Many Germans are obsessed with their broken history be it right or left. In renaming streets and squares they try to stun their feeling of guilt. Presently we watch a new wave of re-baptizing rolling in.
The other day I read a note in the Berliner Zeitung that the citizens living on Treitschkestraße had plebiscited against the renaming of their street. Heinrich von Treitschke a renowned Prussian historian in the 19th century wrote right wing history books with sentences like the following about the annexed Alsace: These lands are ours due to the right of the sword and we shall rule them because of the right of the German nation. We shall not allow those lost sons to grow apart from the Reich. We Germans know better what avails to the Alsatiens ... we shall restitute their self against their own will. Even worse Treitschke coined the later abused sentence: The Jews are our harm (Die Juden sind unser Unglück).
Going back in history: In 1945 with the fall of the Third Reich all Nazi street names were eradicated. Freiburg's main axis Adolf-Hitler-Straße however did not recover its previous name Kaiserstraße. In order to avoid any allusion to the Second Reich's Kaiser Wilhelm II the street was renamed in Kaiser-Joseph-Straße reminiscent of the Habsburg rule of Joseph II, Maria-Theresa's son.
Similarly when the Communist regime tumbled in the east in 1989 names like Walter-Ulbricht-Platz or Wilhelm-Pieck-Straße disappeared. Opposition arose when in an over-zeal city councils threw the baby out with the bathwater re-baptizing streets named after Ernst Thälmann, the charismatic leader of Germany's Communist party in the Weimar Republic, murdered by the Nazis.
The recent wave of changing names started in March 2012 when the city council of Münster, Westphalia, renamed their Hindenburgplatz into Schlossplatz. This decision did not please everybody and a popular initiative against the decision evoked as a decisive argument the culture of remembrance (Erinnerungskultur): A square that had been named 85 years ago after the First World War General Paul von Hindenburg should keep its name. Mind you, since Hindenburg made Hitler Reichskanzler he became a highly contested person. In September 2012 a citizens' vote eventually confirmed the city council's decision by 56,700 to 38,800 votes.
The street renaming mania reached Freiburg two months ago when the city's Commission of Cultural Affairs decided to scrutinize all 1300 street names. Yes, there is a Hindenburgstraße in Freiburg too but with respect to renaming streets Freiburgers rather think of the so called heros' quarter (Heldenviertel) where you find names of bloody First World War battles like Langemarck und Skagerrak (Battle of Jutland) together with the Imperial admiral Graf Spee and the fighter pilots Oswald Boelcke (Dicta Boelcke), Max Immelmann (Eagle of Lille), and Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron). In addition nationalist poets like Hermann Löns (Der Werwolf) and Gorch Fock (Seefahrt ist Not, i.e., Going to sea is a necessity) have their street names.
Which street names will the commission propose to change and where will they stop? Will they consider people like archbishop Conrad Gröber who initially had sympathized with the Nazi regime before he became an adversary. Is Alban-Stolz-Straße to be renamed because this catholic poet was an anti-Semite? And what about the namesake of an important Freiburg ring-street Karl von Rotteck, a great liberal personality but nevertheless accused of anti-Semitic quotations? I shall keep you informed.