This book has a deliberately ambiguous title. Rereading German History means in the first place a study of how different historians—mainly German, but also American, British, and French—have provided a series of differing and often conflicting readings of the German past in recent years. In a previous collection of essays, Rethinking German History, published a decade ago, I presented a case for breaking away from the traditional concentration of historians of Germany on high politics, foreign affairs, parties, organizations and pressure-groups, and broadening out our view of the German past, taking an approach which included everyday life and experience, the social and cultural history of the mass of German men and women, and the subjective elements of people’s perceptions of the times they lived through. This book does not abandon the arguments advanced in the earlier one, but rather pursues them through an examination of some of the most significant historical work of the intervening decade. The emphasis, as before, is on the arguments that have raged over the longterm continuities that some historians have detected in modern German history, and the extent to which the roots of Nazism can be traced deep into the German past. The essays collected here, most of them written in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ask how far historians of Germany have indeed broadened their approach in the past decade, and seek to determine how far they have defended, changed or abandoned the arguments discussed in the earlier book.
But Rereading German History has a second meaning. For the decade or so of historical writing which it covers saw the decline and fall of the German Democratic Republic, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the reunification of Germany. These were among the most dramatic of the events which marked the demise of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989/90. Few people were prepared for them—least of all, myself. In common with the great majority of commentators, I had assumed that the division of Germany would last a good while yet, and was’ quite unprepared for the speed at which events moved when the collapse finally began. The essays in this volume reflect on the extent to which reunification