This concluding volume of German History in Documents and Images will look at Germany’s development since 1989. Many of the challenges confronting Germany affect other postindustrial nations as well. How can one respond to the risks of modern societies and the pressures of globalization? How can the welfare state be reformed without polarizing society and provoking conflicts over the distribution of wealth? What can be done to advance the cause of European integration, and what role does Europe play in the hierarchy of world powers? (6)
For Germany, the years since 1990 have been of particular importance, since various political developments have called into question the customary balance between continuity and constant but generally measured change. It was not only the discrepancy between expectations and the reality of unification that led to disappointment. Globalization and Europeanization also imposed their share of rapid changes, which left many politicians and citizens overburdened, since they had anticipated neither the extent of these changes nor the responses demanded by them: namely, new approaches to problem-solving and new patterns of thought and behavior. At the same time, the years since 1990 have also seen the gradual broadening of Germany's international status and scope of responsibilities. The country's development into a middle power – one whose interests are no longer focused exclusively on Europe but instead defined increasingly globally – proceeded on the basis of a broad political consensus. The unity in international politics stood in stark contrast to the divisiveness that characterized domestic politics.
The Bonn Republic (1949-1990) was gradually superseded by the Berlin Republic. The term “Berlin Republic” emerged in conjunction with the debate over Germany's capital and initially expressed some Germans’ fears that moving the seat of government from Bonn to Berlin might also signal a turning away from the post-nationalist orientation of the “successful democracy” [geglückte Demokratie] of the “old” Federal Republic (7). Now the term is used mostly to emphasize the fact that unification (and the government's move to Berlin) represented a turning point in the history of the Federal Republic.
This introduction will present the most important topics of discussion of the past years, arranged thematically (8). Together with the documents, this text aims to give the reader insight into the major trends in Germany's domestic, foreign, economic, and social policies, and to convey their sometimes controversial nature. Debates about the success or failure of unification, the causes, responses, and effects of political and economic reforms, or the role of the Federal Republic on the world stage are often very pointed, since individuals are affected in a manner that is both personal and immediate, but also because the assessment of contemporary events necessarily neglects long-term perspectives. This introduction and document collection emphasize both the significance of German unification and the transitional character of the past two decades.
(6) Paul Nolte, Riskante Moderne. Die Deutschen und der neue Kapitalismus (Munich, 2006); Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande, Das kosmopolitische Europa. Gesellschaft und Politik in der Zweiten Moderne (Frankfurt am Main, 2004).
(7) The concept of “successful democracy” [geglückte Demokratie] is taken from Edgar Wolfrum, Die geglückte Demokratie. Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland von ihren Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Stuttgart, 2006).
(8) See also Konrad H. Jarausch, “Anfänge der Berliner Republik (1990-2005),” in Ulrich Hermann et al., eds., Kleine Deutsche Geschichte (Stuttgart, 2006), pp. 463-96.