Opinion: At 18, Germany Has Come of Age | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.10.2008

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Opinion: At 18, Germany Has Come of Age

According to German law, one comes of age at 18. Now, 18 years after Germany's reunification, DW's Felix Steiner asks whether the country is all grown up?


The reunified Germany is very different than its citizens of the same age. When they turn 18, they usually celebrate with a wild party. In contrast, the celebration for Germany's reunification is accompanied every year with bashfulness and modesty.

The country's metropolis may be Berlin, but the birthday celebration is taking place elsewhere. Last year it was in Schwerin, next year it will be in Saarbruecken, and this year it is in Hamburg -- at least one of the few German cities found on a world map.

But that's not the reason the 18th anniversary of Germany's reunification is being celebrated in Hamburg. Rather, it's because the city currently holds the presidency among the nations' federal states.

Little display of national pride

The celebration in Hamburg will not be a central demonstration with keynote speeches and a cheering population. There also won't be a military parade, which is still common in other democratic European nations. Simply a cheerful festival will take place in Hamburg and black, red and gold won't be the dominating colors.

Next to the national flag, Hamburg's red and white provincial flag as well as the European Union's blue and gold star-spangled banner will also be on display. Germans display their national colors during the German national soccer team's matches.

But a sea of black, red and gold on the national holiday? Not a chance.

These are observations that all belie those who saw a new German catastrophe brewing with the country's reunification in 1990. Those who feared the revival of German national socialism, and even ranted about an emerging "Fourth Reich."

Those who feared that the country with the largest population by far in the heart of Europe and the strongest economy within the EU couldn't be happy with this and, at the expense of its neighbors and EU partners, would continue to expand its power and influence and, in short, strive for domination in Europe.

An older, wiser Germany

All of these concerns have been left unsubstantiated. Why? Because on Oct. 3, 1990 there was no reunification in the sense that traditions from the time before 1945 were reincorporated.

On Oct. 3, 1990, a joint country emerged that first and foremost unified the experience of the German catastrophe from 1933 to 1945 and the memory of the destructive war. It is a country that still has difficulties today in deploying soldiers outside of Germany and one that avoids each social debate about why armed German soldiers are serving in Afghanistan, the Balkans and other places.

In 1945, a German society emerged that had learned that prosperity needs peace and that even greater prosperity comes from cooperating with partners rather than working against them.

So no, the Germany of today is not an 18 year-old teenager that the whole neighborhood needs to fear. The Germany of today is all grown up.

Felix Steiner is the head of Deutsche Welle's central news desk. (ls)

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