The good news from Germany is that there is no news. Unemployment soars but the extreme right remains feeble. Josef Joffe says the Weimar syndrome can now be buriedby Josef Joffe / April 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Punks have been protesting about some pictures at an exhibition? Elsewhere, this might stimulate optimistic commentary about the state of western culture. If the leather-jacketed kids are attending to highbrow exhibits, even in anger, then all is not lost.
But this is Germany, more precisely Munich, which has to live down its reputation as Hauptstadt der Bewegung (capital of the Nazi movement) in the 1920s. Also, the target of their ire was an exhibition entitled The Crimes of the Wehrmacht, and the punks, actually neo-Nazi skinheads, were not out to battle ideas. They had descended on Munich to intimidate all those who had come to look at a collection of photographs and texts trying to demolish the comfortable myth that the Wehrmacht had emerged from the second world war with clean hands.
German and above all foreign observers were quick to spot an ominous trend. After all, there were several thousand of these bald-headed boys and their paleo-Nazi elders, and they had been clearly emboldened by the rightwing rhetoric of Peter Gauweiler, a leading figure in the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian ruling party.
But neo-Nazi power plays in Germany always require a second look. The black-leather brigade were not locals; they had come to Munich from all over Germany. They are the counterpart of the self-styled “Autonome,” a free-floating reserve army of leftist storm troopers who travel all over Germany to wreak havoc-most recently, against the nuclear transports carrying spent fuel to its resting place. And also to beat up the skins trying to salvage the reputation of the Wehrmacht.
But both groups were outnumbered by the thousands of peaceful pro-exhibition marchers who also forced Gauweiler to retreat, complaining that the press had grievously misrepresented his criticisms of the exhibition.
Nor is this the end of the good news from Germany. While the Munich battles were raging, two extraordinary events unfolded in Frankfurt, 250 miles to the north in the Land of Hesse. In the local elections there, a certain Ignatz Bubis led the slate of the Free Democrats (FDP), and managed, against the odds, to carry his party back into the Rathaus. Even better, he polled two percentage points more than the party did statewide, where it scored only a paltry 4 per cent.
This two point difference in a Land election would not be very noteworthy if it were not for Bubis himself. He happens to…