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No Ordinary Change in Government – 1969 (retrospective account, 2001)

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We felt like we were still carrying around the unsettling question on the road to democracy: Will we manage it this time, in contrast to Weimar’s* attempt at democracy from [its capital in] Berlin? After twenty years of being governed by the [CDU/CSU] Union (!), the shift from Kiesinger to Brandt – from “right” to “left,” from “Christian” to “Socialist”, and whatever all the stickers pasted inside and outside proclaimed (albeit with stereotypes) – very many felt this was a fundamental change.

It was a time of major upheaval, of a new beginning. People asked, cautiously asked, how different would everything be? Especially when the new Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt stressed in his policy statement that now he wanted to dare more democracy; the democracy was only just beginning.

The experience of this change was eclipsed in the minds of many by the plain and normal fact that – from a parliamentary and pragmatic point of view – the foreign minister had advanced to federal chancellor, that the [coalition] partner party would now set the tone. But seen from a historical perspective, what was politically “normal” about Germany? The emotional state back then was not very “normal.” That was the change, brought about by the 1968 generation! Will the (feared) “other” republic come to pass? That became the question.

My companions from that time can no longer confirm what they experienced. One colleague, comrade, friend, who was determined to let this change appear and evolve to be as “normal” as possible, without any winners’ victory shouts or losers’ tension: Parliamentary change as an indication of the attained and secured democracy!

My moderate public statements on this change were noticed. No wonder: I had long been prepared for this development by Walter Scheel. Despite all that changed, the parliamentary leader of the Union** was the same as before this “turnaround.” I tried, also as an individual, to provide evidence of a center and stability. In any case, the campaign slogan of the Union, “What matters is the chancellor!” did not have the intended and desired success. After governing for twenty years, we found ourselves – unprepared and unintentionally – back in the opposition. Many sulked.

* Reference to the first attempt to establish a democracy in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919-33). – eds.
** Reference to the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU). – eds.

Source: Rainer Barzel, Ein gewagtes Leben. Erinnerungen. [An Adventurous Life. Recollections]. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 2001, pp. 265-66 and 269-70.

Translation: Allison Brown

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