Germany as a whole can be divided into three major geographic regions: the low-lying N German plain, the central German uplands, and, in the south, the ranges of the Central Alps and other uplands. The climate is temperate although there is considerable variation. Almost two thirds of the country's extensive forests are coniferous; among the broadleafs, beech predominates.
N Germany, drained by the Ems, Weser, Elbe, and Oder rivers, is heavily farmed, despite poor soil; crops include wheat, rye, barley, oats, potatoes, and sugar beets. Dairy cattle are widely raised, especially in Schleswig-Holstein; pork, beef, and chicken are other livestock products. The region also includes the major industrial and transportation centers of Kiel, Rostock Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, and Magdeburg, as well as Berlin.
The central uplands include the Rhenish Slate and Harz mts., and the Thuringian Forest. The Rhine River runs through W Germany and, between Bingen and Bonn, flows through a steep gorge, famous for its scenery, vineyards, and castles. Along the northern rim of the Rhenish Slate Mts. lies Germany's chief mining and industrial region, which includes the Ruhr and Saar basins and takes in the cities of Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Krefeld, Essen, Wuppertal, Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, and Dortmund. In the east, industrial centers are located along and near the Elbe River and its tributaries. The major cities include Leipzig, Dresden, Chemnitz, Halle, and Erfurt. The southern section of the Rhineland, which contains the Eifel and Hunsrück mts., is largely agricultural and has famous vineyards, especially in the Moselle valley.
The southern part of Germany is drained by the Danube, Iller, Lech, Isar, Inn, Neckar, and Main rivers. Rising to the Zugspitze (9,721 ft/2,963 m) in the Bavarian Alps, the highest point in Germany, it consists of plateaus and forested mountains, e.g., the Black Forest, the highlands of Swabia, and the Bohemian Forest. Lake Constance, in the Alps, is a popular tourist area. Notable agricultural products of the region are fruit, wheat, barley, and dairy goods. Important industrial centers include Munich, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, and Karlsruhe.
About one third of the population is Protestant, mostly in the north, and one third is Roman Catholic, primarily in the south and west. There is a small Jewish minority. About half the population in the area that was formerly East Germany has no religious affiliation. Catholic and Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues receive government support through a church surtax levied on members of these denominations. Virtually all citizens of the country speak German. Danes, Frisians, Romani (Gypsies), and Sorbs or Wends comprise the indigenous non-German-speaking minorities. Since the early 1970s, millions of "guest workers" from other countries (mostly former Yugoslavia, plus Turkey and Italy) have come to Germany for employment. These residents include about 2 million Muslims, mainly Turks and Kurds.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.