The responsibility of remembrance

Germany must face up to its historical responsibility as a dictatorship and colonial power if global academic exchange is to take place on the basis of equality. New DAAD programmes are making an important contribution to this.

Issue 1 | 2022

Text: Klaus Lüber

The world faces immense global challenges – whether climate change, the still smouldering pandemic or, in very general terms, all those disastrous atmospheric, biological or geological processes that humankind is setting in motion through its actions in the epoch known as the Anthropocene. Many ­experts are sure that a solution requires a “global community of responsibility”, as the DAAD described it at the end of October 2021 in a strategy paper on foreign academic policy in the coming years. “We are experiencing real epochal change,” says Dr Ursula Paintner, Director of the Communications Department in the DAAD.

The DAAD is addressing this responsibility with new kinds of international programme structures that promote this urgently needed exchange founded on equality, especially with the countries of the Global South. The eight Global Centres that were launched in 2021 and focus on climate and envir­onment as well as health and pandemic prevention are just one example of this. Crucial here, however, are also programmes that will help en­able reflection on Germany’s and the West’s historical responsibility towards other regions. “Our ­central goal must be serious cooperation based on partnership,” emphasises Ursula Paintner. “And this can only truly succeed in international exchange when we show sensitivity about our colonial legacy. Only then is it possible to overcome historically moulded power constellations.”

A new DAAD programme called German Colo­nial Rule should contribute to this. Since December 2021 nine junior researchers from countries that suffered under German colonial rule have been supported with doctoral scholarships to reappraise shared history. Research is being conducted at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as well as the universities of Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Giessen and Kassel.

What is also important in this context is the debate on the restitution of cultural assets. The return to Nigeria of the Benin Bronzes stored in German museums is a first, significant step. Above and beyond restitution, however, exchange at the subject and institutional level can also help to establish new forms of cooperation. This is precisely the goal of a project called TheMuseumsLab, which the DAAD has set up in collaboration with Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, HTW Berlin University of Applied Sciences, the African advisory group The Ad­visors and a number of other museums and cultural institutions. Since May 2021 TheMuseumsLab has been supporting the further training and networking of specialists from European and African mu­seums and, as a result, is also contributing to a reappraisal of colonial history.

When it comes to remembrance culture (Erinnerungskultur) from the German perspective, naturally the two world wars and the National Socialist dictatorship are fundamental. The complexity German remembrance culture now manifests in coming to terms with the Nazi era is the focus of Germany Close Up – North American Jews Meet Modern Germany, a transatlantic programme that the DAAD began supporting in March 2021. It is aimed at Jewish students and young professionals from North America between 18 and 39 years of age who want to form their own impressions of Germany’s past and present.

“How to remember the past is also of central significance to the DAAD because our society finds itself at a turning point in remembrance culture,” explains Ursula Paintner. That is why it is so import­ant to find a sound approach to the past – especially now, as there will soon be no living ­witnesses of the National Socialist era left and ­remembrance will have to find a new form, one that is more strongly documented and ­institutionalised. “Forgetting about history is not an option.” —