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2014 – year of remembrance

Three important anniversaries gave grounds for remembrance and commemoration in 2014.

© picture-alliance/ZB - Anniversaries

The year 2014 was marked by three historically important anniversaries. German history was decisively influenced by all three events, and there has been profound debate in Germany on the country’s role and the responsibility to which it gave rise.

In August 1914 Europe entered the First World War. With previously unimaginable violence, the first industrial war with poison gas, tanks and machine guns tore apart the continent’s established order. It cost the lives of 17 million people worldwide. The First World War set in motion a process that is often described as “the great seminal catastrophe of this century”, although it was not the result of inevitable natural events, but caused by human beings. The end of the war in 1918 brought down the monarchy in Germany and gave rise to the first German democracy. And yet the failure of the young Weimar Republic and the rise and the coming to power of the National Socialists occurred only one-and-a-half decades after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

In Germany, remembrance of the First World War is frequently overshadowed by the Second World War, which Germany began with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, and by the “rupture in civilization” and the Holocaust unleashed by Hitler’s dictatorship. The division of Germany into East and West was one of the consequences of the Second World War. It was only overcome a quarter of a century ago. The third great event that was remembered in 2014 is also already part of history: the peaceful revolution in the GDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989.

As a year of anniversaries, 2014 offered many opportunities for examining the history of the 20th century as well as the links between the world wars and their consequences. Attention also turned towards the present and the future: the multilateralism that established itself as a political principle in many countries arose out of the catastrophes of the world wars.

The success story of the European Union with its 28 member states living together in peace and freedom is also an outcome of these historical events. “Instead of the law of the strong, Europe is governed by the strength of the law,” wrote Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Foreign Minister in 2014, succinctly in a newspaper article entitled “1914 – the failure of and the need for diplomacy”.

Janet Schayan

Further information

Commemoration and Remembrance

The website offers background information and overviews of places of remembrance and commemorative events.

100 Years: First World War

The German War Graves Commission presents information on anniversary projects and exhibitions – in 7 countries.

Europeana 1914-1918

A treasure trove of archive documents and private memories and memorabilia.