The crimson Veritas banner flew alongside the black, gold, and red German flag when summer arrived in downtown Dresden this June, as more than 150 U.S. and German scholars celebrated 35 years of the study of Germany and Europe at Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES).
CES faculty and administrators joined past German Kennedy Memorial Fellows and Bucerius Fellows from the weekly Die Zeit, together with other former guest scholars for two and a half days of discussion around the theme of “Collective Visions: Germany 1966-2001.” At this hybrid of conference and reunion, participants in workshops and roundtables took stock of formative debates in postwar German politics and society.
Since its founding in the mid-1960s by Guido Goldman, Stanley Hoffmann, and Abby Collins, the CES has hosted more than 100 German Kennedy Memorial and Die Zeit fellows. The six-month to one-year fellowships are roughly the equivalent of Rhodes and Nieman scholarships, respectively, for young German scholars and journalists. These fellows often return to Germany to assume leading positions in academia, business, journalism, and government after their time at Harvard.
The Dresden reunion also celebrates the Program for the Study of Germany and Europe at CES. The Program has graduated about 75 Ph.D. students with a significant interest in German history and politics from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the past three decades. Funding for the program came largely from the German government, most notably during a 10-year grant from 1990 to 2000 when it named the CES a center of excellence, alongside the University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University. This support was “an unusual gesture and a most productive intellectual investment,” said Peter Hall, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, incoming director of the CES, longtime senior faculty associate, and graduate student associate since 1977. It did much to “rebuild the knowledge base about Germany in the U.S.,” Hall added.
Abby Collins, associate director of the CES, was celebrated in Dresden for her multidecade commitment to building a community of dedicated Europeanists in Cambridge. Collins has been at the center of the CES academic network, forging formal and personal relations with European institutions and scholars. Her idea to hold the conference in Dresden was welcomed by Saxony’s state President Kurt Biedenkopf.
Addressing the assembled during the conference’s final session, Biedenkopf said it was “a lovely idea that you came to Dresden.” Known before World War II as the “Florence on the Elbe River,” the city’s architecture from pre- and post-communist rule belies its political and social significance in successive phases of the recent German past and of current reconstruction of former East Germany.
“Dresden represents change in Europe and in Germany, it has enormous historical significance and in many respects symbolizes the new Germany,” Hall commented. “Dresden suffered substantially during the war, but it is now one of the most dynamic parts of the former East, a center for high technology much as Saxony was in the 19th century. So the sense of change and continuity is especially intense in Dresden.”
The reunited scholars dined together in the nearby Cosel Palace and exchanged reminiscences in the shade of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), Dresden’s centerpiece in fin-de-siècle Europe. Destroyed in a devastating bombing in the closing days of the World War II and left in ruins, the Frauenkirche is now being reconstructed out of its rubble, a poignant symbol of Germany’s reconstruction after reunification.
Workshops mixed generations and research fields. Discussion themes ranged from the Holocaust in public life to the viability of the German economic model.
In “Democracies and Their Discontents” sociologist Claus Offe and political scientist Klaus von Beyme addressed the state of democracy, the role of parties, and elite-citizen relations. Offe raised a theme that was echoed elsewhere: the significance for both European and national politics of increasing regionalization in Europe.
A workshop on ethnicity in Germany and the United States, led by Andrei Markovits, professor of German studies at the University of Michigan and long-time member of the Center for European Studies while he taught at Boston University, addressed similarities and differences in the German and American assimilation of second- and third-generation immigrants. The U.S. experience with bilingualism was discussed in comparison with the current debate over the role that compulsory classes in the German language should play in integrating Germany’s nearly 10 percent foreign population.
A closing roundtable gathered three American and six German academics who each offered their prognosis or, in some cases, “nonprediction,” of what society would look like when the German Kennedy and Die Zeit fellows reconvened in 2026. The contributions to the roundtable shared a slight pessimism about the political, social, and economic futures of Europe and the wider world.
In his address, Saxony’s President Biedenkopf emphasized the importance of regions, arguing that national territory would continue to cede to regionalism as the motor of European political economy. Saying “regionalization is the answer to globalization,” Biedenkopf stressed the German case, where a local, land-based identity is increasingly replacing an issue-based identity, so that, in the future, Rheinland and Westphalia will form equivalent interest blocs to Belgium and the Netherlands.
Reflecting on the success of the conference, Peter Hall commented, “I think for the German participants this was a very unusual meeting because it brought together multiple disciplines and generations in a form that is unusual in this country. For many of the German participants it was a reawakening to the many strands in German academia.
“German social science is among the most developed in Europe,” Hall said in reference to CES’s relationship with German universities. “In the 24 years that I’ve watched this program, my impression has been that there is always a range of views on both sides of the Atlantic so that it is very unusual to find one view on one side of the ocean and another view on the other. And that’s one reason the exchange is so interesting and another reason why we should continue it.”