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Five Germanys Fritz Stern Has Known

Doug Merrill reviews Fritz Stern's Five Germanys I Have Known http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0374155402/braddelong00:

afoe | A Fistful of Euros: Five Germanys I Have Known by Fritz Stern: Fritz Stern was born in what was then Breslau, Germany, grandson of Jews who converted to Christianity, son and grandson of physicians and researchers, at a time when medicine was truly becoming a science and Germany was leading the way. His godfather and namesake was Fritz Haber, who discovered how to fix atmospheric nitrogen, won a Nobel, led research into poinson gas as a weapon, and died shortly after his forced emigration from Germany.

Stern emigrated with his family to the United States in late 1938, in the proverbial nick of time... became a distinguished historian of Germany and Europe... an active participant in transatlantic relations... liberal perspective.

The book begins with background on Breslau, the emancipation of Jews in the 19th century, industrialization, science and what all of these meant for his immediate ancestors. The five Germanys he has known are Weimar, the Third Reich, the Federal Republic, the GDR and the post-unification Federal Republic. He tells his stories vividly, mixing a historian's detachment with a memoirist's recollection and commitment.

My academic background is in political science and German history, so this is a bit of intellectual homecoming.... Stern is... something like an academic great-uncle. I've never met him, but the closer he got to the present, the more names he mentioned that I either knew, or knew at one remove.

The sixth Germany -- the one his parents and grandparents lived in -- is the one that I learned the most about. The turn to modernity is fascinating, and seeing how it happened in one family is a great way to understand the changes and disruptions involved.... The five Germanys in 500 pages are as good an overview of the period as any, and a good deal livelier than a survey without the memoir. Plus Stern is a delightful, lively writer, and his life has been full of unexpected connections. Allen Ginsberg was a good friend from his first day of college...