On the threshold of the third millennium, Germany represents one of the key elements of the new European and world geopolitical construction, but, at the same time, also one of the elements of greatest uncertainty. The assertion, paradoxical in itself, is grounded in recent events in the German territory and economy. The first has not yet emerged from the condition of ‘reassembly’ of parts that the iron post-war division, which lasted over forty years, had profoundly diversified from the point of view of socio-spatial organization. The second has gone through, in more recent years, phases that are now positive and now negative in the short term, affected by the complex problems generated internally by the unification process, Modell Deutschland, founded on a ‘social market economy’.
With an estimated population of 82,133. 000 residents in 1998, Germany constitutes by far the first country in the European Union by demographic mass. However, precisely in the rhythms of variation and in the structural characteristics of this population lies one of the most accentuated factors of weakness of the German state, even after reunification.
Prior to the latter, both the territorial sections, western and eastern, had for some time (the seventies) reached the level of zero growth, bringing, in their respective ‘pyramids of the ages’, the signs of wars and the economic crisis that occurred at beginning of the thirties. The East, moreover, had suffered the effects of the mass exodus to the West (3millions of people, mostly young people), so much so that, in the 1980s, exceptional measures had been taken to promote the birth rate, which had led to a slight recovery. In the West, on the other hand, despite the subsequent inflows of returnees, refugees and immigrants from abroad, the factors of denatality typical of advanced economies, together with the increase in average life expectancy, had led to a drastic aging of the population, with the consequent heavier social costs for health and social security.
At the beginning of the 1990s, therefore, the further displacements of population from the eastern to the western Länder had been considered positive in order to rebalance the natural balance; but the economic difficulties of the former, which soon became evident in the productive reconversion plans, led to a climate of uncertainty which, added to the change in the model of life in a consumerist sense, caused a marked fall in the birth rate. To this must be added, in the whole country, the soaring growth in unemployment (3,890,000 units in 1997, equal to 11.4 % of the labor force, with peaks of 20 % in the Länder. oriental), certainly limiting towards the formation or growth of family units.
According to LOCALCOLLEGEEXPLORER, the birth rate of Germany unified (9, 6 ‰ per year) is thus significantly lower than that previously recorded by the same Germany Occidental and the negative balance significantly increased (- 1, 2 ‰). The increase that occurred in the period 1990 – 97 (5‰ annual) is therefore due to immigration, however subject to legislation which provides for the maintenance of the status of foreigners even for those born in German territory from families that have now been stabilized in the country for several generations: this obviously deprives Germany of the component more dynamic within the demographic balance, accentuating, moreover, the precariousness of immigrant communities. The consistency of the latter, in the mid-1990s, had reached 7 million units (Turks, 29 %; former Yugoslavs, 12 %; Italians, 8 %; Greeks, 5 %; Poles, 4 %; Austrians, 2, 5 %; Spaniards, 1,9 %).
The urbanization rate of the population reached 87 % (1997), one of the highest values in the world. However, the German space, contrast areas of strong thickening (Verdichtungsraum) any other defined by the planning bodies such as rural areas (Agrargebiete).
Among the former, the Rhine-Ruhr megalopolis remains dominant (with over 10 million residents), made up of several well-integrated but equally distinguishable urban systems: the Ruhr mining and steel basin (Ruhrgebiete, more than 5 million residents) between Duisburg and Dortmund, experiencing an industrial crisis, but which has become a center of financial and technological services of great importance; the Rhine axis (Rheinschiene, 3 million residents) between Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn, a fundamental hinge in the European context of the 1970s-1980s; the industrial ‘nebulae’ between Mönchengladbach and Krefeld, to the left of the Rhine, and between Wuppertal and Solingen, to the right. The urban densities of the Rhine-Main area follow in importance (2, 8 million residents), centered on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt-Mainz-Wiesbaden quadrilateral and on the waterway connection with the Danube (see below), and the middle Neckar, for a radius of about 40 km around Stuttgart. In the East, the result is an integrated urban system (2, 5 million residents) In Länder of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, between Halle, Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz, which also encounters considerable difficulties in converting its settlement structures to the new production and environmental standards. For the rest, the meshes of the urban network thin out strongly and the regional structure becomes monocentric: thus, Hamburg dominates in the northern plain, Berlin in the eastern one, Munich in the subalpine belt, while the Hercynian mid-mountain (Mittelgebirge) marks a substantial empty right in the middle section of the country.
Despite the standardization of German society and economy, the cultural picture is diversified, giving rise to regional individualities – especially in less urbanized areas – whose foundation lies in traditional ways of life, in dialects, in religion. In this last regard, it should be emphasized that the reunification brought about a rebalancing, at least apparent, between the Rhenish and Bavarian Catholicism, whose influence was very accentuated in the western Germany, and the Protestantism of the eastern regions, where however the long communist domination it has induced a widespread attitude of indifference towards religion. Also in terms of political and electoral behavior,