Germany has officially participated in every Eurovision Song Contest since its beginning in 1956, except in 1996 when its entry did not qualify past the audio-only pre‐selection round, and consequently was not seen in the broadcast final and does not count as one of Germany's 58 appearances. No other country has been represented as often. France and the United Kingdom come in a close second, missing only two contests each. Before German reunification in 1990, it occasionally presented as West Germany, representing the Federal Republic of Germany. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) did not compete. Germany has won two contests, in 1982 and 2010.
Germany first won the contest in 1982, at the 27th attempt in Harrogate, when Nicole won with the song "Ein bisschen Frieden" (A Little Peace). The second German victory came 28 years later at the 2010 contest in Oslo, when Lena won with "Satellite". Germany have finished second four times and third five times, for a total of eleven top three placements. Katja Ebstein, who finished third in 1970 and 1971, and then second in 1980, is the only performer to have made the top three on three occasions but never won. Germany also finished second with Lena Valaitis in 1981 and the group Wind in both 1985 and 1987. The other third places were achieved by Mary Roos in 1972, Mekado in 1994 and Surpriz in 1999.
Germany, along with the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain, is one of the "Big Five" countries that are automatically qualified to the final, regardless of the placing. This is due to being the largest financial contributors to the contest. The Eurovision Song Contest semi-final is broadcast on NDR Fernsehen (EinsFestival in recent years), and the final is broadcast on Das Erste, the flagship channel of ARD. Although German contestants have had limited success, public interest remains high and the contest is one of the most watched events each year.
ARD had selected an artist and song to represent them at the Eurovision Song Contest 1996, to be held in Oslo, Norway. Due to the large number of countries wanting to compete at Eurovision, they determined that only 23 of the 30 countries could compete. Hosts Norway qualified automatically, the other 29 songswent into an audio only pre-qualification round, with the top 22 going on to compete alongside Norway in Oslo. Unfortunately for Germany its entry, Leon with "Planet of Blue", failed to earn enough points to progress to the final, finishing 24th. ARD and the EBU were not happy with this, as Germany was the biggest financial contributor at the time. This is the only time that Germany has been absent from the contest.
In 2010 ARD approached former entrant and songwriter Stefan Raab and private network ProSieben to co-operate in finding a winning entry for the country. It has been said that Raab was approached due to his good record at the contest, finishing 5th in 2000 as well as writing entries in 1998 and 2004, which finished 7th and 8th respectively. Raab agreed and conducted a TV casting show called "Unser Star für Oslo" ("Our star for Oslo") which was broadcast on ARD and ProSieben. A winner arose in Lena Meyer-Landrut with "Satellite", who went on to win the contest. Two further collaborations with ProSieben provided the second and third top ten result in a row respectively in 2011 (Lena Meyer-Landrut with "Taken by a Stranger") and 2012 (Roman Lob with "Standing Still"). The streak of top 10 finishes was broken in the 2013 contest, when Cascada's song "Glorious" finished 21st with 18 points, despite ranking well among OGAE members.
Since 1998, four particular countries have automatically qualified for the Eurovision final, regardless of their positions on the scoreboard in previous Contests. They earned this special status by being the four biggest financial contributors to the EBU (without which the production of the Eurovision Song Contest would not be possible). These countries are the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain. Due to their untouchable status in the Contest, these countries became known as the "Big Four" In 2009, it was reported that the Big Four could lose their status and have to compete in the semi-finals. However, this never progressed and the Big Four kept their status. Italy returned to the contest in 2011, thus becoming part of a "Big Five".