Social Education 57(4), 1993
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Why Study Germany and Europe Now?

Mike McKinnon
The study of Germany within an emerging European Community and a greater Europe is crucial for social studies classes in U.S. schools for at least ten good reasons (although almost any one of them will do by itself).

1. Germany Is A Prime Mover in European Integration
West Germany has been a prime mover and promoter of European union ever since the inception of the European Community in 1957. Late last year, when the train of European unity was threatened with derailment, the now-united Germany got it back on track. The new Germany favors a Europe of diverse identities and traditions, a "cathedral with many chapels." Its neighbors and partners agree with the strategy of having a European Germany, not a German Europe, emerge from the end of the cold war and German unification.

The long and arduous road, from a common policy for coal and steel involving Germany and its immediate neighbors, to a common European currency for twelve member states, and possibly more, lends itself to continuing student analysis across several subject-matter, topical, and linguistic interests.

2. The Land of the Middle
Germany is located at the very center of the continent of Europe (see figure 1). It is the country with the greatest number of neighbors-altogether nine: Poland and the Czech Republic to the east and southeast, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands to the west, and Denmark to the north. The latter five countries are currently members of the European Community, two of the other four, Austria and Switzerland, are predominantly German speaking, and two, Poland and the former Czechoslovakia, are former Communist countries with a long tradition of cross-fertilization with German culture. Franz Kafka, the Czech writer, Sigmund Freud, who developed and practiced psychoanalysis in Vienna, Austria, and Edmund Husserl, a famous philosopher at the University of Freiburg, all were born in what is now the Czech Republic and all wrote in German. These countries' bid for membership in the European Community will be greatly influenced by united Germany's new role as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe.

3. A Vulnerable Economic Giant
Germany is the largest economy in Europe and, in proportion to its size and population, the leading export nation in the world. The United States and Japan, both considerably larger states (by three times and one and one-half times, respectively), export significantly less. Like Japan, though, Germany is highly dependent on other countries for raw materials, energy, and a good portion of its highly skilled labor force.

Stagnant markets in Europe and a global recession are potentially harmful to this export-oriented economy, as are attacks on foreigners at home. The attacks, triggered by high unemployment and mass migration, send the wrong signals to Germany's trading partners and evoke the spectres of the past. The success of the experiment of German unification is not only a problem for Germans.

4. A Model for Reconstruction and Cold War Conflict Management
Germany's recovery, after total defeat and destruction in World War II, is exemplary and a thought-provoking case study by itself or in comparison to Japan, a country allied to Germany during the war that was defeated and later reconstructed with the intervention of the United States. Both countries rose from the ashes to become the principal U.S. competitors.

Germany, furthermore, has been the frontier country during the cold war, a symbol of the division of the world and of Europe-epitomized by the Berlin Wall (1961-89)-and of the Western resolve to withstand Soviet Russia's expansion. The Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, conducted by the U.S. Air Force after a Soviet blockade of the city, as well as the stationing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops at the continental divide on German soil for the past fifty years, have united people in Germany and the United States in a common pursuit of their foreign and security policies.

Germany's proximity to the formerly communist Eastern Europe, and its many historical and cultural ties to that region, placed the country in a privileged position to orchestrate, through its Ostpolitik of the 1960s and 1970s, conflict resolution and détente between the two hostile blocs, which eventually led to the demise of the Soviet Empire, the end of the cold war, and the fall of its two concrete manifestations, the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.

5. A Model for Emerging Nations and for Europe?
Uniting two halves of a country that had been forcefully kept apart for more than forty years is a rare political, social, economic, and cultural experiment. Other still-divided nations (such as China, Korea, Lebanon, and Cyprus), as well as those now emerging out of the breakdown of former empires and multiethnic states that have to reshuffle in mixes other than their prior compositions, are concerned observers of the German unification process. Will it be possible to let "grow together what belongs together" (in the words of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt) in one generation's lifetime?1 How will Germany handle its dual legacy of totalitarian episodes, one fascist, one communist? Will Germany's new muscle evoke old fears of a hegemonical threat to Europe, or even the world? Most importantly, German unification-its speed, cost, and rate of success-will teach us something about the prognosis of European unification.

6. Germany's Cultural Legacy to Europe and the
United States
To study the sources of European and U.S. intellectual history and major developments in the arts and sciences, it is not enough to look, as is frequently the case in U.S. schools, to the British and French traditions. Significant contributions to our contemporary understandings of the world and to our enjoyment of artistic achievements have their origins in Germany.

Famous Germans who excelled in their respective disciplines and who deserve further investigation in the context of a number of subject matters and school activities include: philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Jürgen Habermas; the Protestant theologian and reformer Martin Luther; classical poets and dramatists Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, Friedrich Hoelderlin, and Georg Buechner; Nobel Prize for literature recipients Gerhart Hauptmann, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse; contemporary authors Heinrich Boell and Günter Wilhelm Grass (who lived in the West), and Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Wolff, Jurek Becker, Wolf Biermann, and Stefan Heym (who lived in East Germany until unification); musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Richard Wagner, Arnold Schönberg, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler; painters Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Lucas Cranach, Caspar David Friedrich, Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, and John Heartfield; architects Friedrich Karl Schinkel, John Augustus Roebling, Walter Gropius, and Mies von der Rohe; mathematicians Carl Friedrich Gauss and Gottlob Frege; scientists Robert Koch, Rudolf Virchow, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Gregor Johann Mendel, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and Werner Karl Heisenberg; and engineers Gottlib Wilhelm Daimler, Adolf Porsche, and Wernher von Braun.

7. The Country of Origin of Many U.S. Citizens
Ever since 1683, when German settlers founded Germantown in Pennsylvania, and especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Germans have emigrated to the United States and settled primarily in the Midwest (predominantly in Saint Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Cincinnati) and in New York and Baltimore. Germans significantly enriched U.S. culture, especially in preschool (kindergarten) and higher education (primarily through the forced exile of German-Jewish academicians during the 1930s who found a new home at universities and colleges in the United States). The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was founded in 1876 on the model of a German research university, the University of Berlin.

Today, approximately one-fourth of all U.S. citizens trace their ancestry, at least partially, to German roots. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, for example, 52 percent of the population in Wisconsin claim family ties to Germany.

8. A Multicultural Society?
The United States and Canada have been called classical immigration countries. They have championed, with pride, their respective melting-pot and mosaic models and heritages of assimilation and acculturation of immigrants. Officially, Germany has been a "nonimmigration" country, with a largely homogeneous society and compatibly diverse cultural traditions.

Inquiring into the validity of these traditional assumptions is appropriate for kindling student interest. Rising problems with increasing, and increasingly fragmented, alien minorities in both the United States and Germany will lead to useful comparisons that will help students understand the origins of prejudice, hate, and xenophobia.

9. A Case Study for Overcoming Stereotypes
Unmasking stereotypes is a crucial step toward international understanding. The images of Germany in the United States and, conversely, of the United States in Germany lend themselves to a study of stereotypes and their origins because Germany and the United States have been linked in many ways over the past 220 years. Immigration, travelogues, and tourism in one direction, and occupation, more tourism, and decades of Hollywood films and television series in the other, have created stereotypical images of the two countries in their respective populations.

Most notorious among these are the U.S. images of heel-clicking Colonel Klink and the somewhat retarded Sergeant Schultz of "Hogan's Heroes," or of the Bavarian in lederhosen drinking gallons of beer in one sitting, who often stands for all Germans regardless of their regional origin. Germans have their counterparts, depicting Americans as cowboys, fast on the draw in Marlboro country, trigger-happy in regional conflicts around the world, forever chewing gum and stuffing themselves with fast food carrying mostly German names in metallic diners or under the ubiquitous golden "arch" on something resembling Route 66.

A study of the contrasts and similarities between these two nations that have enhanced each other's culture would foster understanding and, perhaps, the downfall of these stereotypes. Comparing the U.S. Constitution to the German Basic Law, looking at the political party systems of both countries, the differences in the process of electing political leaders, the way news is reported, the school systems, theaters, and health-care delivery systems-all would help students gain not only knowledge of alternative models that have been successful in one of the most important industrialized countries among U.S. allies but also a new perspective on their own country and the challenges it faces.

In an increasingly interdependent world, such insights are important if the next generation is to avoid some of the mistakes their forebears made that have led to war and confrontation.

10. A Mystery or a Country like Any Other?
Germany has freely offered the world its people and its artistic and scientific genius. The country has also been at the source of a devastating war and unparalleled genocide. It is a case study in contrast and contradiction, in confrontation and reconciliation, in nationalistic isolation and international cooperation.

Germany today means Goethe and Goebbels, Hitler and Hoelderlin, Eichmann and Einstein. Germany produced the rockets that destroyed part of London and Coventry and "the ultimate driving machines." It built the Berlin Wall and tore down the Iron Curtain and the borders between the countries of Western Europe. Its long history is checkered and still not very well understood, but the past forty-five years of the Federal Republic are a model of stability and peaceful coexistence.

This richness in contradiction and diversity will doubtless stimulate the intellectual curiosity of U.S. social studies students and help them to look at other countries not as mysterious foreign entities of exotic interest, but as living organisms that affect their everyday lives.

Note
1From a television interview with Chancellor Willy Brandt at the opening of the Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 1989.Mike McKinnon is a curriculum coordinator for social studies and foreign language in Janesville, Wisconsin. He is past president of the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies and chairs the NCSS International Activities Committee.

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