Postwar Politics: From Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Schmidt, Strong Personalities with Rough Edges

As for any young generation politics had no priority for us. Doubtless subject number one was  sports. All  my friends were active sportsmen, some played tennis or handball but most of them played soccer. When we met our talks dealt mainly with the results of the soccer Bundesliga or other sports events. Nevertheless when we went to college we developed a stronger interest in politics and political parties and added the national press to the regional press (primarily appreciated for its sports pages), for example the Süddeutsche Zeitung,  and weekly magazines like the Spiegel. Our political orientation was split between conservative standpoints represented in Bavaria by the CSU and moderate socialist opinions, which meant SPD. The third party were the liberals FDP, the radical communist party KPD  had been prohibited (reestablished as DKP in 1960).


The German postwar political parties were distinguished by strong personalities. Germany’s first chancellor was  Konrad Adenauer, former Mayor of Cologne, taking his responsibility when he was already 73 years old, having passed the last ten years of the third Reich as retiree. In the roaring twenties he had lost his fortune speculating with shares of Glanzstoff. After Erhard and Kiesinger followed another remarkable chancellor, Willy Brandt, which had passed the years of the Nazi regime in Norwegian exile supporting the left socialists in Germany. As chancellor he opened the German foreign policy to the states of the Soviet Republic and concluded the treaties with the Warsaw Pact states, whose main goal  was the mutual renunciation of force. His successor was Helmut Schmidt, a very smart guy, who was the leader of Germany in its battle against the terror organization RAF culminating in the high-jacking of the Lufthansa plane Landshut  and its spectacular liberation  by the special forces unit GSG 9. But there were other strong personalities as Erhard  and Kiesinger from the CDU , who both became also chancellor of Germany, Bahr and Wehner prominent supporters  of Willy Brandt.  And there was Franz Josef Strauss, the most sparkling personality of the German post war policy.


In the debates in the German Bundestag these people were fighting for their opposite viewpoints with regard to the foreign policy during the period of cold war, the right social policy in a flourishing German economy, the question of Germany’s rearmament in order to take international responsibility….  There was an exchange of arguments followed by crucial votes. These men (yes, there were only a few women) were ready to take responsibility for their country, they were proud of their nation, and did not follow any ideological directives. It was fascinating to follow a debate head to head between Wehner and Strauss.


This patriotism was also present in our young people, may be particularly in the group of my friends because we followed with great enthusiasm the success of the sports heroes of postwar Germany. We identified ourselves with Fritz Walter, Helmut Rahn and their teammates winning the first Soccer World Championship after World War II , with Hary, Germar und Kaufmann,  the great generation of German world class sprinters , the German ice hockey team winning the olympic Bronze medal at Innsbruck with some top players from Landshut, ……  .   


The “Wirtschaftswunder” during the 1950s and 1960s substantially increased Germany’s reputation abroad. We appreciated our German identity, different from a part of the German people today at the beginning of the third millennium, when they deny the German history and tradition, and indoctrinated by school, politics and mass media  seeing themselves as member of the “people of perpetrators” which has to atone for the “sins of the past”. 


We were well aware of the terrible crime of the Nazis, but for us  this was not the total German history. Germany’s roots date back to the east franc empire under Otto I in tenth century. Until the 19th century it exists as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which is the association of territory states, unified in 1871 by Preussen to a national state with the substantial involvement of Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian Prime Minister. Germany for us was the country of Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Heine,….Bach, Händel, Brahms, Liszt, Orff…., Kepler, Leibniz , Röntgen, Planck, Einstein, Hahn…. For us, despite the horrible period of the Nazi Regime, it was also the country of the poets , scientists and philosophers .

Information concerning the Third Reich and the Holocaust  in the press, as well in our school education  were scarce and superficial. It was certainly a big problem for the adults to explain why a whole nation adhered to the insane ideology of National Socialism. Probably a big part of the atrocities in the concentration camps were not known, but the disappearance of Jewish families and events like the “Reichskristallnacht” could not be ignored . Considering Germany and its evolution with the years I am afraid, that the German people are characterized by a certain search for consensus  and a lack of individualism, which makes them vulnerable for ideologies.