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date: 26 June 2019


Abstract and Keywords

This book departs in significant ways from previous histories of modern Germany. The book also represents a novel attempt to place German history in a deeper international and transnational setting than has hitherto been the case. This is the second important departure, and is, in this sense, that national histories and ‘area studies’ need to take fuller account of changes occurring in the wider world. There have also been a number of attempts to emphasize the history of the everyday, or to underscore the impact of war on German society. The book makes nation-state sovereignty into a decisive marker as well as a problem of modern German history. A concept of the German nation reaches at least to the early sixteenth century, when the Holy Roman Empire officially added the appellation ‘of the German Nation’. This article chronicles the history of Germany from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century.

Keywords: German, German history, national histories, Holy Roman Empire, German nation

The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History departs in significant ways from previous histories of modern Germany. It is, for one, a national history put together by an international team of scholars, with historians from Germany, Great Britain, the United States, and other nations suggesting the diversity of scholarship and the global context of the modern discipline of history. We offer neither a German history in a national key nor the view of outsiders looking in. Rather, we take into account that German history is a substantial field of study in a range of countries that have been affected by Germany's past.

The Oxford Handbook also represents a novel attempt to place German history in a deeper international and transnational setting than has hitherto been the case. This is the second important departure, and is, in this sense, indebted to the proposition, as C. A. Bayly has recently emphasized, ‘that national histories and “area studies” need to take fuller account of changes occurring in the wider world.’1 Accordingly, the Oxford Handbook is not fixed on the Sonderweg debate—the question of whether Germany took a special and mistaken path to modernity, resulting in World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust. Rather, the contributors emphasize the embeddedness and the impact of German history in and on wider developments, and render these qualities as central organizing principles of modern German history. This approach does not preclude showing how German history differed from other national histories, but it allows us to see these differences in a more complex and international field. It also encourages students of German history to develop a catholic sense of ‘family resemblances’ to other histories, seeing, as Wittgenstein would have insisted, a wider range of likeness even while retaining a concept of difference.

The third departure follows from these propositions and concerns the chronological markers of German history. As few countries have experienced political ruptures with such dramatic impact on everyday life, it has become accepted practice to demarcate historical change with the dates of regime changes. These typically include the end of the Holy Roman Empire of 1806, the Revolutions of 1848/9, the foundation of the (p. 2) Second German Empire in 1871, the foundation of the Weimar Republic in 1918, the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, the collapse of the Nazi Empire in 1945, the founding of East and West Germany in 1949, and the Revolution of 1989 and the Unification of Germany in 1990. There have also been a number of attempts to emphasize the history of the everyday, or to underscore the impact of war on German society. Historians have, for example, interpreted World War I as ‘the great seminal catastrophe’ (George F. Kennan) of the twentieth century, and characterized the years between 1914 and 1945 as a modern Thirty Years War. This periodization separates the first half of the bellicose twentieth century from the comparatively peaceful ‘belle époque,’ and emphasizes the magnitude of the human tragedy—so many ‘quick eyes gone under earth's lid,’ as Ezra Pound put it. Yet as the historian Charles S. Maier has argued, this periodization also renders twentieth-century barbarity as a moral narrative without a convincing analytical frame.2

The Handbook makes nation-state sovereignty into a decisive marker as well as a problem of modern German history. A concept of the German nation reaches at least to the early sixteenth century, when the Holy Roman Empire officially added the appellation ‘of the German Nation,’ and the first two-dimensional images of Germany as a cultural nation were reproduced on maps.3 If the German nation was an old category, German nationalism—the political doctrine positing the necessity of congruence between a German nation and a German state—was at best a late eighteenth century invention, which in the German lands had few adherents until the nineteenth century. In 1871, the German nation state was formed in a world of multinational and overseas empires, and the pull of empire, including dominion over peoples considered inferior, shaped the context in which Germany's subsequent political history unfolded. The nation state—the ideology behind it, the forces creating it, holding it together, and tearing it apart—thus plays a prominent role in this Handbook. Yet the sovereign nation state was not a given frame, and most of German history happened outside of it: at the communal level, in the individual states, in regions, and in transnational networks. It is also true that in the 250-year history that this Handbook covers, the sovereign nation state as the principal form of government constituted an interlude, just as on a wider stage nation states were always only one possible way of organizing the political world. In Germany, that interlude covered nearly three-quarters of a century, from 1871 to 1945. After 1990, full national sovereignty returned, if embedded in European structures.

The Oxford Handbook is divided into an introductory section and four chronological parts. The introductory section roots the Handbook in a chronologically deeper conception of German history. It also offers the reader overarching chapters on place and on people, with the former showing the changing representation of German homelands, and the latter focusing on gender as constitutive, but historically changing. The Handbook is thereafter divided by four chronological markers, which separate two long periods of time (1760–1860 and 1860–1945), and two shorter periods (1945–1989, and 1989 to the present). These markers point to central events in the economic and political history of modern Germany, and therefore remain familiar reference points: (p. 3) the 1760s signaling the Seven Years War and a decisive turn in the history of Austro-Prussian dualism; the 1860s marking the industrial revolution and the events leading towards national unification; 1945, the collapse of the Nazi Empire; and 1989, the East German Revolution. To see these markers only in this way is however to stay within a primarily internal history of modern Germany. Our intention is also to signal fundamental changes in the history of nation-state sovereignty, and to evoke a wider history of war and peace, economic change, and the making of modern polities. What follows in this introduction is not a synopsis of the Handbook's contents, but an attempt to show why these transition periods suggest a possible frame for understanding modern German history.

1.1 Circa 1760

The first section, 1760–1860, chronicles a period in German history when the history of the German nation and the history of the state in Germany represent separate histories—not histories without relation to one another, but histories that cannot be narrated as if they were one. Circa 1760, it was not evident that a German nation state would emerge or that Prussia would be the state that placed its indelible stamp upon it; in fact, in 1762 it was entirely plausible that Prussia would cease to exist. Prussia, as is well known, was saved not by its inner strength, but by the death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Seven Years War. This fact reminds us that although German historians have tended to downplay the significance of international relations, these relations played a decisive role in the unfolding of German history. If Prussia was spared oblivion in 1762, it narrowly escaped this fate again in 1806. The next half-century witnessed the increasing centrality of a political and territorial dualism between the Hohenzollern and Habsburg dynasties. The rise of the idea of nation and the ideology of nationalism did not emanate from this dualism, but rather flourished in its shadow. For most of this period, nationalism, as John Breuilly has convincingly argued, was not an engine of national unification, but at best an ideology that made other solutions increasingly improbable.4 At the same time, the Seven Years War, which opens our Handbook, while not the first German civil war, was the first transcontinental war, fought on three continents, and involving the great issues of the day—colonial rule, slavery, the dissolution of religiously unified states, and the balance of power. It allows us to set German history, from the very start, in a wider global history, and to emphasize the transformative impact of inter-state violence on this history.

It has been conventional to begin consideration of the second half of the eighteenth century by noting that there was no single Germany, but only ‘the electoral princes, 94 spiritual and lay princes, 103 counts, 40 prelates, 51 free towns, in all some 300 separate “territories.”’5 Fewer historians pause to mention that, in the second part of the eighteenth century, and especially in the eastern parts of the Empire, the majority of people nevertheless lived in the great territorial states.6 Take a contemporary (p. 4) mid-century map of the German Empire, say from the workshop of Jean Baptiste Homann in Nuremberg. If one folded it in half, creasing it at a line passing roughly through Augsburg, Erfurt, and Lübeck, then practically the whole of the east would be taken up by Prussia, Saxony, the Hereditary Crown lands of Austria, and Bavaria. To the left of the fold there would be Hanover and Württemberg. In the northern part, Western Pomerania north of the river Peene belonged to Sweden, while Holstein, including the city of Altona, belonged to the Kingdom of Denmark. In the southwest, an estimated 400,000 subjects lived in Anterior Austria, and thus under Habsburg control. Much of the map, in other words, would be covered by medium and even large-scale territorial states. In recent years, historians have rightly emphasized the importance and vitality of the Holy Roman Empire.7 The Empire, however, was not a state; contemporaries called it a ‘political system.’ In the second half of the eighteenth century, it was dominated by near-sovereign, largely, but not completely autonomous territories—countries almost—with a smaller part, containing fewer people, consisting of less powerful, and therefore less sovereign, territories and cities. The German nation, in other words, constituted a framework of language and culture within a fragile political system. It did not govern politics in the elementary sense, as Carl Schmitt put it, of defining friend-foe relationships, or of regulating the state of exception.8 In the late eighteenth century, the salient and defining friend-foe conflicts were internal: Prussia versus Austria, Austria versus Bavaria, and Prussia versus Saxony—to list a few prominent examples. These conflicts were also played out among shifting European and even global alliances.

Circa 1760, these alliances had come to center on the clash of major seagoing Empires pursuing a vast human trade transported in ‘practically floating concentration camps.’9 This was, of course, the slave trade, now nearly at its apex. Between 1760 and 1860, six times as many Africans as Europeans traversed the Atlantic, creating, as the historian David Eltis has written, ‘a hemispheric “community” … for the first time in human history.’10 Germans were largely excluded from this hemispheric community, except as migrants themselves or as mercenary soldiers. Germany did not possess an Empire that ruled over distant lands, and Germans did not own slaves, or participate, except as critical observers, in the drawn-out, often violent, abolition of the trade and the institution of slavery. It is difficult to discern the precise meaning of these facts, but in the period 1760–1860 they arguably separated Germany from the ‘west’ in ways far deeper than the alleged lateness of Germany as a nation state.11

It is commonly accepted that the period subsequent to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 represented an epoch of territorial states. Yet it was not until the eighteenth century that these states came to be thought of as precisely delimited territorial spaces measured by area and not just as a vertical extension of a ruler's patrimony. The position of the individual within territorial states changed as well. Not the chain of feudal obligations, but the laws, customs, and bureaucracy of the state increasingly circumscribed the everyday life of subjects. Based on binding rules, transparency, and a supposedly neutral bureaucracy, the modern state engendered an increasing depersonalization of rule. Frederick the Great's charisma notwithstanding, this depersonalization (p. 5) encouraged identification with the state first, and the regent as an expression of state and territory. By the end of the eighteenth century, the ‘machine’ had become the principal metaphor for the state, and the relationship of state to individual had changed considerably.12 One should not overestimate this development, still in its incipient stages. The estate (Stand) to which one belonged—whether noble, townsman, craftsman, or peasant—marked individual identity more decisively than public allegiance to a territorial state. Military organization reflected this fact. Circa 1760, the vast majority of soldiers remained either mercenaries or forced conscripts. Yet it is indicative that in the midst of the Seven Years War, the first political tract in the German lands encouraging citizen-subjects to die for the fatherland appeared; its author, Thomas Abbt, admonished his countrymen to sacrifice themselves for their state, Prussia, and the admonishment followed English, French, and still more decisively classical models.13 The wider Germany, Abbt made clear, was not something to die for—but territorial states, fatherlands, were. Moreover, only men were slated for active sacrifice, a line of thinking that foreshadowed the gendered division of public and private, making, as Fichte would later write, the weapon into ‘the main symbol of citizens.’14

There are other reasons to start the Oxford Handbook of Modern German History around 1760, even if they tend to confirm the Heraclitian insight that ‘war is the father and king of all.’ The first is demographic. Although demographers disagree on precise numbers, it took Germany roughly a century after the Peace of Westphalia to claw its way back to the population levels it had achieved in 1600. By the mid-eighteenth century, the German population was, however, finally in the midst of a demographic upswing that would see the population of the German lands double in the next hundred years.15 An agricultural, not an industrial, revolution drove this slow, fitful departure from a subsistence economy. Between 1760 and 1860, the agricultural constitution—the balance between large and small farms, free and unfree labor, and different methods of crop rotation—determined human possibilities as surely as industrial take-off shaped what was possible in the century thereafter. In 1860, the majority of the German population still worked in the agricultural sector, which had significantly diversified in the intervening period. Among the dynamic factors was rural industry—concentrated on the spinning and weaving of linen, cotton, and wool—and which historians have credited, perhaps too much, with causing the population explosion and bringing forth the transition from a rural to an industrial economy. The basic fact of life in 1760, and for most of the next hundred years, was nevertheless that the majority of Germans lived on the land, and accorded themselves to its rhythm, just as had been the case for hundreds of years previously, and would not change on a global scale until the second half of the twentieth century.16 Finally, Germany was, in fact, beginning to become more urban, with the number of cities with at least 10,000 inhabitants increasing from 39 in 1750 to 62 in 1800.17 In terms of the percentage of people living in such cities, Germany remained behind—certainly behind Great Britain, the Italian lands, and the Low Countries, but also still behind Spain and Portugal.18

Another reason to start circa 1760 is cultural. The Thirty Years War had devastated not only a population, but also a world of religious and humanistic learning, and one of (p. 6) the surest indexes of this devastation was the production of books. Remarkably, it would not be until 1765 that book production in the German lands reached the levels it had attained in 1600.19 The language in which books were written also changed. Just after the Thirty Years War, Latin-language books outstripped German by 2:1, but by 1740, according to the catalogs of the Leipzig book fair, Latin books made up just over a quarter of the total, and by 1800 they constituted a mere four percent of the book trade.20 The world of German learning had become a German-language world, and this allowed for the creation of a public sphere with a deeper reach. A rise in literacy corresponded to this crucial transformation from Latin to German. Historians used to place literacy in Germany far behind northern France, Holland, England, Sweden, and Scotland, seeing German literacy as crawling from roughly 10% in 1700 to 15% by 1770, and 25% by 1800.21 Recent research places literacy rates—based on the low threshold revealed by the ability of marriage partners to sign their names—well above 50% in 1780. This literacy was higher in cities and market towns than in the countryside; higher for men than for women, with the gap closing fast by the end of the century; and marginally higher in Protestant than in Catholic territories.22 Of the sociological indicators, class, more than gender or religion, influenced reading ability. In Koblenz, for example, the urban upper class registered literacy rates higher than 95% at a time when fewer than half of day laborers could sign their names.23 Still, even the numbers for the lower classes remained impressive, and suggest that the take off in literacy had already begun in the second half of the eighteenth century.24

Accompanying the shift from Latin to the vernacular and the rise in literacy was the standardization of German and the creation of a modern German literature embedded in the wider currents of European Enlightenment. The standardization of German involved a longer history, from the first attempt to ‘stabilize’ the language in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (when throughout Europe we find the first grammatical works, rhetorical manuals, orthographies, lexica, and dictionaries in vernacular languages) to successful ‘standardization’—which in Germany, unlike England or France, did not finally occur until the eighteenth century.25 ‘It was in the period between 1700 and 1775,’ the literary historian Eric A. Blackall has written, ‘that the German language developed into a literary language of infinite richness and subtlety.’26 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was at once actor and emblem of this transition, and his turn away from the French of the courts—famously in Letter Number Seventeen (1759) of Letters Concerning the Newest Literature—signaled the emergence of an independent literature whose bearings, like those of Lessing himself, were European and cosmopolitan, but whose authors aspired to create a genuine German and national literature. Not coincidentally, Lessing's letter has the war as its context.

Finally, it was in German, rather than Latin, that an intense, learned, and engaged debate about religion and its place in society took place. Beginning circa 1780, this debate continued for more than a century until Nietzsche mistakenly pronounced ‘God is dead … and we have killed him.’27 In fact, the century witnessed a resurgence, especially after 1815, of church-oriented and popular religious practice.28 In Germany, this resurgence was especially evident among Catholics, who in the decades after the (p. 7) mid-century constituted themselves into modern religious milieus. The century also saw an intensification and clarification of religious identity, the twining of that identity with politics, and the exacerbation of conflicts between religious groups. By 1860, religion was not dead, but rather at the center of social and political life.

1.2 Circa 1860

The second caesura, 1860, marks the time when the history of the nation and the history of the state begin to come together, chronicling what might be called, starting in 1870/71, the 75-year experiment of the German nation state. In this period, stretching to 1945, German history was at the center of international events—World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust—that brought about mass death and population movements nearly unparalleled in human history.29 Bringing the experience of the nation and state together, in one chronological arc, places less stress on the undeniable importance of specific governments, regimes, and revolutions. Instead, it emphasizes continuity, and sets this continuity not in the context of social structure or the history of everyday life, but in terms of the history of the nationalizing state, inter-state violence, and global war. On the other hand, it makes little sense to write German history as if only the gun of the soldier-as-executioner mattered, for this was also a period, at least until 1933, of German ascendancy in education, arts, and science, and in modernist experimentation. These developments also had a wider impact, not the least through the emigration of German intellectuals, many of them Jewish.

The German experience of the nation state was eminently international in its timing and its consequences. In the 1850s and 1860s, nation and state first came together, not just in Germany, but also in the two halves of the Habsburg Empire, as well as in Italy, Meiji Japan, and, in significant ways, the United States of America. This coincidence reveals that until the mid-century, confederations of loosely organized polities, with relatively weak central governments, remained nearly ubiquitous, and the national state, with a centralizing government, hardly foreordained.30 Italy, for example, tried a series of confederate solutions before its partial unification in 1861 as a nation state. Even thereafter, ‘legal Italy’ masked a society whose attachment to the unified nation was tenuous, whose command of Italian, a written language in a significantly illiterate society, was hardly impressive; and where the new federal government, as Gramsci famously put it, lacked hegemony.31 It was also remarkable for Japan, where the decentralized rule of the Shogunate had seemed viable for hundreds of years, and to which the shock of exogenous pressure helped put an end. In the United States, it was not until the post civil-war federal government occupied the Confederacy and subdued the western territories that the powers of the central government, and with it a standardization of national institutions, dramatically increased. By contrast, nation state consolidation occurred far earlier in the two great warring states of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: England and France.

(p. 8) There was then nothing natural about national unification. The state, as John Breuilly has argued, gave form to the nation, not the reverse.32 In fact, Germany, unlike the United States, which fought a civil war for the sake of union, achieved unity only by massively slicing through, and in fact dividing, what many contemporaries thought belonged together. A glance at August Petermann's Handatlas of Central Europe, which unlike Homann's atlas of a century earlier could reproduce color mechanically, underscores the dimensions of the rupture, as roughly one-quarter of the area of the German Confederation of 1815 was now excised out of Germany, along with Vienna, which in 1870 was still the largest German-speaking city.33 The composition of religious affiliation also changed as a result of the unification and division of Germany: from a marginal majority of Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire and the German Confederation to the two-thirds majority that Protestants held in Imperial Germany. The shift had crucial consequences for the identity of the new German nation state. It fueled Prussian—and largely Protestant—foundation myths that saw the German Empire of 1871 as the apotheosis of a German history centered on Martin Luther, Gustav Adolph, Frederick the Great, and the Prussian ‘Wars of Liberation.’ In this context, middle class Protestants articulated a theologically-framed, religiously-inspired nationalism, which exacerbated religious conflict with Catholics and in some cases denied Jews, granted full citizenship in the imperial constitution, the status of fully-authentic Germans.34 Finally, the ethnic composition of the German Empire of 1871 differed from the German Confederation of 1815. Here, historians have become more cautious, understanding the degree to which hardened ethnic categories are themselves the products of the late nineteenth-century politicization of ethnicity. It was, nevertheless, of considerable importance that many more Polish speakers, who had belonged to Prussia, but were outside the Confederation, were now citizens of the German Empire by virtue of being subjects of Prussia. The German Empire also included Danish and French speakers, making the population of its linguistic minorities close to 7% of the total population. This made Imperial Germany far less multi-ethnic than the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy or the Russian Empire, but more ethnically diverse, at least according to official categories, than France or Italy. In fact, it made it in some ways structurally similar to Spain, and to the Federal Republic of Germany of the 1990s.

At the time of German unification, nation states existed in an international arena still dominated by empires as the main form of political organization. In mid-century, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Ottoman Turkey, and Imperial China defined themselves principally as Empires.35 Not until the ‘imperial implosion’ following World War I would the era of nation states predominate, and not until after World War II would national states become the principal political form organizing humanity on a global scale.36 Precisely for this reason, Germany, a new national state in a world of empires—an experiment, in fact—tells us something about the beginning of a process that left an indelible mark on the twentieth century.

Germany was not a late nation, but a ‘nationalizing state,’ to use Roger Brubaker's term, whose novel homogenizing policies ‘from above’ provoked resistance ‘from below,’ and this resistance constituted one of the formative moments of post-unification (p. 9) German politics.37 In Germany, these policies remind us again that, although integrative in intent, nationalism was also a divisive force. Once political nationhood had been achieved, the divisiveness of nationalism came more strongly to the fore: dividing Protestants from Catholics (and both from Jews), liberals amongst themselves, and the majority of Germans from the Socialists, stigmatized as essentially anti-national. In all of this Germany was hardly alone. The Kulturkampf, for example, represented one aspect of a wider, pan-European clash between secularizing liberals who hoped to harness the transformative potential of the modern state, and Catholics, who, resisting the intrusion of modern states into networks at once more local and universal, had since the 1840s experienced a remarkable religious revival. Similar conflicts, each with lasting effects on national political cultures, played out in Italy, Spain (where it was considerably more violent), Belgium, the Netherlands (where it divided society into strict social-cultural milieus), and France.38 Likewise, the problem of regional autonomy, and minority ethnic status within nation states, was hardly confined to Germany. In the United States, the problem was posed more sharply still, especially in the post-bellum South and in the new states and territories of the West, but also with respect to the recently emancipated black population. The problem of the nationalizing state was also posed sharply in the United Kingdom, where starting in the 1870s Irish home rule became a continual source of political turbulence; and in Italy, where unification exacerbated and politicized considerable disparities between north and south, city and country, and within regions.

In Germany the ‘nationalizing state’ was not a single, coherent entity, but rather represented the convergence of nation and state into an interdependent conception of sovereignty. In the Constitution of 1871, it was defined as an ‘everlasting alliance’ of states, ‘which carries the name German Reich.’39 In the German Confederation of 1815, sovereignty lay, with few if important limitations, with the states. In 1871, the individual states still carried out an enormous portion of the national work—such as raising taxes, creating infrastructure, and schooling. It was, however, the actual constitution of the Reich, not of the individual states, that delineated competencies and set the terms for the separation of power. In this sense, as the contemporary jurist Georg Jellinek argued, ultimate sovereignty lay, in fact, with the Empire.40 Within this constellation, enormous power devolved, however, to Prussia, the largest of the states, with its king, William I, now also German Emperor, and its Minister-President, Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the Empire and responsible only to the monarch.

In practice, Bismarck retained significant power, with members of the imperial cabinet, the state secretaries (lower in social rank than the corresponding Prussian ministers) answering directly to him, and William I allegedly complaining that ‘it was not easy to be Emperor under such a Chancellor.’41 Bismarck also controlled foreign policy, perhaps more than any one man in Europe, and therefore exercized an important influence over the definition of the external enemy. His authority faltered, however, before the Prussian Army. In the crucial matter of who has the monopoly of violence, the King of Prussia, and his military cabinet, retained Kommandogewalt, and the Prussian Minister of War answered to the king, not to Bismarck. This was decisive (p. 10) not only for the deployment of force in inter-state conflict, but also because changes in military organization, tactics, and weaponry made the army more efficacious when it came to suppressing armed rebellion than ever before. In two crucial areas—fighting external foes and retaining the monopoly of violence during a state of exception—the German Army, dominated by the Prussian Army but also including the armies of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Saxony, remained effectively insulated from democratic pressure and constitutional control. The Reichstag could ask for an accounting of military policy; it could also limit the size and budget of the army when that budget was set for renewal. There its influence over the army ended, however.

Yet the Empire, based on the model of the North German Confederation that preceded it, also created a democratic institution, the Reichstag, whose deputies were elected by universal suffrage for men above 25 years of age. If the gender of suffrage seemed self-evident to contemporaries, habituated to structures of male superiority, it also reflected a deepening of the middle class separation of spheres, public and private, and stark divisions of labor in the new industrial factories.42 In this way, the mid-century timing of the suffrage replicated and hardened the gendered coding of citizenship, whose discursive coordinates had been set a century earlier in discussions of patriotism, war, and male sacrifice. The suffrage transformed imperial Germany, as Margaret Lavinia Anderson has put it, ‘into a nationalized, participatory, public culture, one in which partisan loyalties organized expectations and structured much of public life.’43 Not democracy, but democratic practices followed.

If conventional histories have emphasized Germany's democratic deficiencies, a comparison with contemporary states reveals significant shortcomings elsewhere as well. Such a comparison would show a United States, which in 1870 had just ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting individual states from denying citizens the right to vote based on ‘race, color, or previous condition of servitude,’ but which left open the possibility of denying these rights through poll taxes and literacy tests; US elections were also marred by fraud and by staggering outbreaks of voter-intimidating violence. The comparison would further reveal a Great Britain that, even after the Reform Act of 1867, enfranchised only male householders, and thus registered as voters less than half the adult male population. It would also show a France of the Second Republic that oscillated under Napoleon III between Caesarist autocracy and the begrudged rudiments of parliamentary control, and a Third Republic, proclaimed in 1870, that featured a representative assembly based on universal manhood suffrage, but that was marred at its inception by the brutal repression of the Paris Commune. The list of democratic shortcomings does not end there. A contemporary comparison would also show a Belgium that did not embrace democratic male suffrage until 1893 and a Netherlands that did not until 1896 (and then only for about half the adult men); an Austro-Hungarian Empire that did not take this step until 1907 (and then only on the Austrian side); an Italy that desisted until 1912; and a Russian Empire that took the step in 1905, but with an elected Duma of drastically limited power.44 Against these comparative facts of politics and suffrage, it must be noted that Germans fought for (p. 11) near universal manhood suffrage in the Revolution of 1848–1849, but not thereafter. Instead, Bismarck unceremoniously presented it to the North German Confederation in 1867, as an unasked for gift. Moreover, Germany remained remarkable for the many limits the Constitution placed on the power that representative institutions exercised over the monarchy. Germans practiced democracy, but with limited democratic power, and the gap, while narrowing in the years before World War I, remained wide. Within this system, historians have rightly emphasized the transformation of political culture in Imperial Germany, especially after Bismarck's departure. But precisely because this political culture flourished without ministerial responsibility, it turned political parties into lobbying groups for sectional interests and encouraged rhetorical excess or, as David Blackbourn has put it, ‘an irresponsible politics of posture.’45

In Germany the formation of the nation state came together with industrial take-off. This confluence, which historians have called the ‘double revolution’, had profound consequences for subsequent developments, even if the zones of take-off remained regionally specific and often crossed political boundaries, as was true of the industrial region stretching between the Ruhr and Pasde-Calais.46 In Germany, the foundation of the nation state coincided with the breakthrough of a form of capitalism that was both industrial and global. Economic growth, represented by net domestic product, increased nearly four times as fast in the second half of the century as in the first. In roughly the same period, German exports, measured as the share of world exports, grew more impressively than in any other country, including the United States and Great Britain. This meant, first, that the foundation of the German Empire in 1871 coincided with the beginning of an economic take-off that in the long term brought about a modern mass consumer society in which the department store, more than the army barrack, left its imprint on everyday life.47 Yet despite a long-term trajectory of increasing per capita wealth, the German experience was equally marked by calamitous economic ruptures, periodically trapping Germans in hunger and want. In material terms, these ruptures temporarily set Germans back decades, and even, as occurred at the end of World War II, a half century.48 In the long era of the German nation state, the impact of politics and war on material life can hardly be underestimated. Between 1871 and 1945, the history of the nation state in Germany oscillated between economic progress, especially in the first half of this chronological arc, and dramatic regress. This was not the fate of Germany alone. Yet in economic terms, the deleterious impact of war proved more profound in Germany in this period than in either Great Britain or the United States, which in the same time period experienced fewer, although still significant economic ruptures. The impact of war on social and economic life conformed more closely to the experiences of France and Italy. It was not, however, as severe as in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

In the 54 years after 1860, the remarkable growth of the German economy had a number of political repercussions. One involved the take-off in urbanization—so that in the half-century after the foundation of the German Empire, Germany went from being a country where nearly two-thirds of the population lived in the countryside to one in which almost two-thirds lived in urban communities of 2000 people or more, (p. 12) with the largest growth in the great cities, like Berlin, which more than doubled in population, Hamburg and Munich, which trebled, and Leipzig and Düsseldorf, which increased roughly fourfold in size.49 If Germany did not yet match the urban density of England, where urban dwellers approached eighty percent of the population, it nevertheless now, unlike a hundred years earlier, was counted among the genuine urban civilizations of Europe, with a higher urban density (of cities with 20,000 inhabitants) than Italy, France, and Belgium.50 Berlin was, in one estimate, the third largest city in the world, and Hamburg the fourteenth, with European cities still comprising half of the world's twenty largest cities—a fact that in the late twentieth century no longer pertained. A second repercussion involves the fundamental fact that in Germany, as well as the rest of industrializing Europe, the second half of the long nineteenth century up until World War I was an era wholly without political revolution—excepting the Paris Commune of 1870 and the devastating events in Russia in 1905, both products of defeat in war. Although historians usually start from a different assumption, the growth of one of Germany's most potent forces for democratic change, the Social Democratic Party, and in fact, the existence of the Second International, cannot easily be understood without this nearly Europe-wide non-revolutionary, non-bellicose, context. The third repercussion is that, in the long term, most Germans, including those organized in the Social Democratic Party, experienced the new national state as a framework for continual improvement in the material quality of life. The social insurance bills of the 1880s, early, primitive welfare measures, cemented this image, and suggested the novel role of the new state as a provider of public goods.

The deep connection between the first German sovereign nation state and the experience of material improvement and peace shaped the affective ties of Germans to the Kaiserreich, cementing their loyalties and constraining radicalism. The contrast with Weimar, teaming on either side of the political spectrum with demands to overturn the fundamental political order, is instructive. It is true that, in Imperial Germany, the Social Democrats—albeit an increasingly small number of them—hoped for fundamental revision of the political and economic system. In practice, the SPD, in its Erfurt Program of 1891, pursued increasingly reformist politics. Reinforced by one of the most densely unionized workforces in the world, the SPD pushed for small changes to a system that its members increasingly accepted as legitimate.51 No other groups, excepting a small number of separatist representatives of ethnic minorities, placed the fundamental political order in question so that, however divided German society was in cultural and political terms, there remained a significant consensus about sovereignty, political comportment, and ultimate loyalties: which in matters of international politics and war were unequivocally to the German Empire. In its 1871 borders, the German Empire continued to exercise a profound emotional pull. During the Weimar Republic, so-called revisionists hoped to restore Germany to its pre-war Imperial borders (minus Alsace-Lorraine). These revisionist claims, it may be recalled, enjoyed wide consensus, reaching into the Catholic Center and the Social Democratic Party. The National Socialists, who combined ethnic and imperial ambitions, represented an exception. They wanted much more than a return to the nation state of 1871.

(p. 13) 1.3 1945

The era of national states came to a preliminary end in 1945. It did not come to a complete end because, even after ‘hour zero’, Germans continued to think primarily in terms of the nation state. They also proved slow to shed the nationalist categories they had acquired in the previous century, maintaining many of the affinities, antipathies, and ideologies, including anti-Semitism, that had led to Nazism and World War II. Even after 1945, most Germans remained loath to confront the full measure of the catastrophe that they and their country had brought upon Europe and the world. Especially destructive in the last years of the war, this catastrophe culminated in an apocalyptic crescendo of violence and murder. Not resistance, but the military victory of the allies—and in particular the Soviet Union—brought it to an end. It is for this reason that 1945 must be seen as a break with the past. Moreover, the collapse in 1945 set the stage for the revolution in mentalities that occurred, however incompletely, in the 1960s.

First, the demographic trauma, now accumulated over two wars. The First World War ended with 2.5 million lives lost in Germany, and a further depletion of an estimated 4.5 million through a decline in the birth rate coupled with high rates of mortality. More devastating still, the Second World War cost (in a conservative estimation) roughly seven million German lives, or about 10% of the German population, with the German dead spread out among the soldiers (3.7 million), civilians (2 million), and expellees from the former eastern territories (1.2 million). Demographers estimate that a further population deficit, resulting from a decline in births and a general increase in mortality, accounted for another seven million.52 These figures, especially when both wars are taken together, constitute a historical calamity by any measure. In the Second World War, the great death toll was in Eastern Europe, where the invasion of German armies and killing squads resulted in a theater of terror that ended with well over fifty million lives lost, with Poland, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia losing between ten and twenty percent of their populations. The comparison with pre-war populations gives a sense of the dimension of the catastrophe, and its concentration in the east: in one estimate, Poland lost one in five, Yugoslavia one in eight, the Soviet Union one in eleven, Greece one in fourteen, Germany one in fifteen, France one in seventy-seven, and Britain one in 125.53

The National Socialists pursued policies of annihilation that were without precedent on the continent, even if there were harbingers, as Hannah Arendt understood, in the colonial wars.54 The German Army killed an estimated 3.3 of 5.7 million Soviet POWs in its custody, most in the first year of the war against the Soviet Union. The Nazis also targeted Roma and Sinti for extermination, and killed nearly a quarter of the population. They murdered a further 190,000 handicapped people in the course of their Euthanasia campaigns. Yet their greatest effort was focused on the eradication of the Jews, killing nearly six million, roughly half with industrial efficiency in extermination camps, the rest by brutal shootings, or by allowing them to starve or die of disease in (p. 14) the ghettos and concentration camps. The genocide—one should perhaps write in the plural—remains at the center of any attempt to understand modern German history, and the history of Europe in the twentieth century.55 It may also lie at the center of one of the abiding questions of contemporary history: why, when all was lost, did German troops resist so tenaciously? Although it remains a matter of debate, good evidence suggests that knowledge of the crimes contributed to the cohesion of the Army in the last months of the war, when the death toll on the German side was simply immense.56 In January alone, more than 450,000 soldiers fell—more soldiers than either Great Britain or the United States lost in the whole war, and nearly a million more German soldiers died in the next few months of war, until the European war finally ended on 8 May 1945.57

The racial war also had radical consequences for the complexion of nations and cities. The brutality of the Nazi-prosecuted war, the ruthlessness of the genocides in its wake, and the expulsions that followed, transformed central and eastern Europe from a multi-ethnic landscape into to a patchwork of nation states with a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. By 1950, when most of the displaced persons had returned, Germany counted among these homogenous states, with the foreign population of West Germany barely more than one percent.58 The visage of European cities—such as Vienna, Vilnus, and Prague—had likewise become ethnically monotone. Berlin too was a distant shadow of its diverse interwar self, a process the historian Karl Schlögel illuminated by analyzing the disappearance of groups, primarily Jews, in its address books.59

The new ethnic homogeneity of states in Central and Eastern Europe was in part purchased with one of the largest forced evacuations of a people in history: the expulsion of the Germans. The numbers are prodigious. Between 1945 and 1949, some twelve million Germans were forced to leave their homes in eastern and central Europe, with perhaps more than a million Germans not surviving the ordeal. When combined with the wartime resettlement of nearly a half a million ethnic Germans, and the three million Germans who fled helter skelter as the Red Army crossed East Prussia and approached Berlin, these forced migrations meant the end of a significant German presence in Europe east of the Oder. The center of gravity of German history would now shift geographically west, even if East Germany remained a Soviet satellite. The towns of East Prussia became ‘names that no one named,’ as Marion Gräfin Dönhoff put it, while such places in Silesia as the Schweidnitz Peace Church, a Protestant house of worship lined by splendid oak beams and topped by a bell-less spire, became a faint memory of a more tolerant time.60

When the expellees arrived in what remained of Germany after 1945, they encountered a country in utter collapse and dissolution. Transportation and communication systems were down, electricity and fuel barely available, food scarce, and disease, especially tuberculosis, rampant. In Berlin corpses rotted in the streets, and women tried desperately to save themselves from rape, of which there were well over 100,000 documented cases in Berlin, and in all of Germany upwards of two million. Children, in seeming endless number, were lost—in Berlin alone, an estimated 53,000.61

(p. 15) The collapse of the country was total, and if it had ‘no parallel in modern European experience,’ as George Kennan thought, it was nevertheless a shared fate.62 Like many German cities, including Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, and Berlin, Warsaw also lay in complete ruins; so too did Budapest and Leningrad, and to a lesser degree a string of European cities from Minsk to Rotterdam. Population transfers, undertaken with stunning brutality during the war, now commenced in peacetime as well, making what Lord Curzon in 1913 still called ‘a thoroughly bad and viscous solution’ to ethnic conflict into something that by the end of the twentieth century would become an international norm.63 Within war-ravaged Europe, Poles from roughly east of the Curzon Line were forced to move west to Pomerania and Silesia while Ukranians in Polish territory were sent to the Soviet Union. Outside of Europe, the newly established Pakistan expelled some ten million Hindus and Sikhs, while India expelled roughly seven million Muslims, with the total death toll of the ‘exchange’ approaching a million people. The number of orphaned children throughout Europe was equally startling: in Poland, 200,000; in Yugoslavia, 300,000; in the Netherlands, 60,000. Rape, too, was not a German experience alone, with the women of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Yugoslavia especially suffering.

The collapse of Germany also brought with it the end of sovereignty. This is a second, crucial reason to emphasize 1945 as decisive. After the defeat in World War I, Germans retained their government—in fact, the Weimar Constitution declared, for the first time in German history, unequivocal national sovereignty, stating, in article 1: ‘The German Empire is a Republic. The power of the state emanates from the people’ (In Hugo Pruess's earlier draft, the formulation had actually been ‘the German people’).64 There was, in any case, little disjuncture between identity space and decision space, to use Charles Maier's terms, except that in matters of financial policy and the constitution of defense, the Treaty of Versailles saddled the new Republic with significant restrictions. Hitler saw little reason to amend the sovereignty article of the constitution.65 His dictatorship, so it was reasoned, also drew its legitimacy from a sovereign nation. But in 1945, Germany not only lacked sovereignty, there was a serious question concerning its territorial integrity.

In the mid-1940s, the maps that mattered were no longer elegantly drawn depictions of German territory, but hasty sketches of national borders that determined the fate of millions. The most important was arguably the map of northern and eastern Europe sketched upon by Stalin and Ribbentrop in the secret appendix to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939. As Stalin was not willing in 1945 to return the eastern territories he received in the secret appendix, Poland had to be compensated in the west: with Silesia, with Pomerania from Stettin eastwards, and with the Masurian plains of East Prussia. Another such fateful map belonged to Henry Morgenthau. As Secretary of the US Treasury, he conceived, in 1944, of a plan to render Germany ‘primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character,’ and to carve it into three lands: an international zone, a North German state, and a South German state.66 In the end, this radical dismemberment never occurred. Yet the status of Germany remained open. One possibility was a Germany aligned with one or the other camp; another Germany (p. 16) neutral and demilitarized; a third, as came to pass, Germany partitioned. The historic interior lines were also redrawn. The Law on the Reconstitution of the Reich of January 30, 1934 had already severely compromised the sovereignties of individual states. In the Nazi system, the Gau was meant to overlay the old states, without formally abolishing them. In the immediate postwar period, the Allied Control Council dissolved Prussia, amalgamated states, and actually redrew state borders. The final dissolution of Prussia on 25 February 1947 was especially important to this process. If hardly noticed amidst the disarray of population transfer and mass homelessness, the dissolution of Prussia meant the final burial of a military and political powerhouse, which had been the motor of national unification in 1871. The dissolution also opened a space for a more robust federalism, at least in West Germany, since Prussia no longer dominated, as had been the case from 1871 to 1918, and in attenuated measure from 1919 to 1934. Even then, the precise shape of the emergent states remained an object of intense debate. Should Baden twine with Württemberg, as almost everyone in Württemberg wanted, or should it remain separate, as especially people in south Baden hoped? In the still larger question of the division of zones, the Germans themselves would have little say—except that municipal elections in Berlin in October 1946 (where the Socialist Unity Party, a forced merger of Communist and Socialists in the east, received only 19.8 percent of the vote) made it evident that an open and fair democratic election would almost certainly prevent a pro-Soviet outcome. This general impression was powerfully reinforced by the enthusiasm with which the local population greeted the Berlin airlift of 1948–1949.

Not only was Germany divided, but decision making in matters of peace and war were made elsewhere. In essential domains, this remained true after 1949, when separate German states were founded: the Federal Republic encompassing the territories of the three western occupation zones, the German Democratic Republic the territory of the Soviet zone. Although West Germany proved more successful than East Germany in regaining elements of state sovereignty, it, too, continued to live with severe restrictions in this regard. It is even possible, as the political scientist Peter J. Katzenstein has argued, that West Germany's ‘semisovereignty’ was a precondition of its prosperity.67

This prosperity, or at least its fast take-off, was aided by the infusion of the Marshall Plan. As the emerging Cold War was a competition of economic systems, the Marshall Plan also solidified the economic division of Germany and presaged the partition of Europe. Through another remarkable flight of the population, the economic disparity between the two German countries also led directly to the building of the Berlin Wall. It seems hard to imagine a starker symbol of compromised sovereignty. Yet by the 1970s it was already becoming a given that there would, in fact, be two countries. This was also true in the east, where many East German citizens actively cultivated a sense of Heimat within socialism, creating, by the 1970s, a genuine if fragile sense of belonging.68 By the 1980s the division of Germany seemed to most Germans to be a permanent state of affairs: not one, but two small German solutions.

(p. 17) Finally, 1945 marked the end of Empire. Perhaps too obvious to note, this fact, nevertheless, separates the end of the Second from the end of the First World War. In 1918, Germany lost its colonies, but not its historic sense that its real empire lay in the east, and that such an empire was based—so the assumption went—on the alleged cultural superiority of the Germans. If some of those prejudices persisted after 1945, they were no longer bound up with dreams of dominion. On the contrary, the collapse in 1945 meant the end of an era in which Germany made its mark on the world by territorial conquest—whether in colonial acquisition or continental hegemony. The comparison with the end of World War I is again telling. In 1918, a significant portion of the German public seethed with frustrated nationalism, and while the Weimar Republic harbored plenty of pacifists and republicans of reason, the balance of forces remained unclear. In 1945, the shift was unambiguous, and counts as one of the fundamental facts of twentieth century history. The historians Michael Geyer and Konrad Jarausch have written eloquently about the incommensurability of the man-made death worlds and life worlds of modern German history—of war, annihilation, and displacement on one side, and wealth, civil society, and consumption on the other.69 1945, or thereabouts, marked the end of one of these crucial strands of German history—not completely perhaps, but in a very significant sense. Henceforth, Germans, in the East and the West, measured their governments, and defined who they were, by material well-being, social stability, and the ability to prevent another war. The other history remained present, but became an object of unusually fierce and highly political conflicts over public memory. The history of Germany in this regard bore a striking resemblance to the history of Japan. In a wider view, it also suggested something of the drift of European history, in which major imperial powers, foremost France and Great Britain, eventually relinquished most of their formal dominions in the colonial world, and made well-being, not imperial grandeur, the measure of a successful country.70

1.4 1989

It was testimony to the degree to which German history had become enmeshed in international politics that the major events leading to the Revolution of 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany happened elsewhere. A listing of these events would necessarily include the Helsinki Accords of 1975, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the breakthrough in Poland of Solidarność in 1980, the heating up of the arms race (with the stationing of nuclear arms making Germany the most heavily weaponed place on earth), and the death in rapid succession of three Soviet leaders born before World War I, and the succession of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 11 March 1985. Not for the first time in German history did a change of rulers in Russia have decisive consequences for the life and death of German states. Then there was the meltdown on 26 April 1986 of the nuclear reactor (p. 18) at Chernobyl, releasing more radioactive material than the combined bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and accelerating the necessity of Gorbachev's recently announced policy of Glasnost. On the other side, there was Ronald Reagan's exhortation, at the Brandenburg Gate on 12 June 1987, to ‘Mr. Gorbachov’ to ‘tear down this wall’ (for which Reagan was more criticized than applauded in the German media). Strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in the summer of 1988 led to the roundtable talks in Poland of the following March. Then, on 2 May 1989, the Hungarian government removed an electrified fence on the border to Austria.

At this point, East Germans, upwards of 30,000, entered the story—taking off to Hungary, waiting, hoping, until 10 September, when the Hungarian Foreign Minister announced ‘we will let them through without any further ado and I assume that the Austrians will let them in.’71 What started with an exodus was, within a month, complemented by demonstrations in the city of Leipzig, which by early November swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. The story of the revolution and the unification that followed need not be recounted here. Suffice that the dual revolution—of voice and exit, of demonstrations in the street and flight to West Germany—brought about the swift collapse of the East German government. When elections were held in March, 1990, the party of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the Christian Democratic Union, won hands down, not only against other ‘western’ parties, but also against the political groups—like New Forum—that played an important, organizing role in the massive demonstrations in the streets. Unlike in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Ukraine, the East German opposition never came close to holding power. For some East Germans, the subsequent joining of East to West felt like a sell-out, even an annexation. On the other hand, the opposition never had to face vexed constitutional and nationality questions, as in 1848, nor did they make a fateful pact with the military to eliminate armed insurrection, as in 1918. Instead, 1989—unlike 1848 and 1918—retained its innocence.

The majority of people in East Germany wanted unification, the faster the better. Mainly, perhaps, they wanted the material benefits of unification. Jürgen Habermas branded East German demands ‘DM Nationalismus,’ German Mark Nationalism, and suggested that the nobler path to unity would have been a constitutionally-centered national identity, inspired anew by a constitutional convention. In fact, however, faith in the nation state and material well-being had long been entwined. This is what Bismarck understood in the 1880s. To bind loyalties, modern states, as religious communities before them, ensured welfare. Erich Hoenecker understood the lesson as well, and the last decades of East German politics were marked by anxious production for a consumer society and close surveillance of the attitudes of its citizens to their comparatively meager basket of goods.72 In an important sense, then, unification was built on a convergence—not in the level of material well-being, but on the assumption that the state should provide the frame for it. There was, of course, a great deal more to the Revolution than that. As a Leipzig baker stated it: ‘If you put a bird in a cage and give it something to eat, it still does not feel free.’73

Unification—more precisely five East German states joining the Federal Republic—was not for Germans to decide alone, however. Rather, it occurred as a result of the so-called (p. 19) two plus four agreements; in particular, it would not have happened without consent from George H. W. Bush in Washington and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. East and West Germany, and the four occupying powers agreed to grant a united Germany ‘full sovereignty over its internal and external affairs,’ with stipulations placing a cap on the size of its armed forces (limited to 370,000 troops), the ‘renunciation of the manufacture and possession of and control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons,’ and a guarantee that ‘the united Germany will never employ any of its weapons except in accordance with its constitution and the Charter of the United Nations.’74

The agreement put an end to the ‘German Question’ in Central Europe, which had historically centered on the problem of German military might and territorial ambitions. By the beginning of the new millennium, German per capita military expenditures seemed modest for a major nation, and there were very few Germans for whom dying for one's fatherland seemed part of the social contract. It is impossible to emphasize enough the profundity of this historical sea change, which, as James Sheehan has recently shown, represented a core transformation of postwar Europe.75 The two-plus-four agreement also involved the final recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as inviolable. In her memoirs, the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, recounted a meeting with François Mitterrand, President of the French Republic, in which she ‘produced from [her] handbag a map showing the various configurations of Germany in the past, which were not altogether reassuring about the future.’76 Yet unification in 1990, rather than making such maps relevant, actually made them beside the point. For the first time in 150 years, Germany possessed no revisionist claims and no territorial ambitions. This was not the end of history, but it was—for the foreseeable future—the end of this history. In the 1990s, maps of political boundaries in Europe were changing with dizzying speed. Cartographers still working in print media struggled to keep up with the secession of former Soviet Republics, the divorce of the Czech from the Slovak Republic, and the break-up of Yugoslavia. German borders, however, no longer presented a challenge.

Although 1990 marks the year in which Germany recovered full sovereignty, it also saw an acceleration of supranational organization, in which sovereignty was again dispersed. German unification in fact depended on integration into European structures, with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 leading to the formation of a unified currency and adding political dimensions to what was principally an economic union. In the cultural realm, the shift had already begun. In the 1980s, many young Germans began to think of themselves as Europeans, sometimes rather than Germans. But if German unification seemed to occur in the context of the country's post-national identity, one should not push this insight too far. In periods of crisis, or when it comes to zero-sum questions of distribution, Germans, even in their post-national phase, are likely to think in terms of the gains and sacrifices of Germany. Moreover, the younger generation, if the patriotism shown at the soccer World Cups of 2006 and 2010 is an indication, have little difficulty waving German flags while seeing themselves as Europeans. Finally, while the European Union has become indispensable for helping to solve significant problems, it is not a state. It neither collects taxes directly nor does it (p. 20) prosecute war. It does not pay pensions, offer basic education to citizens, or keep the unemployed from falling into abject destitution. Nor does it ensure domestic security. Moreover, more than a third of its budget is tied to one special interest, agriculture, an economic sector in irreversible decline, and that budget, which is roughly the size of the national budget of Norway, remains far too meager to displace the major nation states of Europe as central actors in an international arena.

It is perhaps more important to appreciate the fundamentally new character of German society. Germany is now an urban civilization, with only 6 percent of its people living in communities of less than 2000 people. Yet its great cities no longer belong to the great cities of the world. In terms of population, not even Berlin, however culturally dynamic, is in the top fifty—a fact that reflects the demographic impact of war and the division of Germany, but also the more profound provincialization of Europe. Germany is also no longer an industrial civilization, as it became in the second half of the nineteenth-century and remained until the 1970s (and longer in East Germany). Instead, by 1990, trade and services had already become the largest sector (56 percent), followed by industry, including mining and construction (40 percent), and agriculture (4 percent).77 The tectonic shift in the basic structure has made past cultural and political ideologies, centered on industrial utopias, seem as if already belonging to another age. The bursting confidence in the future, and a sense that Germany ought to shape the world, is also no longer at the center of the German sense of self—as it was, in productive and problematic ways, a century ago. There is, instead, deeper reflection on the past than almost anywhere in the modern world, and an abiding sense that the world's problems—of security, development, health, and environmental destruction—can only be solved by international co-operation, preferably through supranational organizations, foremost the European Union and the United Nations, but also, if more hesitantly, through military deployment in NATO. No serious voice in Germany calls for an ‘Alleingang,’ or even suggests, as Wilhelminian subjects so self-evidently did: ‘that the world should profit from the essence of Germanness.’ The more cautious tone has a demographic underpinning in profound shifts in the basic structure of the population. Germany now has the oldest population, with the highest life expectancy, in its history. A brief comparison with the optimistic late Kaiserreich suggests the enormity of the change. Reflecting ratios typical of the nineteenth century, 34 percent of Germans in 1910 were fifteen or younger, and only 8 percent sixty or older. In the year 2000, however, only 15 percent of the German population was fifteen or younger, and 24 percent were sixty or older. The age pyramid is now inverted—a result of declining fertility and higher life expectancy—the latter essentially double what it was in 1865.78 The meaning of marriage, family, occupation, and the expectation of what life will bring has changed apace.

Germany has become a multicultural society: as of 2005, it the third largest immigrant country in the world, only behind the United States and Russia, and is roughly equal to the United States in terms of new immigrants as a percentage of the population. The change is especially remarkable for its low starting point: in 1950, the foreign population of West Germany was barely above 1 percent. Paradoxically, this fact of immigrant (p. 21) country status makes Germany different from its immediate eastern neighbors and closer to the west—where in countries like Great Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the significant numbers of immigrants (plus minorities from former colonies) give each of these nations a noticeably diverse population. It is a paradox only because Germany's putative status of late or unfinished nation allegedly placed it behind the west, and because East Central Europe was once a landscape of enormous ethnic and religious complexity. Germany is also a country of changing religious constellations. The historical splits so central to German history had been between Protestants and Catholics, and Christians and Jews. But in 2010, twenty years after unification, Christians only make up about two-thirds of the population, and nearly a third of the population is avowedly secular (including almost the entire population raised in East Germany). Islam, not Judaism, constitutes the next largest religious minority, making up about 4 percent of the population, which, if the parallel is allowed, is four times larger than the Jewish population in the era of the German nation state before the Nazi seizure of power.

Statistical compilations tell us little about attitude. A comparison may, however, be illuminating. Roughly a decade into the founding of the Second Empire, the influential historian Heinrich von Treitschke called Jews ‘our misfortune’, and unleashed a torrent of polemic, much of it anti-Semitic. A small group of Berlin notables, led by the historian Theodor Mommsen, charged Treitschke with attacking the tradition of tolerance established by Lessing. Otherwise there was silence or boisterous support for Treitschke, not the least by the students of the University of Berlin, nearly half of whom signed a petition to curtail the rights of the newly emancipated Jews. Historians have rightly placed the incident in its context of the ‘second foundation’ of the German Empire, suggesting it spoke volumes about the political culture of the Kaiserreich. In the early 1990s, there was a series of events that might have evoked this earlier era. An alarming rise in anti-foreigner violence culminated in vicious attacks in the communities of Rostock-Lichterhagen, Solingen, and Mölln. Unlike in the Kaiserreich, however, citizens of the newly united Federal Republic of Germany took to the streets, staging candle light protests against the violence. Partly, these protests were about solidarity with foreigners. Partly, they were about German sensitivity to its international image. If in 1880, a prominent few criticized Treitschke, in Germany in the early 1990s hundreds of thousands of protesters, men and women of all ages, walks of life, and political persuasions, registered their opposition, and indeed more than a million when the demonstrations in Berlin, Munich, Essen, Hamburg, and Nuremberg are tallied together. The protests did not end anti-foreigner violence or completely allay the fears of foreigners. They did however symbolically affirm that Germany now stood for tolerance and solidarity. The German past was not incidental to these protests, and there already have been, and will continue to be, setbacks to the creation of an open society. Yet these protests also suggest a popular embrace of the civic work of a society that, for all its deficiencies, has become tolerant of difference, sensitive to the disparities in life chances, and cognizant of its new role in Europe and the world.


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(1.) C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 3.

(2.) Charles Maier, ‘Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era,’ American Historical Review 105, 3 (June 2000): 807–831.

(3.) The standard work is: Peter H. Meurer, Corpus der älteren Germania-Karten. Ein annotierter Katalog der gedruckten Gesamtkarten des deutschen Raumes von den Anfängen bis um 1650 (Aalphen aan den Rijn: Uitgeverij Canaletto, 2001). On sixteenth-century conceptions of the nation, Wolfgang Hardtwig, Nationalismus und Bürgerkultur in Deutschalnd, 1500–1914 (Göttingen: Vandehoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 34–55.

(4.) John Breuilly, The Formation of the First German Nation-State, 1800–1871 (London, Palgrave, 1996), 109.

(5.) W.H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935), 7.

(6.) Following the population estimates of territorial states in D. Anton Friderich Büsching, Vorbereitung zur gründlichen und nützlichen Kenntniss der geographischen Beschaffenheit und Staatsverfassung der europäischen Reiche und Republiken, welche zugleich ein allge-meiner Abriss von Europa ist, 3rd edn (Hamburg: Johann Carl Bohn, 1761).

(7.) For the argument that the Empire was the state of the German nation, see Georg Schmidt, Geschichte des Alten Reiches. Staat und Nation in der Frühen Neuzeit 1495–1806 (Munich: Beck, 1999), 347–354. For a trenchant critique, Heinz Schilling, ‘Reichs-Staat und frühneuzeitliche Nation der Deutschen oder teilmodernisiertes Reichssystem,’ Historische Zeitschrift 272 (2001), 377–395.

(8.) Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen, 7th edn (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2002), 26–28; Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie. Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität, 7th edn (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1996), 13.

(9.) Czelsaw Milosz, Milosz's ABCs, trans. Madeline G. Levine (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 139.

(10.) David Eltis, Coerced and Free Migrations. Global Perspectives (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 33.

(11.) For a reflection on this aspect of German history, Jürgen Osterhammel, Geschichtswissenshaft jenseits des Nationalstaats: Studien zu Beziehungsgeschichte und Zivilisationsvergleich (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001), 363–369.

(12.) Barbara Stolberg-Rilinger, Der Staat als Maschine. Zur politischen Metaphorik des absoluten Fürstenstaats (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1986).

(13.) Thomas Abbt, ‘Vom Tode für das Vaterland,’ in Johannes Kunisch (ed.) Aufklärung und Kriegserfahrung (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1996).

(14.) J. G. Fichte, ‘Die Republik der Deutschen im 22 Jahrhundert’, in Fichte, Nachgelassene Schriften 1806–1807, ed. Reinhard Lauth et al. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstadt: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1994), 419.

(15.) Massimo Livi Bacci, Europa und seine Menschen. Eine Bevölkerungsgeschcihte, trans. from Italian by Rita Seuß (Munich: Beck, 1990), 20.

(16.) Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes. The Short Twentieth Century (London: Michael Joseph, 1994), 9.

(17.) Jan de Vries, European Urbanization 1500–1800 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 319, 335.

(18.) Ibid., 305–337.

(19.) Winfried Müller, Die Aufklärung (Munich: Oldenburg, 2002), 20–30.

(20.) Hans Erich Bödeker, ‘Die bürgerliche Literatur-und Medienegesellschaft,’ in Notker Hammerstein and Ulrich Herrmann (eds), Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte, vol. 2, 18. Jahrhundert (Munich: Beck, 2005), 501–502.

(21.) See, as one example, Horst Müller, Vernunft und Kritik. Deutsche Aufklärung im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986), 271.

(22.) Reinhart Siegert, ‘Volksbildung im 18. Jahrhundert,’ in Hammerstein and Herrmann (eds), Handbuch der Bildungsgeschichte, 446, and the literature cited there.

(23.) Etienne François, ‘Regionale Unterschiede der Lese-und Schreibfähigkeit in Deutschland im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert’, Jahrbuch für Regionalgeschichte und Landeskunde, 17, 2 (1990), 155–156.

(24.) Reinhardt Siegert, ‘Zur Alphabetisierung in den deutschen Regionen am Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts,’ in H. E. Bödeker and Ernst Hinrichs (eds) Alphabetisierung und Literali-sierung in Deutschland in der Frühen Neuzeit (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999), 298.

(25.) Daniel Baggioni, Langues et nations en Europe (Paris: Payot & Rivages, 1997); Peter Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(26.) Eric A. Blackall, The Emergence of German as a Literary Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 2.

(27.) Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft,’ in Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 3, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1967–1977), 481.

(28.) Lucia Hölscher, Geschichte der protestantische Frömmigkeit in Deutschland (Munich: Beck, 2005), 181 ff.

(29.) The classic, if in detail dated work for understanding the confluence of war and migration in the modern world remains Alexander and Eugene M. Kulischer, Europe on the Move: War and Population Changes, 1917–1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948).

(30.) Charles S. Maier, ‘Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era,’ American Historical Review 105, 3 (June, 2002), 807–131; Jürgen Osterhammel, Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Beck, 2009), 601; David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century. A History of Germany, 1780–1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 244–245. On confederations, Robert C. Binkley, Realism and Nationalism (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1935), 181–262.

(31.) Martin Clark, Modern Italy: 1871 to the Present, 3rd edn (Harlow, England: Longman, 2008), 37–48.

(32.) Breuilly, The Formation of the First German Nation-State.

(33.) Peter J. Katzenstein, Disjoined Partners: Austria and Germany since 1815 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 227–251.

(34.) Michael Geyer, ‘Religion und Nation—Eine unbewältigte Geschichte,’ in Michael Geyer and Hartmut Lehmann (eds), Religion und Nation—Nation und Religion: Beiträge zu einer unbewältigten Geschichte (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2004), 23–25.

(35.) Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empire in World History. Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

(36.) Osterhammel, Geschichtswissenschaft jenseits des Nationalstaats, 322–341.

(37.) Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9. Brubaker defines ‘nationalizing states’ as ‘states that are conceived by their dominant elites as nation-states, as the states of and for particular ethnocultural nations, yet as “incomplete” or “unrealized” nation states, as insufficiently “national” in a variety of senses.’

(38.) Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser (eds), Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

(39.) Dieter Gosewinkel and Johannes Masing (with the assistance of Andreas Würschinger), Die Verfassungen in Europa 1789–1949 (Munich: Beck, 2006), 784.

(40.) Dieter Grimm, ‘War das Deutsche Kaiserreich ein souveräner Staat?’ in Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp (eds), Das Deutsche Kaiserreich in der Kontroverse (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 98–99.

(41.) Ludwig Bamberger, Bismarck Posthumus (Berlin: Harmonie, 1899), 8.

(42.) Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 23.

(43.) Margaret L. Anderson, Practicing Democracy. Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 20.

(44.) On suffrage regimes, see ibid., 5–8; Wolfgang Reinhard, Geschichte der Staatsgewalt. Eine vergleichende Verfassungsgeschichte Europas von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: Beck, 2002), 431–434.

(45.) David Blackbourn, ‘Politics as Theatre,’ in Blackbourn, Populists and Patricians: Essays in Modern German History (London: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 257.

(46.) Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschafts-geschichte, 1849–1914 (Munich: Beck, 1995), 3–5.

(47.) Konrad Jarausch and Michael Geyer, Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 269.

(48.) See the graph of Adam Tooze, on page 401 of this volume.

(49.) Jürgen Kocka, Das lange 19. Jahrhundert. Arbeit, Nation und bürgerliche Gesellschaft (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2004), 77.

(50.) Wolfram Fischer et al. (eds), Handbuch der europäischen Wirtschafts-und Sozialgeschichte, vol. 5 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1985), 42.

(51.) On the comparative level of unionization, Hartmut Kaelble, Auf dem Wege zu einer europäischen Gesellschaft (Munich: Beck, 1987), 84.

(52.) Josef Ehmer, Bevölkerungsgeschichte und historische Demographie, 1800–2000 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2004), 13. For a higher estimation, see Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Geselschaftsgeshcihte, 1914–1949 (Munich: Beck, 2003), 944, who places it between 9.23 million and 10.13 million.

(53.) Tony Judt, A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin, 2005), 18.

(54.) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Schocken, 1951).

(55.) The argument, and some of its implications, in Helmut Walser Smith, The Continuities of German History: Race, Religion, and Nation across the Long Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(56.) Thomas Kühne, Belonging and Genocide: Hitler's Community, 1918–1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

(57.) Rüdiger Overmans, Deutsche militärische Verluste im zweiten Weltkrieg, 3rd edn (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2004), 239.

(58.) Hartmut Kaelble, Sozialgeschichte Europas, 1945 bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: Beck, 2007), 246.

(59.) Karl Schlögel, Im Raume Lesen Wir die Zeit. Über Zivilisationsgeschichte und Geopolitik (Munich: Carl Hanser, 2003), 329–346.

(60.) Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Namen die keiner mehr nennt; Ostpreussen—Menschen und Geschichte (Düsseldorf: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1962).

(61.) Tony Judt, Postwar, 21. The best work is now Richard Bessel, Germany 1945: From War to Peace (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).

(62.) George Kennan cited in Judt, Postwar, 21.

(63.) Curzon, cited in Smith, The Continuities of German History, 208. For the comparison of expulsions, see Philipp Ther, Deutsche und Polnische Vertriebene. Gesellschaft und Vertriebenenpolitik in der SBZ/DDR und in Polen 1945–1956 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998). For the broader context, Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001).

(64.) For a discussion of Preuss's earlier draft, Michael Wildt, Volksgemeinschaft als Selbster-mächtigung. Gewalt gegen Juden in der deutschen Provinz 1919 bis 1939 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2007), 42–43.

(65.) Charles S. Maier, ‘Transformations of Territoriality, 1600–2000,’ in Gunilla Bude, Sebastian Conrad, and Oliver Janz (eds), Transnationale Geschichte: Themen, Tendenzen und Theorien (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 32–55.

(66.) Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), vol. 2, 146.

(67.) Peter J Katzenstein, Policy and Politics in West Germany: The Growth of a Semisovereign State (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987).

(68.) Jan Palmowski, Inventing a Socialist Nation: Heimat and the Politics of Everyday Life in the GDR, 1945–90 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(69.) Jarausch and Geyer, Shattered Past, 12.

(70.) James J. Sheehan, Where have all the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 171.

(71.) Cited in Judt, Postwar, 613.

(72.) Jonathan R. Zatlin, The Currency of Socialism. Money and Political Culture in East Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(73.) Cited in Norman Naimark, ‘ “Ich will hier raus”: Emigration and the Collapse of the German Democratic Republic,’ in Ivo Banac (ed.), Eastern Europe in Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 86.

(74.) American Foreign Policy Current Documents 1990. Department of State, Washington, 1991.

(75.) Sheehan, Where have all the Soldiers Gone?

(76.) Cited in Judt, Postwar, 639.

(77.) Kocka, Das lange Neunzehten Jahrhundert, 49.

(78.) Ehmer, Bevölkerungsgeschichte, 34, 53–55.