Generations of 68ers Age-Related Constructions of Identity and Germany's '1968'

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The protests of '1968' are a powerful symbol of generational belonging and central to Germany's collective memory. The so-called '68ers' have been transformed into a mythical yardstick of what constitutes a generation. Yet few people thought of themselves in this way in the late 1960s: the idea of the '68er' only emerged from complex and often retrospective processes of generational building, which this article investigates. It is shown that such age-related affinities were not confined to members of the West German Left. Two alternative generational narratives that emerged out of the late 1960s are examined in this piece: those of the West German moderate right-wing 'counter-generation' and of the 'East German 68ers'. The antagonistic character of the West German events and the subsequent public projection of left-wing activists as a 'generation' mobilized their political contemporaries and led to a growing desire to collectivize their experiences in their turn. East Germany's '1968', on the other hand, may have been far less iconic than the West German revolt, but former East German activists have also given their memories generational form, particularly since the 1990s. This article addresses these manifold processes of generation building to show that they have much to reveal about how activists – and those who observed them – made sense of the events of 1968 and about how different groups mobilized the idea of a generational experience politically to powerful effect in the years that followed. We are not dealing with a single and monolithic generation of 1968, but with more diverse communities of German '68ers'.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Modern History, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9EF, UK;, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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