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The German people ( ) are an ethnic group, in the sense of sharing a common German culture, descent, and speaking the German language as a mother tongue. Within Germany, Germans are defined by citizenship (Federal Germans, Bundesdeutsche), distinguished from people of German ancestry (Deutschstämmige). Historically, in the context of the German Empiremarker (1871–1918), German citizens (Imperial Germans, Reichsdeutsche) were distinguished from ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche).

Of approximately 100 million native speakers of German in the world, about 66–75 million consider themselves Germans. There are an additional 80 million people of German ancestry (mainly in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, France and Canada) who are not native speakers of German.

Thus, the total number of Germans worldwide lies between 66 and 160 million, depending on the criteria applied (native speakers, single-ancestry ethnic Germans, partial German ancestry, etc.). In the U.S.marker, 43 million, or 15.2% of the population, identified as German American in the census of 2000. Although the percentage has declined, it is still more than any other group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau – 2006 American Community Survey, approximately 51 million citizens identify themselves as having German ancestry.

Ethnic Germans

The term Ethnic Germans may be used in several ways. It may serve to distinguish Germans from those who have citizenship in the German state but are not Germans; or it may indicate Germans living as minorities in other nations. In English usage, but less often in German, Ethnic Germans may be used for assimilated descendants of German emigrants.

Ethnic Germans form an important minority group in several countries in central and eastern Europe—(Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia) as well as in Namibia, Brazil (German-Brazilian), Argentina (approx. 7,5% of the population) and Chile (approx. 4% of the population).

Some groups may be classified as Ethnic Germans despite no longer having German as their mother tongue or belonging to a distinct German culture. Until the 1990s, two million Ethnic Germans lived throughout the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia and Kazakhstanmarker.

In the United States 1990 census, 57 million people were fully or partly of German ancestry, forming the largest single ethnic group in the country. States with the highest percentage of Americans of German descent are in the northern Midwest (especially Wisconsinmarker, Minnesotamarker, North Dakotamarker, South Dakotamarker, Nebraskamarker, Iowamarker, and Kansasmarker), and the Mid-Atlantic state, Pennsylvaniamarker. But Germanic immigrant enclaves existed in many other states (e.g., the German Texans and the Denver, Coloradomarker area) and to a lesser extent, the Pacific Northwest (i.e. Idahomarker, Montanamarker, Oregonmarker and Washington statemarker).

Notable Ethnic German minorities also exist in other Anglosphere countries such as Canada (approx. 9% of the population) and Australia (approx. 4% of the population). As in the United States, most people of German descent in Canada and Australia have almost completely assimilated, culturally and linguistically, into the English-speaking mainstream.


The Germans are a Germanic people, which as an ethnicity emerged during the Middle Ages. From the multi-ethnic Holy Roman Empire, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) left a core territory that was to become Germany.


Germanic tribes from ca. 100 AD until 300 AD.

The area of modern-day Germany in the European Iron Age was divided into the (Celtic) La Tène horizonmarker in Southern Germanymarker and the (Germanic) Jastorf culture in Northern Germany.The predominant Y-chromosome haplogroup in Germans is R1b, followed by I and R1a; the predominant mitochondrial haplogroup is H, followed by U and T.

The Germanic peoples during the Migrations Period came into contact with other peoples; in the case of the populations settling in the territory of modern Germany, they encountered Celts to the south, and Balts and Slavs towards the east.

The Limes Germanicus was breached in AD 260. Migrating Germanic tribes commingled with the local Gallo-Roman populations in what is now Swabia and Bavariamarker.
The migration-period peoples who would coalesce into a "German" ethnicity were the Saxones, Frisii, Franci, Thuringii, Alamanni and Bavarii. By the 800s, the territory of modern Germany had been united under the rule of Charlemagne. Much of what is now Eastern Germany remained Slavonic-speaking (Sorbs and Veleti).

Medieval history

A German ethnicity emerged in the course of the Middle Ages, under the influence of the unity of Eastern Francia (later Kingdom of Germany) from the 9th century. The process was gradual and lacked any clear definition.

After Christianization, the Roman Catholic Church and local rulers led German expansion and settlement in areas inhabited by Slavs and Balts (Ostsiedlung). Massive German settlement led to their assimilation of Baltic (Old Prussians) and Slavic (Wends) populations, who were exhausted by previous warfare.

At the same time, naval innovations led to a German domination of trade in the Baltic Seamarker and parts of Eastern Europe through the Hanseatic League. Along the trade routes, Hanseatic trade stations became centers of German culture. German town law (Stadtrecht) was promoted by the presence of large, relatively wealthy German populations and their influence on political power.
Thus people who would be considered "Germans", with a common culture, language, and worldview different from that of the surrounding rural peoples, colonized trading towns as far north of present-day Germany as Bergenmarker (in Norwaymarker), Stockholmmarker (in Swedenmarker), and Vyborgmarker (now in Russia). The Hanseatic League was not exclusively German in any ethnic sense: many towns who joined the league were outside the Holy Roman Empire and a number of them may only loosely be characterized as German. The Empire was not entirely German either.

Early Modern period

It was only in the late fifteenth century that the Holy Roman Empire came to be called the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. It was not exclusively German, and notably included a sizeable Slavic minority. The Thirty Years' War, a series of conflicts fought mainly in the territory of modern Germany, confirmed the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The Napoleonic Wars gave it its coup de grâce.

Since the Peace of Westphalia, Germany had been "one nation split in many countries" (Kleinstaaterei). The Austrian–Prussian split, confirmed in 1871 when Austria remained outside of the Imperial Germanymarker, was only the most prominent example.

In the nineteenth century, after the Napoleonic Wars and the fall of the Holy Roman Empire , Austria and Prussia emerged as two competitors. Austria, trying to remain the dominant power in Central Europe, led the way in the terms of the Congress of Vienna. The Congress of Vienna was essentially conservative, assuring that little would change in Europe and preventing Germany from uniting. The terms of the Congress of Vienna came to a sudden halt following the Crimean War in 1856. This paved the way for German unification in the 1860s. In 1870, Prussia attracted even Bavariamarker (the old ally of France) in the Franco-Prussian War. It created the German Empiremarker as a German nation-state, effectively excluding the multi-ethnic Austrian Habsburg monarchy.

During the 19th century in the German territories, rapid population growth due to lower death rates, combined with poverty, spurred millions of Germans to emigrate, chiefly to the United States. Today, roughly 17% of the United States' population (23% of the white population) is of mainly German ancestry.

Twentieth century

The dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire after World War I led to a strong desire of the population of the new Republic of German Austriamarker to be integrated into Germany or Switzerland. This was, however, prevented by the Treaty of Versailles.

The Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, attempted to unite all Germans (Volksdeutsche) into one realm, including ethnic Germans in eastern Europe, many of whom had emigrated more than one hundred fifty years before and developed separate cultures in their new lands. This idea was initially welcomed by many ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Polandmarker, Danzigmarker and western Lithuaniamarker. The Swiss resisted the idea. They had viewed themselves as a distinctly separate nation since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.

After World War II, because of the ostensible reasons for war and in retaliation for Nazi excesses, eastern European nations, including areas annexed by the Soviet Unionmarker and Polandmarker, expelled ethnic Germans from their territories, including Czechoslovakiamarker, Hungarymarker, Romaniamarker and Yugoslavia. Most of the 12 million ethnic German refugees fled to western Germany and Europe, the United States, and South America.

After WWII, Austrians increasingly saw themselves as a nation distinct from other German-speaking areas of Europe. Recent polls show that no more than 6% of the German-speaking Austrians consider themselves as "Germans". Austrian identity was emphasized along with the "first-victim of Nazism" theory. Today over 80 percent of the Austrians see themselves as an independent nation.

1945 to present

Between 1950 and 1987, about 1.4 million ethnic Germans and their dependents, mostly from Polandmarker and Romaniamarker, arrived in Germany under special provisions of (right of return). With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, "Aussiedler"—ethnic Germans, mainly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Unionmarker—took advantage of Germany's liberal law of return to leave the harsh conditions of Eastern Europe. Approximately 2 million have resettled in Germany since the late 1980s. On the other hand, significant numbers of ethnic Germans have moved from Germany to other European countries, especially Switzerlandmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Britainmarker, and Spainmarker.


The Germans are divided into sub-nationalities, some of which form dialectal unities with groups outside Germany that are not considered "Germans". The southern Upper German groups retain a pronounced identity. In the case of the Swabians, there was even a limited movement for Alemannic separatism. The Low German Platt speakers also retain a certain ethnic identity, while the Central German majority has largely abandoned individual nationalisms.

Ethnic nationalism

After the Napoleonic Wars, a strong ethnic nationalism arose that emphasized a cultural bond among Germans. It was later alloyed at the end of the nineteenth century with the high standing and worldwide influence of German science and culture, to some degree enhanced by Bismarck's military successes. During the following 40 years of almost perpetual economic boom (the Gründerzeit), the Germans assumed a cultural and ethnic supremacy, particularly compared to their neighbors, the Slavs.

Because ethnic nationalism was considered a contributing cause to World War II, the concept has been repressed in German society since World War II. German reunification and other factors have caused some people to embrace and revive the concept. The ethnic nationalist National Democratic Party of Germany received 1.5% of the popular vote in the 2009 federal election.


Today, Germans include both Protestants and Catholics, with each group about equally represented in Germany. Historically, Protestants formed the majority in the northern two-thirds of the country. With the loss of traditionally Protestant regions after World War II and many Protestants' turning to agnosticism and atheism, especially in the former East Germanymarker, the two groups are about equally represented. Today, non-Christians constitute a majority in certain regions of Germany, both in urban as well as in rural (eastern) regions. Other large groups of immigrants were or are mostly Catholics (e.g., Poles, Italians and Croatians).

The Protestant Reformation started in the German cultural sphere, when in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche ("castle church") in Wittenbergmarker. Among Protestant denominations, the Lutherans are well represented among Germans, while Calvinists are historically to be found primarily near the Dutchmarker border and in a few cities like Wormsmarker and Speyermarker.

The late nineteenth century saw a strong movement among the Jews in Germany and Austria to assimilate and define themselves as Germans, i.e., as Jewish Germans (a similar movement occurred in Hungary). In conservative circles, their acculturation was not always embraced. Beginning in social tensions of the 1920s, the rise of Nazis in the 1930s meant an increase in anti-Semitism, as they used the Jewish population as scapegoats for national problems. The Nazis conceived and carried out extreme discrimination and an effort to exterminate the Jews, leading to the deaths or exile of almost all of the pre-World War II Jewish population.

Today Germany is trying to better integrate Gastarbeiter (guest workers) and more recent refugees from ex-Yugoslavia, such as Bosnian Muslims.


Since the post-World War II decades and especially the later 20th century, the German-speaking countries of Europe have reflected striking demographic changes resulting from decades of immigration. These changes have led to renewed debates (especially in the Federal Republic of Germany) about who should be considered German. Non-ethnic Germans now make up more than 8% of the German population. They are mostly the descendants of "guest workers" who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. The Poles, Turks, Moroccans, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese and people from the Balkans form the largest groups of non-ethnic Germans in the country.

As of December 2004, about seven million foreign citizens were registered in Germanymarker, and 19% of the country's residents were of foreign or partially foreign descent. The young are more likely to be of foreign descent than the old. Thirty percent of Germans aged 15 years and younger have at least one parent born outside the country. In the big cities, 60% of children aged 5 years and younger have at least one parent born abroad. The largest group (2.7 million) are descended from ethnic Turks.

A significant number of German citizens (close to 5%), although traditionally considered ethnic Germans, are in fact foreign-born. They retain cultural identities and languages from their native countries. This sets them apart from native Germans. Foreign-born repatriates are not unique to Germany. The English and British equivalent legal term of lex sanguinis (law of blood) stipulates that citizenship is inherited by the child from his/her parents. It has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Ethnic German repatriates from the former Soviet Union constitute by far the largest such group and the second largest ethno-national minority group in Germany. The repatriation provisions made for ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe are unique and have a historical basis. These were areas where Germans traditionally lived, that is, where they had migrated and maintained some German language and culture. Nonetheless, the fact of their separation meant they developed differently from populations within German borders.

The Volga Germans, descendants of ethnic Germans who settled in Russia during the eighteenth century, have presented a controversial case of "repatriation". They have been permitted to claim German citizenship even though neither they nor their ancestors for several generations had been to Germany. In contrast, persons of German descent living in North America, South America, Africa, etc. do not have an automatic right of return. They must prove their eligibility for German citizenship according to applicable German nationality law. Other countries with post-Soviet Union repatriation programs include Greece, Israelmarker and South Koreamarker.

Unlike these ethnic German repatriates, some non-German ethnic minorities in the country, including some who were born and raised in the Federal Republic, choose to remain non-citizens. Although recently German citizenship laws have been relaxed to allow such individuals to become nationalized citizens, many choose not to give up allegiance to the countries of their ethnic roots. They live in Germany under the ambiguous status of an alien resident or a guest worker. Although this status means that people lack certain political rights, they often can still get work and free public higher education, and travel freely abroad.

As a result, close to 10 million people permanently living in the Federal Republic today distinctly differ from the majority of the population in a variety of ways such as race, ethnicity, religion, language and culture. Official statistical sources often fail to account for them as minorities because such sources traditionally survey only German citizens classified under the so-called jus sanguinis (right of blood) system, limiting citizenship to those with German forebears, which has been in effect in Germany since the nineteenth century. It has only recently been partially replaced by the alternative jus soli (right of soil) system, allowing citizenship to all individuals born there. This situation contributes to the invisibility of Germany's minorities.

See also


  1. [1] "Nearly 43 million people in the United States identify German as their primary ancestry, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in July 2004"
  2. This figure accounts for self-reported ancestry, rather than race or ethnicity. See demographics of the United States and European American for more information.
  3. [2] "Ancestry—German = 50,764,352"
  5. refugee -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  6. [3]. Development of the Austrian identity .
  7. Peter Utgaard, Remembering and Forgetting Nazism, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2003), 188–189. Frederick C. Engelmann, "The Austro-German Relationship: One Language, One and One-Half Histories, Two States", Unequal Partners, ed. Harald von Riekhoff and Hanspeter Neuhold (San Francisco: Westview Press, 1993), 53–54.
  9. "Fewer Ethnic Germans Immigrating to Ancestral Homeland"
  10. "External causes of death in a cohort of Aussiedler from the former Soviet Union, 1990-2002"
  11. "Turks in Germany: Two unamalgamated worlds", The Economist, April 3, 2008
  12. BiBB: "Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund - neue Definition, alte Probleme", retrieved 25 of May 2008
  13. "Poll: Most Turks in Germany Feel Unwelcome", Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2008

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