university research organisations, and strong industrial research.
The country has its impressive research achievements to thank for the fact that with 12 percent of global trade volume, Germany is the world’s leading exporter of high-tech goods and in the European Union (EU) is assured a firm place in the group of innovation leaders. Internationally, Germany is in the top group of those few countries to invest more than 2.5 percent of their gross domestic product in research and development.
Founded in 1948, the Max Planck Society (MPG) is the most important centre for conducting basic research outside universities in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. 5,600 researchers, 40 percent of them international scientists, work at the 78 Max Planck Institutes in Germany and five other institutes in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, and the USA. Since it was established, the Max Planck Society has produced 18 Nobel laureates. It is number two and the only European research organisation in the Top 10 in the worldwide ISI Citation Index of the most-quoted research works in 22 fields.
Link: Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg)
Link: Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (Freiburg)
Link: Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (Hamburg)
The Helmholtz Association conducts cutting-edge research in six fields: energy, earth and environment, health, aeronautics, space and transport, key technologies and matter. The Helmholtz scientists concentrate on highly complex systems and projects. With 14,700 scientists and 6,200 doctoral students at the 18 independent Helmholtz centres, including the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which has 16 sites alone, it is Germany’s biggest research organisation.
Link: Helmholtz Association
With 67 institutes, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft is considered to be the largest application-oriented development organisation in Europe. Its most important fields of research are health, security, communication, mobility, energy, and the environment. With subsidiaries and offices, not to mention cooperation agreements, in no less than nine European countries, two in each of North and South America, seven Asian, three African and Arab countries, as well as in Australia, it has a truly global research reach.
Link: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft
The Leibniz Association is the umbrella connecting 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural sciences, engineering and environmental sciences through economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. A focus common to the 9,200 researchers is knowledge transfer to policy makers, industry, and the general public.
Link: Leibniz Association
Source: Facts about Germany
Class project at a German school
Synlight research project of the German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Logo of the Max Planck Society
Studying in Germany
Germany is the third most popular destination among international students in the world. More than twelve percent of students at German universities come from abroad. There are almost 450 state-accredited universities with some 17,500 degree programmes in Germany.
German universities offer degree programmes in every possible subject and academic level – be it bachelor’s, master’s, state examinations or doctoral degrees. General universities focus strongly on scientifically oriented study in a wide range of disciplines. Universities of applied science, on the other hand, are very practice-oriented.
Students normally do not have to pay tuition fees at German universities, and if so, the fees are very low. Most German universities receive considerable financing from the government. Bachelor’s degree programmes are usually tuition-free at public universities. Some master’s degree programmes, however, come with tuition fees, but they are not as high as in other countries.
It is possible to study in Germany even without any German language skills. More and more courses and degree programmes are being offered in English, especially at the master’s degree level. But having some knowledge of the language can make everyday life easier and help to make friends faster. German is one of the ten most spoken languages in the world. Some 185 million people worldwide can speak German.
Compared with other European countries, the cost of living in Germany is reasonable. The cost of food, rent, clothing and cultural activities are equivalent to the EU average. There are also a number of concessions available to students such as reduced prices at theatres, museums, opera houses, cinemas, swimming pools and other institutions.
Germany is a safe country – also on an international scale. The police are reliable and help in every situation. Whether students live in a big city or in the country, they can move freely day or night without having to take any special precautions.
Source: Study in Germany
The University of Münster
Students attending a lecture
Humboldt University in Berlin
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
The German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) is the world’s largest funding organisation for the international exchange of students and researchers. Since it was founded in 1925, more than 1.9 million scholars in Germany and abroad have received DAAD funding. It is a registered association and its members are German institutions of higher education and student bodies.
Its activities go far beyond simply awarding grants and scholarships. The DAAD supports the internationalisation of German universities, promotes German studies and the German language abroad, assists developing countries in establishing effective universities and advises decision makers on matters of cultural, education and development policy.
Its budget is derived mainly from the federal funding for various ministries, primarily the German Federal Foreign Office, but also from the European Union and a number of enterprises, organisations and foreign governments. Its head office is in Bonn, but the DAAD also has an office in the German capital, Berlin. It maintains contact with and provides advice to its main partner countries on every continent via a network of regional offices and information centres (such as the information centre in Bangkok).
In 2013, the DAAD funded more than 112,660 German and international scholars worldwide. The funding offers range from a year abroad for undergraduates to doctoral programmes, from internships to visiting lectureships, and from information gathering visits to assisting with the establishment of new universities abroad.
The DAAD supports the international activities of German institutions of higher education through marketing services, publications, the staging of events and training courses.
International students can apply for scholarships at numerous institutions. The extensive DAAD scholarship database for foreign students, graduates and academics offers a wide range of scholarships and additional information to help them with their application. The database does not only contain programmes offered by the DAAD, but also many other organisations in Germany.