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Germany      Germany

Lying at the heart of Europe, Germany is one of the world's wealthiest nations. In its present form, Germany is one of the newest countries in Europe. After World War II, it was divided into two separate countries - West Germany, a western-style Germanydemocracy, and East Germany, a communist state. In 1990, the two parts of Germany were reunited as one country. The eastern part is now struggling to overcome the legacy of economic decay and pollution left by its communist past.

The reunification of Germanv took place on October 3, 1990. Growing protests in East Germany, together with the collapse of communism in the USSR, finally led the government to make changes. The Berlin Wall, symbol of Germany's division, was demolished, and East Germant started to flood into West Berlin. The capital has since moved from Bonn back to its former home, in Berlin.


Germany's extensive network of canals and rivers is vitally important for transporting cargo. Barges are a common sight along rivers, such as the Rhine, carrying goods around Germany and into other parts of Europe. In eastern Germany, the Oder River is an important waterway for taking goods into Poland. On land, Germany has excellent highways and a fast, efficient railroad System.

From the flat, fertile plains of the north to the snowcapped peaks of the bavarian Alps, shown here, the German landscape is extremely varied. One of the country's most famous and most picturesque regions is the Black Forest in the southwest, wich gets its name from its dark coniferous trees.


Spain       Spain flag

Fiestasand flamenco provide much of the flavor of Spain. Most Spaniards are Roman Catholic and fiestas, often to celebrate a local saint's day, include processions of people in traditional clothing, music, and dancing. After a bitter civil war in 1936-39, Spain was ruled by a dictator, Francisco Franco, until 1975. His successor, King Juan Carlos I, has restored democracy. Today, Spain is a major industrial nation with a large agricultural sector and a booming tourist trade. These activities are mainly based near 

the coasts, while central régions are less developed.

Madrid became Spain's capital in 1561 because King Philip II liked its climate and central location. Today, the city has a population of some 4 million people and is Spain's center of finance and government. Barcelona is Spain's second city and the capital of Catalonia. It lies at the heart of a large industrial area in the north and was the site of the 1992 Olympic Games.

The Spanish are divided into regional groups, some with their own language and culture. Local languages, known as dialects, include Catalan, Gallego, and Euskera from the Basque region, which stretches from northern Spain into France. The officiai dialect of Spain, Castilian, is taught in all schools, along with either English or French. Children in Spain tend to stay upla te. They have a snack called merienda after school, then play outside, with a late family dinner held around 9 pm.

About 55 million tourists flock to Spain every year to enjoy the beaches and admire the architecture of cities such as Barcelona and Seville. Beaches on the Costa del Sol, as well as on the Balearic Island of Majorca are popular with tourists from Britain and Germany. Bullfighting, held in arenas in most cities, either attracts or repels tourists.

Farming and fishing used to be the basis of the Spanish economy. The country has now developed a large steel industry, centered in Barcelona in the north, and has also become an important center for making cars. In the 1980s, many new electronics and high-tech industries were set up, often supported by money from foreign investment. Major agricultural products include cereals, olives, grapes for wine, and citrus fruits, especially oranges from around Seville.


Italy   Italy flag 

Italy was first united by the ancient Romans, whose great empire spread across Europe. But for much of its history, Italy has been a divided land. During the Middle Ages, it split into many separate states, not reuniting until 1870. This boot-shaped country stretches from the glaciers and lakes of the mountainous north to the rocky Mediterranean coastline of the hot south. Two Mediterranean islands, Sicily and Sardinia, both belong to Italy as well, but the group of islands to the south of Sicily make up the separate country of Malta. The mainland of Italy also includes two tiny independent states, San Marino and Vatican City.


Ancient traditions and historic wealth have left Italy a rich legacy of art and architecture. Although Italy is one of the world's leading industrial powers today, there is a great divide between the wealthy, industrial north and the poorer, agricultural Italysouth. This economic division affects many aspects of Italian life and is one of the reasons behindthe country's rapid turnover of governments. Most people throughout Italy follow the Roman Catholic religion.

To Italians, life revolves around the family, and large, extended networks of different generations usually live within close proximity. Meals are important family gatherings, and the food differs from region to region. In the north, pasta is often replaced by rice or polenta, made from corn flour. Olive oil and fresh vegetables are also important in Italian cooking.

The Alps sweep across the north of the region, and the Apennine Mountains form a central spine clown the length of Italy, continuing beneath the sea to Sicily. Once covered in dense forest, much of the region's hills are now rocky scrubland, while the lowlands are used for growing crops.

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