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Processing the Past and the Renaming of Streets (September 18, 1991)

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Corrections Called for in East and West

The parliamentary faction for Alliance 90/ The Greens (Alternative List)/ Independent Women’s League has requested that street names that “stand for historical situations of injustice” be changed, both in the East and the West, as a way of working through the past. A new, binding definition now applies – in addition to Nazi street names from 1933 to 1945, which are already covered by law – to “street names from the period from 1945 to 1989 that refer to active opponents of democracy and at the same time to the intellectual-political pioneers and advocates of Stalinist despotism, the GDR regime, and other unjust Communist regimes . . .” The direction has thus been set. A person who is responsible for crimes against humanity surely doesn’t belong on a street sign. But how do we decide today about the historical assessment of individuals? The historian Klaus Mammach has written: “If one wants to commemorate Schulze-Delitzsch (a name to be given to a square in Mitte – T.H.), why do liberals like Wilhelm Külz and Otto Nuschke have to be stricken from the memory of Berliners . . . ?” Is their cooperation with the Communists after 1945 the only thing that counts here? After all, Külz was a leading liberal politician of the Weimar Republic and Reich Interior Minister in 1926/27. He died in 1948 (!), that’s to say, before the founding of the GDR. Nuschke was a Christian politician of the Weimar Republic who, after January 30, 1933, denounced measures taken by the Nazi regime. In connection with this, one female reader wrote the following about Theodor Heuss, after whom a square and a street are named in Berlin: “The fact that he was the first federal president does not undo the terrible political mistake he committed, with horrible consequences, in voting for Hitler’s Enabling Act in 1933 . . .”

“Anti-democrats existed not only in the SED,” says one deputy. “Intellectual-political pioneers” adorn street signs all over Berlin. What is the verdict on Kaiser Wilhelm, who gave his name three times to streets and squares, or Bismarck (ten times), or the Hohenzollerns (eleven times), not to count the Prussians, princes, and prince-regents? There’s a Hindenburgdamm, a Tannenbergallee, two Sedanstraßen, one Reichssportfeldstraße, a “Fliegerviertel” with sixteen streets named by the Nazis after “aces” of World War I, the most prominent being Manfred von Richthofen.

That, too, is our history – except evidently a very different one.

Source: Torsten Harmsen, "Überlebt Wilhelm die Straßen-Schlacht?" [“Will Wilhelm Survive the Street Fight?”], Berliner Zeitung, no. 218, September 18, 1991, p. 22.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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