Dr. Allen H. Merriam
Professor of Communication
Missouri Southern State University
In 1904 the British geographer, Sir Halford Mackinder, presented his influential paper “The Geographical Pivot of History.” His essential argument was that whoever controlled the Heartland of Europe controlled the World-Island, and whoever controlled the World-Island controlled the world. Although air travel subsequently reduced the accuracy of Mackinder’s analysis, his thesis remains meaningful. And perhaps no country demonstrates the strategic importance of central Europe as does Germany. With a land area roughly twice the size of Missouri, Germany occupied the epicenter of two major wars in the 20th century.
Today Germany represents a global economic powerhouse. Measured in total Gross Domestic Product, Germany’s economy is Europe’s largest and ranks fifth in the world (after the U.S., China, Japan, and India). The United States is the second biggest destination for German exports (after France). In total trade with the United States, Germany ranks fifth (after Canada, China, Mexico, and Japan) with combined exports and imports amounting to $130 billion in 2006.
A long and impressive cultural heritage, abundant natural beauty, and a temperate climate have made Germany a popular travel destination. The country ranks seventh in the world for tourism, with over 23 million arrivals in 2006 according to the World Tourism Organization.
Among those arrivals were students from Missouri Southern State University, participating in a study abroad program in Ansbach, Bavaria. MSSU, in fact, has exchange agreements with two German universities: Fachhochschule Ansbach and Hochschule Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
It is estimated that one of every four citizens of Missouri can trace their ancestry to Germany. Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis (the world’s largest brewery), the career of immigrant journalist Carl Schurz, who served in the U.S. Senate from Missouri after the Civil War, and town names like Bismarck, Freistatt, and Wentzville illustrate a strong German influence in this state.
Two staples of many Americans’ diet, hamburgers and frankfurters, are named after German cities. Indeed, many words in the English language come from German, such as kindergarten, noodle, sauerkraut, and dachshund. English belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages.
Significant numbers of immigrants into the U.S. brought with them values often associated with the German national character: a strong work ethic, technical expertise, planning, efficiency, and discipline. A strong German emphasis on individualism meshed nicely with and helped reinforce that value in the emerging American zeitgeist.
Few nations in the world can match Germany’s record of producing individuals of extraordinary intensity in diverse areas of endeavor: the revolutionary religion of Luther, the musical genius of Bach, the symphonic grandeur of Beethoven, the philosophical impact of Kant, the scientific brilliance of Einstein, the profound humanitarianism of Schweitzer, the power politics of Hitler.
Painful memories of the Nazi era (1933-45) haunt Germany’s collective psyche. How the culture that produced the music of Bach and the poetry of Goethe could also produce the gas chambers at Buchenwald and Dachau is one of history’s profound questions.
The mass extermination of Jews in the Holocaust, along with the murders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Gypsies, intellectuals, homosexuals, and persons with disabilities remains one of the great ethical nightmares in human history.
Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the propaganda techniques developed by Joseph Goebbels (who had a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University) represent notable resources in the study of mob psychology and persuasion. The Nazi emphasis on simple slogans, repetition, emotional appeals, and mass suggestion can be seen in modern American advertising. Leni Riefenstahl’s legendary Triumph of the Will remains a classic among propaganda films.
The post-World War II experience of “one culture - two nations,” not unlike the current division between North and South Korea, merits analysis. The process of reuniting East and West Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 offers a vivid case study in social integration. With Muslims, including many immigrants from Turkey, now comprising 4% of her current population of 82 million people, Germany faces new challenges in building a multicultural society.
Germany’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel, assumed office in 2005. As the nation’s first female head of government, she may offer lessons on women in politics. Leading a coalition of her Christian Democrats and Socialists, she has emphasized health care reform and energy issues. Forbes magazine ranked Merkel the most powerful woman in the world in 2006 and 2007 in terms of visibility and economic impact.
From the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to Gutenberg’s printing press, from Pope Benedict XVI to the Protestant Reformation, from Oktoberfests to Volkswagens, Germany has enriched the world. This Germany Semester at Missouri Southern State University invites us to learn more.