|25th anniversary of German reunification in New York (©German Consulate)|
|Somewhere in united Germany ©dpa. |
The picture clearly marks the former border between East and West Germany.
As a young boy I was impressed by a stamp issued in 1900 when I read Seid, einig, einig, einig. What an issue in my early youth when even the Austrians belonged to the Third Reich. During twelve long years there was unity but neither justice nor freedom.
The motif of the old stamp, known among philatelists as Nord und Süd, was borrowed from Adolf Werner's painting Viktoria showing two Teutonic-looking guys, one from the Alps, the other from the Baltic Sea, shaking hands. Strangely enough it was the founder of the Second Reich, Bismarck, who on several occasions jeopardized German unity by making several groups second-class citizens such as Catholics or Socialists.
The German painter William Pape placed Kaiser Wilhelm II with his funny helmet in the middle of an eerie scene. Imperial crown and orb are bedded on two cushions while an assembly of old men attending the ceremony is looking somewhat bored.
Forty-two years and two months later and following Austria's Anschluss the message had changed to a godless: Ein Volk, Ein [Drittes] Reich, Ein Führer.
The First Reich carried the bombastic name Holy Roman Empire but was nothing else than a colossus standing on feet of clay. The Reich was composed of a conglomeration of mostly powerful duchies, prince-bishoprics, and "free" imperial cities with the emperor holding together what in 1667 the expert in constitutional law Samuel von Pufendorf described in his book De statu imperii Germanici as einen unregelmäßigen und einem Monstrum ähnlichen Staatskörper (an erratic body politic similar to a monstrosity).
In the 16th century the Reich was more precisely called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation although many of the emperor's subjects did not speak German at all and those who did preferred to communicate in their local dialects. Tribes that spoke vernacular Low German were not easily understood by those speaking High German dialects and vice versa.
An emperor lacking money and soldiers has no real power. A good example is Habsburg's Ferdinand II, so poor that at the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War he had to beg his rich Catholic cousin, the Bavarian Duke Maximilian, for troops to fight the Protestants in Bohemia.
Nearly two centuries later in 1792 and impressed by the chauvinistic outbreak in France during the Revolution Christoph Martin Wieland remarked: Wer das deutsche Reich aufmerksam durchwandert, lernt zwar nach und nach Österreicher, Brandenburger, Sachsen, Pfälzer, Baiern, Hessen, Württemberger, usw. mit etlichen hundert kleineren … Völkerschaften, aber keine Deutschen kennen … Jeder von dieser ungeheurn Menge Staaten im Staat hat seinen eigenen kleinen Gemeingeist …; was Wunder also, wenn Gleichgiltigkeit und Kälte gegen allgemeines Nationalinteresse … den Fremden als ein Charakterzug der Deutschen auffällt (A contemporary attentively wandering the German Reich will successively meet Austrians, Brandenburgers, Saxons, Palatines, Bavarians, Hessians, Württembergers, and in addition several other smaller peoples but no Germans. Strangers are stunned and regard the general indifference to national consciousness as being a German trait).
It is still true. When I am asked in a foreign country "Where are you from" I answer rather Freiburg than Germany adding sometimes Black Forest.
Napoleon's invasion of Germany gave birth to considerable subliminal German nationalism. Goethe and Schiller stricken by France's aggression preferred to ask the following salient question in their Xenie:
Deutschland? Aber wo liegt es?
Ich weiß das Land nicht zu finden,
Wo das gelehrte beginnt, hört das politische auf ...
Zur Nation euch zu bilden, ihr hoffet es, Deutsche vergebens;
Bildet, ihr könnt es, dafür freier zu Menschen euch aus.
Germany? But where is it?
I do not know where to look for the country,
Where the educated [Germany] starts, the political ends ...
Germans, your hope of building a nation is vain;
Form yourself freely into human beings instead, you know how to do it.
Following the Napoleonic era the Congress of Vienna gave birth to a Deutscher Bund binding all German-speaking states into one loose confederation. The old pre-Napoleonic structures had simply been restored so Heinrich Heine sarcastically wrote:
Und als ich auf dem Sankt Gotthard stand,
da hörte ich Deutschland schnarchen:
Es schlief da unten in guter Hut
von sechsunddreißig Monarchen.
While I stood on the Saint Gotthard Pass
I heard my Germany snoring.
It was sleeping below and well cared for
by thirty-six monarchs.
The revolution of 1848/49 was a chance but failed to create a German Republic. One of the reasons was that the revolutionaries wanted too much too soon. Freedom from the yoke of the princes, no internal German borders, and unity of all Germans.
Remember France. Following the Revolution of 1789 republics replaced kingdoms and once an empire even a republic but the country always stood united. At the end France's motto remained: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, in that order.
Bismarck's Second Reich was nothing else than a poor ersatz for a German republic. The new Reich had no real democratic foundation and eventually failed following Germany's defeat in 1918.
The Weimar Republic, an attempt at democracy that followed, was not popular among people used to living in an authoritarian state.* So the republic was easily blown away by Hitler's Third Reich ending in another defeat, this time total, and in the division of Germany. Now Germany's dividing line ran not west-east but north-south from the Baltic Sea to the Alps forming part of the Iron Curtain.
*Look at Russia: In 1917 the people mostly farmers and industrial workers suffering under the czarist lash revolted in the October Revolution. However their jumping out of the frying pan ended up in the fire of the dictatorship of the proletariat with Stalin being the new red czar. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s there were tender beginnings of democracy in the Russian Federation although presently President Putin certainly is not a flawless democrat his Duzfreund (good friend) Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, once praised him. Apparently the Russians unaccustomed to democratic rule need a firm hand.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain opened in the fall of 1989 a few Germans and many foreigners were opposed to a unified Germany echoing François Mauriac's famous words: J’aime tellement l’Allemagne que je suis heureux qu’il y en ait deux (I love Germany so much that I'm glad there are two of them).
The late Günter Grass, Nobel Prize winner for literature, advocated two German states too when he declared: Da wir, gemessen an unserer Veranlagung, keine Nation bilden können, da wir, belehrt durch geschichtliche Erkenntnis und unserer kulturellen Vielgestalt bewußt, keine Nation bilden sollten, müssen wir endlich den Föderalismus als einzige Chance begreifen (According to our predisposition, as historical insight teaches us, and aware of our cultural diversity, we are unable to form one nation and therefore should not form one. We must finally understand federalism as the only chance).
How true. The West German Federal Republic (BRD) just had to wait until the districts of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were restructured into new federal states. The neue Bundesländer were formed following historical borders so that the other Nobel Prize winner Willy Brandt eventually stated: Nun wächst zusammen, was zusammengehört (What belongs together will now coalesce).
A marked federalism is the magic formula for the united Germany
Following 25 years of a united Germany have we become one people? Possibly we are doing as well as the 50 United States and even better than Spain and the UK with their Catalans and Scots seeking some sort of independence. Although Bavarians are somewhat special a popular vote on their separation from the Federal Republic would fail. Even the former critics of a unified Germany could not deny that the country is a success story in spite of some hiccups.
I started this special blog with some stamps. Here are a few more:
|The first all-German stamp: October 3, 1990: It was issued jointly by the Deutsche Bundespost (BRD) |
and Deutsche Post (GDR) but it is marked Deutsche Bundespost.