People, Way of Life
High living standards, plentiful leisure time (three weeks or more of mandatory paid vacation), and comprehensive social welfare benefits distinguish German society. Germany has a highly urbanized society, with lifestyles that emphasize recreational, leisure, and physical fitness activities. Many Germans enjoy hiking, camping, skiing, and other outdoor pursuits. Soccer is the most popular sport in the nation, and many Germans belong to local soccer clubs. Germans are also known for their love of food, especially rich pastries, veal and pork dishes, and various types of sausages and cheeses. German-made wine and beer are famous all over the world. Also popular are lively social gatherings at outdoor beer or wine gardens or cellar restaurants where wine or beer is stored.
German society has undergone vast changes in recent years. Since the early 1960s, for example, television has homogenized popular culture and brought urban ways of thinking to rural areas. In fact, the rapid spread of automobile ownership in the 1950s and 1960s made rural isolation a thing of the past. The old village communities, whose cultural life was dominated by the parish and the elementary school, have almost disappeared. The one-room schools in which eight grades used to be instructed simultaneously no longer exist. Young women find that most of the traditional barriers to a career of their own choosing, in particular barriers to diversified vocational and higher education, have broken down. Women have also been freed from the constraints of the traditional family roles of motherhood and child rearing by birth control and a greatly lowered birth rate. On average, women in the late 1990s only have 1.5 children, compared to 3.5 children in the early 1900s.
Some people in the former East Germany look back fondly on the days before unification when their way of life was modest but also highly egalitarian. Unification brought greater personal freedom to East Germans, but the capitalistic market economy also brought the heightened competition and a hectic pace of life common in the West. The former East Germany still has considerably lower wage levels and living standards than the more prosperous West Germany. Many large state-owned manufactures and cooperative agricultural enterprises in East Germany did not survive the transformation to a market economy. In the first four years after unification, about three-fourths of the vast sector of public enterprises, both industrial and agricultural, that characterized the communist economy of East Germany were privatized, resulting in extremely high unemployment. The German government invests a great deal of money every year to modernize the infrastructure of roads, transport, communications, and housing in the former East Germany.