Though Germany is weathering the world financial difficulties better than most countries, the impact of unification at the end of the Cold War means there are still significant disparities between east and west. Nevertheless, continued significant investment in public services, research and development, and infrastructure projects has ensured that Germany has one of the highest standards of living in the world.

In real terms, this means that travelers are likely to move around the country faster, dine better and experience newer attractions, such as the Reichstag's glass dome or the spectacular Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. A lot has changed, yet chances are that repeat visitors will still find the things they always liked: the restaurant serving huge helpings of sauerbraten or the biergarten with liter upon liter of lager and wheat beer.

Germany is a relatively new nation, created in 1871, and it has retained a very strong federal element. Rather, therefore, than looking at the country in terms of east and west, Germany is best seen as a host of regions sharply defined by dialect, food, traditions and history. For the best perspective, sample as many regions as possible.

Culturally, Berlin is booming, and it is now the country's No. 1 tourist magnet. Visitors to the cultural centers of Dresden, Leipzig and Weimar in eastern Germany will find much improved amenities there as well. The north has the delightful old seafaring cities of Hamburg and Bremen.

Along the Rhine and Moselle rivers are picturesque castles and steep, terraced vineyards. The Grimm Brothers collected the tales they heard in a trail of villages from Hanau to Bremen. In the south are snowcapped Alps, the alluring Black Forest, Munich, and Bavaria's boisterous beer halls and rococo palaces and churches.

Although it has plenty of fairy-tale sights and picturesque scenery that is reminiscent of medieval times, Germany is without a doubt a postindustrial, multicultural country with all the inherent advantages and conflicts. Reunification was a huge social and economic undertaking, and it came on top of an already heavy and, at times, troubled history. Broadly speaking, it has been a remarkable success, though travelers shouldn't expect all parts of the country, at all times, to be an Oktoberfest.

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