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After the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Helmut Kohl and his CDU party seemed insurmountable. Carrying their momentum into the first all-German elections, the CDU scored a stunning victory. However, Kohl found it difficult to manage the reunification, and his popularity plummeted to the point that Easterners pelted him with eggs during campaign visits. In 1998, left-wing parties ousted the CDU, electing Gerhard Schroeder chancellor.
Germany’s new place within Europe remains a great political question. The burden of the past makes everyone, including Germans themselves, nervous about Germany’s participation in international military operations. Recently, Germans have earned a reputation as a peace-loving people; in the Kosovo crisis, for example, Germany played a pivotal role in negotiating a peace accord, and German forces were present both at peacekeeping missions in Yugoslavia and flood relief operations in Africa. Germany has also been one of the most outspoken critics of Anglo-American foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attack of 911, greeting American President George W. Bush’s visit to Berlin in May 2002 with widespread rioting, necessitating the largest police presence since the end of WWII. The persistent feeling among Germans now tends toward isolationism, but such a neutral stance may not be possible in the long run for Europe’s most populous and economically powerful nation.
THE ARTS LITERATURE NARRATIVE. The first significant German novel, Hans J. C. von Grimmelshausen’s roguish series Simplicissimus, was written during the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War. By the 18th century, the German literary scene was flourishing. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe exemplified the Romantic era with emotional, dramatic masterpieces such as Faust (1832), while the Brothers Grimm transformed folk tales from an oral tradition into a morbid, child-rearing tool. A rush of realistic political literature emerged in the turbulent mid-19th century; Heinrich Heine, as much a poet as a satirist, was one of the finest. In the early 20th century, Rainer Maria Rilke, living in Austria-Hungary, produced some of Germany’s weepiest poems, and Franz Kafka examined the complications of modern exist- ence in The Metamorphosis (1915). Thomas Mann bore the modern novel to a new height with The Magic Mountain (1924) and Doctor Faustus (1947), while Hermann Hesse experimented with Eastern motifs in Siddhartha (1922).
Despite the disruption of WWI, the Weimar era was a period of active artistic production. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), a blunt account of the horrors of war, became an international bestseller. Bertolt Brecht’s dramas and poems presented humankind in all its grotesque absurdity. To nurse German literature back to health after the Nazi book-burning years, several writers, including Gunter Grass and poet Paul Celan, formed Gruppe 47, named after the year of its founding. The group coined the term Nullstunde (“Zero Hour”) to signify that after WWII, culture had to begin again. Much of the ensuing literature dealt with the problem of Germany’s Nazi past; the novels of Grass and Heinrich Boll and the poetry of Hans Magnus Enzensberger turned a critical eye to post-war West Germany’s repressive tendencies.
PHILOSOPHY. Germany’s philosophical tradition is one of the most respected in the world. Initially, philosophy dealt only with religion. In 1517, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses denied papal infallibility, claiming that only scripture was holy and thus advocating a direct relationship with God; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz thought of God as a watchmaker who set the individual’s body and soul in motion like two synchronized clocks. During the Enlightenment, reason was the key: Immanuel Kant argued that ethics can be rationally deduced. Georg W. F. Hegel proposed that world history and the development of the individual consciousness could be understood as the synthesis of a thesis and antithesis.
The 19th century brought several controversial but highly influential theories. The founder of modem socialism, Karl Marx, asserted that class conflict was the driving force of all history. Friedrich Nietzsche developed the idea of the Vber-mensch, a super-man so wise and self-mastered that he could ei\joy life even to the point of eternal repetition. Max Weber pinpointed the “Protestant Ethic”: Work. In the interwar period, Martin Heidegger became one of the main exponents of Existentialism; his Being and Time (1927) examines the crisis of alienation in a world of technical development. After the fall of the Third Reich, thinkers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer penned the classic Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which suggests that civilization ultimately culminates in Fascism. More recently, Jurgen Habermas has criticized German reunification, citing the danger of joining two nations that have adopted very different cultures.