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Germany continues to fascinate us into the twenty-first century because, unlike the history or national existence of other European states, its very being has been posed as a question. Why was there no unified German state until late in the nineteenth century? How did Germany become an industrial power? What responsibility does Germany bear for the two World Wars? This accessible but authoritative study attempts to answer these and other fundamental questions through looking at the economic, social, political and cultural forces which have created modern Germany. The 1848 revolutions ushered in an age of Realism which saw rapid economic development and the creation of the Bismarckian empire. However, by the early twentieth century Germany's economic expansion and position as a world power began to fracture and growing internal, economic, social and political contradictions led it, with disastrous results, into the First World War and the subsequent Weimar Republic. Hitler and the Nazi movement proposed a 'revolution' and the creation of a 'German style' and the Second World War/Holocaust is, arguably, the defining event of the twentieth century. The Americanization of the German economy and society, the 'economic miracle' and euphoria of reunification have in recent years rapidly given way to disillusionment as the major political parties have failed to master outstanding social and environmental problems. The 'German question' - Germany's place within the European Union - continues to be unanswered even within an EU where it is the dominant economic power.
In 1993, visitors to the Venice Biennale confronted a work by Hans Haacke entitled Germania. The marble floor of a large room had been jackhammered into fragments, and the fragments left piled randomly on top of one another. At the far side of the room was a blank wall with a gently curved section in the middle, receding slightly from the viewer. On the curved section were inscribed in precise capitals the letters GERMANIA. Visitors had to walk gingerly because the shattered pieces of flooring did not provide a secure footing. As they moved about, microphones picked up sounds of the shifting pieces, and speakers set above the wall sent the amplified noises reverberating through the room. One critic described the effect of the random echoes as "mournful."
Art and politics have intersected across the generations of modern Germany's history. Haacke was born in 1936, three years after Hitler came to power. He was nine when the war ended, in his teens when the economic miracle began, and thirty-two in 1968, the year of the student revolts against the West German establishment. In the 1970s, he produced posters contrasting the luxurious goods of contemporary consumer society in the affluent industrialized countries with the impoverished conditions of the workers who produced them in the underdeveloped world. In the 1990s he turned his attention back to Germany. For Haacke, for other Germans, and for students of German history, Germania is the embodiment of Germany. Usually a female figure, she has taken many forms, and her forms have reflected the concerns of each succeeding generation. Four years after reunification, Haacke saw Germany as bodenlos, without foundations, a broken land, a land of rubble, a land without a floor to stand on securely. We might read the work as saying that Germany's foundations have been destroyed, that they are being rebuilt, that new foundations are under construction, or possibly that Germany has no foundation. In any case, the empty space of Germania/Germany is filled only with the mournful noise created by the viewers themselves, as they unsteadily pass through.
The "German question"
What is special about Germany? Haacke's ironic and deliberately ambiguous work focuses our attention. Unlike the history or national existence of other European states, Germany's very being has been posed as a question. And one of the most recalcitrant aspects of the "German question" is the deceptively simple question of what "Germany" is. For much of our period, "Germany" did not exist. Many historians of Germany have considered the history of the region of central Europe that roughly corresponds to the area of the pre-1914 German Empire-the Bismarckian empire-but this approach presupposes simple answers to some very complex questions. Why was there no unified German state until late in the nineteenth century? How did Germany become an industrial power? What did this mean for German women and for German men? What responsibility does Germany bear for two world wars? For the barbarism of the Third Reich? In attempting to answer such questions, many observers focused on Germany's difference from other nations, on the Sonderweg, or "special path," of German development. At some point, they argued, Germany diverged from the normal course of modern history, with tragic results. Germany was either a land without foundation or a land that had destroyed its foundations.
Who are the "Germans"? The answer is as difficult as the definition of Germany itself. The present German government attempts to solve the problem by granting citizenship to anyone of "German blood," and by placing severe restrictions on citizenship for those not of German blood. The legal definition of citizenship, as we will see, is racial and based on a law passed shortly before the First World War. Membership in the German community is taken to mean the inheritance of language, that is, descent from German-speaking people. But this is really no solution. Over the centuries language has been no guide, for many of the subjects of the Hohenzollern ruler spoke Polish, and the subjects of the Hapsburg realms spoke over a dozen different languages. In the late eighteenth century, the habitual language of many of the upper classes was French. And many of the "Germans" by "blood" scattered across Eastern Europe and the former territories of the Soviet Union today do not speak German, but rather are descended from people who may have spoken a sort of German centuries ago. Could anyone be a German who has passed through Germany, leaving a mournful echo?
What and where is "Germany"? In the eighteenth century, "Germany" meant the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation." It included nearly two thousand separate entitles, among which were the several dozen separate territories ruled by the Hohenzollern prince, who in turn had several different titles. He was subject to the emperor in the western part of his domains, and subject to the King of Poland in the east. The "King" of Prussia until the early nineteenth century was "King in Prussia." that is, he was a king in only part of his domains. The empire also included many of the territories of the Hapsburg monarch, who like the Prussian bore many different titles in addition to ruling as emperor or empress. There was also a "third Germany" of medium-sized and small states, outside of the Hohenzollern and Hapsburg realms, ranging from the Imperial Free Knights who might rule over a single landed estate, Church territories, and free cities of varying size, to substantial powers such as Saxony and Bavaria.
The wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon resulted in the end of the old empire and the creation of a new "German Confederation" of thirty-nine separate states. The Vienna settlement resulted in a substantial extension of Hohenzollern territory in the west, and the period from 1815 to 1866 was marked by the conflict Hohenzollern Prussia and Hapsburg Austria for domination of this new version of Germany. The smaller states played Prussia and Austria off against one another as best they could, and all the surviving states concentrated on organizing and integrating territories they had gained during the wars. The question of whether there was or should be a single "Germany" was one of the most contentious political issues over this entire half century. The broken pieces of Haacke's Germania recall the dilemma of which pieces of Germany should be united, and how.
Bismarck, of course, insisted that the empire he created in 1871 was "Germany," but this Germany contained substantial non-German minorities and sizable irredenta. No one ever convinced the Polish speakers in eastern Germany that they were German, and many in the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine remained stubbornly French. Additionally, many of the Germans who were included in the new empire-in Hanover, Hesse, or Bavaria, for instance-had no desire to belong to Bismarck's creation. And, of course, a very large number of Germans living in Austria and the other Hapsburg realms were not included in this version of Germany.
Nor was being "German" merely a matter of one's native tongue, even within the new empire. Women found their claims to citizenship challenged and undermined by political, legal, and economic codes. Catholics and Jews found their loyalty to the nation questioned, as did workers, who were accused by Emperor Wilhelm II of being "fellows without a fatherland." Many have argued that this failure to define the national community was one of the forces propelling Germany into the First World War.
The Bismarckian empire died in 1918, and the problems engendered by that defeat led to the greater defeat of 1945. Among those problems was the definition of what was Germany and who was a German. In the Polish Corridor, in Silesia, and in Austria, there were violent conflicts over whether or not these territories were to form part of Germany or not. Austria, the remnant of the western portion of the Hapsburg Empire, voted to join Germany in 1919, but was forbiddened to do so by the victorious Allies despite their professed adherence to the principle of national self-determination. In 1937, a now very reluctant Austria was forcibly annexed by a new Nazi Germany as part of an attempt to create a "Greater German Empire."
Weimar Germany also proved unable to create a definition of the national community that could comfortably include women, workers, or religious minorities. The national community envisaged by the Nazi leadership, though supposedly including all Germans, in fact excluded many persons who considered themselves to be German-in particular the German Jews, defined in Nazi racial theory as something less than human. The Holocaust-the attempt by the Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people-because it seems so monstrous and so incomprehensible, is the event that has led to the impassioned debate over the special path of German history. Haacke's brokened floor here could stand for the victims of Nazism, and the echoes of the feet of the visitors in the present for the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves.
The Nazi version of Germany collapse in 1945 into heaps of broken stone and concrete that were cleared by "rubble-women" (Trümmerfrauen), and Haacke's work evokes those memories as well. From 1945 to 1989 there were two Germanies and an Austria, as well as substantial German minorities in other countries. Then suddenly "Germany" was "reunited." But this new version of Germany did not include the Germans of Austria and other countries, and it was far from including all the territories that had been included in previous versions of Germany-the western third of Poland was consisted of territories that had been ruled by the Hohenzollerns since the mid-eighteenth century. Again, a more optimistic reading of Germania might see the rubble as the prelude to the construction of more lasting foundations, but a more ominous interpretation could view these as pieces of some new version of a greater Germany waiting to be forced together once again.
The broader significance of the "German question": modernization, industrialization, and nationalism
The problem of defining the Germans, and the problem of defining Germany, reflects the fact that the most important questions of modern history have been directly affected by what has happened in this region of central Europe. German history has had an obvious impact on the shaping of the modern world. The rise of Prussia and the decline of Austria reflected competition among national groups and the rise of new national states. The instability resulting from the creation of the Bismarckian empire was one of the contributing causes of the outbreak of the First World War, and the outcome of the First World War in turn paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the "German question" played a central role in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, and in the emergence of the European Union.
On a deeper level, however, the world historical impact of the German history can also be read as an exemplification of the main social problems of the past two centuries, problems that continue to affect us today. These can be grouped under three broad headings: modernization, industrialization, and nationalism. Cutting across all three headings are the linked questions of gender, class, and ethnic relations, and the creation of personal identity in a modern and in a postmodern world. In all of these areas and across these linking axes, Germany has been seen as a paradoxical combination of success and failure. Sometimes Germany has been portrayed as a link between "Western" and "Eastern" European patterns of development, and sometimes as a curious amalgam of "backward" and "modern," but in any case German history has been read as going along a separate and distinctive path, a Sonderweg.
There are many aspects of Germany that can be seen as forming a middle way between Western European "democratic" traditions and Eastern European "autocratic" traditions. Germany can be seen as somewhere in the middle of a scale of modern nationalisms. Germany also has been seen as an important example of the use of nationalism and state power as a means to achieve modernization and industrialization, for instance in the work of many economic historians such as W.O. Henderson.
Historians' concern with modernization, sometimes portrayed as "Westernization" or more narrowly as "Americanization," emerged from the sociological conceptions of Talcott Parsons. Drawing on Parsons, in the 1960s sociologists, political scientists, and historians argued that societies moved toward a standard pattern that included industrialization and urbanization, greater political participation, and a tendency to evaluate persons on the basis of individual merit rather than birth. The process of modernization, these scholars held, created greater class mobility and eliminated bars based upon race, religion, or ethnicity. From the perspective of gender relations, this included an expectation that sex segregation and discrimination in all its forms would decline.
When social scientists and historians look at Germany, however, the country was frequently regarded as having achieved only incomplete modernization, as combining some aspects of modernity with persistent habits inherited from a pre-modern past. In a comparative framework, they argued, this might simply reflect the dangers and tensions inherent in the modernization process, but because of the centrality of Germany in modern history, Germany's failure to modernize completely took on truly tragic overtones. The works of the émigré historian Hans Rosenberg argued along these lines. Produced during his exile in the United States, they influenced a generation of British and American historians in the 1950s, and then a new generation of West German historians in the 1960s. Political scientists reached broadly similar conclusions and remained pessimistic about the chances for true democratization in West Germany. From the 1970s, specialists in women's history also noted the persistence of gender-linked attitudes in German society and politics.
The "German question," intellectual history, and the history of history
Concern for the German question also reflects the position of Germany at the center of European intellectual history. Discussion by German thinkers has deeply influenced the course of development of the entire range of intellectual disciplines.
Excerpted from A History of Modern Germany since 1815 by Frank B. Tipton Copyright © 2003 by Frank B. Tipton . Excerpted by permission.
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