"I found my smattering of German very useful here; indeed, I don't know how I should be able to get on without it."
-Jonathan Harker on his way to Transylvania in Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1897
Within a liberal arts setting, the importance of German is indisputable. German-speakers occupy a prominent place on any list of the world's greatest artists and thinkers, while almost every academic discipline has a strong German tradition, in many cases one that largely defines the field. In fact, the modern university itself, with its combination of teaching and research, is a German invention. Dartmouth's library holdings reflect this tradition: after English, more of them are in German than in any other language. Germany justifiably presents itself as "The Land of Ideas," as this video illustrates.
German contributions to the sciences are the easiest to document. In The Discoveries (Pantheon, 2005), Alan Lightman's list of the 22 greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century includes eight that were made exclusively by Germans, while two more had Austrian or German collaborators. Nobel Prize awards give another kind of indication. Scientists from the three major German-speaking countries have won 37 Nobel Prizes in Physics (most recently in 2007), 38 in Chemistry (also in 2007), 30 in Medicine (2008), and one in Economics. Many Nobel laureates from other countries received their training at German universities; 47 of them had fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation, including the three winners of the 2011 prize for medicine. Seven German and Austrian individuals have also received the Peace Prize - and while the 2012 Prize went to the EU as a whole, few people would dispute that Germany has played a disproportionately large role in the success of that institution.
Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are all famous for the quality of their universities, and Germany enrolls the third-highest number of international students in the world - it is also 1st in the amount of financial support it offers them. In the 2012 QS Ranking of "The Best Student Cities in the World," German-speaking cities dominate the category of "Quality of Living" for students, with the first five places going to Vienna, Zurich, Munich, Sidney, and Berlin. The accompanying commentary states that "Berlin can stake a credible claim to being one of the coolest cities in the world. During the past decade its cultural scene has flourished, turning it into a major centre of design, fashion, music and art to rival New York and London. More so than those cities however, Berlin is still easily affordable on a student budget, while also being enough of a global financial centre to appeal to those whose outlook is of a more corporate nature. Comfortably the most affordable city in the top ten…."
German inventiveness is also legendary. Perhaps Gutenberg's innovation of printing with movable type is the greatest German invention, but here are just a few of the others:1
|Bicycle, 1817||Karl von Drais|
|Electric light bulb, 1854||Heinrich Göbel|
|Telephone, 1861||Philipp Reis|
|Refrigerator (using liquid ammonia), 1876||Carl von Linde|
|4-cycle internal combustion engine, 1876||Nikolaus August Otto|
|Automobile, 1885||Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler|
|X-ray, 1895||Wihlem Conrad Röntgen|
|Aspirin, 1897||Felix Hoffmann|
|Television, 1930||Manfred von Ardenne|
|Jet engine, 1939||Hans von Ohain|
|Binary computer, 1941||Konrad Zuse|
|Bar scanner, 1963||Rudolf Hell|
|Chip card, 1969||Jürgen Dethloff, Helmut Gröttrup|
|Fuel cells, 1994||Christian Friedrich Schönbein|
|MP3, 1995||Karlheinz Brandenberg|
This kind of creativity continues. In 2005, for example, Germany successfully registered 23,800 new patents, more than any other country except the U.S. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, four of the world's ten most innovative companies are German.
German-speakers are equally prominent in the arts. Twelve German, Austrian, or Swiss-German writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most recent being Herta Müller in 2009, Elfriede Jelinek in 2004, and Günter Grass in 1999. Germany and Austria are of course also famous for their great music - Anthony Tomassini's recent ranking in the New York Times of the ten greatest composers in history has six Germans and Austrians, with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert holding down the first four positions, followed by Brahms (#7) and Wagner (#9). But the two countries have also again become centers for the visual arts, including film. According to the magazine Capital, the two living artists whose works are most sought after by the world's museums and collectors are Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, followed in fourth place by Rosemarie Trockel and in seventh by Georg Baselitz. Between 2002 and 2009, Nirgendwo in Afrika ("Nowhere in Africa"), Das Leben der anderen ("The Lives of Others"), and Die Fälscher ("The Counterfeiters") won Academy Awards as the best foreign pictures, while Sophie Scholl, Untergang ("Downfall"), Revanche, The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Das weiße Band ("The White Ribbon" - which earned a Golden Globe) were also nominated. In 2005, Newsweek called Gegen die Wand ("Head On") the best film of the year (and in the same issue claimed that Germany was the best of all countries in which to be a creative artist of any kind). In 2012, the Frankfurt-based company, Pixomondo, created the Oscar-winning special effects for Martin Scorsese's film, Hugo. That same year, two German films were nominated for Oscars: Wim Wenders's Pina and Max Zähle's Raju.
While these academic and artistic perspectives hold the most relevance for liberal arts studies, practical considerations are also unavoidable, and many students choose a foreign language with an eye to their professional futures. Here, too, the study of German offers some real advantages.
"German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. On the one hand, this is because of Germany's size, which with around 82 million inhabitants is the most populous country in the EU. On the other hand, German is also an official language in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein as well as in Italy's South Tyrol. In addition, German plays a role as a recognized minority language in Denmark, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Approximately 55 million Europeans speak German as a foreign language. In Hungary, German is increasingly popular with students and is number one among foreign languages. Around the world German is the third most taught foreign language and after English the second most popular in Europe and Japan." 2
A variety of international surveys confirm that Germany is one of the world's most admired countries, whether viewed from the perspectives of economics, quality of life, scientific achievement, culture, tourism, or ethical values. In 2013 it again led the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll as the world's most popular country, a position it has held since 2008, except when it came in a close second in 2012. And as Mercer Consulting's 2011 Quality of Living Survey determined, many of the world's most livable cities are German-speaking: among the top 10, Vienna is 1st, Zurich 2nd, Munich 4th, Düsseldorf 6th, Frankfurt 7th, Bern 9th. Other German cities also do well: Hamburg (16) Berlin (17), Nuremberg (24), and Stuttgart (28) rank above Paris , London , Barcelona , and New York .
The German-speaking countries' economic significance is even greater. Germany, with a population of just over 82 million, boasts the world's fourth-largest national economy, one less affected than most by the recent downturn. When, in 2009, Newsweek placed Chancellor Angela Merkel eighth on its list of the world's 50 most powerful people (and the top woman), it pointed out that she "has resources few of her peers can match in this crisis. Germany's slow-and-steady economy may have seemed boring in the global boom years, but now Merkel's country looks like a rare island of stability. Government budgets are balanced. There's no housing or credit bubble, and the savings rate puts America to shame (11 percent versus near zero last year)." And since then, Germany's influence has only continued to grow; in 2012, Forbes ranked Angela Merkel the world's second-most powerful person.
The economies of German-speaking Switzerland and Austria are also substantial, and their per capita GDPs rank third and fourth in the EU. Especially Austria has benefited from the opening up of Eastern Europe.
Size is not the only source of Germany's economic importance, however. The Federal Republic boasts the highest worker productivity in Europe, and according to the UNCTAD World Investment Prospects Survey (2012-2014), Germany is third in the world for best places to invest. The top investor in Germany is the U.S., followed by Switzerland and China. The World Economic Forum's 2009-10 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Switzerland #1 in the world, Germany #7, and Austria #17. The Wall Street Journal (6/14/2012) reports that companies and state governments in the U.S. are increasingly turning to German companies for help in training skilled factory workers.
In the area of world trade, Germany's significance is greater than just its GDP would indicate. From 2003-8 it was the world's largest exporter. It is now second to China, even though its exports continue to grow dramatically. At the same time, Germany is the second-biggest donor of aid to developing countries.4 Germans are #1 in the world when it comes to travel - 40 million Germans spent 24.2 billion euros on travel to other countries in fiscal 2012 - and Germany itself is a major tourist destination. Between January and May 2012, international visitors accounted for 23.8 million overnight stays in German hotels, and in 2010 Berlin passed Rome in the number of foreign visitors. Austria and Switzerland are of course also popular destinations. In its list of the 44 "most compelling travel destinations" in the world for 2009, the New York Times put Berlin at #4, Vienna #8, and Cologne #30 (1/11/2009).
In addition to its exports, Germany invests heavily all around the world. In 2001, Volkswagen plants in China supplied over half of all the automobiles sold there, and Audi has just opened a major manufacturing facility in India. Similarly significant investments can be found in many other parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. The more than 700 German companies with operations in Mexico, for example, account for 5% of that country's GDP. This world-wide activity is reciprocal: in 2000, other nations invested $262 billion in Germany.
Despite its global reach, Germany maintains an especially strong economic relationship with the United States. German investment in the U.S. is over a trillion euros, while the U.S. total in Germany is a trillion dollars. Each country's companies, through their subsidiaries, employ around 800,000 people in the other's work force.
Mid-size businesses traditionally form the backbone of the German economy - according to the Institut für Mittelstandforschung (IfM), 95.1 percent of all German companies are family-owned businesses that account for 45.1 percent of all business volume. Yet of the world's 50 largest companies, nine are German: BASF, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, E.ON, Metro, Siemens, and Volkswagen. HochTief is the world's leading international construction firm, and the Deutsche Bank one of its biggest financial institutions. In terms of money spent on research and development, Daimler and Siemens rank third and fourth in the world, while Volkswagen, Bayer, Hoechst, Bosch, BASF, Boehringer/Ingelheim, Deutsche Telekom, and Mannesman also occupy places among the first 90 (International Herald-Tribune, 26 Feb. 2000).
Germany's automobile, engineering, chemical, pharmaceutical, and high-end appliance firms are well known, as is its leadership in design, but the country's information enterprises are also significant. Bertelsmann is the world's largest publisher, and the German book-publishing industry as a whole ranks third in the world (behind England and China), traditionally producing over a third more new titles each year than does the United States (see The Bowker Annual). In fact, 10% of all the world's books are printed in German. Germany is also among the leaders in computing. SAP is the world's largest business software company and the world's third-largest independent software provider. A 1999 study by McKinsey found that the Munich area's 1,800 computer firms, with over 100,000 employees, formed the world's fourth largest concentration of hardware and software producers (after Silicon Valley, Boston, and London). Munich is also home to 115 biotech companies, while Dresden hosts 765 semiconductor firms. On the internet, German is one of the most-frequently used languages, and '.de' is the world's most widely-used country-specific domain.
Germany is also the world's 2nd leader in the development of alternative energy. Approximately half of all photovoltaic cells and a third of all windmills are produced in Germany, while a single firm, Voith in Heidesheim, provides a third of the world's hydroelectric installations. Renewable energy accounts for 14.2% of Germany's electricity and 6.6% of its heating. By March 2009 Germany had already met its 2012 Kyoto Treaty obligations for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, three years ahead of time. And in 2012, Germany reached another goal, using 20% sustainable energy, and it is on target to raise the share of renewables in electricity production to 35% by 2020.
Even in the world of sport, German-speakers figure prominently. In the 2010 Summer Olympics, Germany's 44 medals was the fifth best among all countries (Switzerland had two gold and two silver). Germany is the only country in the world whose men's and women's soccer teams have both won the World Cup: the women twice (2003 and 2007) and the men three times. The men's team also came in second 4 times, third 3 times (including 2006 and 2010), and has never failed to reach at least the quarter-finals. And things look bright for the future: in 2008-9, the German U-21, U-19, and U-17 men's teams each won the European Championship. Tennis, swimming, rowing, golf, track, basketball, boxing, riding, handball, field hockey, ice hockey, ice-skating, fencing, and auto racing, and now even baseball are just some of the other major sports at which Germans excel. German-speaking Switzerland has also produced some of the world's top tennis players, including Martina Hingis and Roger Federer. In 2006, as in the previous two Winter Olympics, Germany was the top medal winner, and in 2010 it was second (Switzerland was 6th and Austria 9th). Athletes from all the German-speaking countries traditionally dominate alpine skiing to the extent that German is the sport's primary language. The U.S. Ski Team regularly sends its members to Dartmouth's ALPS Program to learn German.
Thus it becomes clear that a knowledge of German grants access not only to rich literary, philosophical, and artistic traditions but also to many other kinds of contemporary cultural, economic, political, and scientific developments.
The Dartmouth Department of German Studies consequently offers a curriculum that appeals to a wide range of interests. Dartmouth German majors have pursued careers in business, engineering, finance, law, journalism, government service, medicine, and the sciences, as well as in art, literature, philosophy, music, and film. Even non-majors have discovered that their knowledge of German complements such fields as architecture, economics, government, history, engineering, and computer science (see "Majoring or Minoring in German"). Over 150 Dartmouth alumni live and work in the German-speaking countries. But no matter what their future careers, students find that German Studies, as part of a liberal education, can enrich their professional and personal lives.
1 This list of inventions comes from Tatsachen über Deutschland, assembled by the German Foreign Office in 2005.
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3 For the preceeding, see the comparative economic review from The German Information Center and the report of February 16, 2001, from email@example.com. For an updating of general facts about Germany, see the Center's Fact Page, as well as http://www.magazine-deutschland.de. For facts about the other German-speaking countries, see www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook.
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4 It is also worth noting that Germany's wealth is distributed relatively equitably among its population. When post-tax transfers were factored in, Germany's relative poverty rate in 2000 was 2.4%, while Switzerland's was 4.3% - the United States' rate was 11.7% (See The New York Review of Books, March 23, 2000, p. 21). In 2004, in the average large German company, the CEO's compensation was 11 times that of the average worker; in the U.S., the ratio was 531 to 1 (The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2004).
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Last Updated: 5/24/13