Book Reviews

in German Politics and Society

David D. Kim, Cosmopolitan Parables: Trauma and Responsibility in Contemporary Germany (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017).

Reviewed by Helga Druxes, German, Williams College

Germanist David D. Kim defines world citizenship as “an ethical habit of mind in which we see our lives bound to others both near and far.” (11) Post unification leftist novels by Hans Christoph Buch, Michael Krüger, and W. G. Sebald invite their readers to engage with their difficult inheritance of remembered genocidal trauma “at the crossroads of various postimperial trajectories,” (9) with the goal of discovering transnational solidarities. Kim posits that postunification Germany’s struggle to articulate a new national understanding beyond the binary grand narratives of communism versus capitalism opened up for these authors a new awareness of intercultural and transnational entanglements and historical echoes reaching back to even older German colonial guilt. Beyond juxtaposing narratives of Germans with those of Jews, these authors complicate the arena of memory culture by addressing the unequal legacies of colonialism and the utopian agendas of unfulfilled left-wing sentiments. Kim’s work is of interest not only to readers in German Studies, but those interested in postcolonial studies and Jewish Studies.

A great strength of this study is the laying out of different, sometimes warring approaches in the longue durée of cosmopolitanism ranging from Appiah, to Gilroy and Nussbaum, Edward Said and Homi Bhabha to Butler, Lionnet and Cheah to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. Selective amnesia towards postcolonial suffering in Asia, Latin America, or the Indian Ocean has encouraged a Eurocentric fixation on the Holocaust as the paradigmatic genocidal event. This willful myopia prevents mass murder in areas of the world judged to be of less strategic importance to the West from commanding humanitarian and military assistance. There may be, in expert on Haitian slavery Michel Troulliot’s words, “structural similarities in global silences” (48) that invite fruitful comparison as to their continuities, in order to make room for including the lived experiences of forgotten, marginalized, or silenced subjects. Along with Said, Lionnet and Butler, Kim asks who is recognized, whose suffering is grievable, and what are the hidden politics that subtend these exclusions. Building on the concept of multidirectional memory of Jewish Studies scholar Michael Rothberg, Kim emphasizes a view of the past that is “critically relational.” (56)

In the case of postunification Germany, this meant that leftist intellectuals not only placed the Nazi past in relation to that of the communist regime, but newly understood Germany’s colonial past (for example in Namibia) as an integral extension of these concerns over restitution and political responsibility. In addition, inspired by postcolonial discourse, leftist playwrights like Heiner Müller and Christoph Schlingensief drew attention to the unequal process of unification as a process with colonial overtones.

As Kristeva shows, melancholic engagement with the world can lead to nuanced discernments of the pain of others, based in a shared sense of deep vulnerability that does not preclude resistance. Kim provides a detailed analysis of Freud and Benjamin’s work on melancholia and melancholic aesthetics, emphasizing an intersectional space where distinct trauma narratives meet and are reconsidered from, in Jean Franco’s words, the standpoint of “defiant resistance to closure after ruin.” (100) Immersion in this space requires an allegorical mode of reading, that is, one that reactivates forgotten connections and seeks out entanglements among uneven memory cultures. Readers are capacitated by seeing these nodal points of inherited trauma to extrapolate their present responsibilities to resist triumphalist revisionary narratives of a new world order. The quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World offers one such occasion to bring out divergent memories, contrasting a heroic narrative Columbus the discoverer and civilizer with accounts of slavery, dispossession and an aftermath of government violence that reverberates into the present. Writer and war journalist Hans Christoph Buch does so by interweaving the voice of an undead Columbus with the author’s voice, revealing his own German family’s emigration history in Haiti. Buch assigns his Columbus various afterlives as a Jew forced to adopt the name Israel, who enjoys religious protection under Frederick the Great, living and dying cyclically like Halley’s comet. Eventually, he reappears in the Dominican Republic as a Spanish Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, where he is forced to confront the brutality of the Trujillo regime and the ravages of Duvalier’s dictatorship in the West of the island. Buch’s deliberately blurred narrative sheds light on repressed or unknown historical relations between Germans, Jews and Haitians by presenting histories of discrimination, exile, homelessness, statelessness and resistance.

Michael Krüger’s 1993 novel Himmelfarb explores the alliance of Richard, a Nazi ethnographer with the Jewish Holocaust refugee Himmelfarb in Brazil. Far away from Nazi Germany, where such a collaboration would be taboo, the German needs the Jew to survive, but later betrays their pact by publishing his work under his own name, adding his own amateurish admixture of colonial fantasies and invented history of the Indians. On the occasion of Richard’s eightieth birthday, Himmelfarb recontacts him to demand a reckoning. Kim skillfully interconnects this novel’s central trope of cannibalism to Columbus’s own writings about the supposed cannibalism of the Carib people, and to a Eurocentric ethnographic tradition that cannibalized and distorted the cultural practices of non-European others. Moreover, Kim refers out to the post 1989 debunking of post-war German giants such as Christa Wolf, or we might add, Grass, whose moral authority was revealed as based on a lie, or omissions of an inconvenient truth. The onus is on the contemporary reader—to question received narratives and reject fictions of national purity in favor of mixedness and entanglement. Again, a considerable delight within Kim’s geographically and culturally wide-ranging unpacking of multiply imbricated narratives is how he steers his readers back to recontemplate Freud’s and Benjamin’s notions of melancholia and storytelling.

Pairing Sebald with Benjamin is equally crucial for Kim’s reading of Rings of Saturn (1995)—a melancholic gaze on history establishes it as a “transient object for perception,” “heightening interest and action in the present world.” (170) Sebald’s mission, according to Kim, is “to expose gaps in archival history and cultural memory.” (174) The fragility of postcolonial memory entails amnesia towards past crimes unless it is militantly interrupted, by literary and philosophical reflections that render the transnationally intertwined histories of trauma accessible. Contemporary struggles with racism, recognition and reparation allow us as political subjects to gain more common ground in the context of previous haunting cases of trauma, making visible who is dispossessed, who stood to benefit, and at what cost. This kind of engagement with literature encourages readers to transcend identity-based boundaries. Kim’s eloquent study is a tour de force of twentieth and twenty-first century critical theory on cosmopolitanism, compellingly evoking literature as the domain of rigorous dialogue about the right to be remembered and the demands for future responsibility.

Johann Chapoutot, Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe’s Classical Past, trans. Richard R. Nybakken (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Christopher Thomas Goodwin, History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The intersection of antiquity and the Third Reich is not a new subject: Hitler’s pretentions of artistic antimodern aesthetics and monolithic neoclassical architecture has assured a steady stream of scholarly works from many disciplines. Most have been relatively narrowly focused, relegating the ancient Greeks and Romans to an interesting, but ultimately subsidiary influence within the Nazi worldview. In contrast, Johann Chapoutot’s monograph, a translation of the original French published in 2008, covers a much broader spectrum of antiquity in Hitler’s Germany, drawing together the academy, intellectual history, beliefs of top Nazis, architecture, art, mass events, popular publications, and school curriculum. The author successfully argues that the discourse in these domains was directed toward three purposes: glorifying the German past by appropriating Greek and Roman history; providing a model in the present for developing sound minds, aesthetic bodies, and a totalitarian state; and, presenting a cautionary example for the future that a lost racial struggle would mean the end of German civilization. An underlying theme throughout the book is the Nazi conception of historical time as nonlinear: past, present, and future were compressed, converged, and existed simultaneously.

The book is divided into three parts, each focusing on one aspect of the main argument. Part one, “Annexing Antiquity,” is the strongest section of the study. It depicts how the Nazi regime and academic community merged German and ancient history in an attempt to provide a glorious past for the Germans that extended beyond the modern or medieval eras. The backdrop is a highly interesting account of the contest for the regime’s “master narrative” of history between advocates of antiquity and Germanophiles, who emphasized the tribal prehistory of the Germans. While the latter group had an important patron in Heinrich Himmler, head of the powerful Schutzstaffel (ss), Hitler himself preferred classical aesthetics and the nineteenth-century “Indo-Germanic” theory of history that the migratory Nordic race was the progenitor of all successful ancient civilizations. Chapoutot does an excellent job of distinguishing the two positions and depicting the resulting struggle for legitimacy and official endorsement. It is, however, unclear at times whether the regime modified pre Nazi era discourse to fit national socialist beliefs or if they simply adopted the discourse in its entirety. While an extended history of the many preexisting narratives and ideologies lies outside the scope of this book, more time should have been spent distinguishing the Nazi variants.

Section Two, “Imitating Antiquity,” investigates Nazi desires to pattern individual and collective behavior according to purported antecedents in Greek and Roman history. Chapoutot advances an interesting discussion of Greek body aesthetics and the synchronic development of the mind in pursuit of “the whole man” (der volle Mensch). This was another concept originating prior to the Nazi period but, in contrast to the previous section, the author shows how the regime shaped preexisting discourse in pursuit of this ideal. A chapter on Roman rule and colonialism is notable in that it draws explicit comparisons to Nazi colonial policies with the ancient Roman example. Chapoutot emphasizes a different dimension of the regime’s colonial discourse—most previous studies focused on parallels with the medieval Teutonic Knights’ colonial drive into Eastern Europe. It is also a significant discussion because, although “Roman” appears in the book’s title, the author emphasizes the Greeks in nearly every discussion. It is not, however, for lack of presented evidence. The author offers many historical sources that refer both to the Greeks and Romans within the text, but when he discusses the quoted material, the Romans are mostly absent.

“Reliving Antiquity,” the final section of the book, covers the use of antiquity as prophecies of racial struggle and eschatological discourse. The wars of the Greeks and Romans were not simply periodic clashes with “Easterners” or the “Orient,” but were racial wars in an unending Darwinian struggle for world domination. Yet, the downfall of ancient civilizations was not defeat in a racial war, but rather the loss or dilution of Nordic blood. The Peloponnesian War, a civil war between Nordics according to the Indo-Germanic origin theory, had drained Greece of its cultural and political elite. The Romans’ Nordic elite were lost due to the immense spoils of war they collected and the resulting enervation through easy living, a veiled Nazi critique of urbanized modernity. Chapoutot’s most interesting insight, however, is his contribution to the idea that the Nazi leadership “choreographed” the catastrophic end of the regime—he goes beyond the conventional connection to Wagnerian theatrics and applies the “mythology” of the vanished civilizations of antiquity. All that remained were architectural ruins and the knowledge that their fall had precipitated a Dark Age, concepts that Hitler latched onto in the final days of his Reich. The author posits several ways Hitler attempted to create an enduring Romanesque myth such as inflexible orders against military retreat and the “Nero decree” to systematically destroy the resources and infrastructure of Germany.

Throughout the work, Chapoutot effectively uses a wide selection of primary sources to support his argument. He has consulted a large variety of scholarly articles and books written during the Third Reich as well as several newspapers with circulations greater than one million. Pamphlets distributed to the ss, Sturmabteilung (sa), and Hitler Youth show a wide dissemination of discourse on antiquity, bolstering the author’s argument that the Nazis mobilized ancient history in numerous ways. He also subjects school curricula to careful analysis, differentiating between changes implemented in 1933 and the more extensive reforms of 1938. Unfortunately, he uses Hitler’s speeches, writings, and table talks without fully explaining their effect on the construction of discourse, though it seems to be an unstated assumption that Hitler’s opinions were frequently decisive. It would have been useful to include pictures of architecture or artwork. The author often describes these items in detail, but an unfamiliar reader would have difficulty visualizing the arguments and their relationships to the material culture.

The most serious issues with his work revolve around the secondary sources. Classic studies such as Volker Losemann’s National Socialism and Antiquity (1977) are barely present, Albert Speer’s writings are used rather uncritically, and recent research is virtually absent. The author prefers Joachim Fest’s acclaimed, but outdated, 1974 biography of Hitler to Ian Kershaw’s more definitive and recent biography.1 This leads to dated assumptions about Hitler’s ideological development in relation to antisemitism during his Vienna days. The apparent lack of engagement with secondary sources bleeds into the author’s formulation of the Nazi conception of historical time, one of the work’s main theoretical foundations and its underlying theme. He concludes that the Nazis conceived of time as an eternal present, altering the contemporary vision of past and future. This could be a justifiable conclusion, and certainly lies in close proximity to recent assessments by historians such as Christopher Clark.2 Yet, he clumsily and imprecisely presents his reasoning in relation to the little theory he references. In the past several decades, scholars have spent a great deal of effort theorizing and nuancing historical temporality; from Reinhart Koselleck’s pioneering works to David Carr’s phenomenological insights, this is a field that is more fleshed out than Chapoutot’s single reference to Mircea Eliade’s 1954 Myth of the Eternal Return would lead the reader to believe.3 Consequently, the one page dedicated explicitly to this argument in the conclusion is a missed opportunity to synthesize the previous four hundred pages into a genuinely compelling thesis on Nazi conceptions of temporality.

While the author occasionally overdraws the influence of antiquity on Nazi motivations and beliefs, the book is a crucial and extensive survey of the mobilization of ancient history for the purposes of the regime. In this regard, it stands alone for boldly attempting an overview and synthesis of the existing knowledge and advancing a comprehensive argument. Furthermore, Chapoutot succeeds in arguing that the extensive appropriation of antiquity was an important strand of Nazi belief, discourse, and practice. Future scholars now have a useful structure in which to frame the endless utilization, shaping, and manifestations of antiquity during the Third Reich.


Volker Losemann, Nationalsozialismus und Antike: Studien zur Entwicklung des Faches Alte Geschichte, 1933–1945 (Hamburg, 1977); Joachim Fest, Hitler, trans. Richard Winston and Clara Winston (New York, 1974); Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 2 vols. (London, 1998–2000).


Christopher Clark, “Time of the Nazis: Past and Present in the Third Reich,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 25 (2015): 156–87.


Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (Cambridge, 1985); David Carr, Time, Narrative, and History (Bloomington, 1991); Mircea Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Recurrence: Or, Cosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York, 1954).

Kimberly Mair, Guerrilla Aesthetics: Art, Memory, and the West German Urban Guerrilla (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Catriona Corke, German, University of Cambridge

The disconnect between the actions and the ideological motivations of the West German terrorists during the 1970s has long been a source of academic interest. In this study, Kimberly Mair underscores the disparity by rejecting any notion of the terrorists as rational subjects with direct political goals. She instead emphasizes their illegibility through new lenses of “radical negativity” and “guerrilla aesthetics.” The basis for both these terms is emplacement—as she consistently argues, members of the urban guerrilla radically changed their behaviour and tactics once transported away from their underground lives in the city and into the prison system.

As set out in the introduction, Mair’s core argument is that “the negativity of the extreme enactments of guerrillas materialized in their refusal of recognizable modes of identity and action,” (29) which was exacerbated by their imprisonment. The illegibility of the urban guerrilla is illustrated throughout the rest of the book in two distinct ways. The first three chapters are concerned with the guerrillas themselves and how their “radical negativity” manifested itself. In the latter half of the book, the emphasis shifts to the cultural afterlife of the urban guerrilla when Mair explores the function of the Red Army Faction (raf) as a locus for cultural and artistic production, both in Germany and abroad.

Chapter 1 addresses the origins of negativity, which Mair traces back to the raf members’ refusal to speak to representatives of state authority, whether in the prison or the courtroom. Chapter 2 focuses on how this refusal to speak in prison progressed to the use of the body as a weapon through hunger strikes. This is exemplified by the death of Holger Meins, although Mair also emphasises how all the imprisoned raf members constituted a collective body. Chapter 3 offers a thought-provoking analysis of Bommi Baumann from the 2nd June Movement’s 1975 autobiography Wie alles anfing (How it all began). Although it is an ostensible rejection of political violence, Mair draws on Bakhtin’s theory of the “polyphonic text” (135) to advance the convincing argument that the text behaves in conflicting ways on different levels. While Baumann’s stated desire was to answer to accusations against him, certain devices in the text undermine its explicit assertions against violent protest.

The second half of the book explores the resonances of the urban guerrilla in various forms of artistic production. It considers the artworks themselves, problematizes their emplacement in different historical and geographical settings, and considers the controversy which some of them have unleashed. A case in point is Gerhard Richter’s painting cycle October 18, 1977, which is the focus of chapter 4. As with Baumann’s autobiography, Mair declares that she is unconcerned with Richter’s intentions in producing the cycle, which consists of painterly depictions of photographs taken of core raf members both before and after their deaths in Stammheim. Instead, she emphasizes the way in which the work’s existence unleashed an “explosive response … in Germany and abroad.” (166) Meanwhile, chapter 5 considers the controversy surrounding the Regarding Terror exhibition (Berlin and Graz, 2005) before providing several in-depth analyses of raf-inspired artworks including King and Worley’s Meanwhile in a Large Central Apartment the Telephone is Ringing (1998), Eleanor Antin’s feature-length video The Nurses and the Hijackers (1977), Bruce LaBruce’s porn film The Raspberry Reich (2004), and Erin Cosgrove’s satirical romance novel The Baader-Meinhof Affair (2003). Although highly detailed in the analysis of each work’s content, the reader is sometimes left wondering what the cultural resonance of each of these lesser-known works was—more examples of press coverage and an estimate of the number or demographic of people reached with each artwork would be useful. The final chapter is the most innovative, as Mair performs the role of theorist, artist and curator. Here, she answers her assertion that there are “limitations posed by the archive” (254) with her own photographs from the 2007 exhibition The German Autumn in Minor Spaces, co-created with Allen Ball. By photographing urban spaces linked to members of the urban guerrilla such as Stuttgarter Platz, Stammheim and the doorways of buildings that they once inhabited, Mair makes the case for the city as an alternative archive.

Guerrilla Aesthetics represents a novel approach to the usual historical treatment of West Germany’s “Red Decade.” It abandons the search for “truth” in favor of multiple interpretations to reflect the illegibility of the urban guerrilla both at the time and in its continued representations in art. Its acceptance of the unknown and unknowable is a great strength, yet the multiple possibilities of interpretation could be more clearly delineated, especially in the introduction. Indeed, the book’s focus on the guerrilla’s illegibility need not be reflected in a style that, at times, obscures the argument from the reader. Greater attention to the readership in this regard, combined with the correct spellings of key figures such as Meinhof’s guardian Renate Riemeck and the historian Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, would help to distil the book’s argument further.

Nevertheless, the book successfully draws together the various guerrilla groups from this era including the raf, the 2nd June Movement and the Revolutionary Cells and their subsequent artistic representations within a single framework. Its acceptance of the liminal status of some sources which do not fit into a traditional archive enables compelling analyses of works such as Baumann’s autobiography Wie alles anfing. By giving equal weighting to the historical, literary, and artistic, the interpretation of “gray literature” is set free, with results that are convincing precisely because of their multifaceted and inconclusive nature.

David B. Audretsch and Erik E. Lehmann, The Seven Secrets of Germany: Economic Resilience in an Era of Global Turbulence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Carol Hager, Political Science, Bryn Mawr College

How did Germany go from economic “sick man of Europe” in the 1990s to a role model for entrepreneurship and innovation a scant fifteen years later? This engaging book offers seven interrelated, thought-provoking answers to that guiding question. German economic leadership is a puzzle in several ways. Germany has managed to strengthen its export-led economy in an era of outsourcing, while demonstrating flexibility where it has traditionally been known for rigidity. Germany has mastered the tightrope act of building on trusted foundations while pushing boundaries. David Audretsch and Erik Lehmann tell us how.

The book is written for the nonspecialist and seems aimed particularly at an American audience, with lots of stories about the U.S. that bring the German experience into more familiar territory. The authors also show where other countries could learn from the German example, illustrating their main points with anecdotes about particular companies, politicians, pop music groups, and more. It is a book about economics for those who would-n’t crack an economics textbook.

“Secrets” is an appropriate descriptor because the authors’ explanation leads us away from the stereotypes about German economic prowess to focus instead on more mundane or hidden but ultimately consequential features of German society. What are the seven secrets? Here is a brief summary:

  1. The Mittelstand—Germany has placed particular emphasis on supporting small and medium-sized companies rooted in communities. These firms tend to be family owned and inclusively managed. Germany is the home of numerous “hidden champions,” Mittelstand firms that find and dominate a market niche without drawing a lot of outside attention to themselves.
  2. The knowledge economy, consisting of a highly skilled workforce, a dual-track education and apprentice system, and a broad array of research institutions. The emergence of knowledge as a key factor makes location more important in the globalized economy, and Germany has benefited from this development.
  3. “Roots and Wings”—emphasis on place combined with the ability to look outward. Germany’s Ordnungspolitik and Standortpolitik (planning) are decentralized to develop advantages such as knowledge spillovers that benefit local communities as well as whole regions. At the same time, German youth look outward, and local firms recruit skilled labor from abroad.
  4. Infrastructure—this category includes Strukturpolitik, defined as “a mandate for policies designed to shape and influence the structure of the economy,” (104) as well as an emphasis on public infrastructure. Together, these factors create a context in which firms can thrive.
  5. “Laptops and Lederhosen”—which means “maintaining traditional cultural, political, and social values but combining them with cutting-edge ideas, knowledge, and technology.” (122) Germany often looks rigid in a static context but quite flexible in a dynamic context, that is, over time.
  6. The crafting and promotion of the German brand—Germany thrives as a manufacturing-driven economy in an era of outsourcing by capitalizing on its reputation for product innovation and quality. Audretsch and Lehmann say it is a matter of treating manufacturing and knowledge as complementary, but it is also a matter of keeping wage increases low and productivity increases high.
  7. A new, positive German self-image, combined with a positive image of Germany among non-Germans, that move the country out from the shadow of World War II.

Audretsch and Lehmann explain how these “secrets” have combined to make Germany a seat of entrepreneurship and innovation in a generally tepid European economy. While the anecdotes and casual narrative of the book make the authors’ argument easy to understand, I found myself wishing for a bit more data to back up some of their assertions. An example is in the “Laptops and Lederhosen” chapter, whose premise is that Germany manages to combine attention to culture and tradition with cutting-edge technology and innovation. The authors discuss the attempts of towns in the state of Baden-Württemberg to attract skilled workers from southern European countries. (132) They cite some potential problems, such as the language barrier and cultural differences, and they note that representatives from cities such as Villingen-Schwenningen travel to southern Europe to recruit the kind of workers they want. But, does it work? Are they able to attract and retain a skilled foreign-born workforce? Likewise, on the point of increasing the proportion of women in the technically skilled workforce and in high positions in companies, it is one thing to mandate quotas and another thing for women to feel valued and accommodated in these jobs. Is it working? How do women feel about it? It would be good to follow up the discussion of these efforts with some data about results. In the absence of such data, some of the authors’ findings seem overly rosy, especially with regard to Germany as a welcoming place for foreigners.

One of the main contributions of the book is its insight that Germany succeeds by managing to promote things that seem on the surface to be contradictory—tradition and innovation, emphasis on local place and openness to the world. The authors’ explanation tends to come down largely to policy initiatives and to Germany’s consensual decision-making style. This explanation tends to paint many policy areas as far less contested than they actually have been. There is not much mention of dissent at all, although it has been a persistent feature of the German political landscape since the 1960s and has been arguably critically important for modernizing economic and political governance in Germany. Take the example of energy. One cannot explain Germany’s famed Energiewende without mentioning the pervasive citizen opposition to nuclear power, which makes Germany unique and has also made it a forerunner in the development of renewable energy technologies. Audretsch and Lehmann praise the quasi-public nature of the big energy firms e.on and rwe. (110) But, it was these same firms that famously rejected investments in renewable energy in favor of coal and nuclear power. It was small local producers and parliamentary back-benchers who pushed successfully for innovation in the energy sector, often in opposition to those government and industry actors praised by the authors. Acknowledging the role of conflict would not weaken the authors’ insight that Germany combines seemingly unlike forces of tradition and innovation. It would, however, more accurately depict the creative tension between these forces and the sometimes-unplanned nature of the results.

In general, this is a relatable book that will make the reader think more deeply about what makes for entrepreneurship and innovation not only in Germany, but in any society. The authors have not completely convinced this reviewer that the “secrets” accounting for German success came about intentionally, or that they can be transferred easily to other settings. They have thoroughly convinced me that the topic can be worthwhile, and wonderfully entertaining, to consider.

Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann, Energy Democracy: Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)

Reviewed by Sabine von Mering, German and European Studies, Brandeis University

Anyone in need of thoroughly researched proof of people power and encouragement in the face of the climate crisis should read this book. Germany’s role as a major climate champion may have suffered a blow at the Bonn Climate Summit in November 2017 when the country opted not to join a new alliance led by Canada and the uk to “power past coal.” Coal remains indeed its Achilles’ heel, and the future of the Energiewende is uncertain under current political conditions. But, Germany deserves the highest praise for shouldering a major portion of the start-up cost of the global renewable energy revolution. Chancellor Angela Merkel is often falsely credited for this success. Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris have now set the record straight. Their book describes the birth of the Energiewende (the German term for transition to renewables) in the antinuclear protests of the 1970s and follows it to the middle of the third Merkel-led coalition in 2016. The two authors are particularly well-qualified to educate an American readership about the topic: Morris is an American renewable energy expert who has long lived and worked in Germany; Jungjohann is a German expert with many years under his belt at the Green-party affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Neither Morris nor Jungjohann work in academia, and their text, although carefully researched and footnoted, belongs clearly outside the typical academic tomes, straddling journalism, technology history, and sociopolitical commentary. The result is a very entertaining “biography” of the Energiewende that is also part thriller—as for example in the chapter about the Power Rebels of Schönau, or when the authors unearth how “big engineering firms worked to make photovoltaics fail.” (146) Morris and Jungjohann describe how renewables have been able to democratize Germany from the start of grassroots organizing against a proposed nuclear power plant in Wyhl near Freiburg to multiple examples of “Bürgerenergie” that have popped up all across the country.

The book presents material in English that had so far been only available in German or French. The fifteen chapters are mostly organized chronologically, with some devoted to more in-depth investigations into specific issues, like nuclear energy, or the difference between Chicago School neoliberalism U.S.-style and Freiburg School ordoliberalism German-style. The authors acknowledge that the Energiewende consensus “has to be renegotiated continually” (5) and that it is “an iterative process of policy changes that continues today.” (220) Their book does its part to demonstrate the many great benefits of the Energiewende not for recalcitrant utilities and corporate giants, but for ordinary Germans and their communities.

Perhaps the book’s most important benefit for an American readership lies in its explanation of the role of utilities in this process. As many progressive cities and states in the U.S. have committed to remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States, they must fight an uphill battle against an entrenched industry that is powerfully supported by structures such as the Federal Regulatory Commission that have long served industry over public interests. Despite the differences between German and American government structures, this book provides powerful ammunition for those involved in this struggle. Throughout their investigation, the authors emphasize the importance of a stable policy environment, and the need for governments to move quickly from subsidizing R&D to supporting actual deployment of new technologies, especially when part of the goal is a diversified market share. It shows not only that the Energiewende’s success was partly due to the utilities’ ignorance, as when in 1993 a group of utilities published an ad “claiming that ‘renewables-such as solar, water, and wind- cannot cover more than four percent of our power demand, not even in the long term.’” (64) The authors also demonstrate that Germany’s climate leadership is owed entirely to small innovative start-ups: “Outside Germany, too few people realize that the country’s biggest firms have been of little help in the energy transition. Newcomers made the difference.” (157) The Energiewende, that is the conclusion, has succeeded so far because people got together and made it happen anyway. This is why the authors favor the feed-in-tariff (fit) over the American net-metering model:

Feed-in tariffs allowed newcomers to rapidly deploy renewables while electricity incumbents remained opposed. Through this deployment, an equipment industry developed, innovation skyrocketed, and big incumbent players were forced to treat startups fairly.


They criticize that the u.s. opted for net-metering instead, which they view as “a recipe for increasingly unreasonable profits.” (184) Tax credits and auctions are similarly criticized as measures that do not actually increase renewable power. “Worldwide, auctions tend to produce a large number of losers and a small number of winners” (186) and lead to exclude individuals and community projects, and even to higher rates than feed-in-tariffs. Their conclusion: “Energy transitions powered by feed-in-tariffs are faster by design.” (188)

The book is clearly written with an American business and policy-making readership (and students on track to joining it) in mind that is stymied by the polarization in the u.s. climate debate. Morris and Jungjohann emphasize repeatedly how much the Energiewende united conservationists and true conservatives in Germany. And yet, they also note a clear change in the way the Merkel coalitions have treated the project: large off-shore wind projects now favored by the conservative government, are much more costly—a cost born by ratepayers. Their position clearly differs from those advocating for a more radical “Wende”—from “degrowth” or “postgrowth” economy advocates like Niko Paech, Harald Welzer, or Christian Felber. Indeed, Morris and Jungjohann suggest that, if taken in the right direction, the German Energiewende is a sign of capitalism at its best. (196) It is therefore no surprise that they belittle the criticism of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s policy agenda “the goal of the Agenda 2010—as with the eco-taxwas increasing German competitiveness internationally, especially on labor markets. And in that respect, it worked over the long term.” (224) The current decline of the spd and the rise of the AfD suggests that in this case a growing number of ordinary people may disagree. The authors’ strengths lie in their in-depth knowledge of the energy sector in general, and renewable technology in particular. By following the Energiewende from before its inception over several decades, the authors are able to analyze a large amount of data which allows them to draw conclusions that may surprise an American readership. Just one example: the assessment of nuclear energy differs greatly in Germany and the U.S. even among climate activists. The very thoughtful contribution to this debate is an extremely valuable part of this volume. The authors conclude that it was not the Greens “who killed nuclear … And it wasn’t Chernobyl. It was Wall Street, and the murder happened in the 1970s.” (316) In their attempt to provide a fair account and “set the record straight” about the origins of the Energiewende, the authors at times get a little lost in the weeds of administrative and biographical details. Some of the technical detail is not always easy for a lay person to comprehend. There is a bit of repetitiveness, which may partly be intentional, partly a result of the division of labor between the two authors. Nevertheless, the very impressive detective work and thorough investigation into the trajectory of the Energiewende makes for a fascinating read overall.

When it comes to climate change, we tend to hear that scientists’ worst-case predictions seem to come faster than their models suggest. The German Energiewende shows that solutions, too, can arrive faster than expected. Morris and Jungjohann’s book provides ample encouragement to students of the Energiewende for how to address the urgent problem of climate change. And Morris, who regularly gives energy tours to U.S. students in Germany, has a message for those stateside: “The U.S. political system has its problems, but it is not undemocratic; giving up is. Democracy is struggle.” (230)

Peter Polek-Springer, Recovered Territory: A German-Polish Conflict over Land and Culture, 1919–1989 (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015)

Reviewed by Randall Newnham, Political Science, Penn State University

The title of this work is slightly misleading in two ways. First, it does not mention that the work focuses only on Upper Silesia, not the many other regions disputed between Poland and Germany in the twentieth century. Second, the time period covered is in fact mainly from the 1920s to early 1950s. The book reaches up to 1989 only in a brief epilogue.

Aside from those minor points, though, this book has much to recommend it. It begins with the gripping incident of the Gleiwitz Radio attack. On 31 August 1939, the Gestapo staged a false “Polish” attack on a German radio station near the border as a pretext for the invasion of Poland. Why, though, would this seemingly clumsy incident be at all convincing to Germans? The Gleiwitz station had been built in 1925 to extend the reach of German broadcasts into the Polish part of Upper Silesia, as part of a deliberate effort to cultivate the German minority there, in hopes of eventually reclaiming the area that was attached to Poland after World War I. (71) Thus it might well have seemed a logical target for some sort of Polish response. And as Polak-Springer shows, the long history of disputes in Upper Silesia, including frequent armed exercises by Polish paramilitaries within miles of Gleiwitz, made reports of a cross-border attack seem quite plausible—as the Nazis were well aware.

The author gives a detailed history of the German-Polish conflict over Upper Silesia, with chapters on the interwar period, World War II, and the immediate postwar years. Parts of the region switched from German to Polish control, back to German, and again to Polish, within only twenty-five years. Yet, the people of the area often found it difficult to fit into either state, as many of them were uncertain of their nationality. This has persisted up to the present day, despite massive population transfers. As Polak-Springer notes, (25) in the 2011 Polish census only 423,000 people in the region identified themselves simply as Poles, while 871,000 saw themselves as Silesian, and 117,000 still identified themselves as German—although 78,000 of those also considered themselves Polish.

In such a complex ethnic landscape, how could the region be divided between the two competing countries? Polak-Springer shows that this process was driven by what he calls a single, transnational irredentist culture. Both states, in his view, were motivated by similar nationalist ideologies, which interacted with each other—and indeed depended on one another. As one side mustered academic studies, political movements, and armed militias to pull the region to its side, the other responded in kind. A rally on one side of the border was met a rally on the other—indeed, was justified by the other side’s rally. The rhetoric of the two sides, like their methods and organization, was quite parallel.

This view may be controversial to some. Yet, in many ways the author does show great similarities between the two sides’ actions, especially in the interwar period. During this era Upper Silesia was divided between the two countries, and each sought to remake “its” area into a showpiece of its own nation. For example, Polak-Springer details how the two sides each financed monumental buildings to mark the nationality of “their” cities. In one especially striking case, Poland built a huge administrative building for the Voivodship (region) of Upper Silesia in Katowice/Kattowitz. As shown in photos in the book, this became the centerpiece of Polish nationalist rallies in the 1930s. After the Nazi conquest it was repurposed for German nationalist events, and after 1945, the same building—still intact—served as a backdrop for Polish events again.

While Polak-Springer’s theory of a common “transnational irredentist culture” may accommodate the interwar period, however, it can be argued that it is not so successful in explaining the events of World War II. Why did the Germans impose a brutal policy of expulsion and even extermination on the Poles? Many observers—including, surely, virtually all Poles—would reject the idea that the Nazi policy was merely a continuation of prewar irredentist urges, shared with Poland. This sensitivity can be seen in the current debate in Poland over a law criminalizing any mention of Polish guilt for the Holocaust, such as describing German death camps in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps.” And one can argue that the Poles have a point. Even after 1945, with the Polish nation filled with rage for Germany’s actions, the Polish revenge on Silesian Germans was far less violent. Very few Poles entertained seriously the idea of wiping out the entire German nation, as Germany had planned to do with the Poles.

Still, Polak-Springer’s work is an extremely valuable contribution. It is well written and very well researched, rich in primary and secondary sources. As is generally the case with Berghahn Books, the production values are very high, and a number of striking photos and maps are included in the text. It is an important source for those interested in Germany and Poland, and indeed, should be read by many others. Its central theory of “transnational irredentist culture” could clearly be applied to many ethnic conflicts in other regions and other time periods, up to the current conflicts between Turks and Kurds or between Rohingya Muslims and Burmese Buddhists. Hopefully other authors will take up this work and test it in their areas.

Manuel Borutta and Jan C. Jansen, ed., Vertriebene and Pieds-Noirs in Postwar Germany and France: Comparative Perspectives (Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016).

Reviewed by Jeffrey Luppes, World Languages, Indiana University South Bend

On its list of expulsions of European peoples in the twentieth century, the official website of the Foundation Center Against Expulsions lists Greeks, Albanians, Armenians, Jews, Germans (of course), Poles, Greek Cypriots, and Chechens amongst a long list of other ethnic groups and nationalities who were forced to leave their homelands during the “age of extremes.”1 In all these cases, the survivors of these experiences share with the German victims of flight and expulsion, “the loss of homeland including the loss of all personal property, the experience of re-establishing oneself in a new environment, families torn apart, and physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime.” Strikingly absent from the listings compiled by the organization that initiated the commemorative space and documentation center in Berlin dedicated to the German expellees are the roughly one million French repatriates—known by the moniker Pieds-Noirs (black feet)—who fled North Africa under duress during and after the Algerian War of Independence that concluded in 1962.

As all the contributors to the pioneering new edited volume Vertriebene and Pieds-Noirs in Postwar Germany and France: Comparative Perspectives make clear, these two groups have very much in common. While the circumstances that precipitated their forced migrations are clearly different, the policies promulgated in West German and France, the efforts to establish lobby groups to influence the respective governments, and the forms of commemoration they have employed have indeed been very similar. The editors of this collection of essays are upfront about the other key differences, which they spell out in their introductory essay. They list four convincing examples: the dissimilarity in the quantities of migrants (German expellees far outnumbered the French repatriates), the historical contexts of the forced migration (whereas the Germans were expelled at least in part as a result of decisions made by the Allies, the French left as a result of decolonization) the differing historical contexts surrounding the population transfers; i.e., the scenarios on the ground in terms of sovereignty in the two countries immediately after the wars that brought about the forced migration (Germany was occupied by the Allies when the process of integration began and divided into two states as it proceeded), as well as the different histories of the territory ceded after the war (whereas Germans had settled some areas of their lost territory for hundreds of years, the French had only settled Algeria since the 1830s). For all these reasons, scholars have avoided comparisons of the two groups. In fact, aside from the research of Philipp Ther, who has contrasted the integration of German expellees with that of the Polish expellees, there is little comparative scholarship at all on this subject.2 For this reason, this work, which emphasizes what happened to these groups after their migration, represents a welcome addition to the literature and signals a new phase in the study of the flight and expulsion of the Germans. The editors aimed with this comparison to “de-provincialize concepts by forcing us to reconsider assumptions about the singularity of the cases.” (5) In this endeavor, the editors and contributors were quite successful.

One of the strengths of this study is its organization and balance. A second is its scope. Instead of unraveling in many directions, the volume is tidily divided into six parts, each of which offers both a German and French perspective. Part I looks at how flight and expulsion and repatriation affected “the construction of nationhood in postwar Germany and France.” (11) Here I should add that although the contributors—historians and political scientists from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, and Finland—in all six parts often touch on the German Democratic Republic, the focus is clearly on West Germany. Part II examines the integration policies employed by Germany and France. Part III investigates expellee and Pieds-Noirs organizations and their political representation. Part IV elucidates these groups’ political engagement. Part V offers a study of their commemorative practices, and Part VI explores “the politics of remembrance on the national and international level.” (11) Readers familiar with the growing literature on flight and expulsion will not glean many new insights about the integration of German expellees. This novel, comparative approach, however, improves the ability of the reader to contextualize this phenomenon historically and politically in enlightening ways. Above all, one sees that though unprecedented in scale and fascinating in terms of raising ethical questions of guilt and innocence, the issues surrounding the integration of German expellees, and the efforts of expellee organizations to influence aspects of government policy, were, in fact, not sui generis.

One point made by contributors writing on both Germany and France is particularly notable and worth exploring. In both (West) Germany and France, the authors contend that the political organizations, which have claimed to speak for all expellees or Pieds-Noirs, in fact are not, were not, and have never been as unified as they claimed. Put differently, the expellee and repatriate communities have never been the monolithic blocs in terms of ideologies, and the organizations that represent them have never spoken for all their potential adherents. Indeed, in both countries, when it comes to political representation, the minority has spoken for the majority. As Pertti Ahonen notes in his contribution on the German expellee organizations: “The two million members claimed by the BdV (Bund der Vertriebenen, League of Expellees) at its founding in 1958, for instance, equaled less than a quarter of all the expellees in West Germany at the time.” (126) This is certainly a valid point and applies to France as well, where the repatriate organizations have also struggled with internecine conflicts. In neither case could the organizations claim complete support from all of their potential followers, which, considering the huge numbers, is logical. In both chapters, the authors argued that this has led to myths and misperceptions about the effectiveness of their endeavors. Nevertheless, I believe—particularly in the case of the German expellee organizations—even if not all who could claim to be an expellee was in favor of the political goals of the expellee organizations, the organizations represented the views of a high percentage of politically active expellees and other Germans for whom expulsion was a constitutive part of their political identity. No matter how chimerical it seemed, the expellee organizations managed to keep the possibility of a border revision on the political agenda until after reunification in 1990. In that regard, the expellee organizations were successful despite their inability to incorporate a majority of their potential supporters into their ranks, which to me is a more important point.

The short, readable contributions in this study offer a fresh and innovative approach that result in a helpful juxtaposition. The parallels in dealing with the integration of large groups of “privileged migrants,” as the editors label the expellees and the Pieds-Noirs in the introduction, are striking and reveal the contours of the situations on the ground in both West Germany and France. Hopefully, this book will inspire other similar efforts.


“Chronik der Vertreibungen europäischer Völker im 20. Jahrhundert,” Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen; available at, accessed 2 March 2018.


See Philipp Ther, Deutsche und polnische Vertriebene: Gesellschaft und Vertriebenenpolitik in der sbz/ddr und in Polen 1945–1956 (Göttingen, 1998).

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