Award for staff publication: “Constructing a German Diaspora”

Aston Reader in German Dr Stefan Manz’s book on German emigration has been named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title 2015. The book has been reviewed in a number of highly regarded academic journals as being ‘a very significant contribution to the field of breathtaking scope’, ‘essential’, ‘a model of historical scholarship’, ‘pioneering’, ‘innovative’, ‘unique’, ‘fascinating’, and ‘important.

From the publisher:

“This book takes on a global perspective to unravel the complex relationship between Imperial Germany and its diaspora. Around 1900, German-speakers living abroad were tied into global power-political aspirations. They were represented as outposts of a “Greater German Empire” whose ethnic links had to be preserved for their own and the fatherland’s benefits. Did these ideas fall on fertile ground abroad? In the light of extreme social, political, and religious heterogeneity, diaspora construction did not redeem the all-encompassing fantasies of its engineers. But it certainly was at work, as nationalism “went global” in many German ethnic communities. Three thematic areas are taken as examples to illustrate the emergence of globally operating organizations and communication flows: Politics and the navy issue, Protestantism, and German schools abroad as “bulwarks of language preservation.” The public negotiation of these issues is explored for localities as diverse as Shanghai, Cape Town, Blumenau in Brazil, Melbourne, Glasgow, the Upper Midwest in the United States, and the Volga Basin in Russia. The mobilisation of ethno-national diasporas is also a feature of modern-day globalization. The theoretical ramifications analysed in the book are as poignant today as they were for the nineteenth century.”

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Joachim Gauck Is Germany’s New President

In the last two years, Germany has had three Federal Presidents. This is not a good track record for a national office which is supposed to incorporate the principles of continuity and stability. The president is the official head of state and although not much actual political power is invested in him, and he fulfills a largely representative role, it is important for the nation’s integrity to have a suitable person at the top of the political hierarchy. Germans were therefore dismayed when two presidents stepped down in quick succession, one of them amidst allegations of corruption, and it was felt that the office had suffered severe damage.

In politics, it is usually not possible to go back and start over, but this is exactly what Germany opted to do. At the presidential elections in 2010, the public’s favourite candidate, Joachim Gauck, lost by a very narrow margin. Since it is the Federal Assembly, not the voters, who elect the president, Gauck failed to secure a majority because he was running as the Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate despite in fact having closer links to Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). The ruling coalition of CDU and Liberal Democrats (FDP) had appointed their own candidate, who finally managed to win when the ballot was repeated for the third time. Disappointment could be felt throughout the country, when Gauck was beaten, and it seems that the CDU are now determined to put right what they appeared to have messed up last time round.

Today, Gauck won with a very comfortable majority – partly due to the fact that this time he was the candidate for both CDU/FDP  and SPD. The right wing radical NPD had decided to appoint their own candidate as had the left wing party Die Linke, who tried to get Beate Klarsfeld elected. Klarsfeld has dedicated most of her life to bringing Nazi perpetrators to justice, and she rose to national fame (or notoriety) in 1968 after slapping the then Federal Chancellor and previously long time member of the NSDAP, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, publicly across the face. She could well be regarded as a worthy, if somewhat marginal, opponent to Gauck. Today she did well and managed to secure some votes from outside Die Linke, but she was never any real competition for Gauck.

So who is this new president and what makes him so popular?

Joachim Gauck is a 72 year old retired vicar who was active in the East German civil rights movement, which helped end the Socialist dictatorship. After the Wall came down, Gauck headed the “Stasi-Behörde”, a government agency put in charge of sorting and organising the files left behind by the East German secret service and making them available to the people who had been spied on by a vast network of professional agents and “IMs” (unofficial informants). This position gave Gauck a high profile and meant that he was much better known to the public than several of his predecessors.

Gauck is the first east German to be elected president, and with him and Angela Merkel leading the country, it seems that Germany has now finally entered a stage which puts an end to the often disenfranchised position of the people living in what is still referred to as “the new states”.

Gauck’s personal history and his experience in the GDR undoubtedly inform his politics and he likes to conjure up the idea of freedom and its importance for human existence when addressing the public. Unlike his two predecessors, Gauck is a very gifted speaker and it is hoped that his charismatic presence will help to heal rifts within German society as much as make him a worthy representative for the country on the international stage.

Maybe these hopes are just a little bit too high, and Gauck will definitely need to prove himself over the next few months, but currently it seems that Germans could not be happier with their new president.

Read and watch more about this in German or English.

One million Germans partying on ice

It is not very often that north Germany sees very cold temperatures and the river Alster in Hamburg hardly ever freezes over.

But this weekend, for the first time in fifteen years, the Altereisvergnügen took place and an estimated one million people happily joined in as Hamburg celebrated a big party on the ice.

Click  here to watch a short video of the event.

Knut dies…

Do you remember the cuddly polar bear Knut from the Berlin zoo?

Aged four, he died two weeks ago in Berlin. The cause for his sudden death was a cerebral disease. Knut was found floating in the pool of his enclosure.

His claim to fame around the world was, among other things, that he was hand-reared by zookeeper Thomas Dörflein, who became nearly as famous as his popular fosterling.

Read more about Knut here at Spiegel Online, Bild.de, and Stern.de.

Interview Project Germany

Austin Lynch, son of the famous director David Lynch, and his filmcrew embarked on a roadtrip through Germany. From East to West, from North to South, interviewing at random Germans who talk about their lives and experiences.

After touring through the United States in 2009 they began their journey through Germany in Autumn 2010. In the end, 50 different women and men shared their personal histories in this fascinating and extraordinary documentary.

Every Thursday you can discover a new video on the project homepage at www.interviewproject.de!

In case the videos don’t play, you can also find one here.

To read an interview with David Lynch and his son, go here.