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Writer Stephen Plaice takes a journey through the German cities where the great philosophers of the 19th century lived and worked, exploring the impact that these thinkers have had on each stage of his life. Along the way, he reflects on the Germany which has been locked away behind the two World Wars, and examines our contemporary prejudices towards Germans.

Stephen ends his philosophical journey in Berlin where he considers how, in maintaining our prejudices towards the Germans, we have excluded the liberal wisdom of its philosophers. Berlin, a city with an very divided past, provides a living metaphor of the Hegelian dialectic of history. Out of the opposing forces of Communism and Nazism, a third, democratic synthesis has emerged. But at Checkpoint Charlie, Stephen discovers that the old oppositions of the Cold War have been turned into tourist entertainment. Is there an ironic phase to history?

Visiting the cemetery in which Hegel is buried, and then the Humboldt University where he lectured, Stephen reflects on the two opposing ideologies that tried to gain control of Berlin in the 20th century, and examines the extent to which the accusation holds that German idealist philosophy was responsible for the rise of both Fascism and Communism. He cites Kant's treatise On Perpetual Peace to illustrate the enlightened legacy which has been obscured behind the pseudo-philosophy of the Third Reich. Stephen argues that we have handed Hitler a victory by allowing our image of the Germans and of German culture to remain fixated on the Nazis.

Stephen also reflects on The Principle of Hope, a key work by the German Jewish utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch, which he co-translated in the 1980s.

In conclusion Stephen reflects how, from the early Romanticism of student days in Germany, via Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, to Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope and the Kantian responsibilities of parenthood, philosophy has the power to shape personal experience.

15 minutes

Last on

Fri 7 Aug 2009 15:45
BBC Radio 4 FM only