The German economy grew by a weaker than expected 0.4% last year, its worst performance since the global financial crisis in 2009.

Strong domestic demand only partially offset the continued negative impact of the euro crisis, the figures show.

A preliminary gross domestic product estimate from the Federal Statistics Office fell short of the consensus forecast for 0.5% growth in a Reuters poll.

Germany has proved a pillar of strength throughout the euro zone crisis, but growth slowed to 0.7% in 2012 and the economy skirted recession at the start of 2013, before picking up steam from the second quarter on.

Economists expect the German economy to crank up a gear this year, forecasting growth of between 1.2-2% thanks partly to rising domestic consumption and an expected recovery in investment by German companies. 

Excluding 2009, when the German economy suffered its biggest retraction of the post-war era, shrinking by 5.1%, 2013 was the weakest since 2003 when Germany was dubbed the "Sick Man of Europe".

That prompted then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to unveil far-reaching reforms of the welfare state, which are now being diluted by the new right-left coalition of Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD).

Foreign trade, which had underpinned growth for the previous three years, took 0.3% off GDP last year but economists expect trade to support the economy this year as growth in Germany's key trading partners picks up.

"The German economy suffered from the continuing recession in some European countries and from restrained growth of the global economy. The strong domestic demand could offset those factors only to a limited extent," Roderich Egeler, head of the Statistics Office, told a news conference.