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Successful Transformation or Failed Transition: ‘United Germany’ Presents Lively Debate

East meets West in United Germany: Debating Processes and Prospects, to be published this month, a collection of works that compares and contrasts German sentiments since the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly a quarter of a century ago. Editor Konrad Jarausch answers questions about the collection and the roots of his passion for the subject.

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What drew you to the study of Germany’s re-unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

 

Since we had just bought an apartment at the Bayerischer Platz in Schöneberg during the summer of 1989, I was able to witness a good deal of the “peaceful revolution” firsthand. Moreover, as co-chair of an IREX commission of GDR and U.S. historians I became personally involved in the transition difficulties of my East German colleagues. After so many decades of Cold War stagnation, it seemed that history had returned with a vengeance – posing a challenge for explanation which I could not resist.

 

What aspects of this work are likely to be controversial to other scholars working in the field?

 

The book supports neither a simple Western narrative of successful transformation nor the Eastern story of failed transition, but rather presents a debate between these two viewpoints, mediated by U.S. scholars who are less directly affected. Moreover, it is a blend of essays from political science, economics, sociology, literature and history – and will therefore not please those readers who are wedded to one of those approaches alone.

 

 

What inspired your love of your subject?

 

Since I was born on the day of the declaration of the Atlantic Charter during World War II, I could not escape from German history. Moreover, my father died in January 1942 in Russia, and the brother of my mother, Franz Petri, was a controversial member of the military administration in Belgium. Growing up in the ruins of post-war Germany posed the inevitable question of why so many buildings were “kaput”:  so many people had fled from the East and so many men were missing.

 

 

What’s a talent or hobby you have that your colleagues would be surprised to learn about?

 

In my younger years I was a professional ski instructor and am still skiing downhill and cross-country in the High Sierras and the Swiss Alps. Also I enjoy playing American and German folk songs on my guitars in Chapel Hill and Berlin.

 

 

Is there one iconic figure, living or dead, who has been featured in one way or another in your field of research for whom you have particular admiration and why? 

 

My Jewish mentors Theodore S. Hamerow and George L. Mosse as well as friends Gerhard Weinberg and Werner T. Angress taught me the meaning of tolerance. My German colleagues Christoph Klessmann, Jürgen Kocka and Martin Sabrow showed me how much Germany has changed during the past half-century.

 

 

If you were going to edit the collection all over again, knowing what you know today, what would you do differently?

 

I might contrast the East German transition via unification a bit more to the even more difficult but self-directed transformation of the East European neighbors.

 

 

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Konrad H. Jarausch is the Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Senior Fellow of the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam. He has written or edited about forty books, spanning topics such as the First and Second World War, German students and professionals, the development of the GDR, post-war German history, and debates about historical methods and historiography. Some of the recent titles include After Hitler (2005), Reluctant Accomplice (2011), and volume 3 of the Geschichte der Humboldt Universität 1945-2000 (2012).