Historian Horst Möller turns eighty: talent and temperament


Horst Möller is a phenomenon. Apart from the hair that has turned gray, his shape and physiognomy have hardly changed in the past few decades, and his scholarly personality has not changed either: Stimulating, even bubbly in conversation, informed and interested as ever, original in his contributions to historical and current issues and decisively in his judgment – that’s how he is known. And above all, he is scientifically still as productive as he has been for more than five decades. His latest book was published just a few months ago “German History – The Last Hundred Years”in some respects the sum of a long life as a researcher.

Möller did not even begin as a contemporary historian, as he is best known for today. The student Thomas Nipperdey began his academic career at the Free University of Berlin with a comprehensive study of the Prussian Enlightenment; Möller’s dissertation, which is still fundamental today, explores the life and work of the Berlin publisher and writer Friedrich Nicolai. He presented two other important overall accounts of the eighteenth century: “Reason and Criticism” (1986) and “Princely State or Civil Nation. Deutschland 1763-1815” (1989) in the series of German history by Siedler.

From Otto Braun to Franz Josef Strauss

In addition, contemporary history soon became his main area of ​​work. Since his habilitation on the parliamentarism of the Free State of Prussia between 1919 and 1932, he has published an almost unimaginable wealth of books, articles and editions on contemporary and contemporary history, of which only the history of the Weimar Republic, which has now been published in a dozen editions, the textbook “Europe between the world wars” and the first scholarly biography of Franz Joseph Strauss be named. Incidentally, unlike most of his colleagues in the field, Möller also knows the world of politics from the inside – from his time as an employee in the Office of the Federal President under Walter Scheel in 1978.

Appointed to Erlangen in 1982, he went to Paris in 1989 as head of the German Historical Institute there. The many contacts he was able to make there and which later brought him back to France to take up guest professorships continue to this day; three honorary doctorates from French universities testify to the high reputation that Möller enjoys among our western neighbors.

However, he spent the most important years in Munich, starting in 1992, where he was director of the Institute for Contemporary History for two decades and at the same time taught at the Ludwig Maximilian University. Möller used his exceptional organizational skills to get a wealth of new projects off the ground and many of them to complete. The establishment of the documentation center at Obersalzberg was one of his most important projects. It should only be mentioned in passing that he also managed an immense workload as a member of a large number of scientific-political committees, advisory boards and commissions and at the same time also acted as editor of the large file publications in the Federal Foreign Office.

Brutalism as an expression of the will to strict objectivity: The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich's Leonrodstrasse was where Horst Möller worked from 1992 to 2011.


Brutalism as an expression of the will to strict objectivity: The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich’s Leonrodstrasse was where Horst Möller worked from 1992 to 2011.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0


Anyone who knows Horst Möller better not only appreciates him as an extremely open-minded, interested in everything new, always well informed and always friendly to talk to with an extraordinarily impressive educational horizon that goes far beyond the historical, but also as a personality who, from his clear and decisive – but always precisely justified positions – made no secret of this. Möller always got involved in public controversies and also showed the flag where no general approval was to be expected – it was about the debates about a “German special path”, the historians’ dispute, the controversial Wehrmacht exhibition or the evaluation of the expulsions in the 20th century . Ernst Nolte, one of his academic teachers, has repeatedly defended Möller (even if he could by no means agree with all of Nolte’s theses).

His latest book – which, as we know, will certainly not be his last – bears the at first glance optimistic subtitle “From War and Dictatorship to Peace and Democracy”; However, it ends, in accordance with today’s circumstances, with a rather sober and skeptical view of the present: It could be, the author notes, that the years after the upheavals of 1989/91 did not mean a real turning point and the following decade ” just a friendly respite”. Perhaps, he asks, we are “still living in the 20th century, a long 20th century”. The conclusion that Möller draws from this consideration may come as a surprise to a conservative: “Then we should do everything we can to bring this century to an end and indeed, as we hoped in 1989/91, open a new chapter. The fact that humanity learns nothing from history does not mean that nothing can be learned from it.” Horst Möller celebrates his eightieth birthday today, Thursday.



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