Germany has the "flak helper" generation, the famous ’68er student-revolt generation, as well as the Golf or Generation X, and the millennials. And then there is also a generation, one without a real name. That wouldn’t be worth the mentioning; they haven’t needed one so far anyway, since this nameless age cohort is primarily distinguished by the characteristics it doesn’t have: not as charismatic but also not as authoritarian, extroverted and macho as the ’68ers, not as international and digital as the younger generations.
Joschka Fischer, in his customary condescending attitude, once called this group the "Playback generation." In Germany, demography knows them as the baby boomers, which however expresses neither an historic role nor a political character, but rather simply a number. These people, born between 1960 and 1965, represent the years of the highest birth rates in the German Federal Republic; about 8 million of them are still alive, and that’s 10 percent of all Germans. They are in their early 50s and quite healthy. (The author is one of these people.)
And they govern the republic. They dominate, teach, control and communicate. They are, without doubt, the cultural hegemony. Certainly this group isn’t occupying all the executive seats and talk-show host chairs, and not all members of this generation are bosses. But very, very many are.
And that’s the reason why we must once again take a look at this generation. It namely happens to be the cohorts of the uncharismatic post-’68ers generation who are determining the fate of the country – and that in the most charismatic time since 1949. Compared to the dangers and challenges looming today at our doorstep, the late 1960s seem more like a casual pot-clouded stroll.
And now, of all times, it’s these people who are in power. So the equally justified but scary question is, can they handle it? Besides sitting in a circle, are they also capable of being dramatic, can they still fight? Without becoming authoritarian or doctrinal at the same time? A great deal depends exactly on that.
First the good news.
We have learned to compete and coexist at the same time. At a very early age, since there were always too many of us, every room was packed to overflowing, and there were never enough chairs. In school, at college, in the labor market. We are more robust than it might appear.
We were thoroughly politicized, or at least a great many of us were. One could say even forced to become politicized. For back in the ’70s, when many of us came of age, the state forced all young men to decide between an extended military service or an alternative service. For this, you were brought before a three-person commission of disgruntled gentlemen who believed they were capable of determining, through painstaking interrogation, whether there were really reasons of conscience for refusing to serve in Germany’s military, and not just political reasons.
In 2005, the Greens were no longer still part of the minority
In addition, and also not a bad attribute, this generation learned from early adolescence to fight. With the ’68ers and against them. But also, insofar as you were just a little bit leftist, any place in Germany at the time was still quite right-wing. For example, whoever went into a normal everyday local bar as a long-haired person with a parka and stickers had to be prepared to be the object of stupid remarks, and at times more robust forms of aggression.
Despite the high number of births, this generation was a minority back then (and naturally many of us were not political or right-wing or anything else). All of what now belongs to the republic’s basic political inventory had to be fought over for decades, all those ecological, non-authoritarian, feminist and gay things.
It was us, for example, who set up the hut village in Gorleben in 1980 to prevent the construction of a final disposal site for radioactive waste. At one point even Gerhard Schröder, at the time the chairman of the Social Democrats’ youth organization, came to visit. He had hardly left when a 10,000-strong army of police moved in with helicopters and faces painted black. They magically produced a real civil war scenario and cleared us out. We didn’t defend ourselves because we were nonviolent.
In 2005, the Greens were no longer still part of the minority, but once and for all dominant.
Perhaps it’s in places like that where a great misunderstanding was born that’s poisoning the mood in Germany these days: the belief of the nameless generation that the state is always the other guys, the less likeable habit of us being powerful but not to acknowledge our own power. More on that later.
After the environmental and peace movements came the party. The Greens are in no way the only ones, but certainly the most unique expression of this generation. The ’68ers might have been its founders and spokespeople, but we provided the mass of the voters. The party grew and became established until at some point the miracle happened. In 1998, the minority became the majority in a coalition with a partially-turned-green Social Democratic Party (SPD). We were governing, implementing the program of earlier years, perhaps in a diluted form, but just the same.
This phase of an open, conscious experience of being the majority and having the power lasted seven years. Then it was the turn of others again. To be more exact: Angela Merkel. At first under the surveillance of the SPD, and later, beginning 2009, together with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) so deeply hated by the Greens.