The theme of remembrance will always be current in Germany. But the controversial discussion of the GDR’s Communist dictatorship has by no means supplanted the Holocaust as the central pillar of the culture of memory. Almost all of the historically significant topics that have been hotly debated in recent years – starting with the reception of the Wehrmacht exhibition and Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996), through the Walser-Bubis debate, the compensation of forced laborers, and the victim-perpetrator discussion, up to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the planned center commemorating the expulsion of Germans from present-day Poland – can only be understood from the standpoint of this hierarchization of memory. Nevertheless, the “dual Vergangenheitsbewältigung” – meaning the coming to terms with both the Nazi and Communist pasts – remains topical. Over the course of decades, a widely accepted consensus has been achieved on the appropriate remembrance of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. But the second German dictatorship is still surrounded by ongoing debate about proper educational policy and adequate historiographical assessment. The intense and contentious public reappraisal of the GDR past initially focused mainly on those who collaborated with the GDR state security service [Stasi], and then on the repressive character of the regime in general. To this day, contrasting and often emotionally charged worlds of memory face off in the former GDR. In the West, however, GDR history is only selectively incorporated into German history as a whole (22).
Unification cast a spotlight not only on the historical confrontation with the GDR, but also on the coexistence of citizens from East and West. Germany might be faulted for missing the opportunity to attempt to construct a common identity for itself in the wake of unification. No course was laid toward the creation of a new constitution, new symbols, or a grand project (23). The vivid epithets Besserwessi and Jammerossi (“Wessi know-it-alls” and “Ossi whiners”) made clear that tearing down the “Wall in the head” and reconciling different political orientations and patterns of behavior took time (24). At the same time, however, we must not ignore the fact that Germany has strongly pronounced regional differences, and that political preferences and patterns of behavior are not only shaped by East-West differences but also by considerable differences between North and South.
(22) Norbert Frei, “Der Einnerungstisch ist reich gedeckt. Geschichtsaufarbeitung in Deutschland: Die DDR-Diktatur wird vorbildung erforscht. Doch die Ergebnisse dürfen nicht politische instrumentalisiert werden,” Die Zeit, no. 14, March 26, 2009.
(23) Michael Naumann, “Toward the Berlin Republic – Past, Present, and Future,” in Dieter Dettke, ed., The Spirit of the Berlin Republic (New York and Oxford, 2003), pp. 236-37.
(24) On this issue, see J. W. Falter et al., eds., Sind wir ein Volk? Ost- und Westdeutschland im Vergleich (Munich, 2006).