MORE than a year ago, Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, the Prime Minister of the West German state Baden-Wurtemberg, remarked of Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, “The old gentleman intends to rule on his own. As he has done so with the greatest success in the past, let him get on with it!” The result of the Federal Election of September 17, however, meant that this is now precisely what Adenauer cannot go on doing. His Christian Democrats lost their overall majority in the Bundestag, winning 242 out of 449 seats, and were forced to look for partners in a new coalition government. This fact, not Adenauer’s promised retirement in 1963, marks the real end of what has popularly been called the “Adenauer era.”
The useful by-products of this Federal Election were the total defeat of right-wing, radically nationalistic parties, the poor showing of the pacifist neo-Communist German Peace Union, the rejection of Marxist ideology by the Social Democrats, and the record vote of sober and responsible citizens.
The election’s most important superficial feature was the Christian Democrats’ forfeiture of oneparty control of the Bundestag. Yet, it may prove more significant that Adenauer, pledged to remain Chancellor for the next two years, should for the first time have shown signs of a serious loss of political flair and touch. He launched bitter personal attacks on his Social Democratic opponent, the Lord Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt. This was an elementary error of tactics; Brandt is young, popular, and the doughty defender of Berlin’s freedom and independence.
By using smear tactics — he twice drew attention to the fact that Brandt was born illegitimate — Adenauer damaged his own cause. By indulging in untimely humor at election rallies — one newspaper called this “Adenauer’s unfortunate carnival touches” — he gave the impression that he was not taking the Berlin crisis seriously enough. He underlined this impression by failing to go to Berlin immediately after the Communist measures of August 13.
The Federal Election took place a month after the Communists built their wall in Berlin. During that intervening month, Willy Brandt appealed for all-party solidarity on national issues and for the formation of an all-party government of “national emergency” after September 17. One statesman who believed that Brandt was right was the Federal President, Heinrich Luebke. Luebke is a Christian Democrat who has served with distinction in state and federal governments. To him, the seriousness of the international situation transcended party differences.
To Adenauer, the Berlin crisis was a specialized, local affair which could be regulated by an allied display of firmness. Luebke regarded it as evidence that the East-West conflict over Germany was coming to a head, accompanied by the additional hazards of differences between the Federal Republic and its allies, and among those allies themselves.
After September 17, the formation of a strong, broadly based government in Bonn was starkly urgent. Had Adenauer abdicated in favor of Federal Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard, a Christian Democratic-Free Democratic coalition, with 299 out of 499 seats in the Bundestag, could have been formed almost overnight. Leading members of both parties had worked out every detail in the homes of industrialist patrons. Instead, Adenauer insisted on remaining Chancellor, on the grounds that his knowledge and experience were needed more than ever for the difficult period ahead. The embryonic opposition to his candidature (the names of his opponents — Gerstenmaier, Bucerius, and Blumenfeld — will crop up again and again) crumbled. Christian Democratic opposition to Adenauer always does. The Minister of Defense and potential kingmaker, Franz-Josef Strauss, stood aside.
Adenauer felt confident of bringing the Free Democrats into a coalition, on his terms. Following the election there were seven weeks of tortuous, often futile discussion in which he pitted his acute knowledge of political haggling against the youthful Free Democratic leader, Erich Mende. The Free Democrats wanted Erhard as Chancellor; Adenauer induced them to accept him instead. The Free Democrats wanted a new Foreign Minister in place of Heinrich von Brentano “His Master’s Voice"; Adenauer would not have given way, but Brentano resigned. The Free Democrats wanted a public declaration from Adenauer that he would resign within one year; all that they got was a gentlemen’s agreement for retirement by 1963, which Adenauer may or may not regard as binding.
End of an era
The results of these long-drawnout negotiations can hardly be regarded as happy. Die Welt wrote that the new government would, in any event, be the weakest since the Federal Republic came into being in 1949. Another paper, the Westdeutsche Allgemeine, thought that the most distinctive feature of the new government was that everyone would be waiting for its dissolution.
Erhard will be waiting, so that he can at last come into his own. Strauss will be waiting, so that he can become the power behind the throne, or take a short cut to it. Mende will be waiting, for he refused to take office under Adenauer but has been promised the Ministry of the Interior under Erhard or Strauss. His Free Democratic Party will be waiting most anxiously of all. for, in the past, small parties have found service under Adenauer to be equivalent to the kiss of death. The Refugee Party, the German Party, and the Free Democrats themselves have all been weakened by schism when they were members of the government coalition. The Refugee and German parties were wrecked as a result; today they have no representative in the Bundestag, as against 42 when they teamed up under Adenauer eight years ago.
What will the end of the Adenauer era mean? With what is no more than a caretaker administration in office for the next two years, plenty of Germans are asking this question with some apprehension. The passing of the Adenauer era could leave the Federal Republic temporarily rudderless. The West Germans may indeed be getting ready to kick over the traces of paternalistic, semi-authoritarian rule, for post-Nazi generations are growing up, and the old men cannot hold onto the reins of government forever. If the Adenauer era ends in weakness, it will leave a political vacuum during a most critical time for the German people.
Berlin, a German problem
The chances of a satisfactory EastWest agreement over Berlin are small, and the Berlin situation is likely to remain highly explosive. Politics apart, the building of the Berlin wall has struck a heavy blow against West Berlin’s economy. Before August 13, about 100.000 East Germans used to come daily into West Berlin to read a free press, indulge in free speech, meet friends but, also, to spend money.
Since August 13, more than a score of West Berlin movie theaters have had to close down, because they used to depend on their East German clientele. Shops near the sector boundaries have closed; money changers have gone out of business. More than 50,000 East Germans are forcibly prevented from going to their former places of work in West Berlin, where there is now an acute shortage of labor.
West Berliners can no longer buy cheap vegetables, fruit, furniture, and household equipment in an East Berlin where each “West mark” was worth five “East marks.”Since August 13, there has been a sharp increase in the number of West Berliners, mostly young, leaving the city for good. West Berlin already costs the Federal Republic two billion marks a year in direct and halfhidden subsidies; it will cost more.
Berlin will continue to be a source of expense and alarm. Soviet pressure for Western recognition of the East German Republic, and the resulting perpetuation of the division of Germany, can produce an even more worrisome problem. West Germans are beginning to note with concern that France has lost all interest in Germany’s reunification (if it ever had any) and that an increasing number of people in Britain regard recognition of the Ulbricht regime as a matter of empirical common sense and time. “How are we to cherish and strengthen the desire of the 16 million East Germans to rejoin us in freedom?”
Ernst Lemmer, Minister for AllGerman Affairs, said in a private interview, “We must just go on working for reunification persistently, imaginatively, above all patiently.” But Lemmer readily admits that the two Germanys are growing further apart all the time and that other Western nations may become reconciled to the idea of continuing German division.
For the first time since 1949, grave doubts of American intentions have arisen in West. Germany. President Kennedy’s protracted rethinking of his German policies has kept Bonn pulsating with rumors: Kennedy would be ready to recognize the Ulbricht regime in some undefined de facto form; he would concede the Oder-Neisse Line as Germany’s permanent eastern frontier (the West German press pounced avidly on the fact that one of the President’s brothers-in-law is a Polish aristocrat); he would consider zonal arms limitations in Europe which would discriminate against the Bundeswehr. These rumors were fanned by the somewhat loosely expressed ideas thrown out by Senators Fulbright and Humphrey, and by General Lucius Clay, President Kennedy’s personal representative in Berlin.
Doubts of American intentions have produced some wild expressions of opinion. A correspondent of Die Welt, Sebastian Haffner, declared that the “anti-Germanism of the Roosevelt era” was being resurrected; he advanced the harebrained proposal of a tight little FrancoGerman entente in place of the existing Western alliance.
The Refugee Press Service in Goettingen declared that Kennedy wanted a relaxation of tension in Europe at Germany’s expense. A top-ranking Federal Supreme Court official in Karlsruhe suggested that any step taken by the Western powers which might hinder the process of German reunification was contrary to the West German Constitution. There was vague talk of an “American-Russian Second Munich” in which Kennedy would be archappeaser, and Khrushchev, the appeased.
It will take time to re-establish complete German confidence in American intentions. It may take even more time to wean German politicians away from purely static defense of the political status quo in central Europe. Despite his many signal services to West Germany, Adenauer has induced a Maginot Line complex in its people, involving insistence on no risks, no experiments, no surrender of one inch of ground, even for die prospect of gaining long-term, eminently desirable objectives.
The voice of reason
In the recent troubled months, the voice of reason has also been heard in West Germany. The Westdeutsche Allgemeine pointed out that differences among Western partners could never shake the German people’s belief in democratic freedom and desire to maintain it. Talk of Germany’s being sold down the river was hysterical. A Die Well columnist, Friedrich von Kessel, decided, “If Adenauer is allowed to carry on his policy of strength ad absurdum, then we are all of us responsible.” Bonn, he thought, must not be allowed to “establish an alibi” by virtue of pursuing the John Foster Dulles policy of substituting stubbornness for ideas and initiative.
Various correspondents wrote to the editor of Die Welt that recognition of the East German Republic would not drive West Germany out of the Western alliance, that a West German rapprochement with the Communist bloc was unthinkable, that a reappraisal of policies might help to salvage “what is truly German” for the free world. A professor at Heidelberg University, Alexander Rustow, went even further when he told an audience of amazed young Luftwaffe officers at the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing that “to dcmand reunification is typically German.” West Germans should instead demand political freedom for their 16 million East German cousins.
It is significant that these voices of reason have belonged to people outside the circumscribed political arena of Bonn. In that arena, the most urgent political issues are apt to become masked by a sort of metaphysical haze of muddled thinking, which reduces Bundestag debates to the studied, punctual unreality of a puppet show. While parliamentary institutions stagnate, it may well be that West German citizens are going to have to play a more active part in the life of their country.
The established, older generation will be less able to help as time goes on. It is, for instance, a sad reflection that ex-President Theodor Heuss, regarded as an oracle during ten years in office, which ended in 1959, has since then not once produced a reasoned, authoritative commentary on his country’s affairs. Yet, Germany badly needs the advice of its elder statesmen, and there are so few of them.
The young Germans
West German youth will have to make good the shortcomings of its elders. There are plenty of new young faces this autumn in the Bundestag. There is a growing selfawareness among young Germans, who are so different from the uniformed zealots of the Nazi era and the overwound idealists of earlier times. Young Germans should be able to convince the outside world that the Soviet bogey of West German “imperialistic militarism” is nonsense.
In this connection, the Bundeswehr launched its first post-war submarine, the “U.I.,” at Kiel on October 21. The first “U.I.” was launched at Kiel in 1911, but the Kaiser built thirty-five submarines before World War I started three years later; the Federal Republic is building a modest twelve. The Kaiser planned to send his submarines out into the high seas to sink enemy shipping; the Federal government will keep its few U-boats in coastal waters, strictly for home defense. The difference between the old and the new Germany could hardly be better illustrated. For that matter, the “federal village” of Bonn may be a dull place, but it is reasonably sane. This should be a comforting reflection for those who find the German situation anomalous.