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Tschüss, Perfidious Albion

German Reactions to Brexit

Eric Langenbacher

Abstract

Observers across Europe and the world were shocked when British voters decided in June 2016 to leave the European Union. Since the Brexit decision, British politics have been in disarray and the government’s incoherent negotiation positions have created much economic and political uncertainty. Germans and others have had to formulate policy based on assumptions and predictions. Despite slightly different emphases, all mainstream German parties have endorsed a harder line rejecting British efforts to cherry pick the most desirable aspects of a relationship with the eu. This stance accords with the preferences of European Union actors and the vast majority of member states. Moreover, the likely effects on the German economy will not be catastrophic. Thus, as much as Germans prefer that the uk remain in the eu, there is also little desire to accommodate British demands—and there may even be a sense of relief.

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Eric Langenbacher

Jörg Friedrich, Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkreig 1940-1945 (Munich: Propyläen Verlag, 2002)

Günther Grass, Crabwalk (Orlando: Harcourt, 2002)

W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (New York: Random House, 2003)

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Eric Langenbacher

Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, eds., The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Jan-Werner Müller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

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Eric Langenbacher

I recall a conversation from a while back with a colleague. He was

disdainful of German politics, stating that they are ponderous, lackluster,

even boring. He prefers to follow Italian politics because of

the intrigue, emotion, and, most of all, the drama. Although forced

to agree at the time that the contrast between the two countries

could not be greater, I was also immediately reminded of the old

(apocryphal) Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.”

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Eric Langenbacher

Over the six decades since the demise of the Nazi regime, thousands of pages have been written about the genocide of European Jews in almost every genre and intellectual forum. Eva Hoffman even concludes that "the Holocaust is the most documented event in history" (192). Nevertheless, the magnitude and complexity of the trauma and its aftereffects—on survivors, their descendents and the political cultures of many countries—left numerous lacunae and taboos that surrounded discourse and scholarship. Only relatively recently have more unconstrained questions been possible and various silences exposed. The three books examined in this review essay all contribute to the ongoing quest for comprehension, delving expertly into previously unexamined issues, while revealing how much still remains to work through the defining event of the 20th century.

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Eric Langenbacher

Before the series of 60th anniversary commemorations of the end of the Holocaust, Nazism and World War II in 2005, the big development regarding German collective memories and political culture was the resurgence of memories of German suffering. Contrary to the opinions of prominent observers like W.G. Sebald, this memory, linked to events from the end and immediate aftermath of World War II, is not a repressed or only recently discovered trauma. Rather, the current discussions signal the return of a memory that was culturally hegemonic in the early postwar decades. Nevertheless, the circumstances surrounding this return differ significantly from the postwar situation in which this memory first flourished in three main ways. The altered environment greatly affects both the reception and potential institutionalization of such memory, which could lead to deep political cultural changes.

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Eric Langenbacher

Micha Brumlik, Hajo Funke and Lars Rensmann, Umkämpftes Vergessen: Walser-Debatte, Holocaust-Mahnmal und neuere deutsche Geschichtspolitik (Berlin: Verlag Das Arabische Buch, 2000)

Robert G. Moeller, War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

Klaus Naumann, Der Krieg als Text: Das Jahr 1945 im kulturellen Gedächtnis der Presse (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1998) Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: The Nazi Past in the New Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000)

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Eric Langenbacher

Germany-watchers and many Germans have long been sour about the unified country. Often for well-founded reasons, there are few policy or cultural areas that have not been subjected to withering criticism: failed integration of immigrants, an antiquated political economy, insufficient coming-to-terms with the past, atrophied parties, or lackluster foreign policy. Nevertheless, the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall and unification is an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of contemporary Germany—export champion, environmental pioneer, cultural leader, and staunch multilateral European. Despite all of the problems of the last twenty years and the daunting challenges ahead, perhaps Germans can dare some cautious optimism and even a sense of pride.

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Eric Langenbacher

Not once during the campaign—or actually over the whole course of the

seventeenth Bundestag (2009-2013)—was it ever really in doubt that Angela

Merkel would continue as chancellor after the 22 September 2013 parliamentary

election. Despite the vicissitudes of governing for eight years, most

in the midst of the financial and Euro crisis, she has achieved and sustained

some of the highest approval ratings of any postwar German politician. Voters

trust Merkel as a good manager of the economy and an honest steward

and defender of German interests in Europe. Her carefully cultivated image

as a steady, reassuring, and incorruptible leader, coupled with her political

acumen, ideological flexibility and, at times, ruthlessness—captured in the

dueling monikers of Mutti Merkel and Merkelavelli1—are the keys to her

profound success.

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Introduction

Politics and Power After the 2017 Bundestag Election

Eric Langenbacher