"Als War' Es ein Stock Von Uns ..." German Politics and Society Traverses Twenty Years of United Germany

By Maier, Charles S. | German Politics and Society, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

"Als War' Es ein Stock Von Uns ..." German Politics and Society Traverses Twenty Years of United Germany


Maier, Charles S., German Politics and Society


ABSTRACT

This essay looks at postunification Germany through the pages of German Politics and Society. The articles published during this period reveal the evolution of intellectuals' understanding of the unified country-concerns that mirrored changes in social, political, and cultural reality. Of course, academics are beholden to their own histories and Weltanschauung, a fact that produced, at times, prescient, sometimes fragmentary, and sometimes alarmist interpretations and analyses of the country in an attempt to provide orientation. Nevertheless, this review shows how German watchers have slowly up-dated their paradigms and are now not worrying as much about a mellowed, less German country that has fascinated them over the decades.

KEYWORDS

Federal Republic of Germany; unification; Germanists; intellectuals

I.

Twenty years is not an insignificant time in remembered history--much can change in two decades. Twenty years after the revolution of 1918 came Kristallnacht and twenty years after the signature of the Versailles Treaty witnessed the preparations for the German attack on Poland that launched World War II in Europe. Twenty years ago at the end of 1989, my editor at Princeton University Press asked me if I might write a quick book on what was happening in East and West Germany, and that book (hardly quick) is already a dozen years old. For those of us who spent last fall at one commemorative event or another we have been compelled to think about that passage of time. The question I found pressing was not "was bleibt?", but rather "was bleibt zu sagen ?" What is left to say? After all the discussions of Germany and its unification, its continuities and its transformations, it seemed worthwhile to ask how "we'-observers of contemporary Germany represented through our journal-had dealt with these two decades. What preoccupations did we have and how have they changed?

This is a story about Germany-watching, not Germany. Some of us were already academically in mid-career when the German Democratic Republic (6DR) collapsed; others would begin their professional observation only during this interval. At the age of eighty, Fritz Stern could write a memoir based on five Germanies he had known, whereas most of us have been a younger crew and have had one--the Berlin Republic--or three--including the GDR and the "two" Federal Republics (FRG). What Germany represents has changed--and our scholarly and perhaps personal lives along with it. I have chosen as my title a paraphrase of the pun that playwright Carl Zuckmayer used for his memoir--"Als war'es ein Stack von mir"--lifted in turn from the last line of Franz Uhland's military lament, "Ich hatte einen Kamerad."

It is appropriate on two counts. The comrades no longer run East Germany; and German Politics and Society was a piece of our intellectual life, certainly for Andy Markovits, and owing much to Guido Goldman and Abby Collins in its early years at Harvard University, then, following Markovits, at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of California, Berkeley. After founding editor Markovits stepped down in 2003, the journal moved to the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University under the editorship of Jeffrey Anderson. (1) It should be noted that the Harvard's Center for European Studies, along with Georgetown and Berkeley, were benefiting from Chancellor Helmut Kohl's initiative of the late 1980s to establish "Centers of Excellence" for German and European studies, and subsequently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities, Brandeis University, York University, and the Universite de Montreal. Had this major commitment not been resolved before unification dominated the German government's agenda, it might well have never been funded. Most of the ongoing financial support went to train graduate students, but the journal, too, was a beneficiary; and helped, I believe on reviewing its record, to repay the expectations of that grant.

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