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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

1 - Bonhoeffer's Germany

from Part one - Bonhoeffer's Life and Legacy


The Germany of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's lifetime (1906-45) experienced three radical constitutional changes, all of which were to affect Bonhoeffer's formation in crucial ways. His first twelve years saw the Wilhelmine Empire (Kaiserreich), founded under Otto von Bismarck in 1871, reach the zenith of its power and then virtually self-destruct at the end of the First World War in 1918. The Kaiserreich was followed by Germany's first experiment in parliamentary democracy; the ill-fated Weimar Republic. It lasted from 1919 until 1933 when it also collapsed, or more accurately, was destroyed by a combination of hostile attacks from the anti-democratic forces of both the extreme left and the extreme right, on the one hand, and the political inexperience of the supporters of the constitution on the other. Then, out of the political and economic chaos of the end-phase of the Weimar years (1929-33), arose the National Socialist dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich. It was this latter manifestation of the German spirit which Bonhoeffer judged as essentially evil and which left him no alternative but to resist to the death.