Germany has always had its fair share of inventors, tinkerers and other resourceful enthusiasts. And their discoveries have conquered the world. From aspirin and airbags to garden gnomes and the Christmas tree, many of the things that make our life easier, safer or just nicer started life in Germany. Follow in the footsteps of great engineers and enterprising visionaries, all the way up to the present.
According to legend, the Christmas tree had its genesis in 1419. Back then bakers in Freiburg hung sweets and baked treats from the branches of a tree. The children of the city were invited to ransack the tree on New Year's Day. Whether there's any truth to the legend or not, one thing's for certain: the German custom of decorating trees has spread all over the world. It's as much a part of Christmas as exchanging gifts and singing carols. The world's biggest Christmas tree towers over Dortmund's Christmas market every year.
In 1895, Johann Weck (born 1841 in Schneidhain near Königstein) acquired the patent and sole distribution rights for these preserving jars. Weck jars, with their famous strawberry logo, are still used today to ensure all kinds of foods remain fresh, palatable and full of flavour for several years.
78s, long-playing records, music cassettes, CDs ... all these universally adopted inventions have their roots in Lower Saxony . In 1887, the Hannoverian inventor Emil Berliner unveiled the 78 record and the gramophone to play it on. His brother went on to found the Deutsche Grammophon record company, later part of PolyGram. Other pioneering inventions followed, including the LP, cassette and compact disc (CD).
In 1903, glass specialist Reinhold Burger invented the thermos flask. The creation of a container that could preserve the temperature of the liquid inside it without the use of chemicals was revolutionary for its time. The thermos flask quickly established itself as an extremely useful invention that even today remains an indispensable part of day-to-day life. In the museum town of Baruther Glashütte, a glassblowing village in Brandenburg with a nearly 300-year history, there is an exhibition dedicated to the thermos flask and its success story.
The teddy bear has its origins in the town of Giengen an der Brenz, where Margarete and Richard Steiff ran a felt goods business. A small pin cushion made in 1877 in the shape of an elephant became one of the world's first cuddly toys. And it helped launch an idea that went on to conquer the world. The breakthrough came in 1902: a bear with movable arms and legs. It proved to be especially popular in the US, where it was named after the president at the time, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. Back in Giengen an der Brenz, the Steiff Museum plots the fascinating history of the teddy bear.
Berliners have always been one step ahead. So it's no surprise that the world's first electric tram was launched here in 1881. For the kilometre-long journey from Lichterfelde train station to Zehlendorfers Strasse (today Finckensteinallee), Berliners paid 20 pfennigs – more than the average hourly wage. Today, visitors to Berlin's huge German Museum of Technology can gain a fascinating insight into the city's road and rail transport history.
The composer Richard Strauss was such a dedicated card player that he even included a round of the popular German card game skat in one of his operas, Intermezzo. This game for three players was invented in 1813 in the town of Altenburg, which is well known for its playing card factory. The museum in Altenburg Castle, the oldest of its kind in the world, covers the history of skat and playing cards. The town itself, over 1,000 years old, boasts a lovingly-restored old quarter as well as the magnificent castle.
Hops, malt, yeast and water – and nothing else. For around five centuries, the German Beer Purity Law has determined what can and can't go into German beer. It's the oldest food regulation in the world still in force today. The origins of the reinheitsgebot , as it's known in German, are a matter of some dispute. While Bavarian brewers claim it dates back to a document from 1516, their Thuringian colleagues point to a local trading regulation passed in 1434. Not that it makes any difference to the quality of the beer. The reinheitsgebot is rigorously adhered to everywhere in the country.