A new historiographic trend in Germany has emerged. Since 2009, scholarly publications in the formerly little-researched subfield of tourism history have proliferated on the German book market. This remarkable surge might not be surprising except for one fact: most of these publications cover the history of tourism in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), a communist state that dissolved in 1990, leaving few remnants in the unified Germany of today.
The rise of neo-Nazism in the capital of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) was not inspired by a desire to recreate Hitler's Reich, but by youthful rebellion against the political and social culture of the GDR's Communist regime. This is detailed in Fuehrer-Ex: Memoirs of a Former Neo-Naxi by Ingo Hasselbach with Tom Reiss (Random House, New York, 1996). This movement, however, eventually worked towards returning Germany to its former 'glory' under the Third Reich under the guidance of 'professional' Nazis.
Two Case Studies of (Grand) Narratives from and of the German Democratic Republic in Current Oberstufe Textbooks
Elizabeth Priester Steding
Much like history textbooks, literature textbooks produce a grand narrative, telling a nation's story via its literature. This article examines the presentation of literature of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in upper level secondary school (Oberstufe) textbooks published in Germany in 2009 and 2010. Twenty years after German unification, literature textbooks are largely divided into two groups in accordance with their handling of literature from the failed socialist state: some focus on ideological criticism of the GDR, and some choose to avoid politics as much as possible. Both options result in a simplistic, even reductionist (grand) narrative of GDR literature. Case studies on Christa Wolf and Günter Grass reveal a consistent, positive portrayal of West German literature and a polarized representation of GDR literature.
According to German historian Hermann Weber, 25 percent of all
published studies on the German Democratic Republic (GDR) have
focused on the early years of the regime of the Socialist Unity Party
(SED), 20 percent on the 1980s and collapse of the dictatorship, and
only 3 percent on the years in between.1 While the GDR itself may
not have become a mere footnote in history as novelist Stefan Heym
predicted, studies of East German history in the 1950s—before the
construction of the Berlin Wall, when the regime of Walter Ulbricht
was most vulnerable—are exceedingly rare.2 Archive-based studies of
Ulbricht’s response to the Hungarian revolution of 1956 are rarer
still.3 A recently edited volume of essays published in Germany
about responses to the Hungarian revolution, for example, included
the reactions of nearly every East European country, except those of
Roger F. Cook
In the now almost fifteen years since the rush to German unity, East Germany's remembering of its lost cultural objects and social practices has already established a rich history of its own. The first product to become a prominent symbol of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was the Trabant (Trabi). An unattractive, inefficient, obnoxiously loud car manufactured in the GDR, it went overnight from being an object for which many East Germans waited expectantly for several years to be able to purchase to an antiquated, undesired relic. The brunt of some of the first Ossie jokes, it also quickly became a symbol for East German resistance to an arrogant West German dismissal of all that was the GDR.
In the years since unification, Germany’s political parties have faced
a number of formidable challenges. They range from incorporating
the citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) into the Federal
Republic’s political processes, reassessing Germany’s role in the
wider world, overcoming gridlock on many pressing policy questions
at home (perhaps best understood as the overcoming of the Reformstau),
to finding a way out of Germany’s much maligned economic
malaise.1 Such challenges have had a not inconsiderable effect on the
German party system, the end product of which has been that this
system, once a bastion of cast-iron stability, has become characterized
by diversity and genuine electoral competition in a way that it has
not been since the late 1950s. Therefore, the electoral position of the
much-vaunted Volksparteien, if perhaps not their control of the political
process, has slipped considerably.
Werner Pfennig, Vu Tien Dung and Alexander Pfennig
In many countries, the process of German unification is of continued interest. While the fact that peaceful unification was possible is generally appreciated, the costs of unification seem to still be of great concern. Yet, they have always to be seen in relationship to costs of division. It may be impossible to work out exactly the final sum of costs of German division. We searched for costs that occurred for the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) since 1949 and what we put together is, admittedly, an incomplete compilation, as it is a difficult undertaking which has not been done before. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to calculate the costs the German Democratic Republic (GDR) paid for division. Thus, we can only present an estimate. Costs of division as juxtaposed to unification costs will show that unification in Germany is not even twice as expensive as was division. Many of these costs facilitated normalization and the opening up of East Germany—in the end they turned out to be a most valuable prepayment for German unification.
Culture in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is often characterized as isolated from that of the West, with artists locked behind the Iron Curtain, having no opportunities to interact directly with global trends. While this may be true to a great extent for the general population, we should not close our eyes to the actual cross-border movements of artists and art forms that did take place in that regime. Many producers of artistic texts interacted with the West—not just well-known writers and theater directors like Christa Wolf or Bruno Besson, but also rock bands. Indeed, a few privileged GDR bands, belonging to the group of Reisekader (travel functionaries) were granted permission to travel to the West. An analysis of their interactions with their domestic audiences and with audiences in the West gives a more nuanced view regarding the nature of cultural globalization that continues into the 21st century, and provides insights into the role of cultural industries in cultural and political change today. The story of these bands contributes to our knowledge on how GDR authorities were unable to perceive and manage cultural creativity in an era of networked, flexible, and relatively autonomous creators.
A. James McAdams
The author ponders over the identity of the last self-identifying East German and wonders what he or she will say before leaving memories of the region behind. He distinguishes among three possible candidates for this honor: the ordinary citizen with little aspiration to political or social notoriety; the enthusiast with an interest in perpetuating the old regime's values; and the dissident activist dedicated to transforming that order. After identifying the likely last East German, the author speculates about the message our protagonist will have to share with the leaders of unified Germany. Finally, he provides reasons for why the Federal Republic can benefit from this advice.
The Federal Republic of Germany—both before and after 1989—has been influenced deeply by collective memories of the Nazi period and the Holocaust, a seemingly "unmasterable past." In a first phase after unification, memory trends, which had their origin in the mid 1980s, continued, but a second period, beginning around the 1999 move of the capital back to Berlin, however, witnessed the erosion of this older trend and the delayed rise of new memory dynamics. Substantively, there have been three vectors of memory concerning Nazi crimes, German suffering, and the period of division, especially regarding the German Democratic Republic. In this article, I outline the major collective memory dynamics and debates, first from a qualitative and then from a more quantitative perspective where I analyze the holdings of the German National Library. I conclude that an intense period of memory work characterized the postunification years, but the peak of concern was reached several years ago and the German future will be much less beholden to the past. Given inevitable normalizing trends and the unintended consequences of the hegemony of Holocaust memory, Germany's difficult historical legacy increasingly appears to be disappearing or even mastered.