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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

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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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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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.