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Germany, France Write History Together

DW staff (jp)May 7, 2006

A joint French-German school textbook was unveiled Thursday by the French Education Minister in Peronne -- site of a famously horrific World War I battle. But banishing historical demons is what it's all about.

Toasting to Franco-German friendshipImage: dpa

An educational milestone, "Histoire/Geschichte: Europe and the World Since 1945" is a high school textbook that explores the two countries' post-war history, while two further books on pre-1945 history are currently in the pipeline.

Choosing to focus on these years was a brave move, given that national interpretations of World War II and its aftermath are notoriously different from country to country.

But French and German authors rose to the challenge, producing the world's first history book co-written by two countries.

"The big lesson is that nothing is written in stone," said French Education Minister Gilles de Robien. "The antagonisms which we thought had been carved into marble are not eternal, and it's possible to write new pages in the books of the peoples."


A clash of perspectives and political agenda might have seemed inevitable. But surprisingly, French newspaper Figaro quoted the project's co-director Guillaume Le Quintrec as saying, the main bone of contention was actually the depiction of the US.

US Soldaten in Deutschland gelbe Bänder Flagge
Germany has been accused of being pro-AmericanImage: AP

"The French found the Germans to be pro-American, and the Germans found our viewpoint to be anti-American," he said.

Differences in educational styles also proved problematic, with the authors realizing that while German teachers encourage students to debate, their French counterparts tend to be stricter and more authoritarian.

Fostering ties

The idea for the project was born three years ago at the European Youth Parliament in Strasbourg, when teenage participants agreed on a need to accentuate what unites Europe rather than what divides it.

Lesen verbindet
Schröder and Chirac shared a strong bondImage: AP

The proposal was welcomed both by French President Jacques Chirac and then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder -- two fervent believers in the Franco-German axis -- and given the green light just one year later.

"It was not easy because of the complexity of the German and French school systems," a spokesman from the German embassy in Paris told the BBC. "But both leaders really threw their weight behind the project."

Writing history together

Two years in development, the French edition was completed first, with the German version set to be published on July 10, and actual classroom launch scheduled for autumn 2007.

The textbook, designed to foster ties and boost a sense of European identity, is geared to German and French students in the last three years of high school.

EU Flaggen im Wind Symbolbild
Shaping political consciousnessImage: European Community, 2004

"For the first time in the world, two nations are writing history together," Peter Müller, Germany's chief representative for cultural affairs to France, told Reuters. "This book allows us to understand even better the partner country and its history."

Although the goal is to emphasize the French-German friendship, the textbook doesn't shy away from the more turbulent aspects of past-war history -- nor does it slide into Franco-German centricity.

"The book looks at the whole of Europe and the world," said history teacher Frederic Munier from the Henry IV Lycee in Paris. "The cover features Kohl and Mitterand in Verdun, as well as the Berlin Wall, but it also shows Israelis and Palestinians!"

If it proves successful, "Histoire/Geschichte" may be the first of many similar projects. If France and Germany can do it, other countries might soon follow suit.