Heinrich August Winkler

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Heinrich August Winkler (2014)

Heinrich August Winkler (born December 19, 1938 in Königsberg (Prussia) ) is a German historian .

He taught as a professor of modern history at the Humboldt University in Berlin . His book publications on the history of the Weimar Republic , on Germany's “long way to the west” and on the “history of the west” since the ancient beginnings met with a wide response from the media. Winkler is also a popular figure in public life and has received the Federal Cross of Merit among other awards. On May 8, 2015, he gave the speech in the German Bundestag to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War .


Heinrich August Winkler comes from the educated middle class: there were at least ten pastors in his father's generations; both parents were graduated historians. However, the father Theodor Winkler (* 1904) died in 1939 when Heinrich August was just eleven months old. His mother Brigitte, daughter of the historian and director of the Königsberg State and University Library August Robert Seraphim , left Königsberg and East Prussia in August 1944 with her now five-year-old son, who saw the end of the war in Württemberg . He grew up in southern Germany and graduated from the humanistic Humboldt Gymnasium in Ulm .

While still at school, Winkler, as a 17-year-old reporter for a local newspaper, took part in the 23rd German Historians' Day in Ulm in 1956 and received strong impressions from mediaevalists Hermann Heimpel and Herbert Grundmann and Hans Freyer, among others .

From 1957 he studied history, philosophy, public law and political science at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster , the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen . In Münster he was particularly impressed by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy , in Heidelberg it was Werner Conze , Ernst Forsthoff and Karl Löwith , in Tübingen next to Hans Rothfels, among others, Theodor Eschenburg , Ralf Dahrendorf and Ernst Bloch .

Under Hans Rothfels - for whom his father had already written his doctoral thesis in 1931 - Heinrich August Winkler received his doctorate in 1963 in Tübingen with a thesis on the history of the German Progressive Party . He then worked as a research assistant at the Free University of Berlin from 1964 to 1970 . At the 26th Historians' Day held in Berlin, he experienced both the Fischer controversy and the council debate. “My conflicts with the increasingly doctrinal student movement and the fight against the corruption of the examination system at the Otto Suhr Institute were also formative experiences . I think I learned a lot for my later political and university political life. ”At this time, Winkler had close personal connections with Richard Löwenthal and Ernst Fraenkel . Hans Rosenberg opened up the socio-historical approach in connection with access to economic history .

Winkler's habilitation thesis is entitled Mittelstand, Demokratie und National Socialismus. The political development of craft and retail trade in the Weimar Republic . At the age of 32 he became a professor at the Free University of Berlin and in 1972 he accepted a professorship for modern and contemporary history at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg , which he held for 19 years. The turning point and peaceful revolution in the GDR in 1989 and German reunification in 1990 meant challenges and opportunities par excellence for Winkler, as Michael Borgolte points out, who, like Winkler, moved from Freiburg to a chair at the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1991 :

“The turning point, which many Germans perceived as a breathtaking change in the direction of their aspirations, not only in his generation, became a change of luck in his life for the just over fifty year old; the call to the Humboldt University opened up an incomparable platform for the creative will of the tried and tested university professor and publicist, but the reunification gave the historian that vanishing point of representation that great historiography needs and cannot invent. "

Winkler's historical longitudinal sections on German history as well as on the history of the West are therefore not only due to the revolutionary events in contemporary history, but also to the author's changed professional environment. As the managing director of the institute, Winkler initially had to deal with massive hostility from the "old cadres" and, under great personal strain, worked together with others to bring about the alignment with West German and international standards of historical teaching. After another decade and a half of research and teaching at the Humboldt University, Heinrich August Winkler retired on April 1, 2007. Kiran Klaus Patel is one of his students .


According to Borgolte, Winkler's methodical approach aims at explaining history as it progresses and in doing so “reaching concise judgments beyond which nothing remains to be said.” He invariably forbids digressions “or even the large-format historical painting”. His commitment to Max Weber's distinction between science and politics even allows him to keep two separate lists of publications: one on scientific work, the other on other publications. Nonetheless, Winkler has committed himself to value judgments based on historical knowledge and political responsibility, for example in his habilitation thesis, which states that the renouncement of evaluations could have more serious consequences than the risk involved with them.

Before making a judgment about the historical actors, Winkler's first priority is to sound out the respective scope for action in the historical framework of conditions. As in Winkler's three-volume work on workers and the labor movement in the Weimar Republic , Borgolte said, this could counteract the risk of considering the actual events in the teleological sense as inevitable. The investigation of scope for action and alternatives was then also the basis of Winkler's burdensome and for him most important question about the history of the 19th and 20th centuries in his overview of the Weimar Republic, namely the question of why it came to Nazi rule Hitler's could come.

In his two-volume work The Long Way to the West , published in 2000, Winkler deals with the problem of a German special path , whereby the question of the survival of the imperial myth can be seen as one leitmotif and the question of the success or failure of German revolutions as the other. The four-volume History of the West , published between 2009 and 2015, provides a perspective that has been expanded again in terms of space and time .

Political engagement and work in public space

Heinrich August Winkler during a speech in 2014

By his own admission, Winkler was very interested in politics at an early stage: “I headed a student working group, the Political Seminar of Ulm Youth. We invited politicians to discussions and also took trips to the German Bundestag in Bonn, to the Advisory Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg or to the French National Assembly in Paris. ”After he had been involved with the CDU as a student , he broke this bond due to the election campaign from 1961 on, in which Willy Brandt was defamed as an emigrant, and in 1962 he joined the SPD .

During my time as a university professor

In the mid-1980s, Winkler got involved in the historians' dispute. At the side of Rudolf Augstein and Jürgen Habermas , he took sides in a debate that was mainly carried out in letters to the editor to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , against the views of Ernst Nolte , Andreas Hillgruber and Michael Stürmer , whom he accused of trivializing the crimes of the National Socialists , the the construction of an unbroken German national consciousness.

Heinrich August Winkler was co-editor of the magazine Geschichte und Gesellschaft from 1975 to 1999 and is co-editor of the Berlin edition of Willy Brandt's speeches and letters . He was a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Reichspräsident-Friedrich-Ebert-Gedenkstätte Foundation , the House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Institute for Contemporary History . He also worked on the Joint Commission for Research into the Recent History of German-Russian Relations and was a member of the International Advisory Council of the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation .

After retirement

Winkler has repeatedly spoken out in prominent positions against Turkey's accession to the EU . In November 2009, however, he relativized this view in an interview and only referred to the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria as a prerequisite for membership. Winkler acknowledges “a certain optimism” about the willingness to integrate Muslims in Germany, as surveys show that the Muslims living here affirm freedom of belief, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press as well as fundamental rights. An inhibiting effect, however, is the fact that many Islamic legal scholars only allow human rights to apply within the framework of Sharia law, but deny that they are inalienable. Looking back on 2014, Winkler said on January 25, 2015: “The incalculability and omnipresence of Islamist terror caused a feeling of insecurity more than any other event of the past year. In retrospect, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States appears to be the content ad of the 21st century. "

On May 8, 2015, Winkler gave the main speech at the commemoration of the German Bundestag on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The historian sees it as the deepest turning point in German history. The election successes of the National Socialists at the end of the Weimar Republic and the rapidly growing popularity of Hitler could not be explained without the Germans' reservations about Western democracy. Recognition of the Holocaust as the “central fact of German history in the 20th century” was still a long time coming among Germans even after the end of the war. It is true that they too had a part in the early modern western emancipation processes. But important German elites had refused to accept the essential political consequences of the Enlightenment, ideas of the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 until well into the 20th century: the guiding principles of inalienable human rights, popular sovereignty and representative democracy. Germany's “second chance” ( Fritz Stern ), the achievement of German unity in 1990, was based, according to Winkler, on the fact that Germany “had credibly broken with those parts of its political tradition that stood in the way of the development of a liberal democracy of western style”.

In view of the corona crisis in spring 2020, Winkler thinks it is illusory to think that the consequential charges can be mastered through new debts alone. Germany will not be able to avoid a “large-scale redistribution”, a burden-sharing between those less affected by the material consequences and those who are at risk in their professional existence. This redistribution will far exceed the historical equalization of burdens in favor of those displaced and bombed out after the Second World War. “It is possible that the costs that Germany will face will be even higher than those of German reunification after 1990.” Within the framework of the European Union , the historian demands that the economically stronger states provide the economically weaker states with “help to help themselves”.


Winkler has been awarded numerous scientific honors and memberships for his research. In the college year 1990/1991, Winkler received a research grant at the historical college in Munich. Winkler is a member of the historical commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and since May 2008 a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. In 2002 he was awarded the Friedrich Schiedel Literature Prize and in 2004 the Capo Circeo Prize of the Association for Italian-German Friendship . In 2000 Winkler received the Officer's Cross of the Polish Order of Merit and in 2005 the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2014 he received the “European Prize for Political Culture” from the Hans Ringier Foundation . Heinrich August Winkler was awarded the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding in 2016 for his four-volume magnum opus History of the West . The award ceremony took place on the occasion of the opening of the Leipzig Book Fair on March 16, 2016 in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. The eulogy was given by the historian, publicist and writer Volker Ullrich . In 2018, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier honored Winkler with the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Fonts (selection)


  • Prussian liberalism and the German nation-state. Studies on the history of the German Progressive Party. 1861–1866 (= Tübingen Studies on History and Politics. No. 17, ISSN  0564-4267 ). Mohr, Tübingen 1964 (at the same time: Tübingen, University, dissertation, 1963).
  • Middle class, democracy and national socialism. The political development of craft and retail trade in the Weimar Republic. Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Cologne 1972, ISBN 3-462-00862-5 (also: Berlin, Free University, habilitation thesis, 1970).
  • Revolution, state, fascism. On the revision of historical materialism (= Kleine Vandenhoeck series. Vol. 1440). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1978, ISBN 3-525-33420-6 .
  • Workers and the labor movement in the Weimar Republic. 3 volumes. Dietz, Berlin et al. 1984–1987;
    • Volume 1: From Revolution to Stabilization. 1918 to 1924 (= history of the workers and the workers' movement in Germany since the end of the 18th century. Vol. 9). 1984, ISBN 3-8012-0093-0 ;
    • Volume 2: The appearance of normality. 1924 to 1930 (= history of the workers and the workers' movement in Germany since the end of the 18th century. Vol. 10). 1985, ISBN 3-8012-0094-9 ;
    • Volume 3: The Path to Disaster. 1930 to 1933. (= History of the workers and the workers' movement in Germany since the end of the 18th century. Vol. 11). 1987, ISBN 3-8012-0095-7 .
  • Did Weimar have to fail? The end of the first republic and the continuity of German history (= writings of the historical college. Lectures, 31), Munich 1991 ( digitized version ).
  • Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-37646-0 .
  • The long way west . 2 volumes. Beck, Munich 2000;
    • Volume 1: German history from the end of the Old Empire to the fall of the Weimar Republic , ISBN 3-406-46001-1 ;
    • Volume 2: German history from the “Third Reich” to reunification , ISBN 3-406-46002-X .
  • Forever in Hitler's shadow? About the Germans and their history. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-56214-3 .
  • History of the west. 4 volumes. Beck, Munich 2009–2015;
  • Ordeal. Germany, Europe and the West. Interventions 1990 to 2015. Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-68424-1 .
  • Is the West falling apart? About the current crisis in Europe and America. CH Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-71173-2 .
  • Values ​​and powers. A story of the western world. CH Beck, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-406-74138-8 .

As editor


  • Michael Borgolte : Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history (= Humboldt University of Berlin. Public lectures. H. 131, ISSN  1618-4858 ). Ceremonial lecture on the occasion of the 65th birthday, January 15, 2004, Humboldt University Berlin, Philosophical Faculty I, Institute for History. Humboldt University, Berlin 2004, digitized version (PDF; 514 kB) .
  • Andreas Kilb : Western history. A world historian in the spirit of ideas from 1776. On the eightieth birthday of Heinrich August Winkler. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , December 19, 2018, No. 295, p. 14.
  • Adam Tooze : After the Wars . In: London Review of Books , November 19, 2015, pp. 15–17 ( PDF ; a review of The Age of Catastrophe. A History of the West 1914–1945 , which provides an overall appraisal and classification of Winkler's historical and political-journalistic Creation represents).

Web links

Commons : Heinrich August Winkler  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Michael Borgolte : Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history ( lecture on the occasion of the 65th birthday, p. 11).
  2. a b c d e Interview with Heinrich August Winkler on September 3, 1999 , H-Soz-Kult , Interviewer: Jens Hacke and Marcel Steinbach-Reimann.
  3. Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history , p. 20.
  4. Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history , p. 24.
  5. Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history , p. 25.
  6. Quoted from Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history , p. 18 f.
  7. Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler and the unity of history , p. 23.
  8. Michael Borgolte: Königsberg - Germany - Europe. Heinrich August Winkler und die Einheit der Geschichte , p. 16. Criticism of the interpretations of medieval and early modern German history by Winkler can be found in: Helmut G. Walther : Zeitgeschichtliche Mediävistik or: How long is the way to the west? In: Jürgen John , Dirk van Laak , Joachim von Puttkamer (ed.): Time stories. Miniatures in Lutz Niethammer's manner. Essen 2005, pp. 289-302.
  9. ^ Heinrich August Winkler: Obstacles to marriage. Against Turkey's accession to the EU. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , November 23, 2002; Heinrich August Winkler: We are expanding to death. In: The time . No. 46, November 7, 2002.
  10. Interview with Heinrich August Winkler: Europe must sharpen its profile. In: The European , November 20, 2009.
  11. Interview with Heinrich August Winkler in Der Tagesspiegel , January 25, 2015.
  12. ^ Speech by Heinrich August Winkler on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on May 8, 2015 .
  13. ^ Heinrich August Winkler: Plea for a new load balancing. We need a corona solos. In: Der Tagesspiegel , March 29, 2020, p. 19.
  14. Historical College - Heinrich A. Winkler. Retrieved September 19, 2018 .
  15. South link Capo-Circeo-Preis for HA Winkler http://www.premiocapocirceo.it/archivio-rassegna-stampa-parziale/
  16. Historian Heinrich August Winkler receives the “European Prize for Political Culture 2014” , Ringier website , August 9, 2014, accessed on August 7, 2015.
  17. Book Prize for European Understanding: Historian Winkler is honored at the Leipzig Book Fair . In: Spiegel Online , December 10, 2015, accessed on the same day.
  18. www.bundespraesident.de: The Federal President / Speeches / Awarding the Great Cross of Merit. Retrieved March 20, 2018 .