Between German and eternal spirit: Kohl’s politics of historical memory in biographical perspective

Christian Wicke


Widely remembered for his European identity, Kohl’s (neo)conservative mission was
to normalise (West) German nationalism by promoting a particular historical consciousness.
Little is known about the origins of Kohl’s historism, which can be traced
to his education at the University of Heidelberg, where he graduated with a PhD in
History (1958). The ideological continuity in Kohl’s notion of Germany, which was
surprisingly stable throughout his career, becomes clearer when taking a close look at
his thesis, which was an early attempt to highlight “positive” endurances in German
history. It foreshadowed the frequent manoeuvres during his political life to relativise
the Nazi past and to convince the Germans and the world that German history was not
only an abnormal historical trajectory leading to 1945, but one that had historically
fulfilled the Western standards. In Kohl’s history-politics, the nation was presented
as a legitimate and natural entity, worth being defended against any unnatural crosscurrents,
like Nazism and communism, to which the entire German nation had fallen
victim, before the Federal Republic had emerged as the partial fulfilment of German
history on its set path to (re)unification.


politics of memory; Helmut Kohl; nationalism; conservatism; Nazism; Heidelberg

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