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.
Who Were These Men and Why Did They Not Crush Mass Protest in 1989?
Uwe Krähnke, Anja Zschirpe, Matthias Finster, Philipp Reimann and Scott Stock Gissendanner
More than twenty-five years after the revolution that toppled the German Democratic Republic, we still know little about the personnel of the organization that should have prevented it: the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi). This article reports on an individual-level investigation of the entire Stasi leadership cadre of the Karl-Marx-Stadt district with information on socioeconomic status, careers, institutional constraints and organizational culture. Although a generational cleavage was evident, we argue that Stasi leadership was so deeply convinced of socialism’s superiority and so thoroughly habituated to the bureaucratic routine of the normal “party soldier” that it was caught utterly by surprise with no plan to annihilate massive opposition from within.
In order to situate the current debate on whether the Federal Commission for the Files of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (the Stasi Archive) should cease to be an autonomous institution in the larger context, this article traces the history of the Stasi Archive and of the Stasi Files Law since 1989. Key to understanding the Stasi Archive and access to its files is the 1989 revolution which saw demonstrators demand access to information gathered by the secret police. Although the research quasimonopoly that the Stasi Archive enjoys would be ended by integration into the federal archives, file access for Stasi victims-the raison d'être of the archive-would be jeopardized. Calls for the dismantling of the Stasi archive are, therefore, premature. Some criticism can be directed at the vetting and trial process in East Germany since 1989, but it is important to remember that the Stasi Archive acted only in a support capacity for those activities.
Leander Haußmann (Sonnenallee), a theater and film director with East German roots, contributed the documentary Die Durchmacher to the television series Denk ich an Deutschland. In his documentary, Haußmann interviews some of his old friends who in the late 1970s formed a group in East Berlin and presents their stories about the time. This paper explores the image of the German Democratic Republic that is created by the memories of the participants and their presentation through Haußmann. An important element of the memories is the perspective from which they come: out of a subculture that tried to escape East German reality with only limited success. This article also examines how the ambiguity and unreliability of memories are presented in the film. The documentary is put into the context of a debate on the concept of "Ostalgia" (Ostalgie), arguing that this can still be a productive means to communicate East German experiences without idealizing them.
The building of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 had repercussions not only on the international scene, but also for the power relationship between state and society in the German Democratic Republic. This article considers the short-, medium- and long-term reactions of the East German population to the border closure from a personal and political perspective, examining key groups such as educated elites, workers, and young people. The closed society elicited a new deference in the short term, but the author argues for considerable continuities of low-level disruptive behavior before and after 13 August. In the longer term, there was a generation born behind the Wall which by simple habituation rather than a conscious decision was forced to accept the new contours of the geopolitical landscape created by the Wall.
Between 1983 and 1989, as the two German pop music industries continued to license one another’s properties, and Amiga continued releasing American and British records, five long-playing records were released by independent labels based in Western Europe that contained music recorded in the German Democratic Republic. They were then smuggled out of the country rather than formally licensed for release abroad. Existing outside the legal framework underlying the East German record industry, and appearing in small pressings with independent labels in West Germany and England, these five tamizdat LPs represent intriguing reports from the margins on the mutual entanglement of the two Germanies’ pop music industries. Closely examining these LPs’ genesis and formal aspects, this article explores how independent East German musicians framed their own artistic itineraries with respect to (or in opposition to) the commercial pop circuit, as they worked across borders to self-release their music.
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.
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.
This article investigates the politics of representing everyday life (Alltag) in the German Democratic Republic in state-mandated museums and memorials in the contemporary Federal Republic. Through an analysis of advertising material, exhibits, and visitor surveys, it considers how managers of “auratic” sites have responded to the challenge posed by interpretations of the East German state that resist the focus on repression, as well as the impact of this response on different visitor groups. The discussion focuses on two established sites—Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen and Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannenstraße—as well as the exhibition in the Tränenpalast in Berlin, opened in September 2011. It argues that state-supported sites frequently seek to contain memories of Alltag by reinterpreting the term to mean the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people. Nonetheless, overly didactic interpretations that leave little space for individual meaning-making risk disinheriting those whose memories are based on social and economic security, rather than state violence. The article argues that there is a tension in these museums and memorials between a desire to present a singular view of the East German state as the second German dictatorship and the recognition that the “active visitor” brings his or her own experiences, interests and memories to public history sites.
The Berlin Wall was a key site of contestation between the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic in their Cold War struggle over political legitimacy. On both sides, the Wall became a tool in intense publicity battles aimed at building legitimacy and collective identity at home, and undermining them in the other Germany. The public perceptions and politicized uses of the barrier evolved through stages that reflected the relative fortunes of the two German states, moving gradually from extensive East-West parallels in the early 1960s toward a growing divergence by the 1970s and 1980s, which became increasingly indicative of East Germany's weakness.