The first people to live in this part of Europe were Celts, followed by tribes from Scandinavia. In the 1st century A.D., the Roman Empire conquered most of northern Europe. In the 5th century, Huns from Asia overran the area, followed by western Europeans called Franks. The people were gradually converted to Christianity and in the 9th century, the area became part of the Christian empire of Charlemagne.

A century later, the empire became known as the Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of many small states ruled by Electors, who elected the emperors. From the 13th to the 18th century, the emperors were members of the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled the Germanic states from Vienna.

The Catholic church lost much of its power in the German states during the Reformation in the 16th century. This movement was led by Martin Luther and others who criticized Catholic practices. Religious and nationalistic conflicts erupted in the 17th century in the Thirty Years' War between Protestants and Catholics.

One German state, Prussia, became very powerful during the 18th century. The Prussian army helped the English defeat the French Emperor Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In 1871, after Germany's victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War, Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck unified the German states into a single nation ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm

Political tensions in Europe led to the First World War (1914-18). After Germany's defeat, the country briefly became a republic, with its capital at Weimar. In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers' Party, known as the Nazis, took power. Hitler's armies invaded Poland in 1939, and the Second World War began. Although the German army occupied most of Europe in the first two years of the war, Germany was defeated in 1945.

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The Hanseatic League was established in northern Germany in the 14th century by trading companies (hansas) to combat piracy in the North and Baltic Seas. Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck are still known as Hanseatic cities.

After the war, Germany was divided. Great Britain, France and the United States occupied West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet Union controlled East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic. The division was symbolized by a wall separating the two parts of the country.

The two German nations grew apart economically and politically until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demolition of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Official reunification of East and West Germany occurred on October 3, 1990. Since then Germany has had a democratic government.