Germany: A House Divided (ca, 1984)

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Germany: A House Divided (ca, 1984)


A House Divided  Germany's fate today seems to be a focal point for the divisions and animosities which plague Western Europe. The country has been torn to pieces — literally and figuratively — by the postwar rift between East and West. Even detente has done little more than whet, and then frustrate, the German's hopes for eventual reunion.

At the moment, there is not one Germany, but three. Most familiar to Americans is the German Federal Republic (West Germany), which covers about half of pre-war Germany. Its population, at 65 million, is the largest. The West German capital is Bonn, although West Germans still cling to the belief that Berlin will always be the "legitimate" capital of Germany.

To the east is the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), formerly the old Soviet Zone of Occupation, which covers about 1/4 of Germany's pre-war territory. After the soviets established their client regime in Pankow, a suburb of East Berlin, approximately 13 million Germans fled from east to west, bringing their local dialects, mannerisms, and thrifty habits with them. That left East Germany with a dwindled population of 17 million. But by making a major effort, the East Germans have boosted their economy to put it among the world's top 10 in Gross National Product.

In addition to East and West Germany, there are lands farther east, including the old provinces of Pomerania, East Prussia, and parts of Silesia, which were put under "temporary" Russian and Polish administration after World War II. Much of the native German population was either deported to Soviet labor camps, or fled westward, and these territories today are largely unpopulated or else sparsely settled by Russian and Polish farmers. There is little hope that the "lost lands" to the east will ever be reunified with the German homeland.

The German Federal Republic  The German Federal Republic, or West Germany, came into being on August 14, 1949, when the Western Allies (the U.S., Britain, and France) fused their zones of occupation to create a single state. A general election was held, and representatives were selected for the Bundestag or Federal Parliament — a pattern that has continued smoothly and without interruption ever since.

The Western German political system is constituted along "parliamentary" rather than "presidential" lines, since its president has only ceremonial status. The Prime Minister, or "Chancellor," who enjoys real power, is simply the head of the party in power, not elected separately as in the U.S. The two major political parties which have emerged since the war are the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. The latter's great architect and spiritual leader was Konrad Adenauer, der Alte (the Old One). For two decades after the war, the Christian Democrats enjoyed political supremacy. Adenauer's successor, Ludwig Erhardt, brought Germany's Economic Miracle to new and dizzying heights, and he became known affectionately as der Dicke (the Fat One). But the popularity of the Social Democrats, led by Willi Brandt, began to swell as the first signs of recession set in. Brandt became Chancellor in 1969, but was later forced to resign because of an espionage scandal in his administration.

The State System  West Germany is divided into ten states or Länder (lands), some of them historic provinces, some artificially created when the Federal Republic was founded. Hesse is one most Americans have heard of: it's a historic province which contributed its soldiers, the famous "Hessians," to the British side during America's War of Independence. The largest and best known of all the states is Bavaria (Bayern in German); it was enlarged to its present huge size by Napoleon, who tended to favor the Bavarians.

Deutschland über Alles: Most of these federal states used to be independent countries, their borders rearranged countless times as a result of peace treaties, conquest, and royal marriages. It is only recently that "Germany" has meant anything more than a loose connection of dukedoms, feudal estates, and tiny principalities. For centuries, the idea of a united Germany was only a dream of nationalist poets and anthem-writers. The title of Germany's (informal) national anthem, Deutschland über Alles (Germany Over All), which is widely misunderstood to mean "over all" other countries in Europe, was actually meant to idealize the unity of Germany as a nation over all petty local and provincial interests. That dream became a reality on January 18, 1871, when King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed the first Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Prussians had just defeated the French, and were now strong enough to impose national unity on the smaller, quarrelsome states which made up the rest of Germany.

The second German Emperor, Wilhelm II, was the famous "Kaiser" who led Germany in World War I. But he lacked the wise and prudent guidance of Bismarck, whom he dismissed as Chancellor shortly after assuming the throne. That impulsive gesture characterized his policy thereafter, and it led inevitably to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.

The Holy Roman Empire  But the roots of that conflict go even deeper. Germany's military ambitions in the 10th century were really a compensation for years of political "inferiority feeling." Spain, Poland, Russia, France, and Britain were all unified and powerful nations. But Germany was little more than a collection of mini-states. Any of the larger powers could prey on these states at will — and did. In 1689, for example, Louis XIV of France plundered the Rhine- land-Palatinate and burned many of Heidelberg's priceless houses.

But why did Germany come to be partitioned in the first place? The reason is that virtually all of Europe was such a patchwork of states during the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, French-, Spanish-, or Polish-speaking peoples began to feel themselves part of a larger nation, based on language and ethnic kinship. But the Germans continued to identify themselves with the Holy Roman Empire, which covered most of Germany, northern Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. The Holy Roman Empire was Germany, but since it was based on a royal dynasty rather than on language and ethnic solidarity, it never could function as a nation. After Napoleon dissolved the Empire, Germany was left once again with its scattered provinces and dukedoms. The Germans had gambled on the Empire — and lost.

It is natural that a feeling of hostility and suspicion should mark Germany's relations with the other powers of Europe, and that strong military force became an ideal intertwined with the ideal of nationhood itself. A united Germany came to mean an armed Germany.

Once Germany had become united, in 1871, such military ambitions had already served their purpose. But old habits die hard; suspicion continued to shape German foreign policy. Then came the humiliation of the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) and a revival of the feeling of being surrounded by hostile neighbors. This was the popular sentiment that Hitler and the Nazis were able to exploit successfully.

Germany Today  German attitudes toward the rest of the world are, today, the precise opposite of what they have traditionally been. Germany is about the most "international" country in Europe: its people, especially the young, are much more familiar with developments in the U.S. than are their French or Spanish counterparts. British and American films, rock music, popular English expressions like "hit tune" or "movie star," and modern mass advertising have transformed German life almost beyond recognition. Some fear that Germany's local traditions and even its sense of national identity is being swallowed up in a homogeneous, mass-media culture.

Politically, West Germany is allied with the West, and its economy is indissolubly linked with those of the other common Market members. Its psychological ties will always be with Britain, France, and the U.S. But a question mark hangs over Germany: towns, families, farms have been divided, and there seems little prospect for reunification as long as Soviet power determines the geopolitics of Europe. A divided Germany, after all, serves the Soviets' permanent interests.

Facts and Figures  West Germany has an area of 95,000 square miles, about the size of Great Britain and Ireland combined. The country runs 500 miles north and south, and can be crossed in two days' driving on the Autobahns. A good 30% of the West German people live in cities with over 300,000 inhabitants, and there are more than 50 cities with a population of 100,000, making the Germans the most "urbanized" people in Europe.

The land is rich in coal, used by the Common Market countries. Germany is the world's 4th largest coal producer. It's third in steel (after the U.S. and the Soviet Union), and fourth in overall industrial output (behind the U.S., USSR, and Japan). You may think that Germany is one huge power plant — and in many respects it is. But it doesn't look like one, since Germans take great pains to conceal their industrial works as much as possible. In even the largest cities, parks, gardens, woods, and lakes are all carefully set aside; and smog regulations keep pollution down to a minimum. In this respect, the Germans have got their priorities straight.


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