Germany’s Cassandra

0911.hockenos-b In Washington Monthly, Paul Hockenos reviews Günter Grass's Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland: Tagebuch 1990 (On the Road From Germany to Germany: Diary 1990):

In the diary, which is punctuated with Grass’s own quirky ink sketchings, the then sixty-two-year-old embarks on a series of extended reading tours to eastern cities like Leipzig, Dresden, and Cottbus, as well as further-flung locales in the forests of Mark Brandenburg and along the coast of the Baltic Sea. He crisscrosses borders that had just weeks before been the Iron Curtain—the watchtowers still in place—where good-humored East German guards just wave his car through. One asks to have a copy of The Tin Drum autographed. Grass remarks with consternation at the eastern Germans’ new obsession with products from the west, as if a carton of milk with advertising on it were better than milk from a state-run cooperative in unadorned packaging. “The money, the money’s got to come,” a Leipzig taxi driver tells him. “It doesn’t matter how; the main thing is the money.”

Like just about everyone on the German left, Grass is shocked when the freshly liberated easterners throw their first democratic vote behind the West German–backed conservatives, spurning not only the Social Democrats but also the courageous dissidents who were the catalyst for the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989. The conservative landslide sets the stage for unification, thereafter a question of how and not whether. Grass shakes his head in disbelief as his good friend Willy Brandt, the world-famous Social Democrat and elder statesman, welcomes German unity, even appearing publicly alongside Kohl. Clearly, Germans are on a fast track to a one-sided unification.

Initially, Grass objects outright to settling the greatest of all German questions—the nation’s proper borders—with a one-state solution. Now long forgotten, there was an array of options for the two Germanys under discussion in early 1990, including ideas of an independent, democratic GDR that coexisted alongside the mighty Federal Republic. Germany still owes a debt to humanity, Grass argued, namely the one it incurred as perpetrator of the Holocaust. Germany’s division is the price it pays for Auschwitz.