BACKGROUND: Studies published in non-English languages are systematically missing in systematic reviews of growth and quality of economic evaluations of health care. The aims of this study were: to characterize German evaluations, published in English or German-language, in terms of various key parameters; to investigate methods to derive quality-of-life weights in cost-utility studies; and to examine changes in study characteristics over the years. METHODS: We conducted a country-specific systematic review of the German and English-language literature of German economic evaluations (assessment of or application to the German health care system) published 1990-2004. Generic and specialized health economic databases were searched. Two independent reviewers verified fulfillment of inclusion criteria and extracted study characteristics. RESULTS: The fulltexts of 730 articles were reviewed of which 283 fulfilled all entry criteria. 32% of included studies were published in German-language. 51% of studies evaluated pharmaceuticals and 63% were cost-effectiveness analyses. Economic appraisals concentrate on few disease categories and important health areas are strongly underrepresented. Declaration of sponsorship was associated with article language (49% English articles vs. 29% German articles, p < 0.001). The methodology used to obtain quality-of-life weights in published cost-utility studies was very diverse, poorly reported and most studies did not use German patients' or community health state evaluations. CONCLUSION: Many of the German-language evaluations included in our study are likely to be missing in international reviews and may be systematically different from English-language reviews from Germany. Lack of transparency and adherence to recommended reporting practices constitute a serious problem in German economic evaluations.