Searching for something in common: What could the German dream be?

Our columnist wonders what German society could have in common despite all the differences. And how change could succeed with it.

Several darts are stuck in the middle of a dartboard

What can be the common goal of a pluralistic and diverse society? Photo: imago

On the campus of University of Stanford stands Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht in the obligatory muscle shirt and smokes a cigarette. The literature professor emeritus has realized his American dream in California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. I'm interested in what the German dream could be for him.

As always, there is a moment of irritation when I utter the two words. German dream – really now? After all, by the 20th century, German dreams had become mankind's nightmares, which is why the German dream after 1945 was not one, but the self-imposed and successfully overseen by the Americans mandate to become decent.

Gumbrecht was born in 1948. He says he "had experienced the dream of Germany as a democratic country as motivation". That also worked very well, but now you have to accept the thesis that "never again" is correct, but no longer enough. Yes, says Gumbrecht: "There was no other dream."

One would like to say “Europe”, and anyone who wants to have any future as a German must also be a European. But that's rational. Who really dreams of Europe apart from Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Franziska Brantner?

What could the German dream be that drives a transformational, post-fossil and a European moment emotionally and also erotic and does not just remain the sound of a Sunday sermon? My working thesis is that this is necessary in order to have a common basis on which to argue, to name the central disputes of the coming years and no longer vaguely brush them away like Merkel/Scholz. And despite all the excitement and distraction in the media, you always know that the goal is not to hit the iceberg.

But it's not just about avoiding it, it's about something that drives us together as a pluralistic, diverse, individualistic society. And there we are with the problem of the "progressives": Can we old and young Wokies do that at all? To pursue one's minority concerns, but to fight just as hard for the common as an existential basis, that would be really progressive.

given rising prices for energy and otherwise it would be obvious to describe “social justice” as the great thing in common, the absence of which also prevents socio-ecological transformation. It is without question the task of the federal government to provide political help to those who need help. This is also a basis for social peace, but it is not a culture that enables transformation.

We can let the good, the social-democratic part of the 20th century run out as long as we can. (Spoiler: It won't be much longer.) Or we'll push a new culture. However, it is based on the fact that the new – that sounds banal, but it is crucial – cannot be redistributed before it has been made. Nor can it be spoken about as nicely as we Habermasians used to think. Both are important, but the key now is: do, do, do. That also means making mistakes. A big dream must be made into an okay reality.

But to do that, we need to know what we dream of together.

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