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Educator details rise of Germany
Tremendous change since reunification
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Forsyth County News


In just 20 years, Germany has evolved from a country weakened and divided to a world powerhouse.

Richard Byers, associate professor of history at North Georgia College & State University, covered the country's rapid transformation in a talk Monday at the Sharon Forks library.

"Germany Ascendant" was part of the Dahlonega-based university's ongoing Great Decisions lecture series.

Byers began by addressing the changes to the nation since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.

"Germany has made a strong resurgence since 1990," he said. "The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s was remarkably sudden in many people's opinions, and much has been transformed in the country since then."

To illustrate his point, Byers showed images of the same area of Berlin in 1990, not long after the wall between East and West Germany came down, and in 2010.

"You'll see a number of changes," he said. "The wall is completely gone, buildings have been cleaned up and people are thronging in the streets again.

"Things have changed tremendously in that 20-year time period."

Byers gave an overview of modern Germany.

He said the country boosts about 81 million people, making it the largest country in Europe after Russia. Its population is about one-quarter of that of the United States, he said.

In land area, Byers said, it's slightly smaller than the state of Montana.

Financially, Germany has a median household income of $44,000 per year and a gross domestic product of $3.6 trillion.

"It's the world's No. 1 exporter per capita, and the U.S.'s largest trading partner in Europe," Byers said.

He added that the nation has become "a powerhouse" in high tech and medical fields such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, ships, textiles and electronics.

Byers also touched on Germany's government and educational systems.

He said the modern government was crafted out of the fall of the Third Reich at the end of World War II.

As a direct result, he explained, the structure is an "interlocking federalist system composed of 16 states." It is based on fragmentation of powers.

"The executive branch is the weakest due to the Nazi era," he said.

The government is also based on human rights, an active social policy and republican structure.

"History's influence still plays a strong role in contemporary Germany," Byers said.

He also touched on the country's educational system, which in some ways is much different than that of the U.S.

"In Germany, in about the 10th grade, it's determined by the country whether a student will go on to a university or to a trade school," he said.

"They also have an active apprenticeship program, where someone will start working as an apprentice at age 13 or 14 and continue until their early 20s."

Lillian Glickman, who has attended all five Great Decisions lectures, said she found Byers to be "one of the best presenters."

"There were many, many different items that I found interesting," she said. "I was interested in learning about their educational system, current political system and how they use the past to try to prevent future problems."

The eight-week series continues with the sixth lecture, "Sanctions and Nonproliferation," at 6:30 p.m. March 22 in the Sharon Forks library.