Retrieving a Redemptive Past: Protecting Heritage and Heimat in East German Cities

in German Politics and Society
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In the years following unification, East German cityscapes have been subject to fierce contention because historic preservation and urban renewal have served as a local allegory of national redemption. Using conflicts over preservation and renewal in the city of Eisenach as a case study, I argue that historic cityscapes have served as the focus of many East Germans' efforts to grapple with the problem of Germanness because they address the past as a material cultural legacy to be retrieved and protected, rather than as a past to be worked through. In Eisenach's conflicts, heritage and Heimat serve as talismans of redemption not just because they symbolize an unspoiled German past, but also because they represent structures of difference that evoke a victimized Germanness—they are above all precious, vulnerable possessions threatened with disruption, pollution, or destruction by agents placed outside the moral boundaries of the hometown by its bourgeois custodians.

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