In her latest collection of her ``Letters from Europe'' for the New Yorker, Kramer (Whose Art Is It?, 1994, etc.) ponders the fate of post-Wall Germany. In six long essays from November 1988 to August 1995, Kramer offers snapshots of a nation struggling through a difficult transition, evolving from the divided Germany of the Cold War to the uneasily reunified Germany of today. The Germans, she writes in her introduction, ``discovered that it was hard to be ordinary folks . . . when you had a Holocaust in your history.'' But the presence of the Holocaust is only implied in all but the last two pieces, one on skinhead violence in the city of Ludwigshafen and the other on Berlin's debate over how to memorialize the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. In the first four essays, the dilemma hangs like an unidentified cloud over Germans who strive to be ``ordinary.'' However, the most visible presence in all six pieces is the Wall and its ghosts. In her November 1991 piece ``Berlin,'' Kramer treats the German capital as a city in which East and West are still clearly demarcated. In ``Peter Schmidt'' and ``Stasi'' she reveals the problems that the former East Germans have brought to the unification party, particularly an odd, troubling passivity. Kramer is not a scintillating prose stylist, but she is an excellent reporter. Equally important, she has a sure grasp of the architecture of the long feature piece; the six essays in this volume are superbly structured. It would have been nice, however, to know what happened to the principal players here in the years since the articles were written. Thoughtful, insightful writing, a convincing portrait of contemporary Germany, and a forceful cautionary tale: After all, every time the Germans have had a ``German problem,'' it has become as a problem for everyone else, too.
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