Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories

Synopsis

Broken glass, twisted beams, piles of debris--these are the early memories of the children who grew up amidst the ruins of the Third Reich. More than five decades later, German youth inhabit manicured suburbs and stroll along prosperous pedestrian malls. Shattered Past is a bold reconsideration of the perplexing pattern of Germany's twentieth-century history. Konrad Jarausch and Michael Geyer explore the staggering gap between the country's role in the terrors of war and its subsequent success as a democracy. They argue that the collapse of Communism, national reunification, and the postmodern shift call for a new reading of the country's turbulent development, one that no longer suggests continuity but rupture and conflict. Comprising original essays, the book begins by reexamining the nationalist, socialist, and liberal master narratives that have dominated the presentation of German history but are now losing their hold. Treated next are major issues of recent debate that suggest how new kinds of German history might be written: annihilationist warfare, complicity with dictatorship, the taming of power, the impact of migration, the struggle over national identity, redefinitions of womanhood, and the development of consumption as well as popular culture. The concluding chapters reflect on the country's gradual transition from chaos to civility. This penetrating study will spark a fresh debate about the meaning of the German past during the last century. There is no single master narrative, no Weltgeist, to be discovered. But there is a fascinating story to be told in many different ways.

Excerpt

Broken glass, twisted beams, piles of debris—these are the early memories of the “children of the rubble,” who grew up amid the ruins left by the Third Reich. Only by traveling to regions spared from destruction did those of us born in Germany during or after World War II learn that houses were supposed to have roofs; windows, panes; and families, fathers. To our insistent questions about the reasons for this devastation we received only evasive answers from harassed adults, preoccupied with surviving the hunger, cold, and uncertainty of the postwar years. Either anonymous enemy airmen with their bombs or evil “Nazis,” with whom nobody claimed to have had anything to do, were supposed to have been responsible for all that destruction. In contrast to the proud heritage of the victorious occupiers, the German past seemed literally shattered, covering the present with shame and burdening the future with its detritus. It had become a history of “the German catastrophe.”

More than five decades later, German youths live in manicured suburbs and stroll across prosperous pedestrian malls, looking back at a surprisingly successful rebuilding of their country into a civil society. As the soaring cupola on top of a refurbished but shell-scarred Reichstag building suggests, the Federal Republic has magically transformed a tarnished legacy into a gleaming modernity. The run-down eastern cities that still bear the marks of Communist mismanagement are gradually recovering as well, even if they are not exactly the “flourishing landscapes” promised during unification. Current reconsiderations of . . .

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