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Global issue 20

Arena Politics Escaping the shadows of the past The deployment of German troops outside its borders, even for peacekeeping missions, still prompts nervous reactions, both at home and abroad. One British newspaper likened a proposal for the German military to help protect citizens in Ukraine to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II Johannes Ruckstuhl In October 1961, tanks rolled up from both sides of Friedrichstrasse in the heart of Berlin, coming to a halt only metres away from the border crossing that allowed one of the few interchanges between East and West in the divided city. This was Checkpoint C, or Checkpoint Charlie, and the closest the United States and the Soviet Union came to a hot war in Europe. Today the tanks and barriers are gone, and Checkpoint Charlie has become the very definition of Ostalgie (the affectionate term given to nostalgia for aspects of the German Democratic Republic), and is now one of the city’s prime tourist attractions. Smiling uniformed models pose with tourists and hammer and sickle flags, while street sellers proffer knock-off GDR memorabilia – medals, coins, helmets, gas masks. The atmosphere is busy but casual, and by all means consumerist and superficial, as if coolly asking “what was all the fuss about?”. The former border crossing is a rare banal German engagement with the ‘fuss’. A few streets along, on the notorious Prinz- Albrecht-Strasse (now renamed Niederkirchnerstrasse), the longest surviving section of the wall stands atop the foundations and basement cells of what was once the headquarters of the Gestapo. The Topography of Terror museum and exhibition that accompany this extraordinary accumulation of history and tragedy make for a sombre charting of German history, from the great depression to the fall of Berlin in 1945. A quarter of a century after reunification, the contrast invited by the two places is an apt illustration of modern Germany. The extirpation of the enormous blame and guilt laid upon generations following the one that drove Europe into the abyss in the 1930s and 40s (as well as the cruel experiment of surveillance run in the GDR following partition) was and is an arduous task. It has required immense self-abasement and penance, as witnessed by Willy Brandt’s symbolic kneeling before the Warsaw Uprising Memorial in 1970, yet the effort has ultimately been able to kindle a new and more understated form of patriotism and pride. It has not just involved a reassessment of what it means to be German, but a re-examination of the country’s global position in cultural, economic, diplomatic and military terms and, as challenges and crises arise, a debate over what an appropriate German response might look like. Economic rehabilitation into the international community has been ongoing since Herbert Hoover encouraged it in his reports to Harry S. Truman. It has helped make Germany one of the most industrialised and prosperous nations in the world. The military aspect has been more curtailed, however, and, for obvious historical reasons, there is great discomfort and hesitation about any foreign Elation as East Germans cross into West Berlin through the open Checkpoint Charlie in 1989 www.global global f i rst quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 43


Global issue 20
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