Visual culture

Memory work and arts of the present

Authored by: Andrew Webber

The Routledge Handbook of German Politics & Culture

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415686860
eBook ISBN: 9781315747040
Adobe ISBN: 9781317600152


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This chapter addresses key developments in the visual culture of Germany since the establishment of the unified Germany as what came to be called the Berlin Republic. The shifting of the governmental structures of Germany back to its old capital, with the new Federal Republic taking the place of both the West German ‘Bonn Republic’ and the GDR, was a contentious matter. Most famously, Jürgen Habermas, the doyen of German social and political thinking, entered into the debate to question the foundations of this new republic in the collection of interviews and political writings published in 1997 as Die Normalität einer Berliner Republik (translated as A Berlin Republic: Writings on Germany, 1998). The English translation loses the ironically inflected ‘normality’ that is attributed to the Berlin Republic here, as a country that for Habermas provides a compelling case against established normative ideas of nationhood in an age of globalisation and after the terrible state-sponsored crimes of the 20th century. For Habermas, the reconstitution of Germany on the basis of an old nation-state model with an underpinning of ethnic identity is both inadequate and dangerous. We might think of it in the visual cultural form of Thomas Schütte’s patinated bronze sculpture, Vater Staat (Father State, 2010): an overbearing patriarchal figure but with his hands bound in his coat.

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