Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is jolting Germany into rebuilding its military

BERLIN — In some ways, it was a perfectly ordinary conversation — a trio of bright, ambitious German high school kids thinking out loud about what they might do after graduation. But their discussion reflected a sea change in social attitudes: They were considering joining the military.

A decades-old aversion to serving in the German armed forces — the scourge of Europe during World War II, underfunded and neglected after the Cold War’s end — is swiftly reversing itself as a result of the war in Ukraine.

These three 18-year-olds, all of them set to finish high school next year in the northern town of Koethen, are coming of age just as Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is aiming to rebuild and revitalize its military after generations of lingering Nazi-era stigma.

One of the students, Steven Foerster, said he was drawn to high-tech opportunities in the Bundeswehr, Germany’s federal defense forces. His classmate Sarah Naumann thought joining up might be a good way for her to pursue medical studies. Jakob Fischer, another student, said he could see himself serving in a combat unit.

“The negative image isn’t really there anymore,” said Foerster. Naumann concurred: “The German army has become attractive again.”