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  • Germany After Unification: Normal at Last?
  • A. James McAdams *(bio)
Daedalus123 ( Winter1994). Special issue entitled “Germany in Transition,” 284 pp.
Marc Fisher. After the Wall: Germany, the Germans, and the Burdens of History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, 366 pp.
Timothy Garton Ash. In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, 680 pp.
Jürgen Habermas. The Past as Future. Interviewed by Michael Haller, edited by Max Pensky. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994, 185 pp.
David Marsh. Germany and Europe: The Crisis of Unity. London: Heinemann, 1994, 236 pp.

We [Germans] must accept the normalization of our situation as a reunified sovereign nation and deduce from this our international role.

—German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel

There is no German dream. There is only a German nightmare. People talk about returning to normalcy now that the Wall is down. What does “normalcy” mean in German history? And what does “return” mean?

—Norbert Gansel

It is hard to think of a group of contemporary politicians more obsessed with debating their state’s normalcy than the Germans. 1With [End Page 282]the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the unification of the two German states one year later in October 1990, the theme of normalcy has been an undercurrent to just about every significant policy debate in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). 2Germany’s leaders have argued about whether the restoration of their prewar capital in Berlin will help to overcome the long-standing provisionality of the old Bonn republic. The major political parties have battled over whether the FRG’s recovery of full national sovereignty should entitle, or perhaps even oblige, the government to play a more active role in world affairs. During the 1995 ceremonies commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, some politicians even sought to rewrite history by portraying their country not only as a perpetrator of the conflict but also as a victim of both Hitler’s crimes and the Nazi defeat. 3

In a world in which many states would prefer to justify their entitlement to special treatment by underscoring their exceptionality, the Germans’ obsession with wanting to be perceived as “just like everybody else” may look anomalous. Those who follow German politics, however, will recognize this pursuit of normalcy as a central theme for many of the FRG’s leading politicians that dates back many years, to before the Wall’s fall. Thus, for example, shortly before assuming office in 1982, Chancellor Helmut Kohl proclaimed that his generation was entitled to focus its attention upon the future, because it enjoyed the benefit of having come after Hitler’s tyranny, “the grace,” as he called it, “of [End Page 283]being born late” (“die Gnade der späten Geburt”). 4Unlike their predecessors, younger Germans were supposedly no longer as burdened with the sins of the Nazi past. 5In like fashion, the chairman of the chancellor’s parliamentary party, Alfred Dregger, declared that it was time for all Germans “to come out of Hitler’s shadow—we must become normal.” 6In the mid-1980s, in a widely publicized debate known as the Historikerstreit(historians’ conflict), some of Germany’s most prominent historians went so far as to challenge the notion that their nation had ever been any less normal than its neighbors. Downplaying the uniqueness of the Holocaust, they sought instead to highlight the positive aspects of German history and thereby link their nation’s prewar identity to the present. 7

Of course, normalcy is an elusive concept, and it is not hard to see why comparativists might be reluctant to use such a standard to characterize the politics of contemporary Germany. Is the Federal Republic behaving more normally when it attempts to take advantage of its newly acquired strengths as a unified nation to acquire greater power and influence over its European neighbors? If so, Bonn’s controversial decision in December 1991 to force its allies’ hands by establishing diplomatic ties with the breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia would appear entirely normal. Or, by another definition, is the FRG exhibiting normalcy when...

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