Revisiting the Deutscher Herbst

December 2007


Introduction Initial Contributions Discussion Links



Thirty years ago this fall, West Germany experienced a series of violent events that have collectively assumed the moniker Deutscher Herbst, the German autumn. For all the attention these events have received in the intervening decades, an explicitly historical discourse about German terrorism has yet to emerge.[1] As cultural phenomenon Baader-Meinhof has crossed the Atlantic. New York's Museum of Modern Art now includes as part of  its permanent collection Gerhard Richter's fifteen oil paintings rendering police and news photographs from the lives and deaths of leading figures in the West Germany Red Army Faction (RAF). But the gallery label that accompanied the exhibition of this work in 2006-07 made explicit the historical decontextualization of this translated cultural work: "Out of Time: Contemporary Views."[2]

Back in Germany, the film version of Stefan Aust's Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is currently in production. The movie's a-list actors (Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, and Bruno Ganz, among others) may help make the story comfortably mainstream but also serve to blur the cinematic dividing lines separating this film from other recent depictions of Germany's pasts--the international "hits" Downfall (2004) and The Lives of Others (2006)-- which feature many of the same stars. Perhaps the visual continuities created by these casting choices will provoke scholars, if not the actors themselves, to think anew about the chronology and geography of autumn 1977.[3]

At a surface level, those grim weeks in autumn 1977 make for a complex but vivid narrative. On September 5 members of the West German Red Army Faction (RAF) seized the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, President of the West German Employers' Association, in an effort to force the West German government to release the imprisoned RAF leadership. Six weeks later, this effort ended when the RAF's guiding lights Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe committed suicide in their cells in Stammheim Prison outside Stuttgart. Their decision came only hours after the inhabitants of the prison's high security wing learned that an elite West German anti-terrorist unit, the GSG-9, had successfully stormed a hijacked Lufthansa airliner in Mogadishu, killing three of four Palestinian hijackers who had also been demanding the release of the RAF leadership. Schleyer's body was subsequently found in a car trunk in Alsace.

This forum seeks less to revise existing conclusions about the events and historical significance of autumn 1977 than to interrogate the kinds of questions that historians have been asking (or not asking) about the subject. The three very different contributions to this forum take on quite varied fragments from the collective engagement with the autumn 1977. Ranging from historiographic think piece to personal recollection to film analysis, these three texts highlight gaps in the manner we scholars have approached the Deutscher Herbst. As such, these contributions aim first and foremost to serve as an invitation to discussion.

We welcome any comments, criticism, or suggestions you may have and look forward to a productive exchange.

Paul Steege
and the team of H-German Editors


[1]. "Forum: 1977." German History 25, no. 3 (July 2007): 401-21.

[2]. "The Collection." ( ). See also Gerhard Richter ( ).

[3]. Stefan Aust, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex. 2nd ed. Munich: Goldmann, 1998. Information on the film at .

Initial Contributions (beginning Monday, December 3, 2007)

Solicited Response (Tuesday, December 4, 2007)

Discussion (still to come)


Related Links and References

Die RAF als Geschichte und Gegenwart: Texte und Materialien zum "Deutschen Herbst" und seinen Folgen
The “German Autumn” of 1977: Terror, State, and Society in West Germany
German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., Fall 2007 Lecture Series
  Jeffrey Herf, "An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany, 1969-1991" (talk at the GHI on September 27, 2007)
H-German Review
Annette Vowinckel on Alexander Straßner. Die dritte Generation der "Roten Armee Fraktion"
posted on 7 September 2006
Other Reviews
Sammelrezension Rote Armee Fraktion
review posted to H-Soz-und Kult 20 August 2007
Nicolas Büchse on Willi Winkler, Die Geschichte der RAF
review posted to H-Soz-und Kult 24 October 2007
Annette Vowinckel on Wolfgang Kraushaar, ed., Die RAF und der linke Terrorismus
review posted to H-Soz-und Kult 24 October 2007

These links will be updated as merited. Additions can be suggested to


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