Gustav Stresemann (1878 – 1929): A liberal role model for Germany?

_ Dr. Karl Heinrich Pohl, professor emeritus, Kiel University. 2012.*

If one takes a brief look at the life and political work of Gustav Stresemann, then it seems almost pointless to ask if he can be considered a liberal role model. Who else, if not Gustav Stresemann, possessed the necessary personal, political and statesmanlike qualities and the sustainability in political work to enter the collective memory of the Germans and become a (perhaps not only) liberal role model for the Federal Republic after 1945? The originally imperial liberal, the supporter of the monarchy and the “wild warmonger” of the First World War, changed – so the general opinion – into a personality who practiced peaceful forms of problem solving in both domestic and foreign policy since 1923.[1] Stresemann is therefore honoured in journalism and academia as a good German and at the same time as a great and early European.[2] As a “Republican out of reason”,[3] he courageously committed himself to parliamentarism in front of the political left and right and thus became – according to the general opinion – one of the few pillars of the democratic Weimar system.[4]

However, this self-evidence, with which Stresemann could be a leading figure in the history of the Federal Republic, proves to be a fallacy. On the contrary, Stresemann does not seem – this is the thesis of the essay – to play a very important role in Germany’s current culture of remembrance. Not even political liberalism remembers him in any special way, which tends to favour Friedrich Naumann, Theodor Heuss, Hugo Preuss or Wilhelm Külz.[5] The question is, what are the reasons for this? Is Stresemann “unsuitable”? And if so, why? In short: It’s about the question of how the “afterlife”, the “second story” of Gustav Stresemann is managed.

In examining this question, I will proceed as follows. First, important aspects of his life will be briefly outlined and at the same time the question will be reflected on what could be worth remembering about Stresemann and his politics – from a liberal and from a general German point of view, not only currently, but possibly also in the future. This is followed by the presentation of the concrete memories about Stresemann since 1929. In this context, above all, scientific and state-mediated memory, as it is paradigmatically expressed in schoolbooks, is discussed. Due to a lack of reliable source material, official memory in and through politics and public memory are only touched upon.

On Stresemann’s biography

Here just a brief preliminary remark: In the 1990s, three terms were increasingly used in research in order to capture the diversity of the manifestations of historical memory: “culture of remembrance”, “historical culture” and “historical politics”.[6] In our context, the “remembrance culture”, i.e. the question of how and why groups and societies choose parts of the past to keep them in the public consciousness (e.g. through monuments, celebrations, exhibitions, films, etc.) – and why others do not. But this is precisely what is of considerable importance for the memory of Gustav Stresemann.

“Remembrance culture” is a generic term for various forms of conscious memory of the past (events, personalities and processes). This includes both scientific examinations of history and social-political memory as well as private memories if they leave traces in the public in any form (e.g. as autobiographies). Individuals, social groups or even entire nations can appear as bearers of the culture of remembrance. Public practices of remembrance (e.g. official days of remembrance) do not always or even permanently have to correspond to private forms of remembrance or be shared by all social groups. At the same time, there can definitely be a social or group-specific memory, which in turn finds little or no political expression. This is also a fact that should play a significant role in the memory of Stresemann.

About the person: Stresemann was a typical climber from the lower middle class.[7] However, he was no exception in Wilhelmine Germany at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The political system offered a whole age cohort of young, educated, dynamic and ambitious young men from the (lower) middle class a wealth of opportunities for advancement. Anyone who used this consistently and with the necessary luck could go far. Stresemann’s steep ascent is only one particularly successful example of the partial social permeability of the Wilhelmine system. However, this permeability did not apply to the working class, to give a counterexample.

Already at the beginning of the 20th century, Stresemann’s ascent led to his considerable political and economic influence and, last but not least, to a considerable fortune – and all this despite not exactly favourable personal starting conditions:[8] The beer publisher’s son from Berlin grew up with strong alcoholism in his family. His earliest youth was marked by difficult family relationships (two brothers were alcoholics), by noise and rudeness, but by no means by subtle bourgeoisie. After all, for a long time there was no direct economic existential fear in the Stresemann house on Köpenicker Strasse in Berlin. This only came about at the beginning of the 20th century, after Stresemann left – as he would later predict in his dissertation. But above all: As far as the youngest son Gustav was concerned, there was a relatively educational background, so that the young Stresemann was able to successfully pass through important educational and socialization instances. In this respect it was possible for him to acquire considerable cultural capital.

Stresemann’s phenomenal rise applies to various areas: In the economic field, for example, he very quickly made it to the position of syndic of one of the most powerful regional business associations, the Association of Saxon Industrialists (VSI) in Dresden.[9] At the age of 25 he was so secure in the saddle that that he soon became a leading figure in the Hansa Bund[10] and in the Bund der Industriellen (BdI) throughout the Reich.[11] In terms of social policy, he developed a course aimed at cooperation with free trade unions and social democracy, without, however, abandoning the emphasis on the fundamental conflicting interests between capital and labour.[12]  Above all, Stresemann attempted to tie the white-collar workers politically to the liberals.[13] In this respect, he represents the ideal image of a liberal (business) citizen, although one important characteristic, independence and autonomy, was missing. The fact that Stresemann also benefited economically fits well with liberal values.[14] This (business) career ended in 1919, but no later than 1923, when he became chancellor.

At the same time, Stresemann can also be used as an example for the rise in politics, to a certain extent “from the petty bourgeois to the chancellor” – an almost American career. In an ideal-typical manner, political activity encompassed the entire range of liberal political fields. In the first few years in Dresden, Stresemann emerged primarily as a local and regional politician. He began as a “nationals social” politician in 1903, quickly switched to the National Liberal Party, which he then woke up from its slumber throughout Saxony. From the end of 1906 he was a member of the Dresden municipal council. At the same time he also became number one in the national association of national liberals.[15]

Stresemann had been involved in Reich politics since 1907, became a member of the Reichstag – as the youngest member of parliament – and then made a rapid career during the war. He first became Bassermann’s young man, then in September 1917 deputy party chairman and in the same month also chairman of the national liberal parliamentary group in the Reichstag. There is no doubt that he had thus developed into one of the most important parliamentarians of the late empire, but at the same time also into one of the strongest advocates of an excessive German policy of war aims.[16]

In the Weimar Republic, he was not only the founder of the German People’s Party (DVP), but also its “soul”. In the Weimar system, he was the prime example of a modern party politician and parliamentarian. His speeches were heavyweights in the discussions of the Reichstag.[17] After a transitional phase in which he still flirted with the reaction and the German Empire, he finally became Chancellor in 1923 and then “permanent foreign minister” until his death in 1929.[18] For historians, he is an important symbol for an entire political era. The middle years of the Weimar Republic are often referred to as the “Stresemann era”, especially in German schoolbooks.

Finally, in the cultural bourgeois sphere – a third level – Stresemann managed to rise to the upper bourgeoisie in many ways: an academic degree with a doctorate completed in Leipzig with Karl Bucherer, a bourgeois family with a beautiful and clever wife, two well-to-do sons and ab “open” house in Dresden and Berlin in which Käte Stresemann shone. Whether justified or not, Stresemann was even considered a serious connoisseur of Goethe and a literary expert.[19] However, a great shadow fell on his happiness. These were the constant illnesses that he had suffered from an early age, and which had a massive impact on his entire life.[20]

Stresemann’s work: Approaches to a liberal culture of remembrance?

If one analyses this biographical data from the point of view of which starting points it offers for a liberal culture of remembrance, one will quickly and comprehensively find what one is looking for. Undoubtedly, Stresemann’s life plan and lived life largely correspond to the bourgeois liberal canon of values.[21] Here are a few aspects:

The personal desire for advancement and “Protestant” virtues.

Economic and political success through tenacious and hard work, through aspiration and diligence, through personal commitment, these are central bourgeois-liberal virtues. The motto: “Anyone can achieve promotion if one only is personally capable” and “wants” and thus is architect of one’s own future, fully corresponded to the bourgeois-liberal self-image.

The political field, civic engagement, political activity in the community, state and Reich.

Stresemann was not only strongly woven into the bourgeois milieu of Dresden (and later also in Berlin), but he also helped to shape, promote and expand it intensively. An important vehicle was the immersion in the bourgeois-liberal political, economic and cultural club culture. His involvement in this field was open in many directions, but it was always liberal: his membership in clubs was downright inflationary. The pan-German association and the fleet association, the tenants’ association and the association of national workers, the national school association and the Ostmarken association, as well as the association of patriotic games and spelling should only be mentioned. The other economic and political associations, in which he sometimes played a very prominent role, cannot be mentioned here.[22] The political activities for the federal state and later in the Reich have already been outlined. They, too, fully corresponded to bourgeois values.

The element of civic welfare[23]

Social security is considered one of the most essential features of almost all modern states. The liberal Stresemann favoured here – somewhat surprisingly – the ideal of a society, ideally represented by liberal entrepreneurs, who in principle have to take care of the well-being of their various members. He also represented this idea – at least partially – as an industrial syndic. This included security in the event of illness, accidents, unemployment and old age. Included in his ideas of the welfare state were also the promotion (but at least the legal “non-obstruction”) of self-help organizations of the groups involved in the economic process, such as the (free) trade unions, entrepreneurs and employees. His commitment to the establishment of an employee insurance scheme and at the same time the political fight against the free trade unions should be seen in this context.[24]

Stresemann’s socio-political work left deep (socio-political) traces in the Kingdom of Saxony at the beginning of the 20th century, but later also in the German Empire. On the one hand, the special responsibility of the state (but above all that of entrepreneurs) for the well-being of the citizens has played an important role. In addition – and perhaps even more so – this went together with the desire to integrate workers and the middle class into the state and society in a kind of “national community” in order to overcome the class struggle and strengthen the stability of the existing system but also to instrumentalize the middle class for party-political purposes. In short: Stresemann tried to realize the model of a classless civil society.[25] Even the model of the “social market economy” would certainly not have contradicted his ideas.

The emphasis on individuality, self-reliance and the rejection of all collectivist ideas.

Throughout his life, Stresemann was a convinced liberal insofar as he massively opposed social democrats and free trade unions, ideologically and practically. He disliked the collectivism that the free trade unions and the Social Democrats preached, although he certainly cooperated with them even during the German Empire. Here he shows himself to be an outspoken (national) liberal pragmatist, with ideals but without hardened ideologies. His major political goal was to enable all citizens to help themselves and not to be dependent on collective interest groups.

Gustav Stresemann in the culture of remembrance after 1929

Based on these considerations, one might again think that Gustav Stresemann is a particularly suitable carrier of a liberal culture of remembrance in view of the life he lived and his ideals. A representative of basic liberal values already in the German Empire and downright the advocate of liberal democracy in the Weimar Republic, the political “saviour” in 1923, the national and European statesman and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Stresemann, the domestic crisis manager, the social politician and at the same time the liberal link to the right, to the DNVP and to the left to social democracy, a modern parliamentarian and party leader, a liberal veteran, so to speak.

Added to this is his basic political position, a factor that is certainly one of the decisive factors for posthumous fame after the “Third Reich”: Stresemann was always an upstanding opponent of the Völkisch and national socialists. He was threatened by them and fought them massively in the political meetings. In turn, he was largely immune to anti-Semitism simply because he himself was married to a Jewess and was familiar with anti-Semitic hostilities. Although he felt himself to be a representative of the German national state, he always emphasized Germany’s peaceful intentions. At the same time, he presented himself as a representative of the bourgeois constitutional state and bourgeois values, as a defender of Weimar democracy. Stresemann is therefore one of the few democratic role models of the Weimar Republic whose star was not tarnished by national socialism and genocide. Conclusion: This politician fulfils all the conditions to be remembered not only as a liberal but also as a German democrat. This is all the truer for a country that didn’t have many upstanding democrats during the Weimar Republic.

How has Stresemann been remembered since his death in 1929? How were he and his work rated? Which aspects have played a role in the liberal and German culture of remembrance?

Stresemann in the scientific discussion

Since his death, the assessment of Stresemann’s politics has been highly ambivalent in the historical discussion.[26] In a first phase, shortly after his death and then again after the end of the Second World War, Stresemann was mentioned in biographical literature, be it scientifically based or more so characterized by feuilletons, glorified almost uncritically.[27] Stresemann was praised by his friends and contemporary companions – many of whom were also his first biographers – as a liberal and democratic role model for the new Federal Republic of Germany.[28] Little attention was paid to his behaviour during the First World War.[29] In this respect, a “legend formation” began, which not only dominated the public and politics, but also scientific journalism.

Since the end of the 1950s, not least accelerated by the release of the (entire) Stresemann estate, this harmonious picture has suffered considerable scratches.[30] His “real” goals have now been the subject of much controversy, the question of continuity and discontinuity in his politics and life has been renegotiated and the pure European intentions doubted. This indirectly raised the question of whether and to what extent Stresemann was still capable of standing for a positive culture of remembrance.

In fact, the estate raised doubts as to whether Stresemann was actually such a peace-loving foreign politician as his previous biographers had portrayed. Did Stresemann perhaps only want to avoid using military means to revise the Versailles Treaty and Germany’s resurrection to become a major European power because Germany was militarily powerless? Didn’t he still show – albeit somewhat hidden – the face of a foreign policy chauvinist, as in the First World War? Wasn’t he even indirectly a forerunner of Hitler? This was hotly – and very controversially – discussed. There were also discussions about his domestic politics: Was Stresemann an incorrigible monarchist even in the Weimar Republic (although not publicly admitted)? Wasn’t the proximity to the crown prince important proof of this? Or had he actually developed into a “refined republican”? Wasn’t he still secretly in league with the extreme political right,[31] although politically threatened by them? This was also discussed intensively, in a heated debate that was reminiscent of the Fischer controversy in some respects, especially in its political implications.

This controversy seems to have been over for about 15 years. We are thus in the third phase of Stresemann’s scientific reception. The last three important biographies – which in a sense close the Stresemann chapter for the time being – by Kolb, Wright and Birkelund[32] – attest to Stresemann’s largely honest commitment to parliamentary democracy in the Weimar Republic and the desire to pursue a peaceful foreign policy and to integrate himself into the European system.

Stresemann has thus not only advanced to become a model politician for foreign policy and compromise par excellence, but also to become Weimar’s “greatest statesman”.[33] From the academic point of view, he is unanimously regarded as a great personality, even as probably the only politician who could have stabilized the republic and possibly even have saved it from the abyss of national socialism – if he hadn’t died so early.[34] In short: in historical science there is hardly any doubt about the peaceful Stresemann of Weimar. If there is a politician from the Weimar Republic who is suitable as a liberal leader, it seems to be the liberal party politician, foreign minister, chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Gustav Stresemann.

What does this mean for the culture of remembrance? To put it succinctly: from the scientific side there is – and was – no objection to installing Stresemann as a positive, liberal, even national figure of remembrance and to constructing a positive “Stresemann” place of remembrance.

Stresemann as depicted in German school books after 1945

How is Stresemann now conveyed on a second level, that of the historical memory favoured by the state? History schoolbooks are ideal for analysing this.[35] On the one hand, they teach young people the cultural techniques that the state considers necessary for dealing with history, as well as basic knowledge. In this respect, they are also formative for their historical picture. On the other hand, schoolbooks are also a mirror of the political, economic and cultural self-image of the respective time. With their help – this applies in particular to “convictions subjects” such as history – targeted governmental or socially desired identity offers for political and social socialization, as well as for cultural orientation are offered and sustainably represented. In short: the influence of history schoolbooks on the historical awareness of a young generation can hardly be overestimated. It is nationwide and at the same time crosses generations – and at the same time it reflects the political/social ideas of the past.

Andreas Körber in particular has dealt with public remembrance as conveyed by history schoolbooks. His research results can be accessed here.[36] In summary, he comes to the conclusion that the Stresemann picture has always had a positive connotation in German school history books. This also applies to the present.[37] What is important for the conveyed historical picture is above all that Stresemann and his politics were not only interpreted as generally positive, but always also as highly adaptable. Stresemann’s politics (but also his person) had “voids” that could be “filled” and interpreted in new and different ways. Stresemann was therefore very easy to fit into the desired constructions of the past, which were dominant in various post-war constellations.

On the one hand, this flexibility depends on the breadth of his political activity and the diversity of the policy areas in which he acted. On the other hand, it is promoted by the political flexibility that always particularly distinguished the liberal realpolitiker Stresemann. It also offers different docking points for the most diverse cultures of remembrance. Both are ideal for a sustainable and broad culture of remembrance.

In the early epoch of the Federal Republic of Germany – according to the trend in schoolbooks – Stresemann acted as a role model for the “good German”.[38] He and his politics were able to co-found a positive line of tradition towards democracy, parliamentarism and aspirations towards freedom. He was constructed as a “true German democrat”, as the memorable face of the other, good Germany. To a certain extent he was able to relieve the German bourgeoisie of their complicity in the establishment of the national socialist system and at the same time embodied its (positive) values and norms. In addition to the resisters in the “Third Reich”, he thus presented the other, the good continuity of German history, which – according to the construction – always existed and to which the bourgeois Federal Republic could refer.

In a later phase, when it came to European integration and the Federal Republic’s ties to the West, Stresemann was constructed as an early “European”, as the forerunner of the Montane union of the EEC and later of the EU.[39] After all, he had already made his mark when the International Crude Steel Community ( IRG) in 1926 for economic cooperation.[40] Locarno and the League of Nations, international economic agreements and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize were further important evidence for this interpretation. They became historical proof that Germany had already put a policy of understanding before violence in the 1920s. This historically supported the fact that German politics after 1945 – which referred to him – pursued similar goals and meant it just as seriously. The “legend of the “great European” was useful and at the same time could be historically substantiated – and is still handed down in part to this day in the usual schoolbooks.

Conclusion: The textbooks should also have leveled the ground for Stresemann as a great liberal figure of remembrance, even if the subject of Weimar has become less and less important in the new curricula of the individual federal states.

Stresemann in the memory of the public and politics

In this context, Stresemann’s work as a foreign politician is particularly important for remembering him. In a parliamentary democracy, foreign politicians are always in the spotlight, alongside the heads of government, both positively and negatively. This is especially true if they are engaged in long-term work during troubled times. But that is exactly the case for no other (foreign) politician in the Weimar Republic as it was for Gustav Stresemann. Politicians are also – and this is a second fundamental aspect – then more in the centre of attention when political events are moving, their policies are judged controversially, and a political consensus is disputed. That also applies to Stresemann and his foreign policy. It was precisely this that represented one of the most important and at the same time one of the most controversially discussed topics in the Weimar Republic.

A key to understanding this is the Versailles Treaty. Almost no political or social grouping in Germany accepted the “allied Siegfrieden” after 1919 and nor was willing to accept it. The foreign policy of almost all Weimar politicians consisted in striving for a revision of the treaty. It was now the way to this revision, the means and the pace that fanned the domestic and foreign policy disputes. There was intense public debate not only in parliament and at the elections, but throughout the entire period. Stresemann wanted to go the route of negotiations. At the end of it he hoped to be able to achieve the “liberation of Germany from the yoke of Versailles”.

However, Stresemann could hardly please many of his contemporaries with this long-term strategy. This is all the truer as a powerful political opponent arose for him and his politics with the establishment of the Hugenberg newspaper group in the mid-1920s, which increasingly influenced both the political (via the DNVP) and the newspaper landscape and critizised  Stresemann personally as well as his foreign policy, even accusing the foreign minister of “betraying Germany”.[41]

In view of this initial situation, it is not surprising that Stresemann’s early death was well received nationally and internationally. Rather, it is surprising and, above all, how positive this response was (at least at first glance). Harry Graf Kessler noted from France around October 3:[42] “He died of a stroke at five and a half this morning. It is an irreplaceable loss, the consequences of which cannot be foreseen. That’s how one feels here too. Everyone is talking about it, the waiters in the restaurant, the drivers, the newspaper women”… “It’s almost as if the greatest French statesman had died. The grief is common and real”,[43] Kessler continued:[44] “The legend begins; Stresemann’s sudden death has made him almost a mythical figure. None of the great statesmen of the 19th century, neither Pitt, nor Talleyrand, nor Metternich, nor Palmerston, nor Napoleon III, nor Cavour, nor Bismarck, nor Gambetta, nor Disraeli, achieved such unanimous world standing and apotheosis. He is the first to enter Valhalla as a truly European statesman.”[45] Regarding Stresemann’s funeral in Berlin, he noted:[46] “It is becoming increasingly apparent to what an enormous extent the people took part in Stresemann’s funeral. Hundreds of thousands bowed before his coffin. A newspaper rightly says it was not a state funeral but a people’s funeral.”

However, the general judgment of Stresemann and his foreign policy in Germany is less brilliant and positive if one examines the history of the Stresemann memorial in Mainz.[47] Even the rapid construction of the memorial can still be viewed superficially as a sign of admiration and appreciation. The monument, initiated shortly after his death by the industrialist F. W. Kalle, who was close to Stresemann and the liberals, with the help of the Mainz Automobile Club, commemorated the great politician Gustav Stresemann and his services to the Weimar Republic. The act apparently met a (still existing) spontaneous need for Stresemann’s appreciation – albeit only in certain political circles.

At the same time, and above all, the memorial also commemorated the failed foreign minister. The memorial, whose foundation stone was laid after some delays on July 5, 1930, was primarily intended to highlight the “liberation of the Rhineland” from French occupation on June 30, 1930. It was not intended to stand for Stresemann’s European policy or Franco-German understanding. Although Stresemann had (also) campaigned vehemently for the end of the occupation of the Rhineland, he regarded the constant delaying of the date as a personal defeat, because he always wished for success without national arrogance. However, he was no longer able to experience the hoped-for “repercussions of Locarno”. The evacuation of the Rhineland only took place at a time when he had already died.

Above all, however, the political climate had changed significantly in the meantime:[48] The celebrations for this event, in the context of which the laying of the foundation stone should also be seen, were now more or less nationalistically charged, characterized by satisfaction and less by the spirit of reconciliation or even that gratitude to France. In this respect, the event had little to do with Stresemann and his foreign policy. Symbolic of this change is that “the official proclamation of the Brüning government even avoided mentioning Stresemann”.[49] Already a rethinking of foreign policy away from Stresemann’s Realpolitik had started to take place. Politics was reconstructed to be more national.

The further history of the memorial can also be seen in this context. Contrary to all the euphoric statements made by the initiators, it was by no means easy to put the project into concrete terms, which was not only due to the poor economic circumstances: “Poison darts of all kinds were sent out in the form of letters and articles in the newspapers. The funds came very sparsely at this time …”.[50] 10,000 individual letters and over 100,000 petition letters and subscription forms had to be sent in order to create the financial basis for the company. Stresemann obviously no longer “sold” shortly after his death. This change was also reflected in the ceremony for the handover of the memorial. It was cool and matter-of-fact, and the Reich government was only represented by Foreign Minister Curtius, a party friend of Stresemann’s.[51]

Until the national socialists came to power, who closed the memorial in 1933 and had it torn down a few years later, it was – as far as can be documented – still very popular. At least it turns out that Stresemann still played a role in the memory of a large part of the bourgeois and democratically minded population at the end of the 20s and beginning of the 30s. But that changed completely after 1933.

However, the creation of legends from 1945 did not follow this (negative) interpretation of Stresemann’s foreign policy, but rather followed Kessler’s interpretation, the historical truth content of which is of less interest here than the construction of the Stresemann image already made there. From 1945 onwards, this creation of legends was pursued all the more intensively because no one knew how Stresemann would have behaved in the years after his death, whether he might have prevented national socialism, whether he might have adapted – which seems improbable – or gotten into serious conflicts with it. Such a man, who refused the Nazis during his lifetime and had always been the most hated man on the political right because of his “renunciation policy”, was perfect for the bourgeois politicians after 1945 as a political identification figure of the new Federal Republic.

For this reason, it is not surprising that Gustav Stresemann is well remembered in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. Evidence of this – on a very banal level – are the many Stresemann streets and avenues, the many Stresemann schools, Stresemann pictures that adorn the corresponding archives. Evidence of this is also the highly active Stresemann Society, whose honorary members cover a broad political spectrum from conservative (Helmut Kohl) to liberal (Hans Dietrich Genscher, Klaus Kinkel) to social-democratic (Kurt Beck). It was she who, for example, organized a large celebration in honour of Stresemann in 1978, at which Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) spoke very positively about Stresemann, the “European”.[52]

Finally, in this context it also belongs that the attempt was made to tie in with the destroyed Stresemann memorial from the 1920s, again initiated by the industrialist Kalle.[53] In place of the destroyed memorial, a memorial was erected in the Mainz armoury, albeit in relation to the old memorial it was a very modest project. This initiative was not only financially supported by the federal government – and here one can still see broad support – but at the inauguration of the small memorial on October 16, 1960, all German political prominence expressed friendly and appreciative words about the person and politics Stresemanns.[54]

The CDU politicians initially reminded of Stresemann in a similar way. For a long time they emphasized the European component in Stresemann’s politics and used it in their own interest. It didn’t matter that Konrad Adenauer – their leader – had not been a friend of Stresemann’s since the Weimar period and that the former mayor of Cologne had a heartfelt dislike for Stresemann, then foreign minister.[55] Yet, Adenauer understood how to use Stresemann as a symbol for his politics after the twelve years of national socialism and therefore overcame all personal feelings.

The political desire to use Stresemann, a politician constructed in this way, for one’s own politics can be shown very well using the example of the Stresemann film from 1956/57, which was state-sponsored by the CDU government.[56] With Körber, one can state that “with the Stresemann film, an attempt [was made] for the first time towards the general public to clearly appropriate the Reich’s foreign minister for Adenauer’s Western policy.”[57] With the film – albeit with relatively little success – history was instrumentalised and adapted to current political requirements. And with all pomp: “The staging of the premiere of the film was – as reported by Spiegel – almost like a state act, which Stresemann’s son, a famous conductor, accompanied with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra with atmospheric music”.[58] The Stresemann myth was intended to help make Western politics popular and assertive. This act of instrumentalizing Stresemann was (indirectly) supported by the Protestant film guild, which declared the Stresemann film the best film of the month for February, and the Catholic film service, which also strongly recommended the film.[59]

Stresemann in the contemporary culture of remembrance: an outlook

How important is Stresemann in the current culture of remembrance in Germany? This question is difficult to answer. It can be assumed: a relatively small one. This has already been confirmed by the journalist Gunter Groll, who stated as early as 1957 – in the context of the making of the Stresemann film – in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”:[60] “Surveys of the younger generation had the sad result that many did not know ‘Stresemann’ at all, some thought of “it” as a formal suit, some of them as the inventor of the same, but with this one partly a men’s tailor and partly an actor”.

Apparently, little has changed about that. That must come as a bit of a surprise after this history and the positive preconditions. The range of memories is currently still wide: hotels in many cities – without any connection to him – still adorn themselves with his name, so rely on the memory of him. But at the same time, schoolchildren are desperately looking for help on the Internet to answer the question of why their school should be named after Gustav Stresemann. However, survey results that have asked the population about him and their image of him in recent years could not be determined. One can assume, however, that given the little knowledge about the Weimar Republic, few would know about him either. Stresemann does not seem to be completely forgotten, but he is not very present either.

The memories of him by the leading foreign politicians are also rather scarce. Joschka Fischer commented on him and his politics,[61] Willy Brandt[62] and Hans Dietrich Genscher[63] also honoured him. What is surprising, however, is that the FDP paid so little attention to this liberal icon and did not – or only very insufficiently – make him the object of their historical politics. Theodor Heuss and Friedrich Naumann are obviously the liberal favourites, not Gustav Stresemann. The question therefore remains: Why did the liberals not cultivate the liberal culture of remembrance of Gustav Stresemann more intensively, did not use and stage the Stresemann myth more politically, did not – despite this good starting position – refer so little to Stresemann as a bearer of a liberal culture of remembrance, and did not want to benefit from his image. This lack of interest remains incomprehensible. It can’t just have been because another great liberal – Theodor Heuss – personally disliked Stresemann,[64] and was thus able to suppress the liberal memory of him. Further research here would be an important task of liberal contemporary history research.

*Translated an republished with kind permission of the author from the original publication: Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929). Eine liberale Leitfigur in der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik? In: Jahrbuch zur Liberalismus-Forschung 24 (2012), S. 69-88.


[1] Wolfgang Michalka / Marschall Lee (Hrsg.): Gustav Stresemann, Darmstadt 1982; Wolfgang Michalka: Stresemann im Lichte seiner gegenwärtigen Biographien: Stresemann aus deutscher Sicht, in: Karl Heinrich Pohl (Hrsg.): Politiker und Bürger. Gustav Stresemann und seine Zeit, Göttingen 2002, S. 267-289; Karl Heinrich Pohl: Gustav Stresemann: New Literature on the Saxon Syndic and Weimar Politician, in: German Historical Institute London, Bulletin, Vol. XXVI, No. 1 (2004), S. 35-62.

[2] Excellent summary by Peter Krüger: Zur europäischen Dimension der Außenpolitik Gustav Stresemanns, in: Pohl (Hrsg.): Politiker und Bürger, S. 194-228. For the “European” Gustav Stresemann see also Heinz Duchhardt (Hrsg.), Europäer des 20. Jahrhunderts. Wegbereiter und Gründer des „modernen“ Europa, Mainz 2002.

[3] Henry A. Turner: Stresemann. Republikaner aus Vernunft, Berlin 1968.

[4] Thus the latest biographies about him: Jonathan Wright: Gustav Stresemann, Weimars Greatest Statesman, Oxford 2002 (deutsch, 2006). In a similar way: Eberhard Kolb, Gustav Stresemann, München 2003. A study is somewhat more critical by John P. Birkelund, Gustav Stresemann. Patriot und Staatsmann, Hamburg 2003.

[5] For example, the corresponding political, cultural and scientific institutions or liberal support groups of the FDP are named after these politicians, but not after Stresemann. The Stresemann Society, which has been trying to remember the politician for decades, stands on a political basis that clearly goes beyond liberalism. The efforts of this Mainz-based foundation to commemorate Gustav Stresemann would be worth investigating in their own right.

[6] On the almost unmanageable literature only: Aleida Assmann: Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik, Bonn 2007, Mathias Berek: Kollektives Gedächtnis und die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit. Eine Theorie der Erinnerungskulturen, Wiesbaden 2009; Christoph Cornelißen: Was heißt Erinnerungskultur? Begriff – Methoden – Perspektiven. In: GWU 54 (2003), S. 548–563; Antonina Grunenberg: Die Lust an der Schuld. Von der Macht der Vergangenheit über die Gegenwart, Berlin 2001; Harald Schmid (Hrsg.), Geschichtspolitik und kollektives Gedächtnis. Erinnerungskulturen in Theorie und Praxis, Göttingen 2009, Heidemarie Uhl (Hrsg.): Zivilisationsbruch und Gedächtniskultur. Das 20. Jahrhundert in der Erinnerung des beginnenden 21. Jahrhunderts. Innsbruck/Wien 2003; Bernd Wagner (Hrsg.): Thema: Erinnerungskulturen und Geschichtspolitik (= Jahrbuch für Kulturpolitik 9) Essen 2009, Harald Welzer: Das kommunikative Gedächtnis. Eine Theorie der Erinnerung. München 2002.

[7] The biographies of Stresemann are almost legendary. For the following part see – in addition to the titles already mentioned – especially Kurt Koszyk: Gustav Stresemann. Der kaisertreue Demokrat. Eine Biographie, Köln 1989, which has brought together a wealth of details on Stresemann’s youth. For the rest, I base myself on the preparatory work for my study on Gustav Stresemann, which will be published in the near future.

[8] Cf. on this introductory: Karl Heinrich Pohl: Gustav Stresemann. Zur Konstruktion einer neuen Biographie, in: GWU 60 (2009), S. 554-567.

[9] About Stresemann’s activities in Saxony: Donald Warren: The Red Kingdom of Saxony. Lobbying Grounds for Gustav Stresemann 1901-1909, Den Haag 1964. Summarizing Karl Heinrich Pohl: Politischer Liberalismus und Wirtschaftsbürgertum: Zum Aufschwung der sächsischen Liberalen vor 1914, in: Simone Lässig / Karl Heinrich Pohl (Hg.): Sachsen im Kaiserreich. Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im Umbruch, Weimar u.a. 1997, S. 101-131.

[10] To Stresemann and the Hansa League: Siegfried Mielke: Der Hansa-Bund für Gewerbe, Handel und Industrie 1909 – 1914. Der gescheiterte Versuch einer antifeudalen Sammlungspolitik, Göttingen 1976.

[11] To Stresemann and BdI: Hans-Peter Ulmmann: Der Bund der Industriellen. Einfluss und Politik klein- und mittelbetrieblicher Industrieller im Deutschen Kaiserreich 1895-1914, Göttingen 1976. To Stresemann’s early days in Saxony: Holger Starke: Dresden in der Vorkriegszeit. Tätigkeitsfelder für den jungen Gustav Stresemann, in: Pohl (Hrsg.), Politiker und Bürger, S. 86-113; Pohl, Karl Heinrich: Sachsen, Stresemann und der Verein Sächsischer Industrieller: “Moderne” Industriepolitik zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts?, in: Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 134 (1998), S. 407-440; the same: Die Nationalliberalen in Sachsen vor 1914. Eine Partei der konservativen Honoratioren auf dem Wege zur Partei der Industrie, in: Lothar Gall / Dieter Langewiesche (Hrsg.): Deutscher Liberalismus im 19. Jahrhundert im regionalen Vergleich, München 1994, S. 195-215.

[12] Cf. Pohl, „Moderne Industriepolitik“, S. 407 ff.

[13] Michael Prinz: Gustav Stresemann als Sozialpolitiker – Magier oder Zauberlehrling?, in: Pohl (Hrsg.): Politiker und Bürger, S. 114-142. See also my forthcoming article: Gustav Stresemann und die Sozialpolitik im Kaiserreich: Sozialer Liberalismus um die Wende vom 19. zum 20. Jahrhundert? in: Detlef Lehnert (Hrsg.): Sozialliberalismus in Europa. Herkunft und Entwicklung im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert, Köln 2012.

[14] Koszyk, Stresemann, S. 79 ff.

[15] Cf. Karl Heinrich Pohl: Sachsen, Stresemann und die Nationalliberale Partei. Anmerkungen zur politischen Entwicklung, zum Aufstieg des industriellen Bürgertums und zur frühen Tätigkeit Stresemanns im Königreich Sachsen vor 1914, in: Jb. zur Liberalismus-Forschung 4 (1992), S. 197-216; the same: Ein zweiter politischer Emanzipationsprozeß des liberalen Unternehmertums? Zur Sozialstruktur und Politik der Liberalen in Sachsen zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts, in: Klaus Tenfelde / Hans-Ulrich Wehler (Hrsg.): Wege zur Geschichte des Bürgertums, Göttingen 1994, S. 231-248.

[16] Dates according to Kolb, Gustav Stresemann, S, 122 ff.

[17] From the point of view of the new political science Thomas Mergel: Parlamentarische Kultur in der Weimarer Republik. Politische Kommunikation, symbolische Politik und Öffentlichkeit im Reichstag, Düsseldorf 2002, which in this context deals with Stresemann on various occasions. Stresemann’s speeches are documented in: Gustav Stresemann: Reichstagsreden, mit einem Vorwort von Walter Scheel, hrsg. von Gerhard Zwoch, Bonn 1972.

[18] For this purpose, Kolb, Stresemann, in particular p. 122 ff.

[19] Lieselotte Kurth: Gustav Stresemanns Beiträge zur Goethe Forschung, in: Jahrbuch des Freien Hochstifts 1975, S. 362-380.

[20] See, among other things, the biographical memoirs of his son: Wolfgang Stresemann: Mein Vater Gustav Stresemann, Frankfurt a.M. et al. 1985, about p. 13. Furthermore, Hermann Zondek: Auf festem Fuße, Stuttgart 1973.

[21] On the bourgeois canon of values see, inter alia: Manfred Hettling/ Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (eds.): Der Bürgerliche Personenhimmel, Göttingen 2000.

[22] Starke, Dresden in der Vorkriegszeit, S. 99 ff und Pohl: Die Nationalliberalen in Sachsen vor 1914, S. 200 ff.

[23] Gerhard A. Ritter, Der Sozialstaat. Entstehung und Entwicklung im internationalen Vergleich, 3. Auflage München 2010; Ulrich Becker/ Hans Günter Hockerts / Klaus Tenfelde (Hrsg.): Sozialstaat Deutschland. Geschichte und Gegenwart, Bonn 2010; Gabriele Metzler, Der deutsche Sozialstaat. Vom bismarckschen Erfolgsmodell zum Pflegefall. Stuttgart / München 2003.

[24] Prinz, Gustav Stresemann, in: Pohl: Politiker und Bürger, S. 114-142 sowie Pohl, Gustav Stresemann und die Sozialpolitik im Kaiserreich.

[25] This, based on: an Lothar Gall: Bürgertum in Deutschland, Berlin 1991.

[26] For this complex, see above all: Annelise Thimme: Einmal um die Uhr. Die Stresemann-Kontroverse von 1927-1979, in: Hartmut Lehmann (Hrsg.): Historikerkontroversen, Göttingen 2000, S. 31-85; The further explanations largely follow their thoughts. Annelise Thimme was personally involved in the dispute and was one of Stresemann’s first critics. See: Annelise Thimme: Gustav Stresemann. Legende und Wirklichkeit, in: HZ 181 (1956), S. 287-338 and the same: Gustav Stresemann. Eine politische Biographie zur Geschichte der Weimarer Republik, Frankfurt a.M. 1957.

[27] Cf. Also: Heinrich Bauer; Stresemann. Ein deutscher Staatsmann, Berlin 2. Auflage 1930; Friedrich Hirth: Stresemann, Paris 1930; Rudolf Olden: Stresemann, Berlin 1929; Rochus Freiherr von Rheinbaben: Stresemann. Der Mensch und der Staatsmann, Dresden 1930; Edgar Stern Rubarth: Stresemann der Europäer, Berlin 1929 und Antonina Vallentin: Stresemann. Vom Werden einer Staatsidee, Leipzig 1930

[28] Exemplatory for this: Martin Göhring: Stresemann, Mensch, Staatsmann, Europäer, Mainz 1956; Walter Görlitz: Gustav Stresemann, Heidelberg 1957 und Löwenstein, Hubertus Prinz zu: Stresemann. Das deutsche Schicksal im Spiegel seines Lebens, Frankfurt 1952.

[29] E.g., Vallentin, S. 36 ff.

[30] Here I largely follow the description of Thimme, Einmal um die Uhr, p.31 ff.

[31] Cf. Wolfgang Ruge: Stresemann. Ein Lebensbild, Berlin (0) 1965; further the same: Zur bürgerlichen Geschichtsschreibung der BRD über die Weimarer Republik, in: ZfG 22 (1974), S. 679-700 and the same: Stresemann – Ein Leitbild? In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 14 (1969), S. 468-484. Vgl. auch Klaus Gietinger: Der Konterrevolutionär. Waldemar Pabst – eine deutsche Karriere, Hamburg 2009, vor allem S. 257 ff.

[32] Jonathan Wright: Gustav Stresemann, Weimars Greatest Statesman, Eberhard Kolb, Gustav Stresemann und John P. Birkelund, Gustav Stresemann.

[33] According to Jonathan Wright: Gustav Stresemann.

[34] According to Henry A. Turner: Überlegungen zu einer Biographie Stresemanns, in: Pohl (Hrsg.): Politiker und Bürger, S. 290-297.

[35] On the importance of history textbooks for historical awareness, see: Eckhardt Fuchs/Joachim Kahlert / Uwe Sandfuchs (Hrsg.): Schulbuch konkret. Kontexte. Produktion. Unterricht, Bad Heilbrunn 2010.. Here in particular the contributions of Bodo von Borries, Karl Heinrich Pohl and Simone Lässig.

[36] Andreas Körber: Gustav Stresemann als Europäer, Patriot, Wegbereiter und potentieller Verhinderer Hitlers, Historisch-politische Sinnbildungen in der öffentlichen Erinnerung, Hamburg 1999. The presentation essentially follows his convincing argument.

[37] Körber, S. 335 f.

[38] Körber, S. 201 f.

[39] Körber, S. 210 ff.

[40] Karl Heinrich Pohl: Weimars Wirtschaft und die Außenpolitik der Republik. Vom Dawes – Plan zum Internationalen Eisenpakt, Düsseldorf 1978.

[41] Fundamental to Hugenberg and his group still: Heidrun Holzbach: : Das „System“ Hugenberg. Die Organisation bürgerlicher Sammlungspolitik vor dem Aufstieg der NDSAP, Stuttgart 1981 and Dankwart Guratzsch: Macht durch Organisation. Die Grundlegung des Hugenbergeschen Presseimperiums, Düsseldorf 1974.

[42] Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebücher 1918-1937, Frankfurt a.M. 1967, 594 f.

[43] There 4.1029, S. 595.

[44] Kessler, Tagebücher, ebenda, S. 595 f..

[45] In this laudatory analysis, however, it must be taken into account that Kessler was a liberal and a friend of Stresemann’s foreign policy of compromise.

[46] Kessler, Tagebücher, 9.10.29, S. 597.

[47] Here and further: Scheidel, Joseph: Die Entstehung des Stresemann-Ehrenmals, in: Gustav Stresemann. Festschrift zur Wiedererrichtung des Stresemann Ehrenmals in Mainz am 16. Oktober 1960, bearbeitet von Joseph Scheidel, Mainz o.J., S. 123- 153, ferner Körber, S. 272 ff.

[48] Körber, S. 90 ff.

[49] Körber, S. 90

[50] Scheidel, Entstehung, S. 126; then also the further thoughts.

[51] Körber, S. 90 f.

[52] Gustav Stresemann , 1878-1978. Hrsg. von der Stresemanngesellschaft, Mainz 1978, S. 36-47.

[53] Körber, S. 272 ff.

[54] Scheidel, S. 129 ff.

[55] Cf. in more detail: Karl Dietrich Erdmann: Adenauer in der Rheinlandpolitik nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Stuttgart 1966.

[56] Details on the analysis and creation of this film in: er Stresemann-Film, hrsg. von dem Landesbeauftragten für staatsbürgerliche Bildung in Schleswig-Holstein, zusammengestellt von Ernst Pietschack (Gegenwartsfragen 2), o.O. 1957  ; then more details. From a personal point of view: Stresemann, Wolfgang: Zeiten und Klänge. Ein Leben zwischen Musik und Politik, Berlin 1997, S. 271 ff.. On the interpretation of the context Andreas Körber: Andreas Körber: Der Stresemann-Film in der öffentlichen Erinnerung an Gustav Stresemann, in: Pohl, Politiker und Bürger, S. 243-266 sowie Derselbe, Gustav Stresemann, S. 229 ff..

[57] Stresemann, S. 260.

[58] Der Spiegel“, 27.01.1957. See also: Wolfgang Stresemann, Zeiten und Klänge, S. 271 ff.

[59] Pietschack, Der Stresemann-Film, S. 20

[60] Gunter Groll: Denkmal ohne Pose „Stresemann“, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 23.1.1957

[61] Cf. Joschka Fischer, Außenpolitik im Widerspruch, in: Die Zeit, 03.02.2000.

[62] Cf. the introduction of Willy Brandt to: Gustav Stresemann. Schriften, hrsg. von Arnold Harttung, Berlin 1976, S. 7-16 (Abdruck der Rede Brandts zur Stresemann-Gedenkfeier an Mainz 1968).

[63] Comments by Genscher on May 10, 1978 at the opening of the Stresemann exhibition on May 9, 1978 in Mainz, Gustav Stresemann, 1878-1978, ed. from the Stresemann Society in Mainz. Mainz undated, pp. 36-47.

[64] On the relationship between Stresemann and Heuss, see Theodor Heuß: Erinnerungen 1905-1933, Tübingen 1963, u.a. S. 272 “Quite primitively; I didn’t like him as a person and I can assume that this was mutual…” and Theodor Heuß: Tagebuchbrief 1955/1963. Eine Auswahl aus Briefen an Toni Stolper, hrsg. und eingeleitet von Eberhard Pikart, Tübingen / Stuttgart 1970: u.a. S. 182 f.; 241; 246 und S. 505.

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