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Regions and Cities for Expats in Germany

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: September 2013

Physically, Germany has a low-lying north and a hilly and partly mountainous south. Though the country is very densely populated in some areas (for example, the Rhine-Ruhr area), there are still relatively untouched parts of Germany, such as the Black Forest (German Schwarzwald) and the mountainous region surrounding the magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle, the country’s most popular tourist attraction.

For convenience, Germany can be divided into four regions. Together, the first three regions make up the territory of former West Germany, and the last region is former East Germany. Though it is 23 years after reunification, there is still a stark difference in wealth between former West and East Germany. Unemployment and poverty rates in former East Germany are much higher. Southern Germany fares best economically.


Area (km2)


Density (per km2)

Largest City










Cologne (Köln – see below)





Munich (München)






North-Western Germany contains coastal Schleswig-Holstein and the Frisian Islands, which are contain popular seaside resorts. South of this are Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and the maritime city states of Hamburg and Bremen. Hamburg is the second largest and wealthiest city in Germany. It is a major centre for media, and is Germany’s largest port. Ever since the Beatles played here, Hamburg has been known for its music scene.

Western Germany contains Dortmund-Essen-Duisburg-Düsseldorf-Cologne, otherwise known as the Rhine-Ruhr conurbation. This is one continuous urban area with a population of 11 million, the highest in Europe. The conurbation is normally regarded by Germans as a collection of cities; if it is treated as one city, it is the most populous in the whole of Europe. This area was, and is still Germany’s industrial heartland, having successfully overcome a decline in recent decades.

To the south of this conurbation is Bonn, which was made capital of West Germany in 1963. Since 1993, when the capital of newly reunified Germany returned to Berlin, Bonn has mostly become a quiet provincial city again, though it has ‘Federal City’ status. To the south of Bonn is the Rhineland Palatine (Rheinland-Pfalz), which is more agricultural and contains Germany’s main wine regions.

East of this, in Hessen, is the financial capital of Germany, Frankfurt am Main. The city is normally just called Frankfurt – the full name is used to distinguish it from Frankfurt an der Oder, on the Polish border in Eastern Germany. Befitting a financial centre, Frankfurt has a dozen or so skyscrapers and is the wealthiest city in Europe per capita.

Southern Germany consists of the two Länder of Bavaria (Bayern) and Baden-Württemberg. These states are more mountainous and the climate is relatively wet in the very south. This region has areas of great physical beauty and also contains beautiful cities such as Heidelberg, which contains Germany’s oldest university.

Eastern Germany, the former German Democratic Republic, is in most parts sparsely populated. Furthermore, the steepest population declines in Germany are to be found in this region, as many Ossis (Easterners) seek better fortunes in the former West. However, some Eastern cities, such as Dresden, Leipzig and Magdeburg, are finally showing signs of recovery, with unemployment rates falling and greatly increased investment in areas such as infrastructure.

Berlin itself has recovered well from the trauma of being divided for nearly three decades. In addition to being an important industrial city, businesses and investors have returned to the capital in large numbers. Berlin is now Germany’s most important individual city for manufacturing, and is second for Frankfurt in terms of banking and finance. Berlin is also the cultural capital and Germany, being a major European centre for design, art and music.



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