Berlin Republic

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Berlin Republic is sometimes used to name the historical period following the unification of the German Democratic Republic with the Federal Republic of Germany, in the tradition of the terms Weimar Republic and Bonn Republic. On 20 June 1991, the German Bundestag decided to move the core of government functions from Bonn to Berlin. The move was completed in the summer of 1999 and officially took effect on 1 September 1999.[1]

Prehistory of the Berlin Republic

After National Socialism and World War II in 1949, the western part of the divided nation constituted itself as the Federal Republic with the provisional federal capital Bonn, from which the name Bonn Republic was derived. A new capital was named because the western part of the former Reich capital Berlin, which was included in the Federal Republic, did not belong to the territory of the Soviet Occupation Zone, but was completely surrounded by this territory, which later became the GDR.

The Treaty on the Final Settlement concerning Germany (so-called Two-plus-Four Treaty) between the two German states and the four victorious powers re-established a common sovereign German state in 1990, with the GDR joining the Federal Republic. Berlin was thereby designated as the capital in Article 2 of the Unification Treaty, but the seat of government and parliament was left open until the decision in June 1991. The term ” Berlin Republic ” refers – with an unclear temporal delimitation – to the era of reunified Germany and attempts to distinguish it from the history of the Bonn Republic.

Origin of the term

The term originated already in the so-called “capital debate” of 1990/91, and was introduced into the debate as an artificial word by the publicist Johannes Gross in the early 1990s.[2] The former capital and current federal city of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn, was considered an apparently non-national capital because it had only been the capital of the Western Republic, whereas Berlin, which was divided into West and East, had been the capital of the entire nation before the division.

According to British social historian Joannah Caborn, this debate raised the question of the new national self-image in politics and the media: “The modestly federalist FRG saw itself as the antipode of the nationalist, centralist Nazi state, while in the GDR socialism and internationalism were to replace nationalism as the pillars supporting the state.”[3] “With the end of partition, two states were to become one nation, without any clarity as to what that nation should look like.”[4] In this context, the shift towards a more self-conscious reference to the nation was also evident in the choice of the capital city and the associated notion of the Berlin Republic. The term Berlin Republic thus also stands for a debate about the national understanding in the history of Germany (since 1990).

The Berlin Republic in literature and the feuilleton

In November 1997, Welt am Sonntag editors Heimo Schwilk and Ulrich Schacht presented their book “For a Berlin Republic” at the German Cathedral in Berlin. The laudation was held by Jörg Schönbohm. This book presentation was published on 29 January 1998 in the article “Die Angst vor dem Euro: The right-wing spectrum mobilizes” of the ARD/RBB magazine Kontraste critically addressed by the author Reinhard Borgmann.[5] Present at this book presentation, described by Borgmann as a meeting of members of the New Right, were, among others, the Bundeswehr base commander Hans Helmut Speidel, the controversial historian Ernst Nolte, the former Federal Minister of Construction Oscar Schneider, and the extreme right-wing organizer of the so-called Tuesday Talks[6] Hans Ulrich Pieper (formerly Die Republikaner, since 2011 NPD). Afterwards, the right-wing book launch was discussed twice more in the TAZ by Barbara Junge. First in a report about the book launch[7] and then later in a portrait of Berlin site commander Hans Helmut Speidel, quote: “I would rather not have been there.”[8]

Another example of the popularization of “speaking positively about the nation” is Eckhard Fuhr’s patriotic book from 2005: Wo wir uns finden – Die Berliner Republik als Vaterland. The Welt feuilleton chief integrates, among others. Martin Walser into the discourse on the Berlin Republic and attempts “the reconciliation of Martin Walser with Jürgen Habermas”.[9] Martin Walser, who opposes a “negative” discourse on the nation against the background of reunification, sees himself in the tradition of German national poets such as Thomas Mann. The debates about Walser, who warned against Auschwitz as a “moral cudgel”, shows the close connection[10] shows the close connection of the new national discourse in the Berlin Republic with a renunciation of the claim to “remember the Nazi era and its crimes”[4] (Caborn).

Jan-Holger Kirsch[11] sees a “redefinition of ‘national identity’ in a united Germany” as typical for the “Berlin Republic”[12] In contrast to earlier times, confessions of nationhood and confessions of historical guilt are no longer perceived as contradictory.[13] Accordingly, the confrontation with the Nazi past plays only a secondary role in the dispute over the Berlin “Holocaust Memorial”. It is rather a matter of identity politics, in which Jewish remembrance and participation tend to be excluded despite ostentatious appropriation.[14]

Features of the Berlin Republic

Compared with the period up to 1990, some previous political constants in the Federal Republic, which now encompasses a unified Germany, have changed, which is associated in debates with the psychological demarcation from the Bonn Republic.

The welfare state has been altered in its scope of benefits by concepts partly judged as neoclassical (Hartz concept, location policy, Agenda 2010). According to the prevailing opinion, problems of the welfare state result from demography (principle of the intergenerational contract) and from structural weaknesses of the labour market as the financial basis of social benefits. Other welfare state models such as the unconditional basic income are increasingly discussed in terms of their meaningfulness and feasibility.

The restructuring of the executive organs of the Federation and of internal security (Schily packages, anti-terrorist file, networking of police and secret service, Federal Police, homeland security concept, Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre) took place. The security policy of the Federal Republic is characterized by the aspect of combating terrorism and, to this end, discusses the restriction of fundamental rights under special conditions. Discussions or plans concerning fundamental rights relate to the restriction of the right of asylum and to the simplification of communications surveillance. However, planned measures by the executive have also been rejected as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court (Air Security Act).

The Federal Republic expanded its military and foreign policy role. The Bundeswehr participates or participated (also partly with hard mandates) in missions of the United Nations (Somalia mission, KFOR, SFOR, ISAF). The Federal Republic of Germany participated in the Kosovo war without this deployment being legitimized by a UN resolution. Together with France, the Federal Republic argued vehemently against the Iraq war in the Security Council. As a G4 state, the Federal Republic has or had ambitions for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Topics of the Berlin Republic:

  • Germany and Europe: German dominance or possible European supranationalism
  • Germany’s role in the world: international peacekeeping, the fight against terrorism, the question of great powers
  • Dealing with the National Socialist past now that most contemporary witnesses no longer exist (including the “Schlussstrich” debate)
  • Demographic change and Germany as a country of immigration
  • Technological progress and its consequences: Digital revolution, data protection
  • Energy turnaround
  • Changes in the five-party system
  • Refugee crisis and its consequences


  • Joannah Caborn: Schleichende Wende. Discourses of Nation and Memory in the Constitution of the Berlin Republic. 2006, ISBN 3-89771-739-5.
  • Eckhard Fuhr: Wo wir uns finden – Die Berliner Republik als Vaterland. 2005, ISBN 3-8270-0569-8.
  • Ursula Kreft, Hans Uske, Siegfried Jäger (eds.): Kassensturz. Political Mortgages of the Berlin Republic. ISBN 3-927388-66-1.
  • Karl Kaiser (ed.): Zur Zukunft der Deutschen Außenpolitik, Reden zur Außenpolitik der Berliner Republik. Europa Union Verlag, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-7713-0568-3.
  • initiative not a love song (ed.): Subjekt (in) der Berliner Republik. Verbrecher Verlag. ISBN 3-935843-31-3.
  • Manfred Görtemaker: Die Berliner Republik. Wiedervereinigung und Neuorientierung, be.bra, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-89809-416-0.
  • Michael Bienert, Stefan Creuzberger et al. (eds.): Die Berliner Republik. Beiträge zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte seit 1990. be.bra Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-95410-101-6.
  • Schäfer, Christian 2013: “Raumschiff Berlin” – stimmt die Metapher? A meta-analysis of current empirical research on the self-image, working methods and reporting of political journalists in the ‘Berlin Republic’. In: Bravo Roger, Franziska/Henn, Philipp/Tuppack, Diana (eds.): Medien müssen draußen bleiben! Where are the Boundaries of Political Transparency? Beiträge zur 8. Fachtagung des DFPK (Düsseldorfer Forum Politische Kommunikation, Vol. 3; ISSN 2191-8791), Berlin: Frank & Timme, pp. 197-216.

Web links

Individual references

  1. BGBl. I 1999, p. 1725
  2. Michael Weigl, Lars C. Colschen: Politics and History. In: Karl-Rudolf Korte, Werner Weidenfeld (eds.): Deutschland-Trendbuch. Facts and Orientations. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2001, ISBN 3-8100-3212-3, p. 71(online)
  3. Joannah Caborn (2006): Schleichende Wende. Discourses of nation and memory in the constitution of the Berlin Republic. S. 10
  4. a b Joannah Caborn (2006): Schleichende Wende. Discourses of Nation and Memory in the Constitution of the Berlin Republic. S. 8.
  5. Kontraste – The Fear of the Euro: The right-wing spectrum mobilizes, ARD/RBB 29 January 1998
  6. Ex-Senator Lummer meets right-wing populist Jörg Haider, by Karsten Hintzmann Berliner Morgenpost 20 March 2003
  7. A laudation for the right-wing writers TAZ 5 February 1998
  8. The city’s top soldier TAZ 16 March 1998
  9. No beautiful country in this time. Eckhard Fuhr: “Where we find ourselves”. In: Die Zeit, No. 10/2005.
  10. Klaus Harpprecht Who is Martin Walser referring to?, in: Die Zeit, No. 43/1998.
  11. Jan-Holger Kirsch: National Myth or Historical Mourning? Der Streit um ein zentrales “Holocaust-Mahnmal” für die Berliner Republik, Böhlau Verlag, Köln/Weimar 2003, ISBN 3-412-14002-3, p. 125 (cf. review by Nina Leonhard, Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut der Bundeswehr, Strausberg).
  12. Hans-Ernst Mittig: Gegen das Holocaustdenkmal der Berliner Republik. Karin Kramer Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-87956-302-0.
  13. Jan-Holger Kirsch: National Myth or Historical Mourning? Der Streit um ein zentrales “Holocaust-Mahnmal” für die Berliner Republik, Böhlau Verlag, Köln/Weimar 2003, ISBN 3-412-14002-3, p. p. 317.
  14. Jan-Holger Kirsch: National Myth or Historical Mourning? Der Streit um ein zentrales “Holocaust-Mahnmal” für die Berliner Republik, Böhlau Verlag, Köln/Weimar 2003, ISBN 3-412-14002-3, p. p. 319.