May 27, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 17

current issue
archive / search

    Germanic Studies to celebrate reunification

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    In 1949, the University played a role in reuniting the Federal Republic of Germany with some of its former enemies. The Department of Germanic Studies at the University will commemorate the anniversary of this historical event with A New Germany in a New Europe, a conference scheduled for Thursday, June 10, and Friday, June 11.

    At the conference, prominent German politicians, writers and cultural leaders will discuss events that have taken place in the years since World War II and Germany’s relationship with its European neighbors and the world. The conference will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 10, with a keynote address by Richard von Weizsäcker, former president of Germany.

    Todd Herzog, a conference organizer and a Ph.D. candidate in Germanic Studies, described the history behind the event of 50 years ago, the backdrop for the conference. “Germany was very much outside of the international community (in 1949), but (University President Robert Maynard) Hutchins and others wanted to bring Germany back into the international community.”

    Following World War II, German culture was the only strength that the nation had left. They lacked a strong democratic tradition upon which to fall back, and the country’s economy was in shambles. But Hutchins and Guiseppe Antonio Borgese, a Professor Emeritus in Romance Languages & Literatures, seized upon the idea of celebrating the bicentennial of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s birth.

    “Why Goethe?” Herzog asked rhetorically. “He was not only a poet and playwright but also an international figure, a statesman and a scientist. He was interested in international culture. He advocated a world united by literature and culture. He was seen as a good humanist, unsullied by the Third Reich.”

    The 1949 conference was illustrious, Herzog said. Held in Aspen, Colo., the conference featured a keynote speech by Albert Schweitzer, who made his first and only trip to the United States for the event. Author Thornton Wilder provided English translation of Schweitzer’s address, which was delivered in both German and French to more than 2,000 people in attendance.

    At the same time, Borgese and Professor Arnold Bergstrasser established a program to send Chicago professors to the Goethe University in Frankfurt. Herzog said, “The idea was to bring the Chicago model of education to the Germans, training them for a new democracy.”

    Herzog, who spent a year studying in Berlin, said he expects von Weizsäcker to address the importance of the 1949 gathering as well as speak about Germany’s political, economic and cultural role in today’s world.

    Other participants include Sander Gilman, Chair of Germanic Studies and the Henry R. Luce Distinguished Service Professor of Liberal Arts in Human Biology; Daniel Libeskind, architect of Berlin’s new Jewish Museum; journalist and novelist Peter Schneider; film director Monika Treut; Tom Freudenheim, deputy director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin; Barbara John, secretary for foreigners of the Senate of Berlin; and Henryk Broder, columnist and correspondent for Der Spiegel.

    Herzog said he hopes the conference will shed light on Germany’s present and future. “To phrase it in the form of a question, can Goethe’s ideals of an international culture be the guideposts for Germany’s sense of self in the next half century? What does it mean to be German?” he asked.

    “What does it mean to be European? And what does it mean to be German and European? And what does it mean to be European with Germany right next door? To discuss these issues, we’ve assembled––as in 1949––a prominent and provocative international cast.”

    The conference is free and opened to the public. All events will take place in Swift Lecture Hall, 1025 E. 58th St. More information is available by calling (773) 702-8494 or e-mailing hrherzog@midway.uchicago.edu. People with disabilities who may need assistance may phone the Department of Germanic Studies at (773) 702-8494.

    A New Germany in a New Europe is sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service, the German American Marshall Fund, the Philip and Ida Romberg Fund for German American Relations in the Department of Germanic Studies, and The Franke Institute for the Humanities.