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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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Introduction

Politics and Power After the 2017 Bundestag Election

Eric Langenbacher

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Eric Langenbacher

The Federal Republic of Germany—both before and after 1989—has been influenced deeply by collective memories of the Nazi period and the Holocaust, a seemingly "unmasterable past." In a first phase after unification, memory trends, which had their origin in the mid 1980s, continued, but a second period, beginning around the 1999 move of the capital back to Berlin, however, witnessed the erosion of this older trend and the delayed rise of new memory dynamics. Substantively, there have been three vectors of memory concerning Nazi crimes, German suffering, and the period of division, especially regarding the German Democratic Republic. In this article, I outline the major collective memory dynamics and debates, first from a qualitative and then from a more quantitative perspective where I analyze the holdings of the German National Library. I conclude that an intense period of memory work characterized the postunification years, but the peak of concern was reached several years ago and the German future will be much less beholden to the past. Given inevitable normalizing trends and the unintended consequences of the hegemony of Holocaust memory, Germany's difficult historical legacy increasingly appears to be disappearing or even mastered.

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Eric Langenbacher

Are collective memories currently changing in the land where the

“past won’t go away?” Long dominated by memory of the Holocaust

and other Nazi-era crimes, Germany recently witnessed the emergence

of another memory based on the same period of history, but

emphasizing German suffering. Most commentators stress the novelty

and catharsis of these discussions of supposedly long-repressed

and unworked-through collective traumas and offer predominantly

psychoanalytic explanations regarding why these memories only

now have surfaced. However, thanks to “presentist” myopia, ideological

blinders, and the theoretical/political effects of Holocaust

memory, much of this discourse is misplaced because these Germancentered

memories are emphatically not new. A reexamination of

the evolution of dominant memories over the postwar period in the

Federal Republic of Germany is necessary in order to understand

and contextualize more fully these current debates and the changes

in dominant memories that may be occurring—tasks this article takes

up by utilizing the memory regime framework.

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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 and Friederike Eigler

Is "memory fatigue" setting in? One often hears this question in regards to Germans whenever another Holocaust-centered or Nazi era memory event erupts. But, one also increasingly hears this question about intellectuals and scholars in the humanities. Political scientists, lamentably, never really got into the study of memory in the first place. As an overly qualitative phenomenon the study of collective memory was impervious to dominant quantitative or rationalist methodologies in the discipline. Like culture more generally, it was considered either a default category or an irrelevant factor for the core of political analysis—interests and institutions—and was best left to the humanities or sociology. Others have argued that memory never really mattered at all for the vast majority of Germans who are interested in the consumerist present or for a proper understanding of the political system. At the most, it concerned only a small circle of the German elite and media such as the feuilleton section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Spiegel, and, certain German studies centers and journals in the USA.

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Eric Langenbacher, Bill Niven, and Ruth Wittlinger

As the inestimable Harold Wilson once put it, “a week is a long

time in politics.” Certainly, the evolution of collective memory and

scholarship devoted to it is much slower than the pace of day-to-day

politics. Yet, there are periods of rapid change—of paradigm shifts

even—where the landscape shifts rapidly over a relatively short

period of time. This special issue, we think, captures one of these

periods of rapid change. Compared to the last special thematic issue

of German Politics and Society from 20051 and even compared to

many books published in the last few years, the state of collective

memory in Germany appears very different today. Most prominently,

Holocaust-centered memory is foregrounded to a much

lesser extent than previously.