Germany has had several historical milestones on its account since 1945. Construction, post-war years, economic miracle, cold war, construction and fall of the wall and finally the end of the GDR. The country was able to develop into economic power and take on a pioneering role in Europe.
This development has always been accompanied by the efforts of the respective government for the basic values of freedom, democracy and the validity of human rights and European unification. Today Germany is surrounded by friends and partners in Europe. A survey during the soccer World Cup in 2014 even said that the Federal Republic was the most popular nation globally.
Even decades after World War II, most Germans were far from seeing their country as a figurehead or from identifying with it. Compared to other European countries, the younger, mainly West German population lacked national awareness.
The identification of Germans with their nation only gradually strengthened, triggered by peaceful reunification, and later in European and international sports competitions. Since the soccer World Cup in 2006 at the latest, Germans have been waving their national flag again quite uninhibitedly in public. They confidently sing the national anthem – something that was alien to many before.
The war guilt of Germany not only had a visible impact on the consciousness of German citizens but also on German politics. For a long time, German governments played a restrained and vital role on the international stage. After 1945 Germany was shaped by the restrictions imposed by the Western Allies.
In the post-war years, German foreign policy was characterized by Konrad Adenauer’s guideline “Gaining sovereignty by renouncing sovereignty”. The still young Federal Republic gained in sovereignty by renouncing sovereignty in the long term – not least because of its ties to the West. One did not want to stir up new fear among the international partners and firmly confront the past by dealing with it.
However, with a responsible policy, the Federal Republic shook off its shadow from the Nazi past. The former archenemy France has been a close friend at least since the Treaty of Elysée of 1961.
Despite the terrible Holocaust, which imposed a special obligation and responsibility on Germany towards Israel, these two countries are also closely linked politically and economically on a friendly basis today. The neighbourhood relationship with Poland along the Oder-Neisse border is good.
Germany plays a strong role in Europe today. On the one hand, as an economic power and an influential political protagonist in foreign policy. With a new self-confidence, the Bundeswehr has developed from a pure defence army into an army in action in recent years. Press reports from abroad regularly reflect concerns about this powerful position of former Nazi Germany in the European structure.
Meanwhile, World War II is still part of their everyday life for older Germans. Many suffer from the long-term effects of the war. According to a study by the Leipzig University Hospital, post-traumatic stress disorders increase in old age, especially in Germany.
The constant fear of bomb attacks and expulsions suffered, experiences from imprisonment or horrors from combat operations have burned themselves into the soul of the war generation. Things from everyday life that are completely harmless in themselves, certain places, activities, smells or noises, can lead to those affected reliving the trauma in images and feelings. Depression, insomnia, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and social withdrawal can be the consequences.
But tangible remnants of the war also appear now and then. Experts repeatedly come across old bombs from wartime. Tens of thousands are said to be still under German soil.
Every year the clearing services of the federal states blow up and defuse around 5,000 World War II bombs. A find from 2012 was less dangerous but all the more valuable. Nazi art treasures believed to have been lost came to light. Cornelius Gurlitt from Munich-Schwabing, son of the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895–1956), had hundreds of paintings suspected of being stolen by the Nazis in his apartment.
To account for Germany’s historical obligations, the federal and state governments support memorials and related initiatives. With the memorial site concept, the Federal Government is helping to create suitable framework conditions for memorial site work while maintaining the fundamental responsibility of the states and municipalities. The memorials aim to assume responsibility, to intensify the reappraisal and to deepen the commemoration.
With research, documentation, exhibitions, publications and events, they should do their specific part in representing local, regional and national history during the Nazi tyranny. Many people in Germany volunteer for memorial work. You thereby create a fundamental and indispensable contribution to the conscious handling of history and education for democracy.
The commemorations at the end of the war on May 8, 1945, are intended to remind everyone of peace and freedom every year and to remind everyone to distance themselves from violence and dictatorship.
On the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe and the National Socialist tyranny, the recently deceased former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker gave a speech on May 8, 1985, probably one of the most important events in the history of Germany.