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When we were 17: Youth at the crossroads

Dreaming of freedom

A century of youth in Germany: from the Wandervögel to Hitler Youth, from hippies to Monday demonstrators - the role of young people can say a lot about a country's attitude towards freedom and democracy.

"When you're 17, you still have dreams…" is the title of a German hit song from the 1960s. Teenagers dream of friendships and freedom, travel and independence, love and lust. Teenagers look at a future full of opportunities. They’re not just personal opportunities. A country’s young generation represents its future - they’re the people who, in future, will set the country’s political, economic and social course.

Germany sent millions of young people into war in the 20th century. They became cannon fodder and were exploited for propaganda purposes. In our multimedia special "When we were 17: Youth at the crossroads," DW takes a look at how young people in Germany experienced turning points in history at turning points in their lives.

Take Erich and Peter, who eagerly signed up for service in World War I. Or Esther, who had to play marching songs in Auschwitz whenever a train arrived carrying Jews from all over Europe. Or Ingrid and Manfred, whose love was torn by the Berlin Wall. Or Barbara, who, 20 years after the end of World War II, simply wouldn’t accept that Nazis were still holding important positions in Germany. Take Carsten and Anne, who experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall first hand. Or Sibel, who today wants to serve Germany as a Bundeswehr officer. Or Bryan, who speaks better German than many Germans and may still be deported.

DW takes a look at how 12 young people experienced six different milestones in German history. Their stories show that the role young people play in a society says a lot about that country’s attitude towards freedom and democracy. Teaching young people respect of human rights, freedom of opinion and tolerance is a vital cornerstone for the peaceful co-existence of different peoples.

Project concept: Jan Bruck and Sarah Judith Hofmann

Direction: Susanne Spröer

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