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Introduction

Merkeldämmerung

Eric Langenbacher

Abstract

The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) and the Social Democratic Party (spd)—and the rise of the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?

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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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Introduction

The Thirtieth Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Unification

Eric Langenbacher

It sometimes seems that Germany is a country perpetually caught in the past. There are so many anniversaries that some sort of tracker is necessary to remember them all. Commemorations in 2019 included the seventieth anniversaries of the foundation of the Federal Republic and the formation of the NATO alliance, the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, the 100th anniversaries of the Treaty of Versailles, the foundation of the Weimar Republic, and German women achieving the right to vote. In 2020, important commemorations include the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the 250th anniversaries of Beethoven’s and Hegel’s birth, as well as the 100th anniversary of the HARIBO company that invented gummi bears.

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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 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.