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Through the turmoil of the 20th century, Germany has emerged as a powerful, confident nation and, with the memory of the wall that divided Berlin into east and west still fresh in the national consciousness, continues to be the driving force towards greater European integration.
The German people enjoy a reputation for accuracy, precision and efficiency – words often used to describe their excellent cars – although an equally enduring image is of lederhosen-clad Bavarians hoisting beer steins at Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. Neither of these stereotypes reflects the diversity of Germany’s towns and cities. From romantic Heidelberg, the medieval Nuremberg of Dürer and the Weimar of Goethe and the Bauhaus, to the lively port cities of Bremen and Hamburg, the financial center of Frankfurt and revitalized cities of the former east like Dresden. Overshadowing them all is the cosmopolitan decadence of Berlin, where bureaucrats of the new capital rub shoulders with artists and techno club-goers.
The German landscape is similarly varied. In the south, the Alps attract ski-lovers in winter and hiking enthusiasts in summer, who come to explore the scenic lakes and atmospheric castles here and in the Black Forest. Watersports are another summer pastime, and in the north, the island of Rugen with its majestic white cliffs and coastal towns like Wilhelmshaven offer terrific facilities for adventures on the North Sea.
The Federal Republic of Germany shares frontiers with Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. The northwest of the country has a coastline on the North Sea with islands known for their health resorts, while the Baltic coastline in the northeast stretches from the Danish to the Polish border. The country is divided into 16 states (Bundesländer), including the formerly divided city of Berlin. The landscape is exceedingly varied, with the Rhine, Bavaria and the Black Forest being probably the three most famous features of western Germany. In eastern Germany, the country is lake-studded with undulating lowlands which give way to the hills and mountains of the Lausitzer Bergland, the Saxon Hills in the Elbe Valley and the Erzgebirge, whilst the once divided areas of the Thuringian and Harz ranges in the central part of the country are now whole regions again. River basins extend over a large percentage of the eastern part of Germany, the most important being the Elbe, Saale, Havel, Spree and Oder. Northern Germany includes the states of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and the city states of Bremen and Hamburg. The western area of the country consists of the Rhineland, the industrial sprawl of the Ruhr, Westphalia (Westfalen), Hesse (Hessen), the Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) and the Saarland. In the southern area of the country are the two largest states, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria (Bayern), which contain the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), Lake Constance (Bodensee) and the Bavarian Alps. Munich (München), Stuttgart and Nuremberg (Nürnberg) are the major cities. The eastern part of the country is made up of the states of Thuringia, Saxony, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Berlin. The major cities in eastern Germany are Dresden, Leipzig, Erfurt, Halle, Potsdam, Schwerin and Rostock. Apart from Leipzig and Rostock, these are also all recently reconstituted state capitals.