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Civic education in reunified Germany 1989-1998 | Federal Agency for Civic Education |

Information for English speaker Our Mission and Activities Key Activities Film about the bpb Organization Chart Selected Projects Selected Media History of the bpb Foundation and development 1952-1961 Growth and progress 1961-1969 Transformation and reorganisation 1969-1981 Consolidation and technical progress 1981-1989 Civic education in reunified Germany 1989-1998 New agendas, new approaches 1999–2011 Privacy Statement Contact us Legal

Civic education in reunified Germany 1989-1998

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Following the peaceful revolution in the autumn of 1989, the bpb began to operate in the GDR and later in the new federal Länder. It aimed to educate both parts of the population about each other's backgrounds, stimulate learning processes, and encourage mutual understanding.

Direktor Dr. Günter Reichert (l.) und Staatssekretär Dr. Horst Waffenschmidt (r.) beim 40 jährigen Jubiläum der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 1992. (© bpb)

The peaceful revolution in the autumn of 1989, German reunification and the profound changes taking place in the former Soviet Union and in central Eastern and Southern Europe provided the backdrop for government civic education during the last decade of the 20th century. The settlement of the FRG-GDR conflict and the country's reunification did not, however, bring forth the peace everyone had hoped for. Wars and civil unrest in former Yugoslavia, Central Africa and in the Far East required Germany to re-assert its position on the global political stage. Milestones in this process included the first-time participation of the Bundeswehr (federal armed forces) in the UN peace mission in Cambodia in 1992 and Germany's involvement in the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999. At the same time, the EU was enlarging. Closer to home, after the initial excitement over reunification and the end of the Cold War wore off, the population began to face the challenges of overcoming the legacy of the country's division, a general disenchantment with politics, and an undercurrent of violence and xenophobia in many parts of society.

Germany reunified

Soon after the Wall came down the Federal Agency for Civic Education began to operate in the GDR and later in the new federal Länder. The materials that had been produced for use in the old Länder now needed to be reprinted on a major scale. The Agency sent packages to all schools and libraries in the GDR with material on Germany's public institutions, reference works, manuals on history and politics, as well as copies of its numerous civic education publications.

In 1990 the Agency launched a programme for local news teams in cities across the GDR, a training seminar for local journalists and newspaper editors that was developed in cooperation with Initiative Tageszeitung, and what it referred to as "dialogue seminars" that brought together journalists from both sides of the internal border. The first educational policy conference for reunified Germany took place in December 1990 in Schwerin as a forum for teachers and multipliers from east and west Germany. Most importantly, more than 2,500 teachers who had formerly taught citizenship in GDR schools – a compulsory subject – completed a four to six-semester distance learning course that was organised by the bpb after which they were qualified to teach politics. This programme was accompanied by a new set of teaching materials entitled Externer Link: Thema im Unterricht (Classroom subjects). It consisted of a teacher's handbook and student workbooks and over the course of its first 15 lessons covered a variety of political themes such as human dignity and human rights, environmental issues, public opinion and basic politics.

Many of the bpb's conferences and seminars in the new Länder were also aimed at interested members of the public. A series of seminars was organised for the growing number of ethnic German emigrants from the former Soviet Union. The Schülerwettbewerb, or competition for pupils, was extended to include the new Länder in 1990. In the course of reintroducing the federal system in the new Länder, the bpb and the Interner Link: State Agencies for Civic Education supported the premiers of the Länder in an advisory capacity. Strong emphasis was laid on the necessity to establish State Agencies in the Länder of the former GDR, too, and soon indeed each had its own State Agency. A 1996 report that was written for the select committee on the legacy of the SED regime in the context of German unity contained a section on the Agency's contribution to reunification that detailed the many measures the bpb had undertaken after the Wende.

On July 27, 1995, the 1977 Guidelines governing the Work of the Federal Agency for Civic Education were updated and amended to reflect the new political situation in Germany. A document dated February 28, 1995 outlining the new civic education concept in this changed political environment contained a detailed list of objectives for the Agency's work.

Changes at the executive level

In the 40th year of the Agency's existence a new decree was adopted concerning the Federal Agency for Civic Education on June 24, 1992 that called for the replacement of the existing tripartite structure by one President and two Vice-Presidents. The new executive team consisted of Dr Günter Reichert (CDU) as President and Wolfgang Arnold (SPD) and Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz (FDP) as Vice-Presidents. Beerfeltz was succeeded on January 1, 1996 by Dirk Hansen (FDP).

This change aside, the Agency's organisational structure remained virtually unchanged during the 1990s. Its activities were now executed by six working groups, namely Mass media, Journalism, Non-formal civic education, Civic education in schools, Conferences and study leave, and Inner unity/Berlin office. The working groups on Non-formal civic education and Conferences and study leave were merged in 1996. Other organisational units included the "Z" working group (Zentrale Verwaltung, or Central administration), the Ost-West-Kolleg, and the "PL" unit, which was responsible for planning and fundamental principles and reported directly to the President.

The directors of the State Agencies regularly attended meetings with the President, a long-standing tradition that allowed for an exchange on the priorities and aims of government civic education. The Federal Agency also began to liaise more closely with independent civic education institutions, not least the result of the bpb's efforts to promote a network of independent civic education organisations in the new Länder. This cooperation led in 1994 to the adoption of a new set of funding guidelines that was developed with input from all stakeholders.

Integration of the Gesamtdeutsche Institut

Upon completion of the reunification process, the responsibilities of the former Ministry of Intra-German Relations as well as of the subordinated Gesamtdeutsche Institut (Intra-German Institute, or GDI) had become obsolete. On January 1, 1992 the GDI was dissolved and its 86 employees and some of its office space reassigned to the bpb, causing the Agency's workforce to leap to 230. Having taken over the GDI's offices on Adenauerallee in Bonn and leased extra office space at Berliner Freiheit 20-24, the Agency's problems with lack of adequate space at Berliner Freiheit 7 were now somewhat relieved. At the same time the Agency opened a branch office on Fehrbelliner Platz in the new capital city of Berlin. In 1994 the German Unity/Berlin Office working group moved to its new premises on Stresemannstraße in Berlin.

From the Ostkolleg to the Ost-West-Kolleg

The Ostkolleg was renamed the Ost-West-Kolleg by a decree dated June 24, 1992. The new name, and its new responsibilities, reflected the rise in demand for information on transition processes in central Eastern and Southern Europe and the changing circumstances and responsibilities concerning European unification now the Soviet system had finally collapsed. Each year the Ost-West-Kolleg's conference centre held around 50 meetings, conferences and study trips that discussed the results and forecasts produced by research in these areas that were relevant to civic education. In the summer of 1996 the Ost-West-Kolleg moved into the former premises of the Federal Government's University of Applied Sciences in Brühl near Cologne.

Other activities and services of the bpb

Besides those measures that aimed to educate the population in the new Länder about the new political and economic system they now lived in, in the 1990s the bpb developed new activities and services for the entire German population, for it was clear that the division and reunification of Germany was not just an issue for East Germans; rather, it was a concern for all citizens. Civic education was now called upon to inform and educate both parts of the population about each other, organise common learning processes and in turn, create greater understanding.

The new series Externer Link: Deutsche Zeitbilder dealt with aspects of the GDR's history, intra-German relations, the process of unification, and reunification itself. The publication was easy to read, easy to understand, clearly structured and professional and hence aimed to create greater "inner unity".

A series of events organised jointly with a Heimvolkshochschule (adult education centre) entitled Schüler gestalten die Zukunft - Ein Beitrag zur deutsch-deutschen Integration (Pupils shaping the future – A contribution towards intra-German integration) took place in 1994 and 1995 for schoolchildren from east and west Germany.

The sharp rise in right-wing extremist violence from 1990 onwards pushed xenophobia to the top of the Agency's agenda. The riots in Hoyerswerda (1991) and Rostock (1992) and the assassinations on immigrants in Mölln (1992) and Solingen (1993) were only some of the devastating attacks that took place during this period. The bpb stepped up its activities in this area, organising expert conferences and designing educational material for multipliers, cinema adverts and billboards against xenophobia, as well as several film seminars.

The bpb also extended its range of audiovisual services. In 1997 it launched its Externer Link: Apropos media service, which offered short videos plus background material for use in schools. In 1996 the Kinofenster (Cinema window) series was introduced, the successor to the AV media service that had run since 1986, for multipliers who used film in their civic education programmes. Kinofenster analysed current cinema films for their civic education content and provided inspiration for organising film seminars. In 2000 Kinofenster was replaced by the website Externer Link: which is run jointly by bpb and Vision Kino, a non-profit organisation.

Conferences and festivals

Working with the Interner Link: State Agencies for Civic Education, which were independent but had similar objectives, and a number of independent organisations the bpb organised a series of larger-scale events during the 1990s. The first Politik im freien Theater (Politics in independent drama) festival that involved Germany as a whole took place in Dresden in 1993 in cooperation with Saxony's State Agency. The Kunst, Macht, Politik (Art, power, politics) festival took place in Potsdam in 1995, a cooperation project between the bpb, the Brandenburg State Agency and Ostdeutsche Rundfunk Brandenburg (ORB), a public broadcasting station. That same year, civic education in a European context was chosen as the theme of the first European conference entitled Political Education - Towards a European Democracy in Maastricht, which was organised by the bpb in collaboration with the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek. In May 1999 the bpb joined forces with respected partners in the field to invite more than 3,000 participants to a conference entitled Getrennte Vergangenheit – Gemeinsame Geschichte? (Divided past – shared history?) Geschichtsforum 1949 – 1989 – 1999 in Berlin. One year later, all State Agencies jointly organised a follow-up conference in Berlin on democratic gender relations in the 21st century.

In the early 1990s the Federal Agency for Civic Education began to experiment with Externer Link: exhibitions as a new channel of communication. It purchased several travelling exhibitions from the meanwhile defunct Gesamtdeutsches Institut that attracted a fair audience. It then drew up an effective concept for the use of exhibitions as a civic education medium, and incorporated one-off and travelling exhibitions in its range of educational services.

New media

The rapid development of modern information and communication media in the 1990s opened up a range of new opportunities for civic education. Back in the 1980s the bpb had already begun to use teletext before switching to T-Online as its service provider in the mid 1990s. The Agency launched its first homepage at Externer Link: in September 1997.

In the early 1990s it designed a number of computer-based learning and teaching applications such as the software Grafstadt Win and the simulation games Kommstedt-Demokratie and Kommstedt-Wahlen. These Externer Link: simulation games were first used in a classroom setting as a teaching aid for students during the 1994 and 1998 national elections. Besides these new media applications, the Agency also developed information and guidance materials on its use, such as the interactive Search & Play database for computer games, which was launched in 1993 and contained evaluations of computer games by educators and gamers as well as scientific essays on these games. Search & Play was updated and relaunched in 2007 and can now be accessed at Externer Link:

Civic education under pressure

During the 1980s and 1990s the Agency found itself operating in a challenging environment for civic education. Many states cut down on the number of civic education lessons in schools. In addition, the national economy underwent a downturn in the mid 1990s. The budgets of the Federal Agency, the State Agencies and independent non-formal civic education organisations were cut drastically. During this decade the Federal Government issued two comprehensive opinions on the state of civic education (one on December 10, 1991, the other on May 27, 1998). Although both reports confirmed the major importance of civic education and pronounced it highly significant to democracy, the government did not follow through by increasing the civic education budget. On May 26, 1997 the Directors of the Federal Agency and the State Agencies for Civic Education issued a joint declaration entitled Demokratie braucht politische Bildung (Democracy needs civic education), also known as the Munich Manifesto, in which they confirmed the importance of civic education in addressing future global challenges, and demanded adequate financial resources.


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