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Ten who changed the world

The people of Germany have played a disproportionately significant role in history of Europe and the world, it could be argued. Marged Richards chooses the10 she thinks have made the greatest contribution

Could you find 10 Britons who have changed world history in the manner in which Germans have influenced events? It is an interesting debate that goes beyond patriotism and national self-interest.

Look around you and the German influence is everywhere, from our washing machines and cars to our music, our stories and the ideas that have shaped our lives.

It is instructive to compare the top ten British big-hitters with their German rivals. Shakespeare is one certainty. He can easily stand comparison with Goethe and the Brothers Grimm. But, in music, can Britten or Elgar measure up against Bach or Beethoven?

And in the world of ideas, we can appreciate that Locke, Hobbes, Tom Paine or Bentham were all fine thinkers, but their writings have not changed the course of history in the same way that those of Luther and Marx did.

On a more practical level, you could assert that Percy Shaw, inventor of the Catseye, would be the equivalent of Levi-Strauss in terms of worldwide influence. The field of invention is the most controversial area.

Of course, lists such as these are subjective. Compiling one from a national perspective throws up interesting differences. Last year in Germany a television poll voted Konrad Adenauer, the post-1945 Chancellor, top of 100 Greatest Germans. But has his influence been felt across the world?

Willy Brandt, the mayor of post-war West Berlin earned a Nobel Peace Prize, and Otto van Bismarck, the 19th century leader of Prussia, created Germany as a nation state in 1871 (fifth and ninth in the same poll). None of these three has made it on to this list.

No doubt my choice will spark debate. Have your say by picking the Germans you think made the greatest contribution to the world. Compare your choice with the German poll. Log on to

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

At the starts of the 20th century, physicists were confident they knew all there was to know about the universe. Then in 1905 along came a 26-year-old genius who in one year produced five revolutionary scientific papers that changed everything. His theory of relativity (E=mc2) is known about by all but understood by few. It led to nuclear energy and all its benign and malign consequences Eccentric, unfathomably profound, and the first superstar of science, Einstein remains one of the most recognisable faces in the world.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

He is to music what Shakespeare is to literature. Arguably the world's best-ever composer. One of the great figures of the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras, he radically redefined the symphony, freeing it from rigidity and formality. Few people have not heard at least one of his masterpieces : the Fifth piano concerto , the "Moonlight Sonata", or Symphonies No 5, 6 and 9.

Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) The father of Communism, founder of the International Working Men's Association and a pioneer of the early labour movement. Marx was exiled in London. There he wrote Das Kapital, a brilliant critique of the deficiencies of capitalism. Collaborated with Friedrich Engels in writing The Communist Manifesto. Its oft-quoted first line reads:"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle." The two works inspired the Russian Revolution in 1917, leading to a 40-year Cold War between the capitalist West and the communist East.

Annelies Marie Frank (1929 - 1945) Born in Frankfurt am Main, her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933. The diary she kept between 1942 and 1944 in hiding made her an international symbol of the persecution of the Jews. Her honest examination of daily life under Nazi occupation describes the universal themes of hate, freedom, compassion and identity. The diary, which revealed her extraordinary insight into human nature, has been translated into 70 languages and adapted into countless plays and films.

Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468)

The inventor of movable type so the father of books. Gutenberg was a goldsmith who cast individual letters in metal, increasing the efficiency and speed of printing. Books could be produced in large numbers, which made the Bible available for the first time. This had the unintended consequence of fuelling the Protestant Reformation. Books became the world's first mass-produced items, helping disseminate the literature of Greece and Rome and spurring the Renaissance.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) At seven, Goethe declared himself a genius. And he was right. He wrote novels, plays, poetry, essays and criticism, but was also a philosopher and scientist, theorising on optics and colour. His work on evolution pre-dated Darwin. His first novel was a bestseller in Europe. Faust, a magnus opus that spanned his life, explored the timeless theme of temptation and the selling of one's soul to the devil.

Levi Strauss (1829 - 1902) No, not the chap who wrote "The Blue Danube" but the Strauss who dressed the world in denim. Aged 18, Levi emigrated from Bavaria, made money in the California Gold Rush and then, in 1873, patented the use of copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work trousers.

Blue jeans became the most democratic garment in history, worn by everyone from road-sweepers to royalty. Today they transcend class, culture, race and gender as an iconic fashion constant and have captured the soul of successive eras.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

The genius who transformed Western music. He invented an internationally understandable language that united sacred and secular music with a logic and purity that makes him the favourite of mathematicians and scientists.

Bach was prolific: his noble patron contracted the virtuoso organist to compose "one new piece monthly", producing 19 cantatas in three years, and more than 250 during his lifetime. His masterworks are the Brandenburg Concertos and the St Matthew Passion.

The Brothers Grimm. Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) There is barely a child in the western world who hasn't been spellbound by Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. The Grimms were researchers into folk tales and legends. Their collection was the first systematic documentation of the European and Oriental fairy tale tradition. Translated into more than 160 languages, it beautifully preserves the rhythms of primitive oral literature.

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