National identity in contemporary Germany

ben.wilko1 By ben.wilko1, 22nd Jan 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

An essay about the issues of national identity in germany

National identity in contemporary Germany

National identity in Federal Republic of Germany has always been an interesting point of discussion, especially during the last century. It is now a rather difficult task to judge whether or not there is currently a strong sense of national pride and identity in contemporary Germany without looking carefully at the history of the country. The 20th century brought about the some of the most significant change within the country on a cultural and social level. These changes occurred due to such noteworthy events as the two world wars, and then the division of the country between the Allied forces and the Soviet Union, the effects of which are still prominent today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall and 19 years after the official reunification of the country. This essay aims to look at some of the key factors which have led the country to have such a level national identity that is currently has.

When analysing the idea of national identity in Germany as a whole, it is important to take note of the fact that Germany has a history of being separated into several smaller kingdoms and principalities. Due to this, throughout most of German history there has not been a total German identity. Even during the era where the German kingdoms were united under the Holy Roman Empire, there was no true “Germany” to speak of. Historically speaking, at this time there was still no real concept of nation states, and therefore, nationalism and patriotism had not yet developed. Such ideologies of nationhood did not come about until late in the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

The first instance in which there was an actual German nation was when politician Otto von Bismarck brought together the German kingdoms and states in a German Confederation under the Kingdom of Prussia in the years running up to 1871. Nevertheless, this German Reich was more of a militaristic collection of states. The confederation was “built out of blood and iron” and Bismarck was famous for his belief that this was the way in which Germany should be united. This idea of an Empire of power was mimicked in part by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Third Reich. The idea of rebuilding and strengthening the country after years of social and economic hardship after the First World War led to a massive surge in national pride. Between 1933 and 1945, the people of the country began to develop and maintain a fundamental belief in the doctrines of the Third Reich, even though these are seen as flawed in modern times. The Germany run by the Nazi party was inhabited by people who had an enormous amount of pride for the state, so much that they were willing to die in fighting to defend and expand their ‘Utopian’ society. In present-day societies on a national and even an international level, due to the obvious after effects of the Third Reich and the Second World War, the idea of nationalism and how it almost promotes xenophobia in Germany is still a controversial point of debate.

Between 1949 and 1990, national identity was undoubtedly very strong in German Democratic Republic, although millions fled the state in its short history, many East Germans had a great deal of pride in their small state. This is portrayed in the film Good Bye Lennin! (Becker, 2003) wherein a small family in East Berlin must go to extreme lengths to ensure that the mother of the family (who has devoted her life to the state) does not discover that the Berlin wall has fallen. The shock and distress of finding out about the inevitable reunification of the country leads to the death of the mother. Although one argument could state that this sense of national pride and loyalty to the state was in fact compulsory. Such an idea is depicted in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film Das Leben der Anderen (2006) which shows the life of an east German writer being kept under full surveillance, with the risk of being arrested if it was found that he was not completely loyal to the state. Such a threat was always prominent in the GDR up until its dissolution. The fact that these films were made thirteen and sixteen years respectively after the reunification of Germany shows that there are mixed views on the reunification. In an article by Julia Bonstein on the popular news website for Der Spiegel it is highlighted that “57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany” (“Homesick for a Dictatorship”, 2009). This gives the implication that at least former east Germans could identify far better with the small communist nation than they can with the now reunified German nation, with which many former east Germans are apparently displeased.

Another variable in the discussion of German national identity is immigration and the post war guest workers (Gastarbeiter). Willing workers were brought into West Germany from countries such as Turkey to take up jobs that Germans did not want to undertake. These guest workers were then allowed to stay in the country, but were not granted citizenship by the state. In addition to this, many Germans do not accept these guest workers as German citizens to this day. Even descendants of those who have been in Germany since the end of the war suffer unfortunate racial abuse. Up to the reunification in 1990, the nationality of Germans was predominantly “defined by blood” (“Germany Beyond the Wall” n.d.). According to the article “Germany Beyond the Wall” the country “exploded in xenophobic violence” soon after the country reunified. This phrase is, referring back to a previous statement, controversial. As it poses a question, “Is national identity in Germany now plagued with racial distrust?”

In contemporary Germany, it is difficult to gauge whether or not citizens have a national identity after reunification. The fact that the national anthem was sung at reunification celebration 2009 and had not been sung at the occasion before supports this idea for the past 19 years. In a way this suggests that now, so long after reunification, the idea pride in German nationality is beginning to reappear. This had noticeably not been the case for the latter half of the 20th century, due to the extreme nationalism of the Third Reich. The national anthem was followed immediately by the European anthem, which poses a counter idea of people having a greater sense of belonging to a greater European Union rather than to Germany. This is described in Derek Lewis’ Contemporary Germany (2001), in which he speaks about “Europeanization and economic globalisation” which is now paving the way away from the more traditional ideas of historical nationalism.

That said, the fact that Germany is a Republic made up of Federal States (Bunderländer) also has had a great effect on the ideas to which Germans identify themselves. This type of political system allows for the diversity of cultural and social backgrounds. With this in mind, it is completely possible that the German people, and in a way all people of countries with the same structure, have adapted to identify with the state in which they live, rather than the nation as a whole.
With all the aforementioned pieces of information taken into account, in relation to national identity, the situation in Germany is fundamentally unclear. As recounted by The Times journalist Jenny Booth on a recent speech given by Angela Merkel “German unity is still incomplete” (“Crowds gather to remember fall of Berlin Wall”, 2009). This is a poignant statement by the German chancellor, and even though it is not directly about the national identity of German citizens, draws attention to the suggestion that a true contemporary German national identity is the luxury of the generations born after the official reunification of 1990. It is interesting, nonetheless, that there is in fact a wider identification of German nationals with the European Union. This is in part due to the development of a wider international community in which the views on the inhabitants of the state are also represented on a much broader scale.
Becker, W (Director). (2003) Good Bye Lennin! Germany: X-Filme Creative Pool
Bonstein, J (2009, March 7) Homesick for a Dictatorship, Retrieved December 8, 2009, from Der Spiegel website:,1518,634122,00.html
Booth, J (2009 November, 9) Crowds gather to remember fall of Berlin Wall, Retrieved December 8, 2009, from
Cooper, B. (n.d.) Germany Beyond the Wall, Retrieved December 8, 2009, from
Henckel von Donnersmarck, F. (2006) Das Leben der Anderen Germany: Arte
Lewis, D. (2001) Contemporary Germany A Handbook, London: Hodder Arnold


Germany, Identity, National Identity, Nationalism

Meet the author

author avatar ben.wilko1
Student of German studies with a passion for languages

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Юрий
22nd Oct 2014 (#)

Привет нормальные европейцы!!! Я не обращаюсь к голубым, лизбеянкам, пидерастам и прочей гомосятины.
Ваши правители насаждают в школах сексуроки, чтобы превратить ваших детей в товар для педофилов. Это в Голландии скоро будут насиловать детей в шестимесячном возрасте. Вы этого хотите? Из за санкций, введённых против России, Вы будете расплачиваться со своего кармана. У вас сейчас самое популярное имя, Мухамед. Скоро ваши эмигранты вытеснят Вас. Особенно мне жалко немцев, которые тащат Западную Европу на своих плечах. Меркель продала Вас американцам и ваш золотой запас находится там. Берите своих друзей и близких и приезжайте к нам в Россию. Места хватит всем. У нас уже много живёт ваших соотечественников и ни кто не жалуется. Приезжайте, и Вы из далека будете наблюдать, как гомосятина из Голландии поглащает Западную Европу, Вместе с многовековой культурой и традицией. А ваши эмигранты, которые живут за счёт вашего бюджета и вас, будут всё разваливать. США не нужна сильная Германия или Европа. Поэтому США развязала гражданскую войну на Украине. Украина не хочет платить за газ, поэтому при транзите, она будет воровать газ. В Европе газа не хватит, а США и ваши продажные правители будут говорить Вам, что виновата Россия. Ладно американцы, но Вы то европейцы, старая мудрая расса, должны это понимать. Приезжайте, всё идёт так, как должно идти, и Вы ни чем не сможете помочь старой Европе.
Яценюк уже заявил, что с поставками российского газа в Европу, могут возникнуть проблемы. Проще говоря, они будут воровать ваш газ, а ваши правители Вам скажут, что виновата Россия. Деньги, которые даёт США Украине, идут на вооружение. США нужна война, так как доллар пустышка, воздушный шарик, ни чем не обеспечен. Им на всех на плевать. Я пишу Вам не от Путина. Я пишу Вам от себя, от чистого сердца. А если Вы не хотите слышать меня сейчас, то не говорите потом, когда придёт беда к вашему дому, что Вас никто не предупреждал.
И почему я, простой российский пенсионер, должен доказывать такие простые истины. Вы сами прекрасно знаете, что я прав, но Вы упорно отгоняете от себя мысли о том, что может случится что то страшное. Кто хочет, ждите, а кто не хочет, приезжайте.
Вы наверно забыли, что после капитуляции гитлеровской Германии, американцы разбомбили несколько городов в западной части Германии, там даже не было гитлеровских войск? Вы наверно также забыли, что после капитуляции Японии, американцы скинули две атомных бомбы, на Хиросиму и Нагасаки? Вы забыли, как американцы бомбили Югославию? Не хотите не дорогой российский газ, получите дорогой сланцевый газ. А ваши продажные правители Вам скажут, что виновата Россия.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?