bpb

Growth and progress 1961-1969

5.11.2012
In the 1960s, public debate began to focus on ways to deal intellectually with the legacy of the National Socialist regime. In 1963 the recently renamed Federal Agency for Civic Education organised its first study trip to Israel, two years before Germany and Israel would establish diplomatic relations.

Bundespräsident Heinrich Lübke (r.) und seine Ehefrau Wilhelmine (l.) ehren die Gewinner des Schülerwettbewerbs 1964.Federal President Heinrich Lübke (right) and his wife Wilhelmine (left) congratulate the winner of the 1964 student’s competition. (© bpb)

The construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 cemented the division of Germany. Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's determined policy of Westbindung, or "Western orientation", became the foundation of the Federal Republic's statehood. Meanwhile, the trial against Adolf Eichmann, which ran from April 11 to December 15, 1961 in Jerusalem and attracted much attention in Western Germany, marked the beginning of a new approach towards dealing with the country's National Socialist past. Public debate in the Federal Republic of Germany began to focus on the questions of blame and responsibility, a process that also led to a new outlook on German post-war democracy. Student protests, the Außerparlamentarische Opposition movement and the first Social Democrat-led federal government were visible signs of the profound changes taking place in West German society. The recession that began in 1966 – the first economic depression to hit West Germany since the birth of the country's successful new social market economy – and the rise of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) in the second half of the 1960s were clear signs that the country's political and educational institutions had to start adapting to this political and social paradigm shift.

Reorganisation and renaming



In September 1961 the Agency underwent a structural reform. The departments that had hitherto reported straight to the Director were assigned to one of three working groups. Two of them, Administration/Publishing and Educational Materials, had two departments each. Seven departments were assigned to the working group for Journalism, Film, Conferences, Psychological Affairs and General Planning. The department for Cooperation with TV was added in 1966. This working group was managed by a newly appointed General Planning Officer who was also responsible for coordinating all activities of the Agency. The Ostkolleg continued to report straight to the Director of the Agency.

On June 15, 1963 the Agency was renamed Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, or Federal Agency for Civic Education, later abbreviated to BpB (or, from 2001 onwards, bpb). The outdated term Heimatdienst (homeland services) was now a thing of the past. The name change also signalled a clearer definition of the Agency's remit. At the same time, a change of generation took place within the Agency's staff. The Agency began to recruit an increasing number of employees whose careers had begun post-1945. By the end of the 1960s the number of employees had risen to over 80. The Agency's budget in 1969 was 15 million German marks. After moving from Bad Godesberg to Bonn, first to Viktoriastrasse, later to Königsstrasse, in 1964 the bpb moved to the city centre to Berliner Freiheit 7. This office would remain the Agency's home for almost four decades.

During the 1960s the Agency also began to work more closely with the State Agencies for Civic Education which had been set up from 1954 onwards in the eleven Länder. The "federal friendship" between the Agencies manifested itself in jointly organised conferences at which participants debated conceptual, methodological and didactic issues as well as more fundamental challenges, such as how to position government civic education in society.

Civic education under reassessment The anti-Semitic wave of 1959/1960, during which many Jewish institutions were attacked by young people, above all, in the form of e.g., desecration of Jewish cemeteries and racist graffiti, put into question the perception the young Federal Republic had of itself. The voices of those who doubted the effectiveness of civic education grew louder. In 1960 a subcommittee was set up to advise the Federal Government on civic education issues. Its work resulted in increased support for civic education at the Federal and Länder level and led to a critical review of the curricula and materials covered so far. In previous years emphasis had been put on educating the public about their rights and obligations as citizens of the state; however, this was no longer considered sufficient. From now on, greater attention was to be paid to enhancing each individual citizen's capacity for judgement and to encouraging them to assert their own interests.

"Civic education cannot just consist of teaching, raising awareness and debating. A knowledge of one's rights and obligations as a citizen, of one's responsibilities and the associated dangers is nowhere near enough. Citizens must be encouraged to participate politically and to take free and informed decisions. That should be the declared aim of a government civic education programme," read the bpb's planning report of 1963. Topical issues began to appear on the civic education curriculum. However, there was quite a bit of disagreement concerning the extent to which active political participation should be encouraged.

The emergence of radical movements in the second half of the 1960s – manifested in the rise of the right-wing extremist NDP on the one hand and in the student movement on the other – pushed the civic education debate to the top of the political agenda. Questions were asked, for instance, whether civic education in its present form had failed. However, many also felt that civic education functioned as a kind of "crisis manager" and began to think about how it could be adapted in response to these challenges. The Federal Government's response to two parliamentary questions posed in 1968 by the parliamentary groups in the Bundestag made particular reference to two requirements to be fulfilled by civic education. They indicated that expectations were changing:

1. The intense debate on the National Socialist legacy and on Communism should be scaled back somewhat, the Government stated, since the constant defensive attitude was producing a sense of fatigue and distracting from the issues of the present and future.

2. The “harmonising” and "romanticised" view of democracy and the overemphasis on community, understanding and partnership that had been dominating civic education to date, the Government's response continued, was threatening to obscure the true nature of politics. Greater emphasis should be given to terms such as "interests", "conflict" and "power" in order to paint a more realistic picture of democracy.

New areas of activity



The Federal Agency for Civic Education remained true to its traditional areas of activity throughout the 1960s, too, notably the promotion of democratic and European ideals, the debate on Communism and National Socialism, and the fight against anti-Jewish sentiment. Faced with the wave of anti-Semitism, the Agency began to look for new ways to respond to prejudices through civic education. In 1963 it organised its first study trip to Israel – two years before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel. In the decades since, several thousand people have participated in these trips.

In 1965 a new area of activity was added to the Agency's traditional portfolio. In its 1965 Activity Report the Agency wrote, "The work programme has been restructured in order to communicate to the public the rapid changes in our environment, especially in the economic and social spheres, and to debate the problems of tomorrow. This has led to an extension in the scope of the Agency to include the current political agenda."

Another requirement placed on the Agency was to increase its general reach. In 1967, for instance, the Board of Trustees called for more innovation. "Despite impressive achievements on the part of the Federal Agency, the current state of civic education suggests that it would be opportune (...) to dare to experiment, to set new priorities, and to develop new methods in order to reach out to population groups that hitherto have not been in focus." In 1963 the bpb began to produce supplements in the form of one-sided print templates that were reprinted in local newspapers and hence reached a large audience. These supplements discussed political issues of the day across a wide range of social areas. In order to reach an even greater audience, however, the Agency began to work more closely with empirical social researchers. In 1967/68, it commissioned the Frankfurt-based political scientist Thomas Ellwein to conduct a comprehensive study on political participation among the German population. In the years that followed, empirical research would continue to play a major role in the work of the Agency.



 
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