Few countries have had such starkly different political experiences before and after a significant historical juncture. Before 1949, high levels of instability and dysfunction characterised modern Germany. Depending on how one counts, there have been between five and seven regimes on German soil over the century and a half since unification in 1870-71: the monarchical, decentralised, yet Prussian-dominated German Empire from 1871 to 1919; a military dictatorship during World War I; the fissiparous, almost anarchic Weimar Republic from 1919 to 1933; the totalitarian Third Reich from 1933 to 1945; foreign military occupation from 1945 to 1949 (with continued Allied supervision until 1990); and the period of division from 1949 to 1990 when there was a communist dictatorship in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR)1 and a liberal democracy in West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG). Moreover, most commentators now differentiate between the ‘old’ or ‘Bonn’ Federal Republic, named after the city on the Rhine that was the (provisional) capital after 1949, and the ‘Berlin’ Republic, so-called since the main political and administrative institutions moved back to Berlin in 1999.2

Until well into the postwar era, seemingly irresolvable tensions existed with respect to the boundaries of ‘Germany’, notions of belonging and citizenship, the nature of government and the economy, and the role of religion. Deep divisions and disputes persisted among ideologies, religions, majorities and minorities, regions, and classes – all in the context of rapid economic growth, industrialisation, and cultural change, as well as rising tensions with other European and colonial powers. The world spoke fearfully of ‘the German question’, which revolved funda - mentally around the country’s apparent inability to create sustainable borders, political institutions, and collective identities that could prevent and resolve conflict domestically and internationally (Ritter 1965; Dahrendorf 1967; Banchoff 1999).