In the late 1960s, both German states faced the outbreak of unanticipated social conflicts, centering on the generational revolt in the West and the reform of socialism in the East. In the Federal Republic, students rebelled against the authoritarian control of their elders, educational overcrowding, the failure to confront the Nazi past, and American atrocities in Vietnam. Restless youths drew their inspiration from dissident Marxists of the New Left, anarchistic provocateurs, and radical democrats. They imported many forms of protest, such as the sit-in and teach-in, from the American civil rights movement and excelled in non-violent provocation of the authorities. The police brutality that caused the death of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967 created a mass following, but extraparliamentary opposition failed to prevent the extension of controversial emergency powers to the executive. As a result, some radicals turned to the terrorism of the Red Army Faction, which produced a massive state response. The East German counterpart was the fascination with efforts to create reform socialism in neighboring Czechoslovakia, which ended with the suppression of the Prague Spring (21).
One important consequence of the change in values [Wertewandel] introduced by the cultural revolution was the rise of a new feminism in the West. During a controversial meeting of the Socialist Student Union (SDS), some women, no longer content to make coffee, demanded to participate in their own right. They called for full equality, which included controlling their own sexuality through easy access to oral contraception and legal abortion, and equal treatment in educational institutions and the workplace. Encouraged by theorists in the U.S., these new feminists created their own organizations and started radical magazines like Emma, sometimes flaunting their lesbianism in public. Eventually they succeeded in gaining political concessions, which included homes for battered women, Frauenbeauftragte [affirmative action officers for women] in government, quota systems in political parties, and equal hiring mandates. The GDR also took much pride in female equality, because the SED provided universal childcare, easier access to divorce, abortion, and the like. However, this policy sought to bring women into the workforce so as to compensate for the losses of manpower to the West and created the dual burden of work and family duties (22).
(21) Wolfgang Kraushaar, 1968 als Mythos, Chiffre und Zäsur (Hamburg, 2000); Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, Die 68er Bewegung. Deutschland – Westeuropa – USA (Munich, 2001); Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, and Detlev Junker, eds., 1968: The World Transformed (Cambridge, 1999).
(22) Ute Frevert, Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation (Oxford, 1989).