Belgium

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Belgium is a small country located in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy. Belgium is now a federal state.

Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region. The climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 77°F / 25°C, winters average 45°F / 7.2°C. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are 10°F /-12.2°C and 90°F / 32.2°C.

Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint. The population density is the second-highest in Europe, after the Netherlands.

There are three official languages, Dutch, French and German]. More than half of the country is Dutch speaking (55%), French is the second largest (44%), German is spoken by a minority (1%). Brussels, the capital, is mostly French speaking, but officially bilingual. People from Belgium are called Belgians in English.

Today, the Belgians are divided ethnically into the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons], with a mixed population in Brussels representing the remainder. About 70,000 German speakers reside in the east.

Belgium is divided into 10 provinces; Antwerp, Limburg, East-Flanders, West-Flanders, Vlaams-Brabant, Brabant Walloon (see also Brabant), Namur, Liège, Hainaut and Luxemburg, Province of Belgium.

Since the country has been federalized there are many of governmental entities; The French Community, The Flemish Community, The German-speaking Community, The Walloon Region, The Flemish Region, The Brussels-Capital Region and The Federal Government.

This country is well known for its art, its great architecture, its beer, its food, and its chocolate.

The best beer is that of the Trappist monks. Technically, it is an ale and traditionally each abbey's beer is served in its own glass (the heights and widths are different). The inhabitants of this country have a reputation for loving French fries. The fried potato strips are sold at many small shops and stands (often at train stations) and are known locally as frites (not identified as French, though).

Many great French authors went to Belgium for refuge.

One of the great athletes of Belgium and the world was the cyclist Eddy Merckx. He won the Tour de France 5 times.

Capital: Brussels
Head of Government: King Albert II
Population: around 10,239,000 inhabitants
Size: 32.547 sq.km
Timezone: GMT+1
Density: 333 inhab. per sq.km
Currency: Euro (since 1999, before that the Belgian Franc)

Belgian government's webpage

From the CIA World Factbook 2000. Not Wikified.