Germany was the last nation to respect itself

Berlin Republic

Frank Brunssen

To person

Dr. phil., born 1957; Lecturer in German Contemporary History at the University of Liverpool, Great Britain.

address: University of Liverpool, Department of German, Chatham Street, Liverpool L69 7ZR, UK.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications i.a.: The absurd in Günter Grass' literature of the eighties, Würzburg 1997; numerous contributions to contemporary German history.

The revolution in the GDR and German unification mark a central turning point in recent German history. It has led to a change in how Germany sees itself.


The revolution in the GDR and the unification of the two German states mark a central turning point in recent German history. Since then, all ideas, all conceptions, all views that previously determined the decades of the Cold War have been in need of revision [1]. One of the most important changes from the divided nation to the Berlin Republic concerns the self-image of Germans, that is, the way in which people see themselves and want to be seen by others.

In the post-war period and the two-state decades, the view of German history was shaped by the fundamental turning point in 1945; the year marked the actual fixed point of German historical observation. For many Germans, 1945 was initially seen as the collapse of the nation, then understood by intellectuals as a break in civilization and finally, since the mid-1980s, primarily understood by those born afterwards as liberation from National Socialism. Due to the singularity of German crimes, the Hitler dictatorship was not infrequently viewed as a catastrophic culmination point or even as a synonym for German history par excellence. Both the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic therefore endeavored from the outset to justify their democratic self-image and their historical legitimacy by resolutely negating their historical predecessor, the Third Reich.

With the upheaval of 1989/90, this form of looking at history was subjected to a re-evaluation, which led to a remarkable shift in perspective: The historiographical fixation on 1945 was relaxed in favor of a more affirmative perception of the Federal Republic, whose fifty-year existence is now considered a "success story" by numerous Germany experts [2 ] is understood. This reading was interpreted by prominent critics such as Jürgen Habermas as a new "historical punctuation" [3], which revisionists are striving for with the intention of relativizing the turning point of 1945 in order to establish an uncritical normality in unified Germany.