Germany, by Amity Shlaes; War By Other Means, by Jeffrey Herf
“The German soul has corridors and interconnecting corridors,” Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil. Some of those corridors are explored by Amity Shlaes in Germany: The Empire Within. A Wall Street Journal correspondent who describes herself as an “unreligious” American Jew with a love of the German language, Shlaes has collected impressionistic sketches of groups of modern Germany which are “relics” of the Communist, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, and even the Romanov empires. Although in some respects the book is already dated (there are frequent references to the ominous rise of the radical-rightist Republikaner, now a spent force), these essays are well worth reading for the glimpses they provide of aspects of contemporary German life otherwise inaccessible to readers in the English-speaking world.
“What happens when, in midelegy, the beloved returns?” Shlaes asks of the unexpected westward migration of East Germans that accompanied the opening of the Wall in the fall of 1989. One answer is “Barbara”—the name at once of a refugee-help column in the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, of its founder, Barbara Oster, and of the organization, Refugee Start Help, which has informally taken her name. Since Barbara Oster began helping refugees from the East in the early 50′s, Barbara has become a collective personality, “a classic charity,” with “a mission to help where the state cannot.” Barbara is decidedly feminine and distinctly high-toned. With a sense of civic duty perhaps best described as maternalistic, Barbara does what “she” can. The challenges are immense, but “of course Barbara will handle it, and so will Germany.”
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