Gustav Stresemann on the ‘new Germany’ (1927)


German statesman and foreign minister Gustav Stresemann spoke of the ‘new Germany’ after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in June 1927:


“During the past few years I have led a sometimes hard battle for German foreign policy. I am thus, perhaps, particularly well placed to answer the questions so often raised about Germany’s frame of mind. The attitude abroad concerning our state of mind vacillates among approval, skepticism, criticism, and hostility. Let me identify and discuss with you the leading trends in politics and thought in the new Germany, insofar as they have emerged in the historically short time since the war.

I must begin by saying something about the old Germany. That Germany, too, suffered from superficial judgment, because appearances and reality were not always kept apart in people’s minds. True, it still preserved the spirit of paternalism imparted to it by Frederick William I , but it was a paternalism administered with an iron loyalty and sense of duty to the state and the people. It had officialdom disparaged in other countries as a bureaucracy that knew only one ideal: service to the state. This old Germany was partly defeated in its conflict with the progressive ideas of socialism, for it had given the people nothing that could serve as a successful alternative to socialism.

It was, however, a land of social and political progress far less given to the philosophy of laissez-faire than some other countries with other forms of government. It was a land of barracks, a land of universal military conscription, and a land of strong sympathy for the military; but it was also a land of technology, of chemistry, and in general of the most up-to-date research. The old and the new struggled for control. Whoever writes its history must not merely look at the surface of things but rather look into its depths…

As a result of the World War, this old Germany collapsed. It collapsed in its constitution, in its social order, in its economic structure. Its thinking and feeling changed. No one can say that this transformation is yet complete. It is a process which will continue through generations: But just as haste and restlessness are typical of our present-day life, so change also takes place more rapidly than before. This applies to change in the relationships between nations as it does to change within an individual nation…

Germany’s admission to the League of Nations, was not made easy for Germany. The courtesy which most becomes a victor was denied to Germany for a long time. Germany had to assume super-human reparations which the people would never have borne had there not existed an ageless legacy of service to the state. Historians still often see the end of the war as meaning nothing more for Germany than lost territories, lost participation in colonization, and lost assets for the state and individuals. They frequently overlook the most serious loss that Germany suffered. This was, in my view, that the intellectual and professional middle class, which traditionally upheld the idea of service to the state, paid for its total devotion to the state during the war with the total loss of its own wealth, and with its consequent reduction to the level of the proletariat. Its money became worthless when the state, which had issued it, refused to redeem it at face value…

Downtrodden and humiliated, beggars who had once been leaders, these people in their pessimism became the sharpest critics of unjustified attacks from without and of lack of respect for tradition at home. Furthermore, developments after the downfall of the leading class – and here I am speaking not of the nobility or the great landowners, but of the middle classes who saw the fruits of a lifetime of work vanish and who had to start from scratch to earn a bare livelihood – the developments after their downfall led to the convulsion of the whole social structure of the old Germany. Then came a further political shock: the invasion of the Ruhr. Once again the feeling of being pillaged and plundered flared up in intense resistance.

But the idea of an irreconcilable struggle between the old Germany and the new was confronted by the concept of a synthesis of old and new. Nobody in Germany is fighting for the reestablishment of the past. Its weaknesses and faults are obvious. What many do wish to have recognized in the new Germany is respect for what was great and worthy in the old. All events are linked with personalities that become their symbols. For the German people, this synthesis of old and new is embodied in the person of their president. He came as the successor to the first president of the Reich, who rose from the opposition and with great tact, political wisdom, and patriotism, smoothed the road from chaos to order and from order to reconstruction.

In President von Hindenburg, elected by the people, the nation sees a unity which transcends parties and a personality which commands respect, reverence, and affection. Raised in the traditions of the old monarchy he now fulfills his duties to the young republic during the most difficult and trying times. The President of the Reich personifies the idea of national unity. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday which will soon be here, all will join to show that for the overwhelming majority the concept of Germany itself comes before loyalty to political parties and ideologies…

Germany is often reproached with the fact that hundreds of thousands assemble in organizations which keep alive the memory of the war, the spirit of military life at the front, and the like. But I would like to put a question to everyone: Psychologically, could it be otherwise? I was not at the front during the war; but if I had been, it would have been for me the greatest and most moving experience of my life. The devotion of the individual ego to the idea of the state, the risking of one’s life, the straining of all one’s powers – is there any country in the world where those who have shared such experiences do not talk about them with one another? We have no waters of Lethe which can wash away man’s memories or erase the pictures engraved in the mind’s eye.

We read that in France, just as in Germany, the war veterans meet together. When these old comrades call upon Mr. Briand for his opinions, is it not a pleasure for him to speak to them and feel himself one of them? I have read the speech given by Mr. Briand before the soldiers who fought in the East, in which he said that one of the three happiest moments of his life came when he received the news that the Germans had failed to take Verdun15. Why then should a German be blamed if he counts as one of his happiest moments the time when he heard that the Battle of Tarmenberg had saved German soil from enemy hands?

So when we discuss Germany’s state of mind, let us not be unjust. All the speeches by French statesmen declare that France stands for peace and that she sees peace as the great ideal of all mankind. And yet this France has her Arc de Triomphe and so honors the memory of Napoleon I in a magnificent monument. Why then do people object when we lay wreaths at the monument of Frederick the Great17 and when we honor the patriotism which has defended house and home, wife and child, on the blood-soaked German soil which, more than any other, has been trampled by war? In every country the memory of the defeats of her would-be conquerors lives on…

We do not want to deceive ourselves by thinking that the world is a paradise. What we do want is the firm hope that the future bring a new era, built on those ideals which have sprung from the blood of battle. Where should this aspiration be stronger than in Europe, and where else in Europe than in those countries which suffered most from the war?”