As the European Union struggles with a variety of complex issues, many of them financial, Germany has emerged as a critical player in the development of economic policy for the region. Upcoming elections in Germany will serve as a referendum on how the German government, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, has performed in the eyes of Germans. Join Active Minds as we explore the role of Germany in the world as well as how the process of German reunification has evolved, especially given Merkel’s roots in the government of the former Communist East Germany.

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 during WWII and the Cold War.
  • 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 of the change. Particularly in the economic realm, gaps still exist between East and West. Unemployment is higher in the East and millions of young people left the East to seek better job opportunities in the West.
  • The major challenge currently facing Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel today is the European Debt Crisis. Eurozone countries, especially Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Portugal, have to varying degrees, struggled to maintain their economies and to service the debt they undertook since the creation of the Euro. Although the southern countries are the most vulnerable to default, the crisis extends beyond Europe and has been called by many the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.
  • Germany, as the largest economy powerhouse in the Eurozone, has taken the lead in determining how to respond to this global crisis by pushing for austerity in the countries that have seen their debt loads grow. This has led to protests and unrest in the southern European countries and resentment towards Germany. Many Germans, however, feel that Germany has been unfairly burdened with the cost of the overspending of other nations.
  • Angela Merkel faces re-election in September 2013. The outcome of the election is certain to be seen as a referendum on her leadership during the European economic crisis. Whether she retains the Chancellorship or not, Germany is not expected to move significantly away from its current austerity stance despite calls from other EU countries and the IMF for a shift to a growth policy with less emphasis on debt reduction and a move to economic stimulus.

Exploration Questions

  • How did WWI affect Germany and set the stage for the rise of Hitler and WWII?
  • What is the European Debt Crisis? What are the major issues involved? What has been Germany’s role?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think the euro will continue to be Europe’s common currency? Why? Why not?
  • Have you ever traveled to Germany? If so, what recollections do you have of the country?

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.
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  • 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