Column: I’ve been camping in a book for the last few weeks. Wool…

Ben van Melick from Hoensbroek is a publicist and former teacher.

wartime. We are all survivors, we are scared, we help, pretend there is nothing wrong or we seek refuge. For the past few weeks, I have been camping in a book. Wolf time. Germany between 1945-1955by Harald Jähner, well-known Berlin author and journalist.

I have something to do with Germany. Growing up with the German language, family, schlagers – Peter Kraus and Caterina Valente, with German TV, magazines and films, a German teacher who introduced us to literature and cultural history. The literary quartet and press fresh are literary lighthouses, philosopher David Precht and Tatort my ultimate Sunday night relaxation. I buy many of my books in Aachen. And I’m addicted to Marcus Lanz and Anne Will’s talk shows, where the depth takes shape in an exemplary way.

Mentality history

Wolf Age 1945-1955, opens up a fascinating period in German history: the oppression of the Nazi past and the building of a new society, a time that can only be captured in a mentality story. In this case, in a thick book full of coherent stories and narratives from everyday life, politics, culture and art, full of insights, interesting facts and with telling illustrations. Captivating from the first to the last page.

wolves time wants to answer the question of how a disturbed, brainwashed Herrenvolk, including 12 million refugees, 10 million demobilized soldiers and 10 million homeless, managed in a decade to develop a mentality that enables a free society and a parliamentary democracy. And that on the ruins of ruined cities.

Of course, Marshal Help and Economic miracle were conditions for getting out of the deepest poverty, but that does not explain the change in mentality. Jähner emphasizes the intellectual hunger and the need for new art and culture after 12 years of intellectual oppression.


He shows the importance of Americans, not only through their infectious optimism, but above all through their re-education programs. Re-education of the Germans was essential for the Americans. The German people had shown that they could not handle democracy. That had to change.

Psychological warfare

As early as 1943, military intelligence in the United States recruited reputable Germans. They were trained in psychological warfare, after the capitulation they were to train National Socialists to become Democrats as opinion makers in newly founded newspapers. Journalists, writers and visual artists were facilitated to play an important role in this mentality change. And it worked to some degree. In the early years, the Germans were little or not at all preoccupied with the question of guilt, with the elaboration of the war past and the Nazi dictatorship, which raised the question among intellectuals about the stability of the new democratic order.

The quality of democracy

The author Hans Habe has a novel character who says: Life goes on because the conscience is still† The quality of democracy is again an issue. The answer formulated in 1946 by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Hannah Arendt’s teacher, is still a beacon today. The Germans must learn to communicate with each other again. It is impossible without shameless honesty, tireless honesty. A condition for a stable democracy is: learn to talk to each other, listen to what the other person thinks. Think in context, remain willing to reach new insights. Acknowledge contradiction.


Jaspers says: Finding common ground in what contradicts each other is more important than recording mutually exclusive attitudes, because it immediately ends the conversation. In his beautifully republished little dissertation this year The question of guilt it says: we must restore the will to think, to suspend feelings of indignation and despair. The deep seriousness, the belief in human potential, the clear reasoning is moving. The fact that new German Democrats such as Annalene Baerbock and Robert Habeck are putting Jaspers’ maxims into practice gives hope. I have something to do with Germany.

Ben van Melick from Hoensbroek is a publicist and former teacher.

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