Germany is the most populous country in the European Union, and is the EU’s largest economy. Since the debt crisis of 2008, Germany has taken on a dominant position as a de facto leader of the EU. Now, with long-time Chancellor Angela Merkle not seeking re-election and the EU’s second largest economy (the United Kingdom) on its way out the door, Germany is at a crossroads. These circumstances, combined with a resurgent German far-right and the Coronavirus pandemic, place Germany in uncertain territory. Join Active Minds as we discuss Germany’s tumultuous history and nebulous future.

Key Lecture Points

  • Until 1871, Germany was not a unified country; rather, it was a collection of kingdoms, principalities, fiefdoms, religious enclaves, and independent towns and cities.  Taking the long view of history, German unification is the exception, not the rule, especially taking into account 20th century divisions of the German population.
  • Although it’s been over two decades since the reunification of East and West Germany in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the country is still dealing with the repercussions and costs of the change.
  • As the largest economy in the Eurozone, Germany has taken the lead in determining how to respond to the global economic crises of the 21st Century.  Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany pushed for austerity in the EU countries whose debt loads exploded beginning in 2011.  This led to protests and unrest in the southern European countries and resentment towards Germany.  Many Germans, however, felt that Germany has been unfairly burdened with the cost of the overspending of other nations.
  • The 2014 refugee crisis also called the durability of the European Union into question.  Saying “We can do this”, Merkel called for Germany to welcome more than 1 million refugees, more than any other EU country.  The opening to asylum seekers, however tested Merkle’s government against a burgeoning anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany.
  • Merkle and the CDU won the most recent round of German parliamentary elections in 2017; however, Merkle said this would be her last stint as leader of the German government. Questions abound about how a post-Merkle Germany will operate as the de facto leader of Europe, especially in light of the United Kingdom, the European Union’s second-largest economy, leaving the EU.

Exploration Questions

  • Who will lead the CDU (and possibly Germany) after the next round of elections?
  • How will Germany function in a post-Brexit Europe?
  • What will be the long-term effects of the Coronavirus in Germany?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever traveled to Germany?  If so, what recollections do you have of the country?
  • How would you compare the experience of the Coronavirus in the US to what you know of the experience in Germany?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Shirer, William, Ron Rosenbaum. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon & Schuster, 2011. 1280 pages. Shirer’s classic study of how Hitler came to power and nearly succeeded in conquering the world.
    Click here to order
  • Funder, Anna. Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. Harper Perennial, 2011. 304 pages. Real life stories of people who lived in the former East Germany, including past members of the Stasi.
    Click here to order
  • Grass, Gunter, Krishna Wilson. From Germany to Germany: Diary 1990. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 272 pages. Germany’s Nobel Prize winner’s chronicle of 1990—the most crucial year in recent German history.
    Click here to order