Paradigms of Political Change--Luther, Frederick II, and Bismarck: The GDR on Its Way to German Unity

Paradigms of Political Change--Luther, Frederick II, and Bismarck: The GDR on Its Way to German Unity

Paradigms of Political Change--Luther, Frederick II, and Bismarck: The GDR on Its Way to German Unity

Paradigms of Political Change--Luther, Frederick II, and Bismarck: The GDR on Its Way to German Unity

Excerpt

One thing which most historians agree about is that 1945 represented one of the fundamental turning points in German history. The events of that summer in Hiroshima and Potsdam, as Werner Conze states, represent crucial turning points in European and above all German history.(Conze 1977,1-28) (1)

Whilst standard works and specialist analyses approach the argument with different emphasis they do agree on one issue. The Second World War started by Nazi Germany and the Cold War which followed it led to the division of Germany both territorially and in economic and social terms. Where Bismarck's Second Reich had once filled central Europe there emerged two completely opposing social systems. In the West a pluralist, democratic order developed under the influence of the USA, France and Great Britain. In a smaller eastern half consisting of Mecklenburg, Prussia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia a communist system was established under the Soviet Union's hegemony which bore all its hallmarks.

One of the interesting aspects of this process is that the division of Germany has caused considerable difficulties for the Germans with respect to their common past. In the eastern part Germany's history was manipulated in the truest sense of the word for the political purposes of the newly emerged system. Here, historiography developed internally into a “Herrschaftsideologie” (ideology of the ruling class) and at the same time as a “Kampfideologie” (ideology for struggle) for external purposes. (Stürmer 1982, 588)(2) This occurred the more the Soviet zone developed its own identity and moved towards the formation of the GDR. 1945 represented a historic chance to move towards a bright new Marxist-Leninist future under the Soviet Union.

In West Germany, historians saw 1945 as the final act of a ‘German catastrophe’. Friedrich Meinecke called for a revision of the understanding of history, but at the same time pointed out the limits to this since there was no need for a ‘radical revision’, what had to disappear most of all was the Nazi Größenwahn (lunatic madness).(Meinecke 1946, 23)(3) Up until 1968 this interpretation more or less set the tone for historiography in the Federal Republic. (Heydemann 1980a) (4) . . .

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