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Winds of History or the Acts of Men? The Unification of Germany

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2008


For the first two years after the Berlin Wall came down and, as Jacques Delors put it, while the speed of history accelerated, most scholars confined themselves to journalism. Some books that did appear were rapidly overtaken by the heady pace of history, and the books under review here do not entirely escape being dated by the relentless progress of events on the European continent. Indeed, it can hardly be said that the dust has settled on German unification and the seismic events that we call the end of the Cold War. Both in the East (predictably) and in the West, unscrambling the elaborate territorial, strategic and ideological Cold War structures is bringing a re-examination of the nation state and its democratic practices; international governmental organisations; ‘Western’ values; and security issues. At one level, debate has been raging among some historians between two unsatisfactory notions: the ‘end of history’, and ‘real’ history being on the move again. At another level the German question has been returning unsteadily into focus, as historians start to pick at issues of national identity, nationalism and the nation-state. Other analysts have been trying to fit the European structures and assumptions we inherit from the Cold War years into a post-Cold War security and economic architecture. The close relationship between these strands of European history is obvious.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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Breuilly, John, The State of Germany. The National Idea in the Making, Unmaking and Remaking of a Modern Nation-state (London/New York: Longman 1992)Google Scholar, ISBN 0 58207 864 4. Fritsch-Bournazel, Renata, Europe and German Unification (New York/Oxford: Berg, 1992)Google Scholar, ISBN 0 85496 979 9. Balfour, Michael, Germany: The Tides of Power (London/New York: Routledge, 1992)Google Scholar, ISBN 0 41506 787 1. Heinz, , Kurz, D. (ed.), United Germany and the New Europe (Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1993)Google Scholar, ISBN 1 85278 584 5. James, Harold and Stone, Maria (eds), When the Wall Came Down. Reactions to German Unification (New York/London: Routledge, 1992)Google Scholar, ISBN 0 41590 589 3.

1 Fritsch-Bournazel, Europe, 81.

2 Ibid., 119.

3 James and Stone, Wall, contains extracts from these writers' work.

4 Fritsch-Bournazel, Europe, 14.

5 Breuilly, Germany, 226.

6 2 + 4 was the name given to the talks between the 2, that is the two Germanys, and the 4, the four post-war Occupying Powers (US, UK, Soviet Union and France).

7 Fritsch-Bournazel, Europe, 81.

8 Michael Balfour's Germany is the third, revised edition of his well-known history of West Germany and is more directly focused upon the course of German history.

9 James and Stone, Wall, 233ff, and, for Timothy Garton Ash's alternative account, 242ff.

10 Ibid., 259.

11 Fritsch-Bournazel, Europe, 173.

12 James and Stone, Wall, 327.

13 Ibid., 329.

14 Hélène Seppain in Kurz, United Germany, 73ff.

15 Michael Burleigh, in Breuilly, Germany, 128ff.

16 Ibid., 231ff.

17 Ulrich K. Preuss, in Kurz, United Germany, 47ff.

18 Mary Fulbrook in Breuilly, Germany, 198.

19 Harald Hägemann in Kurz, United Germany, 89ff.

20 Kurz, United Germany, see Preuss' unfortunate phrase: ‘Nobody is born democrat, least of all in Germany, and least of all in the late twentieth century’, 54. Fritsch-Bournazel, however, quotes Vaclav Havel's passionate comment to President Richard von Weizäcker, in March 1990, which should be a talisman for policy-makers: ‘Despising Germans as such, condemning them simply because they are Germans or fearing them on that ground alone, is the same as being anti-Semitic’, Europe, 185.