Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is a country in Central Europe. It is bordered to the north by the North Sea, Denmark, and the Baltic Sea; to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic; to the south by Austria and Switzerland; and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The territory of Germany covers 357,021 square kilometers (137,847 sq mi) and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. With 82 million inhabitants, it accounts for the largest population among the member states of the European Union and is home to the third-largest number of international migrants worldwide.
The territory of Germany covers 357,021 km2 (137,847 sq mi), consisting of 349,223 km2 (134,836 sq mi) of land and 7,798 km2 (3,011 sq mi) of water. It is the seventh largest country by area in Europe and the 63rd largest in the world. Elevation ranges from the mountains of the Alps (highest point: the Zugspitze at 2,962 metres (9,718 ft)) in the south to the shores of the North Sea (Nordsee) in the north-west and the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) in the north-east. Between lie the forested uplands of central Germany and the low-lying lands of northern Germany (lowest point: Wilstermarsch at 3.54 metres (11.6 ft) below sea level), traversed by some of Europe's major rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Elbe.
Germany shares borders with more European countries than any other country on the continent. Its neighbours are Denmark in the north, Poland and the Czech Republic in the east, Austria and Switzerland in the south, France and Luxembourg in the south-west and Belgium and the Netherlands in the north-west.
Most of Germany has a temperate seasonal climate in which humid westerly winds predominate. The climate is moderated by the North Atlantic Drift, which is the northern extension of the Gulf Stream. This warmer water affects the areas bordering the North Sea including the peninsula of Jutland and the area along the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea. Consequently in the north-west and the north, the climate is oceanic; rainfall occurs year round with a maximum during summer.
Winters are mild and summers tend to be cool, though temperatures can exceed 30 °C (86 °F) for prolonged periods. In the east, the climate is more continental; winters can be very cold, summers can be very warm, and long dry periods are often recorded. Central and southern Germany are transition regions which vary from moderately oceanic to continental. Again, the maximum temperature can exceed 30 °C (86 °F) in summer.
Germany is a federal, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. The German political system operates under a framework laid out in the 1949 constitutional document known as the Grundgesetz (Basic Law). By calling the document Grundgesetz, rather than Verfassung (constitution), the authors expressed the intention that it would be replaced by a proper constitution once Germany was reunited as one state. Amendments to the Grundgesetz generally require a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the parliament; the articles guaranteeing fundamental rights, the separation of powers, the federal structure, and the right to resist attempts to overthrow the constitution are valid in perpetuity and cannot be amended. Despite the initial intention, the Grundgesetz remained in effect after the German reunification in 1990, with only minor amendments.
Germany is known for its environmental consciousness. Most Germans consider anthropogenic causes to be a significant factor in global warming. The state is committed to the Kyoto protocol and several other treaties promoting biodiversity, low emission standards, recycling, and the use of renewable energy, and supports sustainable development at a global level.
The development policy of the Federal Republic of Germany is an independent area of German foreign policy. It is formulated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and carried out by the implementing organisations. The German government sees development policy as a joint responsibility of the international community.
Germany's official development aid and humanitarian aid for 2007 amounted to 8.96 billion euros (12.26 billion dollars), an increase of 5.9 per cent from 2006. It has become the world's second biggest aid donor after the United States. Germany spent 0.37 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on development, which is below the government's target of increasing aid to 0.51 per cent of GDP by 2010. The international target of 0.7% of GNP would have not been reached either.
With its central position in Europe, Germany is an important transportation hub. This is reflected in its dense and modern transportation networks. The extensive motorway (Autobahn) network that ranks worldwide third largest in its total length and features a lack of blanket speed limits on the majority of routes.
Germany has established a polycentric network of high-speed trains. The InterCityExpress or ICE is the most advanced service category of the Deutsche Bahn and serves major German cities as well as destinations in neighbouring countries. The train maximum speed varies between 160 km/h and 300 km/h. Connections are offered at either 30-minute, hourly, or two-hourly intervals.
Responsibility for educational oversight in Germany lies primarily with the federal states individually, whilst the federal government only has a minor role. Optional kindergarten education is provided for all children between three and six years old, after which school attendance is compulsory for at least nine years. Primary education usually lasts for four years and public schools are not stratified at this stage. In contrast, secondary education includes four types of schools based on a pupil's ability as determined by teacher recommendations: the Gymnasium enrols the most gifted children and prepares students for university studies, and attendance lasts eight or nine years depending on the state; the Realschule has a broader range of emphasis for intermediate students and lasts six years; the Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education, and the Gesamtschule or comprehensive school combines the three approaches.
Since the 2006 World Cup celebrations the internal and external perception of Germany's national image has changed. In annually conducted global surveys known as Nation Brands Index, Germany became significantly and repeatedly higher ranked after the tournament. People in 20 different states were asked to assess the country's reputation in terms of culture, politics, exports, its people and its attractiveness to tourists, immigrants and investments. Germany has been named the world's most valued nation among 50 countries in 2008. Another global opinion poll based on 13,575 responses in 21 countries for the BBC revealed that Germany is recognised for the most positive influence in the world in 2009, leading 16 investigated countries. A majority of 61% have a positive view of the country, while 15% have a negative view.