Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Germany: Two Histories Reunited. (Getting the Spin Right on History)

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Germany: Two Histories Reunited. (Getting the Spin Right on History)

Article excerpt

It's taken several years, but students across the country are now learning a common version of history that takes stock of everyday life and dissident movements in the former East Germany

The shock of unification reached classrooms in the "new" Lander (states) of former East Germany as the 1991 school year began. Germany was united once again. But not its school curriculum. As a result, the West German version was imposed. East German history textbooks were rejected because they faithfully reflected the ideology of the fallen regime.

"The publishers quickly brought out new books," says Falk Pingel, deputy director of the Georg-Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (see previous pages). "But they were just new editions of the ones written in the West in the 1980s, with an added chapter on reunification. It wasn't at all representative of the idea East Germans had of their own history. The repressive nature of the Communist regime was emphasized, along with East Germany's membership of the Soviet bloc. Reunification was presented as a positive thing, without mentioning the dashed hopes of those from the East."

Looking back without nostalgia

In the space of a year, teachers in the East had to switch to a very different version of history. "Many of them didn't know how to explain to their pupils why yesterday's truths no longer held today," says Andrea Schwarmer, who had taught history in the eastern state of Thuringen. "Those teachers lost all credibility and had to resign themselves to leaving the profession.

In the mid-1990s, the education ministers of the Eastern states, who were in charge of supervising the curriculum under the federal system, began to push for change. "Many teachers in the East requested that we come up with a less biased textbook and we did in 1995," says Walther Funken, head of Volk und Wissen, the largest textbook publisher in the Eastern states, based in Berlin. …

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