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The GDR Remembered

The GDR Remembered: Representations of the East German State since 1989

Nick Hodgin
Caroline Pearce
Volume: 106
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 312
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    The GDR Remembered
    Book Description:

    Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the consequences of the country's divided past continue to be debated. The legacy of the German Democratic Republic occupies a major role in German popular culture, with audiences flocking to films claiming to depict the East German state "as it was." Politicians from both left and right make use of its legacy to support their parties' approach to unification, while former citizens of the GDR are still working through their own memories of the regime and adjusting to unification. Since 1989, competing representations of the East German state have emerged, some underlining its repressive nature, others lamenting the loss of a sense of community. The twentieth anniversary of the ‘Wende’ is an occasion to reflect upon both the history of the GDR and the ways in which it has been remembered, and the present volume presents new research on the theme from a variety of perspectives, with sections on film and literature, museums and memorials, and historiography and politics. Contributors: Thomas Ahbe, Pertti Ahonen, Silke Arnold-de Simine, Stefan Berger, Laura Bradley, Mary Fulbrook, Nick Hodgin, Anna O'Driscoll, Stuart Parkes, Caroline Pearce, Günter Schlusche, Peter Thompson, Andreas Wagner. Nick Hodgin is a cultural historian working at the University of Sheffield, UK, and Caroline Pearce is Lecturer in German and Interpreting, also at the University of Sheffield.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-771-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
    Nick Hodgin and Caroline Pearce
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-16)
    Nick Hodgin and Caroline Pearce

    Twenty years after the “peaceful revolution” in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) iconic images of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the joyous crowds crossing the border from East to West were once again transmitted around the world. Thousands congregated at the “Festival of Freedom” (“Fest der Freiheit”) at the Brandenburg Gate on the night of 9 November 2009. State dignitaries from the former Eastern and Western blocs joined representatives from unified Germany in commemorating the victory of freedom and civic courage over dictatorship and repression and in highlighting the importance of the collapse of Communism for European unification...

  6. Part 1: Remembering the GDR in Literature and Film
    • 1: From Berlin to Prenzlau: Representations of GDR Theater in Film and Literature (pp. 19-36)
      Laura Bradley

      These are the opening lines of a resolution that was first read out on 6 October 1989 after a performance at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden and that has since come to epitomize the political role of GDR theater practitioners during the Wende. As Loren Kruger argues, the lines functioned both as “exhortation and performative utterance,” calling on spectators to join the actors in abandoning the roles prescribed for them by the state.² The resolution quickly came to serve as the master script for activity in other ensembles, marking the moment at which GDR theater made the transition from sporadic dissent to...

    • 2: Melancholy and Historical Loss: Postunification Portrayals of GDR Writers and Artists (pp. 37-53)
      Anna O’Driscoll

      The postunification era has seen a surge in melancholy sentiment and a renewed interest in the melancholy tradition and melancholy discourse, particularly in Germany.¹ This essay will analyze the melancholy evident in a number of narratives by former East German authors in conjunction with the notion of historical loss that has become dominant since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The texts — Christoph Hein’s novel Frau Paula Trousseau (2007), Monika Maron’s novels Endmoränen (2002) and Ach Glück (2007), and Christa Wolf’s diary publication Ein Tag im Jahr (2003) — deal with both the pre- and postunification periods in East...

    • 3: Literary Portrayals of the GDR by Non-GDR Citizens (pp. 54-68)
      Stuart Parkes

      In 1964 following a visit to the GDR, a number of journalists from Die Zeit, including the newspaper’s subsequent editor Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, published a book about the country and their experiences there. This visit found its way into GDR literature, being clearly referred to in the novel Das Impressum of 1972 by Hermann Kant, who, as a favored son of the GDR, was presumably one of the journalists’ interlocutors. The egregious Kant, however, wins no prizes for subtlety in renaming Dönhoff Lehndorff and in his main figure’s characterization of her as — because of her pleasant manner — the...

    • 4: Screening the Stasi: The Politics of Representation in Postunification Film (pp. 69-92)
      Nick Hodgin

      When in 2006 the DDR Museum opened on Unter den Linden, the prestigious Berlin address that is home to a range of expensive boutiques, up-market hotels, and embassies, its (western German) director, Robert Rückel, was accused of treating GDR history rather too lightly, a charge that both he and the museum’s head of research, the respected (eastern German) historian Stefan Wolle, rejected. That the museum sought to provide insight into the GDR in ways that would “combine education and entertainment” was criticized as an inappropriate approach to the representation of the East German state, though the museum was also nominated...

  7. Part 2: Remembering the GDR through Museums and Memorials
    • 5: “The Spirit of an Epoch Is Not Just Reflected in Pictures and Books, but Also in Pots and Frying Pans”: GDR Museums and Memories of Everyday Life (pp. 95-111)
      Silke Arnold-de Simine

      New museums and memorials in Berlin form the focus of controversial and politically charged public debates regarding the aesthetics of remembrance. Berlin is dense with reminders of difficult pasts, with the historical and architectural legacy of the National Socialist and the GDR periods, whose relationship not only to the present but also to each other needs to be negotiated and formulated. But even if the landscape of memory in Berlin has its own distinct features, it is still necessary to contextualize these debates in a wider global landscape of remembrance that informs and therefore helps to understand the contests taking...

    • 6: Remapping the Wall: The Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse — From an Unloved Cold War Monument to a New Type of Memorial Site (pp. 112-132)
      Günter Schlusche

      Many visitors who come to Bernauer Strasse today expecting to see a brutal, terrifying, and insurmountable bulwark will be amazed to encounter instead a somewhat secluded and strangely innocuous urban landscape. A broad strip of undeveloped land runs along Bernauer Strasse like a pathway cut through the city; in the adjoining districts, meanwhile, urban life appears to go on as normal. The more attentive visitors may be puzzled by this marked schism or feel a sense of unease or wonder. When visitors come across the now weather-beaten sections of the former Berlin Wall and notice the construction work in progress...

    • 7: Commemorating the Berlin Wall (pp. 133-150)
      Pertti Ahonen

      German unification in 1990 arrived with high expectations and big promises. Chancellor Helmut Kohl predicted “blooming landscapes” for the former GDR, and in the early euphoria of unity the path forward seemed clear to many: the victorious liberal democracy of the Federal Republic would extend itself over its defeated Socialist rival, and a nation arbitrarily divided by the legacies of the Nazi era and the vicissitudes of the Cold War would grow together again.¹

      In reality unification turned out to be a much more conflictual affair. Economic crisis rather than blossoming affluence promptly enveloped the former GDR, bringing with it...

    • 8: The Evolution of Memorial Sites in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania since 1990 (pp. 151-171)
      Andreas Wagner

      The eastern German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (Mecklenburg Vorpommern) was originally founded in 1945 comprising the state of Mecklenburg and the part of the Prussian province of Pomerania that remained under German administration after the war. The suffix West Pomerania was dropped in 1947. Following its administrative reform of 1952, the Socialist Unity Party (SED) replaced Mecklenburg with three districts. The Rostock district was located along the stretch of Baltic Sea coast belonging to the GDR, the Schwerin district was in the west of the region, and the Neubrandenburg district in the east. The federal state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania was...

    • 9: An Unequal Balance? Memorializing Germany’s “Double Past” since 1990 (pp. 172-198)
      Caroline Pearce

      In her speech at the Brandenburg Gate on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel referred to the momentous events of 1989 as “eine wahrhaft glückliche Stunde der deutschen und der europäischen Geschichte” and deemed 9 November a “Tag der Freude für uns alle.” However, she added:

      Doch für uns Deutsche ist der 9. November auch ein Tag der Mahnung. Heute vor 71 Jahren wurde in der Reichspogromnacht das dunkelste Kapitel deutscher Geschichte aufgeschlagen: die systematische Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden und vieler anderer Menschen. Auch das vergessen wir an diesem Tag nicht.¹


  8. Part 3: Ostalgie, Historiography, and Generational Memory
    • 10: Living through the GDR: History, Life Stories, and Generations in East Germany (pp. 201-220)
      Mary Fulbrook

      The events of 9 November 1989 were initially greeted with what appeared to be virtually universal acclamation. Over the summer of 1989 the “Iron Curtain” that had divided Cold War Europe began to develop gaps and holes through which people were able to escape to the West. In the course of the early autumn, across East German towns and cities hundreds of thousands of people came out on the streets to demonstrate their disaffection with the regime. On the occasion of the GDR’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, on 7 October 1989, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s leadership had indicated its unwillingness...

    • 11: Competing Master Narratives: Geschichtspolitik and Identity Discourse in Three German Societies (pp. 221-249)
      Thomas Ahbe

      The question as to why, following the “peaceful revolution” in the GDR and its accession (Beitritt) to the Federal Republic, the issue of “inner unity” continues to be so passionately debated in Germany requires some understanding of the history as well as the deep-rooted ideological and mental positions of the two rival German postwar states.¹ After 1945 escalating conflict over political and economic development was played out in the rivalry between the two German states, and the founding principles of East Germany and West Germany created two opposing political blocs. The master narratives that informed the societies of the two...

    • 12: “Worin noch niemand war”: The GDR as Retrospectively Imagined Community (pp. 250-265)
      Peter Thompson

      Simon Armitage’s poem on the beauty of the lost future points to a fundamental truth about Ostalgie that I would like to address here — namely that it has only marginally to do with the GDR as it was constituted and probably even less to do with real nostalgia for that state. The set of events and attitudes we have observed in the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany could be transposed to many different places and can be said to have its roots in the nature of what it is to...

    • 13: GDR Historiography after the End of the GDR: Debates, Renewals, and the Question of What Remains (pp. 266-286)
      Stefan Berger

      With the end of their state the future of GDR historians also became questionable. Like many other GDR elites, historians found themselves under attack in the newly unified Germany. In the 1980s many West German and Western historians had been very willing to concede an increasing professionalization of GDR historiography; they had identified areas where GDR historians were working in innovative ways, and they were keen to develop a dialogue with their GDR counterparts. In the late 1980s Alexander Fischer and Günther Heydemann epitomized the general mood among West German historians when they wrote that GDR historiography had successfully managed...

  9. Notes on the Contributors (pp. 287-290)
  10. Index (pp. 291-300)
  11. Back Matter (pp. 301-301)