From Weimar to the Wall : my life in German politics /
Richard von Weizsäcker; translated from the German by Ruth Hein.
1st ed.
New York : Broadway Books, c1999.
422 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : Broadway Books, c1999.
general note
Includes index.
catalogue key
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Part One: The Weimar Republic

Roots in Württemberg

I was born under the sign of a new order. I first saw the light of day on April 15, 1920, in an attic of the royal palace in Stuttgart. But royalty was not my host; the red flag flew from the rooftop above me.

The revolution that put an end to the First World War had transformed the kingdom of Württemberg into a republic. The actual changeover had come about quite peacefully. During the capture of the palace only one act of force occurred: when the new flag was raised. Otherwise no damage was done to the royal residence.

The good citizens of Württemberg in general are not given to violence--they prefer rational compromise. Even the revolutionaries went about their mission with circumspection and good manners. Their last king, Wilhelm II, gave them no trouble. After the king, with considerable dignity, announced his abdication on November 30, 1918, Wilhelm Keil, the leading Social Democrat, declared publicly that the revolution had not in any way been directed against the person of King Wilhelm but only against the concept of a monarchy--an ideal corrupted by the emperor of the same name ruling from Berlin. The respect, the article continued, the people had always felt for Württemberg's king continued unchanged. Even the leader of the Spartacists--left-wing socialists who wanted a Soviet republic established in Germany--acknowledged that King Wilhelm had behaved in exemplary fashion. Asked to comment on the necessity of abolishing the monarchy, the Spartacist leader explained laconically, "It's only 'cause of the system." At the jubilee of 1916 celebrating the king's being on the throne for twenty-five years, the chairman of the Social Democrats had even announced that although they were republicans, when the great day came they would vote for King Wilhelm for the presidency. To the end he remained a principled, humane, and effective ruler who did all he could to further his province's development. During his reign Württemberg became "an ideal spot."

But now it was the spring of 1920. My parents and their three children--my older siblings--had spent the winter in The Hague, where my father was naval attaché at the German embassy to the Netherlands. Here his job and salary were abruptly canceled. With my mother about to give birth, the family made hasty preparations to travel home--but how could they? All over Germany uprisings were unleashed by both the left and the right: bloody riots broke out frequently and unexpectedly, the national debt rose to 300 billion marks, and the Kapp Putsch--a right-wing extremist attempt to topple the republican government in March 1920--caused further disruptions. This attempted coup drove the national government headed by Friedrich Ebert into retreat, first to Dresden and then to Stuttgart. Once settled, it called on the working class to protect the republic. The response was a general strike--the trains stopped running.

After great difficulty my parents found a small Dutch freighter plying the Rhine to take my family on board in Nijmegen. Thus began a six-day journey down a river on which there was no other traffic, past abandoned ports, past gunfire in Duisburg, past Allied flags in Cologne and Bonn. Responding to the ominous name of the ship Kinderdyk, I came close to being born on board. Fortunately, before that happened, the ship arrived at Mannheim and from there we got to Stuttgart, and so I--like both my parents and three of my four grandparents--came into the world in Württemberg's capital.

My father's family came from the Frankish area of Hohenlohe, which the Elector--later King--Friedrich of Württemberg had annexed, though not without help from the French. For quite some time the people of Hohenlohe continued to think of Württemberg as a foreign country and had little inclination to make common cause with the Swabians there. When my great-great-grandfather set out from the old Hohenlohe residence at Öhringen for Blaubeuren in Württemberg to go to school, his mother implored him not to pick up the "ugly" Swabian dialect and to remain true to the Frankish way of speaking. Nevertheless, eventually the various peoples in Württemberg meshed peaceably.

The subdivided, varied, and often somewhat cramped countryside tends to drive the adventurous out into the wider world, though they never forget their beloved home. Its people are more given to reflection than chatter, more inclined to preservation than revolution. Though their feelings are as strong as anyone's, they prefer to keep them to themselves so as not to intrude on the feelings of others.

Many Stuttgart families hail from the countryside, and even industrialization has not entirely removed the markedly rural outlook. Many factory workers still cultivate little plots of land. The good life means being hardworking and frugal, and many people try to attain more than the basic need, meaning a little house of their own.

Swabian inventors and innovators have given the world the astronomical telescope and gasoline engine, the harmonica and the Volkswagen. Even in earlier times, significant impulses to further the intellectual development and unification of Germany came from Swabia. The names of Kepler and List, Hegel and Schelling, Schiller and Uhland, Hölderlin and Mörike recall this inspiration. Some of them moved away from the narrow confines of home to foreign parts, where on occasion they quickly gained greater fame than they had ever enjoyed at home. Helmut Thielecke, the Rhenish theologian who subsequently moved to Württemberg, used to say that Swabians were too clever for their limited horizons. They found it difficult to feel any great love for anyone who had been foolish enough to move away. When Hegel, then world-renowned, died in Berlin in 1831, all the Stuttgart newspapers, the Schwäbische Merkur, did to acknowledge the loss was reprint the official announcement from Berlin's Allgemeine Preussischen Staatszeitung. Instead of preparing its own obituary, the local paper merely added three words: "born in Stuttgart." This crucial fact had been omitted in the national publication.

Excerpted from From Weimar to the Wall: My Life in German Politics by Richard von Weizsacker
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2000-02:
Von Weizs"acker, president of Germany at unification, offers an interesting yet disappointing account of his life and involvement in public affairs, revealing less about important events and his reaction to them than he should. Instead of political details, judgments about personalities, and reactions to events at the time, the author lectures about recent history. Von Weizs"acker, who is acquainted with a wide circle of German public figures, comes from liberal south German educated middle class and lower nobility, with a strong tradition of public service. Although hostile to the Nazis, the family continued in public office under Hitler. During the war, von Weizs"acker, while on the fringes of the anti-Hitler opposition, served dutifully on the Russian front. He entered politics through work with Protestant church organizations, of which there is an informative account. He was a CDU outsider in the Bundestag, especially on Ostpolitik and the constructive "no confidence" vote against Brandt. The office of Mayor of Berlin served as his springboard to the Federal presidency, whose leadership potential he expanded, notably by his justly lauded speech of May 1985. His account of his presidential years catalogs his official acts, inadvertently showing how marginal he was to German unification, which he worked for throughout. All levels. H. Krisch; University of Connecticut
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-05-10:
An old-fashioned, even courtly quality suffuses this memoirÄwhich is odd, considering how intricately von Weis„cker's life is tied to the 20th-century history of Germany. The son of a member of Germany's foreign service, von Weis„cker served in Hitler's army and later became president of Germany from 1984 to 1994. Perhaps nothing says more about the events chronicled here than that a chapter called "My Father's Nuremberg Trial" is followed closely by one called "Choosing a Profession." "My memories are my constant companions," writes von Weis„cker, "in any case, recalling both the bad and good events I witnessed." It's mainly the good he recounts here. First elected to the German Parliament in 1969 as a member of Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, von Weis„cker earned a reputation as a compassionate conservative, and nothing he writes here dispels that image. Although clearly proud of Germany's cultural traditions, he scorns chauvinism and favors granting dual citizenship to German Turks. After recounting what he describes as an idyllic, pre-WWII childhood, von Weis„cker briefly describes the war years before launching into a more detailed account of his postwar career in business and politics. He is equally gracious whether recalling German political adversaries such as Willy Brandt or fellow world leaders. He even soft-pedals his criticism of Margaret Thatcher, a vociferous opponent of German reunification. Readers looking for self-revelation will be disappointed, but those interested in the views of a thoughtful man who participated in his country's efforts to redeem itself will be rewarded. (June)
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, May 1999
Kirkus Reviews, May 1999
Publishers Weekly, May 1999
Choice, February 2000
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Table of Contents
A Prefatory Note
The Weimar Republic
Hitler and the War
Germany in a Polarized World
"Forty Years After the War" (Speech in the Bundestag, Bonn, May 8, 1985)
"The Marshall Plan" (Speech at Harvard University Commencement, Cambridge, Massachusetts, June 11, 1987)
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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