Little to celebrate for losers
On the evening of November 11, 1918, German artist Kathe Kollwitz wrote in her diary that a ‘‘deathly quiet’’ had settled on the streets of Berlin.
People were afraid to step outside their front doors. The only sound in the darkness was distant gunfire as the forces of revolution battled for supremacy.
The echoes of those shots have long died away, but today the silence across Germany will be almost as deafening as it was then.
The centenary of the Armistice is barely mentioned in public. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is commemorating the end of World War I in France. The president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is in London.
There will be a memorial service in the Berliner Dom, the old Prussian cathedral in the heart of the city, and a day of speeches in the German parliament next weekend. These events aside, Germany is not in a hurry to mention the war.
Yet there are plenty of good reasons why Armistice Day is widely ignored in Germany, according to historians. Several other milestones fall around this weekend: the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the German republic, the 29th anniversary of the first breach in the Berlin Wall and, above all, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jews.
The end of the war was hardly cause for jubilation. Germany was crushed, and communists, socialists, monarchists and the right-wing Freikorps waged a bloody struggle for power. It is hard for Germans to look back on this period without thinking of the tumultuous Weimar Republic that followed it or the later harrowing years of the Third Reich.
There is also some ambivalence about just how culpable Germany was in starting the war.
Germans honour their war dead in a more muted way. ‘‘It is a very different memory, maintained only through photographs and, perhaps in a few cases, letters,’’ said Herfried Munkler, a political scientist at Humboldt University in Berlin. ‘‘And it is private, not public. It has its place – if at all – in the family.’’