Until recently, Germany was viewed as having an outdated and restrictive citizenship policy that was impervious to demographic realities and liberalising trends. Yet despite many predictions of continuity, Germany's policies have undergone considerable changes over the past decade. Indeed, the German Nationality Act of 2000 represented a liberalisation of Germany's notorious 1913 law, yet the new law did not go nearly as far as the Schroumlder government had hoped and planned - largely due to a massive anti-immigrant petition campaign. This article traces the historical context in which German citizenship policy has developed and evolved, and it speculates about the longer-term effects of the 2000 law in terms of creating a new definition and perception of what it means to be German. The detailed focus on the German case also helps to illustrate more general arguments about the politics of citizenship. In particular, it shows how an elite-driven process can lead to liberalising change, but also how the mobilisation of xenophobia can lead to a sudden and restrictive backlash.