The culture of the German states was shaped by the great intellectual and popular currents in Europe, both religious and secular. Historically, Germany has been called “The Land of Poets and Thinkers” because its writers and philosophers played an important role in the development of Western thought.
Germany is known for its folk festival traditions such as the Oktoberfest and Christmas traditions that include Advent wreaths, Christmas shows, Christmas trees, stollen and other customs. As of 2016, UNESCO has inscribed 41 properties in Germany on the World Heritage List. 3 October has been a German bank holidays since 1990, celebrated as German Unity Day.
In the 21st century, Berlin has become an important international creative centre. According to the Anholt-GfK National Brand Index, Germany was the most respected nation in the world among 50 countries in 2014 (ahead of the US, UK and France). A global opinion poll commissioned by the BBC found that Germany was recognised as the world’s most positive influence in 2013 and 2014.
German classical music includes works by some of the world’s most famous composers. Dieterich Buxtehude composed organ oratorios that influenced the later work of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel; these men were influential composers of the Baroque era. Leopold Mozart, from Augsburg, was the mentor of one of the most famous musicians of all time during his time as a violinist and professor at Salzburg Cathedral: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Ludwig van Beethoven was a crucial figure in the transition from the Classical to the Romantic period. Carl Maria von Weber and Felix Mendelssohn played an important role in the early Romantic period. Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms composed in the Romantic idiom. Richard Wagner was known for his operas. Richard Strauss was one of the leading composers of late Romanticism and early Modernism. Karlheinz Stockhausen and Hans Zimmer are important composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Germany is the second largest music market in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. German popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries includes the New German Wave, Pop, Ostrock, Heavy Metal/Rock, Punk, Pop-Rock, Indie and Schlagerpop movements. German electronic music has gained worldwide influence, with Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dreampione being pioneers in this genre. DJs and artists from the German techno and house scene became famous (e.g. Paul van Dyk, Paul Kalkbrenner and Scooter).
German painters have influenced Western art. Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder were important German artists of the Renaissance, Peter Paul Rubens and Johann Baptist Zimmermannof the Baroque, Caspar David Friedrich and Carl Spitzweg of Romanticism, Max Liebermann of Impressionism and Max Ernst of Surrealism. German sculptors such as Otto Schmidt-Hofer, Franz Iffland and Julius Schmidt-Felling made important contributions to German art history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Several German artist groups that emerged in the 20th century, such as the November Group or Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter by the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, influenced the development of Expressionism in Munich and Berlin. The Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) emerged in the Weimar Republic as a counter-draft to this. The artistic currents of the post-war period in Germany can be divided into three main categories: Neo-Expressionism, Performance Art and Conceptualism. Among the best-known Neo-Expressionists are Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Jörg Immendorff, A. R. Penck, Markus Lüpertz, Peter Robert Keil and Rainer Fetting. Other outstanding artists who work with traditional media or figurative images are Martin Kippenberger, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Neo Rauch. Leading German conceptual artists include Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hanne Darboven, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Hans Haacke, Joseph Beuys, HA Schult, Aris Kalaizis, Neo Rauch (Neue Schule Leipzig) and Andreas Gursky (photography). The most important art exhibitions and festivals in Germany are documenta, the Berlin Biennale, transmediale and Art Cologne.
Germany’s architectural contributions include the Carolingian and Ottonian styles, precursors of the Romanesque style. Brick Gothic is a characteristic medieval style that developed in Germany. Regional and typically German elements also appeared in Renaissance and Baroque art (e.g. Weser Renaissance and Dresden Baroque). Among the many notable Baroque masters are Pöppelmann, Balthasar Neumann, Knobelsdorff and the Asam brothers. The Wessobrunn School had a decisive influence on stucco art in southern Germany in the 18th century, and in some cases even dominated it. The Upper Swabian Baroque Route is a Baroque-themed tourist route that highlights the work of artists and craftsmen such as the sculptor and plasterer Johann Michael Feuchtmayer, one of the most prominent members of the Feuchtmayer family, and the brothers Johann Baptist Zimmermann and Dominikus Zimmermann. Vernacular architecture in Germany is often characterised by the tradition of half-timbering and varies according to region and carpentry style.
As industrialisation spread throughout Europe, Classicism and a particular style of Historicism, sometimes called the Gründerzeit style, developed in Germany as a result of the economic boom years of the late 19th century. Regional historicist styles include the Hanoverian School, the Nuremberg Style and the Semper-Nicolai School in Dresden. Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most famous buildings in Germany and represents the revival of Romanesque art. Notable sub-styles that have developed since the 18th century include the architecture of German spas and health resorts. German artists, writers and gallery owners such as Siegfried Bing, Georg Hirth and Bruno Möhring also contributed to the development of Art Nouveau, known as Jugendstil in German, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Expressionist architecture developed in Germany in the 1910s and influenced Art Deco and other modern styles, with for example Fritz Höger, Erich Mendelsohn, Dominikus Böhm and Fritz Schumacher as influential architects. Germany was particularly important in early modernism: it was the country of the Werkbund (New Objectivity) initiated by Hermann Muthesius and the Bauhaus movement founded by Walter Gropius. Therefore, Germany is often considered the cradle of modern architecture and design. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became one of the most famous architects in the world in the second half of the 20th century. He designed the skyscraper with a glass façade. Renowned contemporary architects and offices include Hans Kollhoff, Sergei Tchoban, KK Architekten, Helmut Jahn, Behnisch, GMP, Ole Scheeren, J. Mayer H., OM Ungers, Gottfried Böhm and Frei Otto (the last two are winners of the Pritzker Prize).
Literature and Philosophy
German literature dates back to the Middle Ages and the works of writers such as Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eschenbach. Among the best-known German authors are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Theodor Fontane. The collections of folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm have made German folklore internationally popular. The Grimms also collected and codified regional variants of the German language, drawing on historical principles; their German Dictionary, sometimes called the Grimm Dictionary, was begun in 1838 and the first volumes appeared in 1854.
Among the influential authors of the 20th century are Gerhart Hauptmann, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. The German book market is the third largest in the world after the USA and China. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world’s most important fair for international business and trade with a tradition of over 500 years. The Leipzig Book Fair also retains an important place in Europe.
German cinema has made a great technical and artistic contribution to film. The first works by the Skladanowsky brothers were presented to the public in 1895. The famous Studio Babelsberg, located on the outskirts of Berlin in Potsdam, was founded in 1912 and was the first major film studio in the world. Today it is the largest studio in Europe. Other old and still active studios are UFA and Bavaria Film. Early German cinema was particularly influenced by German expressionists such as Robert Wiene and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. The film Metropolis (1927) by director Fritz Lang is considered the first major science fiction film. In 1930, Josef von Sternberg directed the first major German sound film, The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich. Leni Riefenstahl’s films set new artistic standards, including The Triumph of the Will.
After 1945, many films of the immediate post-war period can be described as Trümmerfilm. These films include Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946) by Wolfgang Staudte and Irgendwo in Berlin (1946) by Werner Krien. The most notable East German films, most of which were produced by DEFA, include Kurt Maetzig’s Marriage in the Shadows (1947), Der Untertan (1951), The Story of Little Muck (1953), Konrad Wolf’s The Divided Sky (1964) and Frank Beyer’s Jakob the Liar (1975). The film genre that shaped West Germany in the 1950s was undoubtedly the Heimatfilm, which depicted the beauty of the land and the moral integrity of the people who lived there. The films of the 1960s were dominated by genre films, including adaptations of Edgar Wallace and Karl May. Among the most successful German film series of the 1970s were the sex reports “Schulmädchen-Report“. In the 1970s and 1980s, directors of the New German Cinema such as Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder brought West German auteur cinema to great recognition.
German films that are global successes have often benefited from lavish international production and marketing, such as those of Constantin Film. Box office successes include films such as Chariots of the Gods (1970), Das Boot (1981), The Never Ending Story (1984), Otto – Der Film (1985), Run Lola Run (1998), Der Schuh des Manitu (2001), the Resident Evil series (2002-2016), Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), Head On (2004), The White Ribbon (2009), Animals United (2010) and Cloud Atlas (2012). The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (“Oscar”) went to the German production The Tin Drum in 1979, Nowhere in Africa in 2002 and The Lives of Others in 2007. Several Germans have won “Oscars” for their performances in other films.
The annual European Film Awards ceremony takes place every two years in Berlin, the seat of the Academy of European Cinema. The Berlin International Film Festival, known as the “Berlinale”, which awards the “Golden Bear” and has been held annually since 1951, is one of the world’s leading film festivals. The “Lolas” are awarded every year in Berlin on the occasion of the German Film Awards ceremony, which has been held since 1951.
German cuisine varies from region to region and often neighbouring regions share certain culinary similarities (for example, the southern regions of Bavaria and Swabia share certain traditions with Switzerland and Austria). International variations such as pizza, sushi, Chinese cuisine, Greek cuisine, Indian cuisine and kebabs are also popular and available thanks to the diversity of ethnic communities.
Bread is an important part of German cuisine and German bakeries produce about 600 main types of bread and 1,200 types of pastries and rolls. German cheese accounts for about one third of all cheese produced in Europe. In 2012, more than 99% of the meat produced in Germany was either pork, chicken or beef. Germans produce their ubiquitous sausages in almost 1,500 varieties, including bratwurst, weisswurst and currywurst. In 2012, organic food accounted for 3.9 % of total food sales.
Although wine is becoming increasingly popular in many parts of Germany, especially in the German wine regions, the national alcoholic beverage is beer. German beer consumption per person was 110 litres (24 imp gal; 29 US gal) in 2013, which remains among the highest in the world. The German purity law for beer dates back to the 15th century.
The Michelin Guide 2015 awarded 11 restaurants in Germany three stars, the highest distinction, 38 others received two stars and 233 one star. German restaurants have become the second most decorated restaurants in the world after France.
Twenty-seven million Germans are members of a sports club, another twelve million do sport as individuals. Club football is the most popular sport. With more than 6.3 million official members, the German Football Association is the largest sports organisation of its kind in the world, and the Bundesliga, Germany’s highest division, has the second highest spectator average of all professional sports leagues in the world. The German men’s national football team won the FIFA World Cup in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014, and the UEFA European Championship in 1972, 1980 and 1996. Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1974 and 2006 and the UEFA European Championship in 1988.
Other sports popular with spectators are winter sports, boxing, basketball, handball, volleyball, ice hockey, tennis, horse riding and golf. Water sports such as sailing, rowing and swimming are also popular in Germany.
Germany is one of the leading motorsport countries in the world. Manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes are among the leaders in motorsport. Porsche has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 17 times, Audi 13 times (2015). Driver Michael Schumacher has set numerous records in motorsport during his career, winning more Formula 1 World Championships than anyone else, with seven titles. He is one of the highest-paid athletes in history. Sebastian Vettel is also one of the five most successful Formula 1 drivers of all time.
Historically, German athletes have always been good Olympians and rank third in the Olympic medal table (East and West Germany combined). Germany was the last country to host both the Summer and Winter Games in the same year. It hosted the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin and the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, as well as the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.
Fashion and design
German designers were at the forefront of modern product design, with Bauhaus designers such as Mies van der Rohe and Dieter Rams von Braun playing a key role.
Germany is a leading country in the fashion industry. The German textile industry consists of around 1,300 companies that employed more than 130,000 people in 2010 and generated a turnover of 28 billion euros. Almost 44% of the products are exported. The Berlin Fashion Week and the fashion fair Bread & Butter take place twice a year.
Among the smaller cities, Munich, Hamburg and Düsseldorf are also important design, production and trading centres for the domestic fashion industry. Famous German fashion designers are Karl Lagerfeld, Jil Sander, Wolfgang Joop, Philipp Plein and Michael Michalsky. Important brands are Hugo Boss, Escada, Adidas, Puma and Triumph. The German supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Heidi Klum, Tatjana Patitz and Nadja Auermann have made an international name for themselves.
German philosophy is historically significant: Gottfried Leibniz’s contributions to rationalism; Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of the Enlightenment; the establishment of German classical idealism Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling; the elaboration of metaphysical pessimism by Arthur Schopenhauer; the formulation of communist theory by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; the development of perspectivism by Friedrich Nietzsche; Gottlob Frege’s contributions at the beginning of analytical philosophy; Martin Heidegger’s work on Being; the development of the Frankfurt School by Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas were particularly influential.