In April 1990 a distant Stackelberg cousin from Holland, Innet Ehrnrooth, whom I had gotten to know on our trip to Estonia the previous year, came to visit us in Spokane.
Papa’s 80th birthday in May 1990 was a multi-day celebration. Betsy was the only one of his eight children who was missing (she had visited him the previous summer), and fifteen of his grandchildren (eight of them American) were present as well. Spirits were high, augmented by numerous bottles of vodka and wine. In a humorous welcoming speech, delivered partly in English and partly in German, Papa expressed his astonishment at the number and variety of his offspring, reminding us of the old Baltic saying that the Stackelbergs were more than a family: they were a tribe. At midnight on May 24th the birthday cake was brought in, and Papa managed to extinguish all 81 candles with one blow! The official reception was held in the Great Hall of the Karlsburg, the former palace of the ruling margrave of the state of Baden. More than 200 guests came to celebrate and offer their congratulations. The occasion also commemorated the fifty-fifth anniversary of Papa’s admission to the legal profession in 1935 and the fortieth anniversary of his admission to the chamber of attorneys at the Bundesgerichtshof, the Federal Supreme Court, in 1950.
A few days later, at Herr Roemer’s invitation, I gave a talk, “Ein Blick zurück auf den Historikerstreit (A Look Back at the Historians’ Dispute),” later published as a pamphlet in a series of public lectures sponsored by the Karlsruhe Public Library. It was followed by another reception in honor of Papa’s achievements.
1990 was a momentous year in world politics. Elections in the now easily accessible German Democratic Republic in March resulted in a decisive victory for pro-Western parties. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl seized the chance to take control and make sure that there would be no independence for the East. On July 1st the West German currency, the Deutsche Mark, became the official nationwide currency. The East German Volkskammer voted to join the Federal Republic under the West German constitution, ignoring East German dissidents who favored a constitutional convention to reconcile the two very different social and economic systems in East and West. The four victor powers of the Second World War, including, to many people’s surprise, the soon to be defunct Soviet Union, gave up their sovereignty over Berlin. German reunification officially went into effect on October 3rd, 1990.
Sally and I made an extensive tour of East Germany in June, shortly before the currency union went into effect. People were already hoarding D. Marks in anticipation of the coming currency change, and although some hotels and restaurants had already begun to raise their prices to the Western levels, rooms in private houses were amazingly inexpensive. In Dresden we called a family that had advertised in a local paper and got a room for DM 20 per night, the equivalent of less than $10 at the going exchange rate. Our hosts had to go to work the following morning, so they gave us free run of their home, asking us only to shut the door when we left. We could sense that personal relations were quite different here from those in the West. Sharing and trustfulness seemed to be much more ingrained in social practices in the East. Of course, their hospitality also struck us as hopelessly naïve, aware as we were of how easily they could be taken advantage of. East Germans also had an exaggerated idea of American wealth and power. In Weimar a group gathered around our car to admire the VW bug we had rented in Frankfurt and asked us whether we had brought it with us across the sea from America.
On the same trip we visited Jena and toured the famous university as well as the handsome villa of the Darwinian naturalist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), on whom I was preparing an encyclopedia article at the time. Haeckel taught at Jena for almost half a century. As one of the centers of German Romanticism, Jena offered Sally a number of research opportunities as well. We also visited Erfurt, where Sally had attended an East German-sponsored seminar in the 1970s—which brought us an unexpected and somewhat intimidating late-night visit by two FBI agents to our home on Maringo Drive several months later. The FBI had been alerted to Sally’s seminar attendance by the Staatssicherheitdienst (STASI) records that fell into their hands after German reunification. We spent several days in Dresden, which I found very changed from my first visit with Renate in 1964. At that time the scars of war were still evident everywhere. Black was the dominant color of the Dresden skyline from the soot that covered most of the surviving buildings. By 1990 most of the soot had been removed and many of the buildings restored, though not yet quite to the elegance and architectural splendor that the city once again enjoys today. Graffiti on the walls seemed to indicate that not everyone was happy about the collapse of the GDR and looming reunification.
On the same trip we also visited my friend and fellow-Nietzsche scholar Uschi Nussbaumer-Benz and her husband Roland at their rustic home near Zurich in Switzerland. I had gotten to know Uschi at my talk in Sils-Maria the previous autumn. She was working on her doctorate in philosophy, eventually completed at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and was of great help to me as well in polishing my German in my talk on the Historikerstreit. Her husband claimed to be an aficionado of Nietzsche’s as well, although his admiration seemed to be expressed above all in a taste for luxury goods. That is apparently how he understood Nietzsche’s injunction to always strive for the best! He was very proud of his souped-up, super-charged Jaguar, which he seemed to think Nietzsche would have admired and enjoyed.
I had to return to the US on July 1st as I was slated to teach in the summer session of Gonzaga’s new doctoral program. In my efforts to establish rigorous academic standards for the new program, I alienated those students who did not want to devote much time to intensive study. Many, if not most of my students had full-time occupations and were working on their degrees on the side. One of them, in particular, was commuting to the weekly class from Canada and resented the fact that I insisted on keeping the class for the entire allotted time from 6 to 10 p.m. (with hourly ten-minute breaks). He is probably the one who in his course evaluation labeled me “a Stalinist” (the seminar was on the Soviet Union). The dean of the School of Education, to whom, no doubt, some of the students had complained, admonished me that it was common practice in the program to give credit for work experience in addition to academic performance. My evaluations were very mixed, with the number of students giving me the highest rating (usually the best students who appreciated my academic rigor) about equal to the number who gave me the lowest. To my surprise, I was asked to give the course again the following summer despite my mixed evaluations, but I declined. That was a mistake, because I was not asked again. Instead, they hired a historian from Whitworth College who became a fixture in the summer program for many years. My efforts to alert the administration to the academic weaknesses of the program went unheeded and unappreciated. The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences left no doubt that he felt it was inappropriate for a Gonzaga faculty member to criticize a money-making program. Years later, however, I was asked to sit on the dissertation committee of one of the doctoral students in the program. Her dissertation on the civil war in Southern Sudan, in which she defended the rebel side, was well done and sunsequently published as a book in Uganda.
Sally had remained in Germany in July 1990, conducting research in Heidelberg. She also made a trip to France, visiting Olivia Caulliez in Paris and her colleague Alice Seiffert in Nice.
We also made our annual trip to the East coast, visiting Mama and Betsy in Vermont and my Harvard roommate Paul Russell and his young wife Deborah in Boston.
When Sally and I returned to Spokane, we cooperated on a presentation discussing our findings in the newly liberated German Democratic Republic during our summer travels and gave our analysis of the consequences of German reunification and the future prospects for the new Germany. We gave numerous joint presentations, including quite memorable ones at the Unitarian Church in late summer and, at the invitation of Sally’s former colleague at EWU, Jill Gibion, at Eastern Oregon University in early fall. For that purpose we spent a weekend in LaGrande, Oregon, where we also had the chance to visit the near-by hot springs in the company of Jill and her partner Larry Smith. Sally and I agreed that a more critical perspective on German reunification was needed to balance the cold war triumphalism that characterized most Western accounts of this momentous event. We realized that we might have gone a bit overboard in describing the unacknowledged merits of East German society when one member of our audience asked with genuine curiosity whether we thought that East Germans might opt to revert to a communist regime! In an article published in In These Times in January 1991, “Unification from above leaves German left below.” I summarized some of our criticism of the top-down process by which German unification had been achieved.
The momentous events on the world stage were paralleled by an equally momentous event in our personal life. 1990 would turn out to be our one and only year of an “empty nest.” In December, 1990, at the ages of thirty-nine and fifty-five, respectively, “we” (in today’s parlance) became pregnant! We had relaxed our precautions some time earlier on the assumption that, if we were ever to have a child together, now was the time. Let’s dispense with the cumbersome contraceptives and let fate decide! I have to admit to some embarrassment on fathering another child at an age when most people were looking forward to becoming grandparents. However, the enthusiastic reaction of friends and colleagues assuaged my doubts about the propriety of becoming a father again in middle age. Sally attributed her fertility to the awakening of her maternal instincts by our acquisition, a short time before, in September 1990, of two very cute Labrador-mix puppies, Cloudy and Marley
The date of our wedding was March 30, 1991, which turned out to be a precociously warm and sunny spring day, a perfect day for a wedding.
The ceremony was to be conducted at our home by the Unitarian minister Linda Wittenberg who assured us that our lack of faith in God was no obstacle at all! This reminded me of John Weaver’s observation, delivered in a conspiratorial tone, that a more appropriate name for his church might be “zerotarian”! We wrote the ceremony ourselves, avoiding outlandish vows we were unlikely to keep. Besides Sally’s parents, her twin sister Sue, and Trina and Nick (our official witnesses who signed the marriage certificate), we invited about a dozen of our closest personal friends.
In January 1991, while Trina was here, we visited Nick at the University of Washington. We had some bad weather on our return trip, and had to use chains over Snowqualmie Pass. At one point our rear windshield cracked and fell out, leading to extraordinary temperature differentials in front and back. But with Trina driving we made it safely back home.