German student movement
The German student movement (also called 68er-Bewegung, movement of 1968, or soixante-huitaires) was a protest
A protest is an expression of objection, by words or by actions, to particular events, policies or situations. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations...

 movement that took place during the late 1960s in West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

. It was largely a reaction against the perceived authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

 and hypocrisy of the German government and other Western governments, and the poor living conditions of student
A student is a learner, or someone who attends an educational institution. In some nations, the English term is reserved for those who attend university, while a schoolchild under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English...

s. A wave of protests—some violent—swept West Germany, fueled by violent over-reaction by the police and encouraged by contemporary protest movements across the world. Following more than a century of conservatism
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

 among German students, the German student movement also marked a significant major shift to the left and radicalisation of student politics.

Early stages of the movement

In 1966, for the first time in fifteen years, the German economy went into recession and the FDP
Free Democratic Party (Germany)
The Free Democratic Party , abbreviated to FDP, is a centre-right classical liberal political party in Germany. It is led by Philipp Rösler and currently serves as the junior coalition partner to the Union in the German federal government...

 finally withdrew from Ludwig Erhard's
Ludwig Erhard
Ludwig Wilhelm Erhard was a German politician affiliated with the CDU and Chancellor of West Germany from 1963 until 1966. He is notable for his leading role in German postwar economic reform and economic recovery , particularly in his role as Minister of Economics under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer...

Christian Democratic Union (Germany)
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It is regarded as on the centre-right of the German political spectrum...

Christian Social Union of Bavaria
The Christian Social Union in Bavaria is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It operates only in the state of Bavaria, while its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union , operates in the other 15 states of Germany...

/FDP coalition government. With the forming of the CDU/CSU/SPD
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 coalition government under Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a German politician affiliated with the CDU and Chancellor of West Germany from 1 December 1966 until 21 October 1969.-Early career and wartime activities:...

 the voice of the opposition within the Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

 was seriously weakened. This led some students to conclude that this encouraged authoritarian and anti-democratic attitudes in government and therefore justified and indeed necessitated the transfer of opposition from parliament to bodies outside it. At the same time, the shock of realising that the Wirtschaftswunder
The term describes the rapid reconstruction and development of the economies of West Germany and Austria after World War II . The expression was used by The Times in 1950...

could not last forever led many in the student body, influenced by Marxist
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 economic theory, to believe that the economic wealth of the nation, instead of improving the standard of living
Standard of living
Standard of living is generally measured by standards such as real income per person and poverty rate. Other measures such as access and quality of health care, income growth inequality and educational standards are also used. Examples are access to certain goods , or measures of health such as...

 of the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

, would destroy it and lead to an ever-growing gap between the rich
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

 and the poor
Poor is an adjective related to a state of poverty, low quality or pity.People with the surname Poor:* Charles Henry Poor, a US Navy officer* Charles Lane Poor, an astronomer* Edward Erie Poor, a vice president of the National Park Bank...


Through their critical work on many different topics and the reactions of the public and the government itself, these main goals formed in the minds of the students:
  • Changing society for more democracy
    Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

  • Dealing with Germany's and their parents' National Socialist
    Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

  • Reforming the curriculum.
  • Stopping the war in Vietnam and improving the horrible conditions in the Third World
    Third World
    The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

  • Reducing the influence of the right-wing press (especially publications from the Axel Springer
    Axel Springer
    Axel Springer , was a German journalist and the founder and owner of the Axel Springer AG publishing company.-Early life:...

     publishing house) on the masses and its abuse of the freedom of press.
  • Stopping the planned German emergency legislation
    German Emergency Acts
    The German Emergency Acts were passed on 30 May 1968 at the time of the First Grand Coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. The Emergency Acts faced opposition from outside the German parliament...

     (Notstandsgesetze) from being passed.

The first goal was the source of all the others and thus the most important in their minds.

To summarise, the students rejected traditional, parliamentary decision making-processes, social injustice
Social injustice
Social injustice is a concept relating to the claimed unfairness or injustice of a society in its divisions of rewards and burdens and other incidental inequalities...

 and the inequalities of wealth. They felt the need to overcome and change these things.

The past

To the students, the German chapter of Fascism was not yet closed. Many former Nazis were still working for the government or at the universities (in fact, then-Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a German politician affiliated with the CDU and Chancellor of West Germany from 1 December 1966 until 21 October 1969.-Early career and wartime activities:...

 had formerly been a member of the NSDAP) and the newly-formed right-wing National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) was attracting more and more voters. In addition to that the students had to deal with the fact that they were identified as Germans and blamed for the crimes committed by their parents’ generation.

The students did not want to be held responsible for their parents’ deeds. But their parents acted as if it were no concern of theirs; when the students tried to show the public that the anti-fascist idea of the constitution
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

 was not yet established in German society, the government and the press felt extremely offended, feeling they had formed a democratic society and did not want it to be attacked.

Reforming the universities

To support its new economic policies the government wanted to change the universities, producing graduates faster by introducing a time limit on courses and limiting the number of students. The students, however, did not want to adjust to the needs of the economy and the government. In fact, they wanted to adjust the universities to their own wishes. They wanted more rights in the running of universities, better-equipped workplaces and the expulsion of the professors who had been active during the Nazi period. The university boards did not react to the students' protest and introduced the time limit for studying.

When this time limit was introduced at the Free University of Berlin
Free University of Berlin
Freie Universität Berlin is one of the leading and most prestigious research universities in Germany and continental Europe. It distinguishes itself through its modern and international character. It is the largest of the four universities in Berlin. Research at the university is focused on the...

 during the summer holidays of 1966 the students were not there, and so were unable to protest against it; instead, the first big sit-in
A sit-in or sit-down is a form of protest that involves occupying seats or sitting down on the floor of an establishment.-Process:In a sit-in, protesters remain until they are evicted, usually by force, or arrested, or until their requests have been met...

 of the German student movement happened when they returned after the holidays, with about 4,000 participants. The events at the Free University of Berlin are representative of the events at all universities in Germany, as the same events were quickly repeated elsewhere.

The war in Vietnam and political suppression

Through their increasing interest in politics the students quickly engaged in discussions concerning the war in Vietnam. They formed the opinion that the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 had no right to fight in Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, not only because of the victims but mainly because of what they saw as an imperialistic
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

 foreign policy.

The government, however, had to back the USA since they were still watching over Germany after World War Two. For this reason, university boards put a ban on political activities by students (e.g. discussions) at the universities. They explained this act by saying that science should always be neutral. This was the same explanation the professors had used to justify their behaviour during the Third Reich. The students wanted to be able to act politically, not only because of the war in Vietnam, but to protest against the horrible conditions in the Third World
Third World
The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

 as students and not only as individuals.

Emergency Acts

The students were strongly opposed to the German Emergency Acts
German Emergency Acts
The German Emergency Acts were passed on 30 May 1968 at the time of the First Grand Coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. The Emergency Acts faced opposition from outside the German parliament...

 which were due to be passed, which would allow the government to limit civil rights in the case of an emergency. Among other things, they would allow the government to restrict freedom of movement
Freedom of movement
Freedom of movement, mobility rights or the right to travel is a human right concept that the constitutions of numerous states respect...

 and to limit privacy and confidentiality of telecommunications correspondence.

Action and reaction

By the year 1966 the number of students which were interested in the conflict between the students and the authorities had increased. Many of those who had not been interested before became at least passively interested by now. This newly-formed public took part in the demonstrations, sit-ins and other protest actions arranged by the students and their organizations (e.g. the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund
Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund
Der Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund was founded 1946 in Hamburg, Germany, as the college organisation of the SPD...


The government tried to fight the situation by decreasing the funds for universities and student organizations and by turning public opinion against the students with the help of the press. The view that students should study and not demonstrate grew stronger. The students were also repressed in the streets by the police. Yet, the more pressure the government put on the students, the more the more they came together.

On June 2, 1967 the conflict would finally escalate. Students had organized demonstrations against the official visit by the Shah of Iran. In their opinion, the German government was demonstrating a positive attitude towards a dictatorial
A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator. It has three possible meanings:...

 government that was suppressing and torturing its own people.

During the first demonstration in front of the Opera House
Deutsche Oper Berlin
The Deutsche Oper Berlin is an opera company located in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany. The resident building is also home to the Berlin State Ballet.-History:...

, which the Shah was visiting, the police of Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 and the Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

ian service attacked the protestors. In the turmoil, the unarmed student Benno Ohnesorg
Benno Ohnesorg
Benno Ohnesorg was a German university student killed by a policeman during a demonstration in West Berlin.- Death :On June 2, 1967, Ohnesorg participated in a protest held near the Deutsche Oper, aimed against the state visit of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was attending a...

 was shot in the head from behind by Polizeiobermeister (Police Sergeant) Karl-Heinz Kurras
Karl-Heinz Kurras
Karl-Heinz Kurras is a former German police officer who served in the police force of West Berlin, and a former agent of the East German secret service Stasi....

 and killed.

The following days saw many demonstrations throughout the whole republic against police brutality
Police brutality
Police brutality is the intentional use of excessive force, usually physical, but potentially also in the form of verbal attacks and psychological intimidation, by a police officer....

. The students in Berlin, however, were anxious and in a desperate situation. The police were preventing them from gathering in public, the universities had submitted their authority to the government and the press wrote that the students were the brutal and aggressive component of the demonstrations and that they had provoked the death of Benno Ohnesorg. Even though there were some students groups supporting the idea of a violent revolution the protesting students were mostly peaceful.

For the following days the students took over control of the Free University of Berlin. Finally being able to meet again, they used the time to discuss and reflect on the events of the past days.

The revolt continues

The spirit of the students in Berlin spread across the whole country. In autumn 1967 there were organized protest groups at nearly all universities in Germany. In the following months some of the largest and most brutal demonstrations in the history of the German republic happened. The press, especially the tabloid Bild-Zeitung
The Bild is a German tabloid published by Axel Springer AG. The paper is published from Monday to Saturday, while on Sundays, Bild am Sonntag is published instead, which has a different style and its own editors...

newspaper was telling the public what to think about those protesters. Its publisher, Axel Springer, did not publish any positive articles about the students. Springer supported the government and was spreading the government's views among its readers.

At Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

 1968, there was an attempted assassination of one of the most important members of the SDS, Rudi Dutschke
Rudi Dutschke
Alfred Willi Rudi Dutschke was the most prominent spokesperson of the German student movement of the 1960s. He advocated 'a long march through the institutions' of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery...

. The students were outraged because the “Springer” press and the government had named Rudi Dutschke their “public enemy”. Overnight students all over Germany organized actions to block the delivery of the Bild-Zeitung by building blockades and protesting in front of “Springer” buildings. During these actions about 400 students were injured and two died. Rudi Dutschke died in 1979 of the late after-effects of his injury.

The climax and the decline

The revolt against the government reached its climax in May 1968. Students, schoolchildren and members of workers' unions formed a group of 80,000 people who demonstrated in the capital Bonn
Bonn is the 19th largest city in Germany. Located in the Cologne/Bonn Region, about 25 kilometres south of Cologne on the river Rhine in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999....

 against the emergency legislature. Even though the students mobilized as many people as possible to support their actions they could not stop the Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

 from passing the new law.

This failure marks the beginning of the end for the student movement. The former union of many small student groups representing different theories on the same topics was falling apart because they were blaming other groups' theories and thinking for the failure of the whole movement. This meant that the students were not working together anymore but against each other. By the end of the year even the SDS, the strongest of all student organizations, was falling into pieces.

The effect

Although the students failed to overthrow the status quo, the effects of the student movement are still visible today because the movement did change things in Germany.

Another side effect of the student movement was the emancipation of women in Germany. Through their political work women came to the opinion that they were being suppressed by a patriarchal society and that they thus had to change this condition. In addition to that the student movement brought up many theories on education and the raising of children which have influenced the modern forms of these processes. These changes and the huge influence on culture and art were probably the most important effects of the student movement.

An indirect effect was the "radical decree
Berufsverbot is an order of "professional disqualification" under German law. Berufsverbot may be called profession ban in English.A Berufsverbot disqualifies the recipient from engaging in certain professions or activities on the grounds of his or her criminal record, political convictions or...

" which was passed in the year 1972. It allowed the government to prevent the employment of people in the public services if there were grounds to believe that they did not support the free and democratic principles (freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung) outlined in the constitution (Grundgesetz). Under the decree, which gradually fell into desuetude after 1976, around 3.5 million individuals were investigated and 10,000 refused employment (fewer than 0.3%); 130 were dismissed.

The student movement, although it failed to achieve its main goals, brought many new and important elements to German society and culture which influence the country even today. A number of ministers in the Gerhard Schröder
Gerhard Schröder
Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schröder is a German politician, and was Chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005. A member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany , he led a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens. Before becoming a full-time politician, he was a lawyer, and before becoming Chancellor...

 government were student activists back in the 1960s and early 1970s.

It is widely believed that the conservatism of Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

 stems from his reaction to student protests at the University of Tübingen in 1968, when he served as a professor of theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...


See also

  • Elmar Altvater
    Elmar Altvater
    Elmar Altvater was Professor of Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institute of the Free University of Berlin, before retiring on 30 September 2004...

  • Anarchism
    Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

  • Daniel Cohn-Bendit
    Daniel Cohn-Bendit
    Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit is a Franco-German politician, active in both countries. He was a student leader during the unrest of May 1968 in France and he was also known during that time as Dany le Rouge...

  • Ernest Mandel
    Ernest Mandel
    Ernest Ezra Mandel, also known by various pseudonyms such as Ernest Germain, Pierre Gousset, Henri Vallin, Walter , was a revolutionary Marxist theorist.-Life:...

  • Peter-Ernst Eiffe
    Peter-Ernst Eiffe
    Peter-Ernst Eiffe , also known as "Eiffe, der Bär" was probably the first Graffiti artist in Germany. During the German student movement of May 1968, he distributed his messages all over Hamburg and became also known for entering the central station of Hamburg with a Fiat 600...

  • Peter Schneider
    Peter Schneider
    Peter Schneider may refer to:* Peter Schneider , German novelist* Peter Schneider , US movie executive, former president of the Walt Disney Studios...

  • Kommune 1
    Kommune 1
    Kommune 1 or K1 was the first politically-motivated commune in Germany. It was created on January 12, 1967, in West Berlin and finally dissolved in November 1969....

  • Marxist Group (Germany)
    Marxist Group (Germany)
    The Marxist Group was the largest communist organization of the "New Left" in West Germany. The program of the MG focused on the abolition of private property and of the state altogether...

  • Protests of 1968
    Protests of 1968
    The protests of 1968 consisted of a worldwide series of protests, largely participated in by students and workers.-Background:Background speculations of overall causality vary about the political protests centering on the year 1968. Some argue that protests could be attributed to the social changes...

External links

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