Peenemünde Contested

Remembering Second World War Technologies in Rural East Germany from 1984 to 1992

in Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society
Daniel Brandau Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

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Given Peenemünde's ambivalent military and technological history, from rocket development during the Nazi period to East German naval and air bases during the Cold War, its musealization was considered both a chance and challenge during the region's deindustrialization in the 1990s. Local residents’ support of veteran engineers promoting an apologetic view of Nazi rocketry was met with bewilderment. However, a space park project and anniversary event were spearheaded by government and industry representatives, turning a regional affair into an international controversy. The article analyzes the function of memory work and the remembrance of technological progress in rural northeastern Germany before and after German reunification. Based on archival sources and interviews with former officers and museum advocates, it traces the Peenemünde museum project through a history of ideological and biographical caesurae, enthusiasm, political promises, and socioeconomic despair.

Until the 1930s, Peenemünde on the island of Usedom was a small fishing village, known only for being the landing site of Swedish king Gustav Adolph (1594–1632), who had arrived to help German protestants during the Thirty Years War.1 That changed in 1936, when the Army Weapons Agency (Heereswaffenamt) and the Nazi Ministry of Aviation chose the northern part of the island as a development and testing site for new weapons, including rockets and flying bombs. Until 1945, various new weapon systems were developed and/or tested at the Peenemünde Army Research Center (Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde, HVP) and the Luftwaffe Test Site, including the infamous A4/V-2 rocket, the Fi-103/V-1 flying bomb and the Messerschmidt ME 163 rocket-powered fighter aircraft. The rocket and the flying bomb were introduced as “vengeance weapons” by German propaganda in 1944, tying into the belief that advanced technologies might miraculously turn the tide of a losing war.2 However, the A4/V-2 also invoked a futuristic, science-fictional dimension and connected to a widespread fascination with spaceflight, which was employed both to recruit personnel by using amateur spaceflight clubs such as the Berlin-based Society for Spaceflight (Gesellschaft für Weltraumfahrt) as a career network, and for propaganda purposes, hinting at possibilities of transport vehicles after the war.3 Due to allied bombing raids, in 1943 serial production of the V-2 was moved to Nordhausen and its Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp complex. The conjuncture was used years later by apologists to claim that Peenemünde had been a “place of progress” and not, essentially, a site of Nazi crimes. This claim downplayed the existence of forced labor and the fact that two sub-camps of the Ravensbrück concentration camp had been located right next to the development and testing facilities.4

The science fictional dimension gave birth to another story and to an ongoing conflict about how to remember Peenemünde. The A4/V-2 was the first man-made object to cross the Kármán line (the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, defined in the 1960s as beginning one hundred kilometers above sea level), and it spurred both military and civilian rocket development in the postwar period.5 Interpreting the weapon as the progenitor of spaceships was not the only source of controversy. The narrative also carried an apologetic stance regarding the engineers who had been involved, promoted by the Interest Group of Former Peenemünders (Interessengemeinschaft der ehemaligen Peenemünder, IEP), their influential veteran association.6 Peenemünde's former military commander Walter Dornberger (1895–1980) had been the first to publish a coherent insider's story about the HVP in his 1952 memoir V-2, the Shot into Space: History of a Great Invention (V2—der Schuß ins All: Geschichte einer großen Erfindung), in which he interpreted the first successful 1942 A4/V-2 launch not only as a military demonstration but also as an innovation in spaceflight technology.7 When the site of Peenemünde became publicly accessible after German reunification, diverging narratives were relocalized and clashed with each other.

The Soviet military and the East German National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee, NVA) had also maintained naval and air bases at Peenemünde, with the Ninth Fighter Squadron (Jagdfliegergeschwader 9, JG-9) and the First Flotilla stationed there until the end of the Cold War. When Peenemünde was demilitarized and deindustrialized after half a century, it was former East German officers and workers from the closed power plant who first tried to establish a museum. When, in 1992, they were joined by West German industrial representatives and politicians who proposed a “fiftieth anniversary” commemoration of the first successful V-2 launch, this led to an international scandal. British newspapers warned that this could be a sign of a new revisionist trend in reunified Germany. The German government reacted by withdrawing its support of any festivities or museum plans that could have resulted in a naive or celebratory reading. While West German defense contractors played a prominent role in the planning, it was local enthusiasts who stayed behind and bore most of the blame (or so they believed). Any further attempts to preserve and showcase memories faced a simple question: Can Peenemünde be musealized as a place of technological innovation?

Figures 1 and 2.
Figures 1 and 2.
Figures 1 and 2.

Map of the Peenemünde development and testing facilities as they existed from 1936 to 1945, and a satellite image of the same area today.

On the map, the village of Peenemünde with its harbor can be seen on the bottom left, with the power plant and the oxygen factory next to it. On the eastern shore across the island was the Army Research Center with its test stands, laboratories, and factories, which were all demolished after the war. The satellite image (Figure 2) shows that today the area is mostly forest (with many unexploded shells in the ground), so the visitor has to use his imagination in order to understand that this was a military-industrial site during the Second World War. Treasure hunters often break in at night to dig for valuables that they can sell on the black market. The place has been (and still is) dominated by what was there but can no longer be seen. Since there is not much left in and around Peenemünde (aside from the power plant, the ruins of the oxygen factory and a few walls and cables), the symbolic capital of Peenemünde seems to be the ground itself. (Both images © HTM Peenemünde; map illustration by Manfred Kanetzki)

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 14, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2022.140106

Before museums of technology started acknowledging social dimensions, memorials (Gedenkstätten) and Holocaust exhibitions had long pointed to the sociocultural (and not just technopolitical) history of mechanized warfare. This corresponded to their (deliberately) limited collections, which rarely included technological artifacts. Amidst the “memory boom” of the 1990s, the lack of such objects was often seen as a constructive advantage, as it did not shift focus away from victims’ perspectives.8 The Peenemünde Historical Technical Information Center (Historisch-Technisches Informationszentrum Peenemünde, HTI—since 2010 called Historical Technical Museum, HTM), however, faced a converse situation. It came to own many technological objects, including old rocket and plane parts as well as full-size models of a Fi-103/V-1 flying bomb and a A4/V-2 hull (which had been built at the nearby shipyard). The only authentic and intact machines at the museum were decommissioned NVA equipment and, notably, two MiG fighter planes.9 The HTI was neither a traditional museum of technology nor a memory institution created by political initiative. Rather, it was a regional museum founded from the bottom up that became unusually successful due to the significance of its location and the controversial narratives it was associated with.

The history of technology (in both its academic and popular forms) mostly focuses, as the label implies, on technological systems, objects, and inventors. The places and sites of invention or use are sometimes neglected, as they appear arbitrary. Or, worse, they are regarded as a complication in that they reintroduce social and political contexts, detracting from the myth of the “heroes of invention.”10 But while large museums of science and technology in Europe, such as the Museum of Arts and Professions (Musée des Arts et Métiers) in Paris, the Science Museum in London, the Museum of Polish Military Technology (Muzeum Polskiej Techniki Wojskowej) in Warsaw, and the Deutsches Museum in Munich focus mostly on objects, regional museums are often born out of particular sites and local contexts. This includes, first and foremost, places of military significance as diverse as the Aalborg Defence and Garrison Museum in Denmark, the Atlanticwall Museum Scheveningen in the Netherlands, and the HTM Peenemünde in Germany.

Several museums of technology, such as the BMW Museum in Munich and the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, have faced challenges of how to address exploitation and forced labor when displaying technological objects.11 Peenemünde as a “place of progress” is somewhat comparable to (but in many ways also different from) the Bunker Valentin in Bremen-Farge, built between 1943 and 1945 for the construction of submarines (see Marcus Meyer's contribution to this issue). Both sites had been shaped by advanced military technologies during the Nazi era and represented what Alexa Geisthövel and Habbo Knoch have termed “places of destruction” that localized the devastating forces of progress.12 Interest rose in the 1970s and 1980s, and during the “memory boom” after German reunification, both regions tried to develop projects and institutions in order to preserve and remember the histories of the respective places.13 However, the Bunker Valentin was turned into a memorial, while developments in Peenemünde led to a museum. No submarine had ever been constructed at the Valentin, so the “aura of innovation” did not extend much beyond the bunker itself. Also, the place was not used after 1945, other than as a storage depot.14

Further, the Peenemünde case has been significant due to competing historical narratives that were promoted by West German interest groups, governmental representatives, and local enthusiasts. These included “contested memories” that were amalgamated into a “remembrance of modernity” (Jutta Buchner-Fuhs) due to cultural and economic promises.15 Most of the founders of Peenemünde's history societies and the museum had been former officers of the NVA or workers of the power plant who had lost their jobs when the region was demilitarized and deindustrialized. They were interested in remembering periods that appeared meaningful to their own troubled biographies, which included not only the National Socialist but also the German Democratic Republic (GDR) period. Activism in and for regional memory culture was particularly diverse in Peenemünde. The moral utopian–dystopian dichotomy did not create a conflicted site of memory but rather a cluster of different sites and interpretations. With its ruins and remnants, it became a “ghost place” of technologies but also a place of “wild memories” that were never fully institutionalized.16

As this article reevaluates the “scandal” of 1992, the focus will not be on assigning responsibility. Rather, it will examine why people got involved and why they advocated for particular narratives or educational goals in order to gain insight into the dynamics of memory work in northeastern Germany after the end of the communist state. The article also sheds light on how politics intervened and restructured the museum during the mid-1990s. It is based on archival material from the German Federal Archives and the HTM, the successor institution of the museum founded in 1991, as well as on interviews conducted in 2017 and 2018 with former East and West German military officers, museum staff, and members of the advisory board appointed in 1996.

The article explores how Peenemünde has been produced and perceived as an ambivalent place of progress since the 1980s. It argues that this twofold and tensioned interpretation was an outcome of the end of the Cold War and German reunification, as it negotiated the remembrance of military technology in Germany's past and present between overlapping narratives about the Nazi period and the history of German engineering—two topics that are often separated but intertwine at Peenemünde. The article first discusses the role of technology in memory inside and outside of military circles in the GDR in the latter half of the Cold War. It then traces the changes in memory practices amidst the economic, social, and cultural shifts before and after German reunification in 1990 and explores the 1992 controversy. Finally, the last subchapter briefly covers the fallout of the event and the restructuring of the local museum project.

Technology, Ideology, and Memory in the GDR

The case of Peenemünde illustrates an attempt to transform communicative memory into cultural memory amidst processes of deindustrialization and demilitarization after German reunification.17 This subchapter examines local forms of remembrance that had started already before 1990 in order to explain the amalgamation of interests despite the different ideological backgrounds of the many actors involved. The GDR, the communist East German state in existence from 1949 to 1990 and governed by the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED), followed an antifascist ideology. However, as several studies have shown, racism, antisemitism, and neo-Nazism still existed in parts of society, became very visible in the 1980s, and were closely monitored by the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS), though not officially acknowledged.18 Nevertheless, it would be too simple and misleading to just look for ideological backgrounds and idiosyncrasies, as many locals involved had been true to party principles until the very end of the GDR. They had been vetted by the NVA and MfS and worked in border protection, and several former pilots had even been trained in the Soviet Union. Instead, if we take into account practices and rituals as well as narratives about the site of Peenemünde, we first have to look at the role of technology in historical culture, propaganda, and East German militarism.

As Stefan Küchler has pointed out, the aim of academic history in the GDR was mainly to manifest the ideological self-conception and the legitimacy of the state. Official doctrine regarded the struggle between communists and fascists not as a historical phenomenon but as proof of the inevitability of historical materialism. Fascism was labeled an outgrowth of capitalism, the “last gasp” of the ruling class when faced with the superiority of the Soviet Union in the East.19 This reading of European history often downplayed cultural factors, such as the history of xenophobia, antisemitism, or racism, and it mostly absolved ordinary people—including soldiers, officers (at least those from non-aristocratic backgrounds), and engineers—who had been misled or “seduced” into collaboration with the Nazi elites.20 This apologetic extension into science and technology reflected a belief in “technocratic innocence” widespread in both the East and the West after 1945.21 But it also had an educational reason. The history of technology could “inspire youth” to pursue careers in science and technology, a rationale that had been developed in preparation for the GDR's second Five Year Plan in the mid-1950s. Countless publications by the SED party and the party youth organization Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) aimed to settle questions about the ideological and ethical responsibilities of engineers and scientists by singling out individual fascist perpetrators.22

After the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I in October 1957, SED propaganda distinguished Soviet spaceflight from “fascist” rocketry by concentrating on individual actors, such as Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), who together with some of his team now worked for the US Army (and at NASA from 1958), and Dornberger, who had resumed his career at Bell Aircraft, in order to highlight allegedly fascist continuities in the West.23 In 1963, attacks on the “aristocrat collaborator” and “rocket baron” von Braun intensified when journalist and agitator Julius Mader (1928–2000) published his extensive study The Secret of Huntsville (Das Geheimnis von Huntsville).24 Five years later, a mass grave with fifty-six bodies was found near the former Army Test Center.25 And in 1966, documents uncovered the involvement of the president of West Germany, Heinrich Lübke (1894–1972), as a construction engineer at Peenemünde who had used forced laborers—a revelation that was heavily exploited by East German propaganda and, though denied by the president, was later proven to be basically true.26

In interviews, former NVA officers mentioned these propaganda accounts as the only sources of information on the HVP initially available to them. Manfred Kanetzki, a former JG-9 officer and employee of the museum from 1997 to 2013, remembered that,

Dornberger's book was not available in the GDR. There was not much literature on Peenemünde at all. A few articles were published in magazines such as the Fliegerrevue. They carried an article series on the Nazi vengeance weapons in the 1960s. Then there was another series of articles in the Neue Berliner Illustrierte. And there was the book on Heinrich Lübke and Das Geheimnis von Huntsville by Julius Mader.27

Mader's book framed the origins of early German rocketry in a damning light—an expected ideological reading that could (by design) be distinguished from narratives of innovation. NVA recruits therefore also read its descriptions of local technological developments in the context of their own fascination with spaceflight, popularized through fiction and youth magazines such as Mosaik.28 Also, there was another (partly fictional) memoir about Peenemünde, Island without Beacons (Insel ohne Leuchtfeuer) written in 1959 by the mathematician turned writer Ruth Kraft (1920–2015). Its plot followed personal stories of HVP employees and hinted at events such as the first successful A4/V-2 launch of October 3, 1942, as a backdrop (without, however, going into much detail).29

East German propaganda refrained from condemning workers and engineers collectively. Therefore, most professionals who had developed or operated technologies for fascist governments were implicitly excluded from historical scrutiny. Propaganda efforts also did not deplore technologies because according to historical materialism, even technological progress made under a wrong government can ultimately help communist societies in the long run. The goal was not introspection but the legitimization of the state and its remilitarization.30

This was the antifascist narrative framework concerning the old Peenemünde elites, but publications were often vague about the actual place or other engineers and scientists involved, and for good reason. While many Peenemünders worked for US or Western European military contractors, Helmut Gröttrup (1916–1981), Kurt Magnus (1912–2003), and others had shared their knowledge in Soviet projects, at least for a limited time. While they had initially been forced to do so, some, such as Werner Albring (1914–2007), later migrated to East Germany and continued working as engineers.31 Also, the area of Peenemünde was still under military use (and would be throughout the GDR period). Most HVP facilities had been dismantled or destroyed, but the harbor and the airfield were reused by the NVA (the former from the 1950s by the First Flotilla, with a troop strength of roughly 10,000, and the latter from the 1960s by Air Base 43 and the JG-9, with a troop strength of around 1,600 by 1990).32

By the late 1970s and 1980s, antifascist reasoning still concentrated on individual elites while mostly excusing those who had been allegedly forced or “lured” into collaborating with the Nazi “clique.”33 The General Secretary Erich Honecker and the Central Committee of the SED considered that the further integration, “acceleration and deepening” of technological, scientific, and societal progress was essential for economic growth during the five-year plans of the periods from 1976 to 1980 and 1981 to 1985. Promoting fascination for the genesis of particular technologies was one approach for popular science programs, which focused on questions concerning the “material properties” and usefulness of technologies in the state's future.34 According to this positivist reading, the history of technology appeared to unfold separately from political history. In a guideline for engineers and scientists engaged in popular science, published in 1978, the presidium member of the GDR's Society for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge “Urania”, Lutz-Günther Fleischer (born in 1938), quoted Maximilien de Robespierre's statement emphasizing science and technology as the “key to the welfare of humanity.”35

Interest in the site of Peenemünde and the rocket development programs had steadily increased since the mid-1970s. JG-9 officers not only became engaged in the local history of technology but were even asked by the SED leadership to give talks to military members and the public. Given the antifascist doctrine of the East Germany military, this rise in interest in the Nazi history of technology needs further explanation. How did these NVA officers turned memory workers integrate (or avoid) ideological contexts? Being in a place enables people to construct authenticity, tell stories, and engage in historical narratives. However, narratives at memorials usually focused on antifascist resistance. This was not possible at Peenemünde in the way it was in places like Mittelbau-Dora, which (like other memorials) was used for ceremonies that involved oaths of allegiance by newly fledged civil servants. One exception was Soviet prisoner of war Michail Dewjatajew (1917–2002), who had fled a Nazi forced labor camp at Peenemünde spectacularly in a Heinkel He 111 in February 1945 and became the hero of FDJ storybooks and the focus of rituals of antifascist remembrance in the First Flotilla (notably more so than in the JG-9).36

Figures 3 and 4.
Figures 3 and 4.
Figures 3 and 4.

Tradition book of the First Security Brigade of the First Flotilla, 1967–1977.

All units of the First Flotilla had their distinct tradition books, honor books, and guest books. A tradition book of the First Security Brigade, used from 1967 to 1977, contained two pages with images depicting Peenemünde's fascist period by focusing on weapons and their production. These included the V-1 flying bomb, but notably not the A4/V-2. The book also highlighted victims, destruction, and, in a self-referential twist, photos of official rituals of remembrance. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive)

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 14, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2022.140106

The First Flotilla and the JG-9 had essentially established diverging forms of memory culture. In their “tradition books” (Traditionsbücher), which were given to sailors when they retired, the Flotilla celebrated its self-image as an antifascist collective, and their photographic depictions focused on Peenemünde as an archetypical case of ideological and governmental change. Also, rituals such as flag ceremonies were staged at the antifascist memorial at Karlshagen, focusing on the remembrance of forced labor. This, in turn, was photographed and incorporated into the tradition books—a double perspective that inscribed sailors and their rituals into the antifascist origin story of the GDR.

The JG-9, meanwhile, focused their memory work on their “Heinrich Rau corner” and “tradition room” (Traditionskabinett), where the individual engineer and the individual pilot (rather than the collective) were celebrated as heroes. These individuals included the first German cosmonaut, Sigmund Jähn (1937–2019) but also the namesake of the base, engineer, former soldier, and GDR politician Heinrich Rau (1899–1961). The tradition room also exhibited authentic objects, particularly weapons and pressure suits, highlighting notions of man and machine, innovation, and control. In the room, personal continuities seemed more central to remembrance than political caesurae. A NVA pilot himself, Jähn visited the JG-9 and its tradition room in 1980 (see Figure 6).

Even before the liberal reforms of perestroika and glasnost spilled over from the Soviet Union, NVA officers openly discussed the Nazi history of technological innovation and held lectures that hinted at the bigger continuities of innovation across ideologies and political systems. The NVA enjoyed more freedom to engage in militarism than civilians, but these officers were not ordinary soldiers. At Peenemünde, they were entrusted with the military protection of the border in the air and at sea. Also, some of the people who later spearheaded the attempt to establish a space museum were political officers, trusted pillars of the party and state. Some even had access to banned literature, such as the memoirs of Walter Dornberger. As one former officer and later HTI director Peter Profe explained in an interview in 2018, during the 1970s, his associate (who would become the cofounder of the museum),

Figures 5 and 6.
Figures 5 and 6.
Figures 5 and 6.

“Heinrich Rau corner” and “tradition room” of the fighter squadron JG-9, with pilot and cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn visiting on 18 January 1980.

The “Rau corner” (Figure 5) was located in the entrance hall of JG-9 headquarters and showed photos of “heroes” of the squadron. The photo is probably from the day of its dedication on 1 March 1981. The separate tradition room (Figure 6) was used for social gatherings and receptions. It displayed objects such as weapons, badges, and suits. The photo shows (from left to right) colonel Bräuer of the political department of the Third Air Defense Division, major general Günter Oldenburg (1931–2010), and colonel Sigmund Jähn. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive, ANV Collection JG9-Fotozirkel “Eugen Heilig,” 3904-1)

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 14, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2022.140106

had access to so-called “banned literature” (Sperrliteratur) because of his function [as political officer]. So he was able to read more about [Peenemünde] than others. I know that he was given the assignment to give lectures on the history of Peenemünde, which always had to be biased in such a way that the lectures could be held publicly.37

An instructor for JG-9 recruits and political officer as well, Kanetzki was in charge of public film programs, concerts, and history lectures, and he too started informing locals about the history of Peenemünde in 1975 out of (self-proclaimed) curiosity and in response to requests by military service members and their families. For years, his talks on the Nazi period were titled “Peenemünde and the Resistance against the Secret Weapons of the Third Reich” (Peenemünde und der Widerstandskampf gegen die Geheimwaffen des Dritten Reiches), which covered not only Mikhail Dewjatajew and antifascist resistance but also the “secret” nature of Nazi weapons. The issues had little to do with each other, but the narrative framing served as little more than a prologue, as attendees were broadly interested in the place itself. Profe recalled that,

there were pragmatic topics in it, like the village and how it had looked and where all the test stands and construction sites had been, so attendees could acquire some superficial understanding of what [kind of structures] had been standing here. For all of us who had been transferred to Peenemünde, this was interesting, too.…In our free time, for example when we still lived in the barracks, on Saturdays and Sundays we would have ideas such as, “Let us discover the restricted area together.”38

Driven by a fascination for the history of technology, and while he had long known about what had been developed at Peenemünde, Profe observed that “it did not matter to me whether it was planes from the Nazi period or from the time after. It was the planes themselves I was interested in.”39 And as long as the talks at Peenemünde pointed to the fascist legacy of Wernher von Braun and the work of his team in the United States, interest in the regional history of technology was tolerated and even promoted. As Profe noted,

under no circumstance were [attendees of the talks] to come to the conclusion that those scientists and engineers [in the United States] were brilliant.…They had to understand that those people were Nazis who had, of course, continued their careers overseas.40

Nevertheless, he could not remember any explicit censorship or taboo regarding research on the Nazi history of the site, but there was a generally limited availability of information. In his words,

I cannot remember any instruction or order that we had to be secretive about Peenemünde….When we were away from the base or somewhere else and were allowed to tell family and friends that we were stationed at Peenemünde, people said, “Ah, that is where the rockets were.”…However, people were not really informed about what had been here. The conditions and goals of production, people were not told. Well, because of that there were many “rumors” circulating, which might be the wrong term—maybe even conspiracy theories.41

This retrospective association suggests that the information circulating among the soldiers amounted to more than piecemeal facts and instead represented a system of theories (considering that the availability of historical knowledge was restricted by the regime, even to political officers).42 Coincidentally, a member of the West German armed forces team (Bundeswehr), which assumed command over the air base between September and December of 1990, remembered having been told by officers and civilians that the fascist history of the place had been a taboo topic. In his words,

I was told that it had been a punishable offense to actively do research on the Nazi history of Peenemünde. Maybe they did not tell me everything because they did not trust me. After all, they were used to rather distanced relationships to superiors.…However, I then found out that there was already an initiative by locals to establish a museum, with plane parts and access to the former rocket Test Stand (Prüfstand) VII and more.…Obviously, there had been people at least privately doing that kind of research.43

The Bundeswehr officer did not meet all of the former officers running the museum because “when we came, political officers had already been fired.”44 And since knowledge of Peenemünde's history had been actively disseminated even among the local civilian population for more than a decade, going even beyond the antifascist framing, it seems likely that, indeed, locals did not trust the West German officer and did not want to get in trouble. Nonetheless, the disbanding of the military bases would be felt as a considerable disruption by officers and the local population alike.

German Reunification and Peenemünde as a Place of Opportunity

The end of the GDR signified a crisis of the materialist reading of history. The history of technology, however, continued to gain influence in individual and collective memory in rural East Germany. First and foremost, it seemed to offer an allegedly “apolitical” approach toward culture and history after the reunification with the West.45 As technicism was an established approach to governance in both the East and the West, its relation to economic opportunity seemed plausible but often turned out to be a fallacy. Sociologist Markus Pohlmann has noted that the inability of many East German managers to adjust their businesses to the free-market system stemmed from a strongly technocratic, even technicist understanding; that is, a deterministic view of progress driven by technology and, in this case, by the philosophy of historical materialism stripped of its Marxist foundations.46

Peenemünde was a particularly worrisome case. Unemployment rose to around 70 percent in 1992 because the power plant and military bases had closed and the workforce at the shipyard in nearby Wolgast was reduced by around 90 percent, from ten thousand to one thousand people.47 The trust agency (Treuhandanstalt), which generally oversaw the privatization of East German enterprises, took over real estate that had belonged to the military, which comprised almost all land surrounding the village of Peenemünde. It transferred ownership to the German federal government in 1994 and 1995. By that time, Peenemünde had lost half a decade in which other municipalities on the island of Usedom, such as Zinnowitz, had jumpstarted tourism.48 The idea of founding a museum seemed to offer a solution when the local economic situation was bleak. But attempts to extend the remembrance of Peenemünde and to include the local population had begun well before German reunification.

In 1988 or 1989, NVA political officers reached out to the local population to contribute to the critical reappraisal (Aufarbeitung) of the region's history. One of those who responded was interviewee G, who became engaged via his fascination for miniature modelmaking. He recalled that

There was once in the newspaper, in the Ostseezeitung, I think it was 1988, a call by NVA officers, “We want to reappraise the history of Peenemünde, and we are going to establish a society.” That was my start; I told them I can build models. No idea about Peenemünde, but maybe I can find out.…In this interim period of 1989, when the NVA was about to disband and the Bundeswehr came, that was our time. The NVA men were in charge…We were around thirty-five people, half of us military and half civilian, but the soldiers were used to being in charge.…And they had access to the restricted zone.…There were objects in the ground that had been left untouched for fifty years. Nobody had been interested in it, right? There had been an initiative in which FDJ youth brigades were sent in to collect scrap metal. A crashed MiG 21 brought more money than all that scrap, so they left it all there. That turned out to be beneficial…to the first museum.49

As local interest and artifacts (literally) rose from the ground, soon an outside group from West Germany became involved. Former HVP engineers and their interest group IEP, which promoted a positive remembrance of the 1930s and 1940s rocket program and advocated for the former engineers’ rights (including pensions), had unsuccessfully applied for a visit to their old place of work as early as the 1970s, as MfS archival documents have shown.50 After the opening of the GDR border on 9 November 1989, they acted swiftly to become the first group to arrive from the West. Peter Profe remembered that their visits gave locals bigger ideas.

Those opportunities with the former Peenemünders…who took the chance to come up here to see their old domain. Yes, then it became more interesting of course. Yes, and the witnesses of that period, who began telling stories. And then something came up like, “well, Peenemünde, that is a brand. We can do something with it.”51

Interviewee G, a civilian member of the museum society, experienced the IEP representatives as arrogant and imposing their own version of Peenemünde history onto the locals. However, the opportunities appeared too great, and common ground was found.

At some point, when this was still the GDR, they found out that people here wanted to establish a museum, so they thought they needed to come. [The chairman of the IEP Heinz] Grösser arrived, with his golden ring and the Wernher-von-Braun ring of honor, and jokes like that; he came and told us how we had to view Peenemünde. We then told him that our view was influenced by socialism, and had to be.…We agreed that we could view Peenemünde as neither black or white—how about grey?52

This alleged ambivalence of history seemed to allow different viewpoints within a common narrative of technological progress. Although the arrangement remained somewhat shaky, the IEP had implanted their apologetic stance before anybody else had come from the West. While the old Peenemünders promised opportunities for joint economic exploitation, official West Germany, arriving months later in the form of small groups of armed forces, only brought upheaval, despair, and a new military hierarchy that the East German officers had to submit to. This led to some bewilderment and frustration within the JG-9 when the old “class enemy” had a say over daily routine and equipment. Interviewee M, who was one of said West German officers, remembered that the transfer of all NVA into the Bundeswehr on 3 October 1990 led to much individual frustration but overall turned out a smoother operation than anticipated. The West German armed forces had planned for any contingencies, including attacks or all-out civil war.

They had started sending out teams to all NVA garrisons and bases in 1990 in order to introduce the Bundeswehr and the ways it functioned. All the basics. This included the principle of leadership development and civic education (innere Führung), which has been a huge success for us even though it has recently been badmouthed.…Other teams were sent to teach specifically how watch duty had to be done from 3 October onwards. An incredibly important issue.…Particularly because of the lack of security on many compounds, such as the military airfield [of Peenemünde]. There were 3,000 tons of ammunition stacked under a catslide roof.…I have to say that we had big problems with watch duty.53

The West German officer remembered feeling uneasy while driving through the GDR in full uniform on 26 or 27 September 1990 to Peenemünde and then waiting at the front gate while the JG-9 had its last battle drill.

Apparently, they had a party afterwards. So while I was waiting [for somebody to open the gate], I had my first negative impression when two draftees were brought to the guardsman and received a kick up the backside, because they were drunk and had gone on a rampage.…And then there were people who were absent without permission, who simply did not come back or were late for duty. [When we were set up] we reported every case through the proper channels to the authorities. And they deployed military police to look for them, right? That was how our system worked.…And when we started, nobody knew what was going to happen to the fighter squadron. We only found out in mid-November that it was to be disbanded at the end of the year.…Some of the pilots told us very clearly, “I cannot serve under the new system, because I do not believe in it.” Those people were clear about it, which was acceptable and respectable.54

What followed was the swift dissolution of the decades-old military and social structures. In accordance with the German Reunification Treaty of August 1990, all NVA officers lost their rank and were often demoted when they decided to continue within the new system.55 The JG-9's last commander Wolf Dietze recalled that despite his position and rank, he was “supposed to act the part of a clown and tell them about how good or bad the GDR was. I had no interest in that.”56 Notably, the first thing many former NVA officers did was save objects from the tradition room that they associated with honor and pride, such as posters of German cosmonaut and pilot Sigmund Jähn, medals, models, badges, pressure suits, and even sabers. As interviewee M recalled, this was done with implicit permission from the old leadership.

The officers’ sabers were defined as weapons.…So when I found out one day that people had removed objects, had stolen from the tradition room, this became a reason for conflict with NVA leadership. We had agreed that the room would be left alone for the time being.57

The conflict culminated in the “theft” of two MiG fighter planes from the airfield and their transport to the power plant by former political officers, who had just been fired from the force. Their aim was to enforce the musealization of former NVA equipment. In a small victory for the museum, the fighter planes were allowed to stay.58

The first exhibition, organized by members of the New Historical Society (Neuer Historischer Verein, which had been founded by then still active JG-9 officers in September 1990 and merged with the Förderverein Peenemünde, founded by former employees of the power plant, in 1993), opened its doors to the public on May 9. 1991. Titled Peenemünde—Birthplace of Spaceflight (Peenemünde—Geburtsort der Raumfahrt), the exhibition focused heavily on the Dornberger myth and mostly neglected new scholarship. While still maintained by the IEP, Dornberger's narrative had been scrutinized and deconstructed in the West since the 1980s, especially after the death of former Nazi minister of armaments Albert Speer (1905–1981), who had contributed to (and profited from) that apologetic stance, and after the public revelations about former Peenemünde and later NASA engineer Arthur Rudolph (1906–1996), who had served as operations director of V-2 production at Mittelbau-Dora.59

The process of the museum's foundation as an outgrowth of local societies was not unusual. It resembled similar processes at former GDR memorial sites after 1989, which had been driven by Fördervereine, local grassroots-sponsoring associations that tried to reintegrate memorials into West German memory politics (Erinnerungspolitik).60 However, the former workers and officers were adamant that the site should become not an antifascist memorial but a museum, since the former would have likely excluded or overshadowed any regional history other than that of the period between 1936 and 1945 (including the GDR period, which was of biographical significance to them). As a long-term project, they proposed a “world peace park” (Weltfriedenspark), carefully emphasizing pacifist educational goals. While local enthusiasts were mostly interested in a historical museum, other ideas soon attracted investors, such as Canadian banker Peter Nickels and West German entrepreneur Volker Thomson. Their new partners envisioned an amusement park of Disneyland caliber but with a science center element to it, an odd mix energized by the general enthusiasm of 1990.61

Local officials were thrilled by the plan, as it promised both a “glimmer of hope” and a way to offer visitors historical education about the region. Hundreds of millions were supposed to be invested, although that was probably a crude overestimation.62 The museum was financed by a government job creation scheme that paid for some of its initial staff. Also, the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania gave the museum creators a lot of leeway in continuing to dig up objects in the area. As interviewee G recalled,

These aluminum parts that are there, that [V-2] engine element; we dug that out ourselves, I was there.…The Bundeswehr had already taken over, so we informed them. The garrison commander was in the area; we had his permission to be there and he called via radio for some equipment to be brought to us—not a tank recovery vehicle, but something similar. We had unearthed the piece within half an hour, onto the trailer and to the museum.…There were a couple of things in which the state could have intervened, but apparently there was support for us.63

The HTI's lecture program in 1992 covered a mixture of local classics (including talks on Dejwjatajew and readings by Ruth Kraft), a presentation on the current state of spaceflight by prominent aeronautical engineer Heinz-Hermann Koelle (1925–2011), and a talk by one of the former GDR's foremost popular science authors, Peter Stache (1934–2010), on the “two sides of scientific progress.”64 The museum's early exhibitions, meanwhile, did not shy away from covering the forced labor camps, but the still mostly unlabeled collections of rocket parts and scrap found in the surrounding terrain also allowed for an uncommented experience of the history of technology, of the place and its objects. In other words, although the exhibition generated income, Peenemünde was still dominated by what Aleida Assmann has called “wild memories.”65

Figure 7.
Figure 7.

Peenemünde Space Park concept, 1992.

In a departure from a historical museum, the federal government and industrial partners supported a space park concept that would have included a science center. Using Peenemünde as little more than a starting point, it focused on science education as well as the economic development of the region. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive, Raumfahrtpark Collection)

Citation: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 14, 1; 10.3167/jemms.2022.140106

The museum's partners in the defense industry and government agencies, however, were pushing the spaceflight and “birthplace” themes as they seemed to hold the most appeal outside the region. Under their influence, the “peace park” idea evolved into the “Peenemünde Space Park” (Raumfahrtpark Peenemünde), a joint venture of the municipality, the federal government, and the aerospace industry. At the heart of the space park was supposed to be a science center.66 The goal was to mimic the Space Center Houston that had just opened in October 1992. A German version promised to attract investors and tourists and give northern Usedom a place of identity and remembrance after the end of the old state.

A concept paper for potential investors promised to “use this specific case of the place's development and [rocket] technology to explain to the public the many factors that contribute to our understanding of history.”67 While the plans promised a focus on science education, the anniversary event was more explicitly historical, political, and apologetic.

The 1992 Controversy

Contested memories were a hallmark of European memory culture in the early 1990s and their origins were often institutional.68 Christoph Lorke has shown that the press offices of the Russian troops in East Germany believed that “the decision on the withdrawal should begin with the production of (new) historical narratives and the imprinting of collective forms of memory regarding the places occupied by Soviet/Russian troops in German contemporary history.” At the same time, they overestimated the role of Western mass media in shaping narratives and underestimated their discursive complexity.69 But while the former officers and locals of Peenemünde, too, were used to a different system of mass media communication, this does not explain the political controversy surrounding the fiftieth V-2 anniversary event on October 3, 1992. The latter was not initiated by local enthusiasts but by agencies and companies that knew what they were doing. While the intensity of the reactions was certainly unexpected, it was a calculated attempt to develop the region by reclaiming Peenemünde and its narratives, born of and fed by naiveté, approval, and, mostly, economic hopes.

The anniversary appeared as a favorable opportunity to signal a long-term industrial and political commitment to the region. The German Aerospace Industries Association (Bundesverband der Deutschen Luft- und Raumfahrtindustrie) and the German Space Administration (Deutsche Agentur für Raumfahrtangelegenheiten, DARA) jointly planned the event under the auspices of the ministry of economy and the federal government, represented by parliamentary undersecretary Erich Riedl (CSU, 1933–2018). The aircraft manufacturer Dornier was supposed to take on marketing responsibilities.70 A group of officials and politicians from community, state, and federal levels, including three conservative members of the national parliament, the president of the State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Alfred Gomolka (CDU, 1942–2020), and the director of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Otto Mayr (born in 1930), met at Peenemünde on February 8, 1992, and declared the following:

The local community has laid the foundation for a historical spaceflight museum with selfless work. All parties involved agree that the place offers ideal preconditions for extended use as a spaceflight park. Peenemünde has got the chance to trace an arc from the birth hour of spaceflight to the increasingly important use of space for the benefit of humankind.71

The invitation flyer, too, highlighted the notion of spaceflight and the importance of October 3, 1942 as a moment of “exceptional scientific and technological mastery…which, after tragically being used in the Second World War, took humankind to the moon and offered even more uses.”72 Contrary to the grandiose framing, the event itself was planned to last just three hours, with a few prosaically titled speeches, and was mainly intended as a reunion of all stakeholders and parties interested in the development of the site.

The old Peenemünders and their interest group IEP, while represented via the narratives they continuously promoted, were conspicuously absent from the official event and involved only through friends and proxies in the defense industry. At the same time, the former NVA officers and workers of the closed-down Peenemünde power plant were also largely uninvolved, despite being attached to the long-term project of the space park. Both excluded groups kept faith with each other, as their ties seemed to build on a similar understanding of military service and enthusiasm for technology. The old Peenemünders were well-connected within Western industries and governments and exuded an aura of success and semi-official legitimacy. Even if there were differences regarding the interpretation of the past, the fascination for the place and its history seemed to build bridges. As Manfred Kanetzki recalled,

Mr. Grösser, the boss of the [IEP], always said, “The Peenemünders, they are a big family.”…But that was not true. There were many who did not agree about what had happened here. But he led us to believe everything was great; a big Peenemünde family. And they came and told us about their experiences. And of course, they believed that Peenemünde was the birthplace of spaceflight.73

Against the explicit objection of Wernher von Braun, the IEP had started celebrating anniversaries in 1972 of the successful 3 October 1942 V-2 launch. Von Braun warned that, “because of the military and political context of our technological developments, this can quickly lead to an unpleasant reaction in the public and mass media.”74 The 1992 event would have been the most public anniversary celebration yet, and international attention was clearly foreseeable. As early as June, amidst the controversy over the Arthur “Bomber” Harris memorial in London, which had been unveiled in May, The Sunday Times referred to the Peenemünde museum to point out German hypocrisy.75 Director Jürgen Profe reacted by explaining the HTI's main tasks and emphasizing that although, as a historical technological museum, the HTI focused on technology, it did not deny its military contexts. But it was the job of official memorials (Profe used the GDR term Mahn- und Gedenkstätten, meaning “memorials and places of vigilance”) to highlight victims’ perspectives.76 Meanwhile, the IEP interest group tried to spread local skepticism against the “elites” and to disenfranchise the former NVA officers from the new state, suggesting that the locals examine the property situation “so that you know whom you actually work for. Not for those who want to fill their pockets while your jobs are uncertain. You might know what I mean.”77

Politicians from the local to the federal level were at first blinded by the well-intended economic opportunities and the promise of investments from the South German defense industry. Criticism of the event started months before October 1992, amidst the rise of neo-Nazism in East Germany. In the summer of 1992, right-wing groups went public with their hopes that the communist East and the democratic West German states would both fall and give rise to a new, fascist German state. In 1991 and 1992, the consolidation of the neo-Nazi movement led to violent riots, including in Hoyerswerda (September 1991) and the attack on a refugee hostel in Rockstock-Lichtenhagen (August 1992), the latter only about 110 kilometers from Peenemünde.78 By July, the new state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, led by Berndt Seite (CDU, born in 1940), got cold feet about Peenemünde. They were still interested in a park project and promised to cover a third of the planning costs of 120,000 DM, but they canceled their participation in the October 3 event. Their withdrawal was criticized by the conservative press, but some weeks later, the whole event was called off.79

The matter soon reached the national parliament in Bonn. The Social Democrats, the Green Party, and the leftist PDS heavily criticized the conservative government for having supported the Peenemünde event and (unsuccessfully) demanded the dismissal of undersecretary Erich Riedl because he had “hurt the reputation of the Federal Republic with his Peenemünde celebration,” as social democrat Ulrike Mascher (born in 1938) put it.80 In another Bundestag speech, social democratic MP Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (born in 1942 and from 1998 minister for economic cooperation) commented that,

Yes, there are indeed fears about the possibility of a new nationalist Germany in the middle of Europe. There are also fears of a dominance by the economically most powerful partner in the [European] Union. Some of what has happened in these past weeks and months has added to these fears: the chants “foreigners out” (Ausländer raus) and “Germany for Germans” (Deutschland den Deutschen) and the cold handling of our history by the current government, keyword: Peenemünde.81

Riedl defended himself by confirming that the event was not meant as a “V-2 victory celebration” but was going to cover the history of the “abuse of science and technology by politicians”—itself an invocation of the myth of technocratic innocence.82

In Peenemünde, museum staff and enthusiasts expressed confusion about the outrage, some concluding that the new democratic memory culture seemed more restrictive and ideological than that of the GDR. Manfred Kanetzki remembered that he had disagreed with the aim to educate visitors about “tolerance and diversity,” distinguishing between historical or scientific education (bilden) and education about norms and values (erziehen). In his words, “We discussed this.…A museum's job is bilden, not erziehen.”83 Interviewee G, who had joined the museum project as a civilian, compared this intervention “from above” to memory culture in the GDR, which had detached technological accomplishments from political context. As he recalled,

I have lived in the GDR, and I have actively participated, I have to say…when in our democratic day and age, people come to Peenemünde and claim in an unscientific manner that we have to view the place not as the birthplace of spaceflight but as the birthplace of forced labor, or whatever, how are we supposed to arrive at a realistic portrayal if we just change interpretations with the political system, and turn black into white?…[Prussian architect Hermann von] Pückler was controversial as well, retrospectively. But back in the GDR, he was at least respected for what he had done. Politically, [as a representative of] serfdom and such, he was controversial, but they respected his architecture and turned his castle into a museum.84

For both former military and civilian members of the museum association, the de-ritualization and re-politicization of technology appeared as a disruption brought by the new political system. The impression that the new democratic authorities were indifferent about the region of Peenemünde added to a general feeling of disillusionment after a phase of enthusiasm from 1990 to 1992. The ban of an (allegedly apolitical) fascination with technology appeared as an ideological diktat by the West and a sign of the new government's inability to keep pace with technological change as a progress-producing system. This corresponds to a phenomenon that Matthias Kettner has described as skepticism regarding the accountability of democratic governance. According to Kettner, the need to include nonexperts in decision-making seems to slow down any management of scientific and technological progress.85 In the eyes of many locals, Peenemünde was not a “dead” place of progress at all but a place where reflection and remembrance facilitated future advancements.

Peenemünde as an Ambivalent “Place of Progress”

Places of progress have always held inherent tensions. And the notion of ambivalence, according to its psychoanalytical definition, is tied to tensions, debates over meaning, and decision making. As it is not a narrative on its own, ambivalence can be a powerful, discursive, and productive experience.86 In Peenemünde during the early 1990s, however, ambivalence was mostly used not to explicate tensions but to enable agreements between different actors. Questions of modern progress were readily framed as a nonpolitical problem. Yet it was seen as more and more of a problem that the Nazi and GDR pasts of Peenemünde were both on display in the form of military objects. Other memorial sites, such as the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp, had been temporarily used by the Soviet administration after 1945 (to incarcerate former Nazis, anti-communists and even social democrats unwilling to merge with the SED). It was feared that a focus on the use of the camp by the Soviets could open the door for leftist or rightist political groups to equate or trivialize one history over the other for political gain.87

In 1996, the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania appointed an advisory board comprised of museum professionals and a project group tasked with developing a permanent exhibition that opened in two stages in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, director Dirk Zache, who had overseen the restructuring efforts, noted that Peenemünde was still “a place with an ambivalent and rather difficult history” that still allowed discussions of “how to handle responsibly the possibilities that technology and the natural sciences offer us.”88 While the notion of the ambivalence of rocketry survived into the new exhibits, militarism had to go, and with it (to the chagrin of locals), remembrance of the NVA period. Michael J. Neufeld was a member of the advisory group. He recalled that there was internal agreement that the museum could not “glorify” Peenemünde (“you know, it's a Nazi site”), so the focus on the 1930s and 1940s was felt as a rejection of local remembrance efforts.

That's always been a little uncomfortable here…the museum, I think, is caught eternally in this problem that it's sort of between the local population which has one expectation of it and the exterior academic and political community which sees that…the myth of Peenemünde was not sustainable intellectually. And it wasn't, above all…sustainable politically to have something that seemed like an apologia for a Nazi project.89

The 1992 event reflected the symbolic role of anniversaries in creating historical controversies. In his contribution to this special issue, Michael J. Neufeld has highlighted the significance of fiftieth anniversaries in the 1990s to the “nostalgia about, and mythification of, America in the Second World War.”90 In Germany, contexts for anniversary events were much different of course, and attempts at nostalgia were heavily criticized and blighted. When, in Peenemünde, two ideologically different memory cultures, from East and West Germany, aimed to find a middle ground within a traditional history of technology they utterly failed. The fact that apologetic stances were possible within this framework led to a political controversy and showed that even after the end of the Cold War, the history of technological innovation remained a deeply political matter.

The debate heralded neither the end of the Peenemünde museum project nor its forced transformation into a government-funded memorial. The museum was still able to integrate a diversity of memories and biographies, as museum concepts adopted by the advisory board from 1996 onward set the ground for a notion of ambivalence that had an integrative but not an apologetic function. Nevertheless, the integration of GDR history remains an open question, at least until the new permanent exhibition opens in 2024.


Research for this article has been generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. I would like to thank Christian Kehrt, Philipp Aumann, Constanze Seifert-Hartz, Stefan Hördler, Martin Lücke, and Daniel Middeke for their helpful comments and Daniela Teschendorff and Thomas Köhler for their support with archival research.



Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, Der 30jährige Krieg (Munich: Paul List Verlag, 1967), 278 f.


Philipp Aumann, “Großforschung und Wunderglaube: Die Entwicklung von Fernwaffen als Strategie und letzte Hoffnung im Zweiten Weltkrieg,” in Wunder mit Kalkül: Die Peenemünder Fernwaffenprojekte als Teil des deutschen Rüstungssystems, ed. Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde (Berlin: Links), 8–54.


Daniel Brandau, Raketenträume: Raumfahrt- und Technikenthusiasmus in Deutschland 1923–1963 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2019), 208–210.


Michael J. Neufeld, “The Guided Missile and the Third Reich: Peenemünde and the Forging of a Technological Revolution,” in Science, Technology and National Socialism, ed. Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 51–71, especially 62–67; Manfred Kanetzki, “Zwangsarbeit in Peenemünde,” in “Der Betrieb kann mit Häftlingen durchgeführt werden:” Zwangsarbeit für die Kriegsrakete, ed. Christian Mühldorfer-Vogt (Peenemünde: Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde, 2009), 31–86. For a comprehensive study of the Dora camp complex, see Jens-Christian Wagner, Produktion des Todes: Das Konzentrationslager Mittelbau-Dora (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2001).


Michael J. Neufeld, The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era (New York: Free Press, 1995).


Philipp Aumann and Daniel Brandau, “‘Peenemünder Friedenspreis?’ Der 3. Oktober 1942 und die Selbstdarstellung ehemaliger Waffenentwickler,” in Krieg oder Raumfahrt: Peenemünde in der öffentlichen Erinnerung seit 1945, ed. Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde (Berlin: Links), 147–174, especially 156.


Walter Dornberger, V2—der Schuß ins All (Esslingen: Bechtle, 1952).


Thomas Thiemeyer, “Grenzpfähle der Tabuzone: Vom schwierigen Umgang mit Krieg, Gewalt und toten Körpern im Museum,” Historische Anthropologie 18 (2010): 220–231; especially 220 f.; Thomas Thiemeyer, Fortsetzung des Krieges mit anderen Mitteln: Die beiden Weltkriege im Museum (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2010).


Volkhard Bode, Christian Thiel, Raketenspuren—Peenemünde 1936–2004: Eine historische Reportage (Berlin: Links, 2004), 185–199.


The term was coined by Christine MacLeod, Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism and British Identity 1750–1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).


Guillaume de Syon, “The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen,” Technology and Culture 40, no. 1 (1999): 114–119; Volkhard Knigge, Rikola-Gunnar Lüttgenau and Jens-Christian Wagner, Forced Labor: The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War (Weimar: Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, 2010), 6–11.


Alexa Geisthövel and Habbo Knoch, “Einleitung,” in Orte der Moderne: Erfahrungswelten des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Alexa Geisthövel and Habbo Knoch (Frankfurt: Campus, 2005), 9–14.


On the “memory boom” in 1990s Germany, see Hope M. Harrison, “Introduction: The Berlin Wall and German Historical Memory,” in After the Berlin Wall: Memory and the Making of the New Germany, 1989 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 1–29, and Eric Langenbacher and Friederike Eigler, “Introduction: Memory Boom or Memory Fatigue in 21st Century Germany?,” German Politics & Society 23, no. 3 (2005): 1–15. Cold War exhibitions in Germany and Europe have also aimed to include a multiplicity of perspectives and diverse material cultures. See Samuel J. M. M. Albertia and Holger Nehring, “The Cold War in European Museums—Filling the Empty Battlefield,” International Journal of Heritage Studies (August 2021), accessed 15 October 2021, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2021.1954054.


Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 616f.


Jutta Buchner-Fuhs, “Technik und Erinnerung: Zur symbolischen Bedeutung von Technik in lebensgeschichtlichen Erinnerungsschilderungen,” in Symbole: Zur Bedeutung der Zeichen in der Kultur, ed. Rolf Wilhelm Brednich and Heinz Schmitt (Münster: Waxmann, 1997), 195–206.


Aleida Assmann, Erinnerungsräume: Formen und Wandel des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1999), 299f.


On this process, see Jan Assmann, “Communicative and Cultural Memory,” in Cultural Memory Studies, ed. Astrid Ertl and Ansgar Nünning (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 109–118.


See Harry Waibel, Der gescheiterte Anti-Faschismus der SED. Rassismus in der DDR (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2014); Harry Waibel and Henrike Voigtländer, “’Die braune Saat. Antisemitismus und Neonazismus in der DDR,” Arbeit Bewegung Geschichte. Zeitschrift für historische Studien 2 (2018): 225–228 and Bernd Wagner, Rechtsradikalismus in der Spät-DDR: Zur militant-nazistischen Radikalisierung—Wirkungen und Reaktionen in der DDR-Gesellschaft (Berlin: edition widerschein, 2014).


Stefan Küchler, “DDR-Geschichtsbilder: Zur Interpretation des Nationalsozialismus, der jüdischen Geschichte und des Holocaust im Geschichtsunterricht der DDR,” Internationale Schulbuchforschung 22, no. 1 (2000): 31–48, here 32.


While denazification was swiftly applied to leadership positions after the war, from 1947 many “nominal members” of the former Nazi party were reintegrated into East German institutions. Scientists and engineers, in particular, were deemed too essential to expel and could often even extend their influence, for example within the GDR Academy of Sciences. See Saskia Weise-Pötschke, “Entnazifizierung an der Akademie der Wissenschaften,” Zeitschrift des Forschungsverbundes SED-Staat 43 (2019): 26–37, here 34f.; for context, see Jürgen Danyel, “Der vergangenheitspolitische Diskurs in der SBZ/DDR 1945–1989,” in Krieg—Diktatur—Vertreibung: Erinnerungskulturen in Tschechien, der Slowakei und Deutschland seit 1945, ed. Christoph Cornelißen (Essen: Klartext, 2005), 173–196.


Mitchell G. Ash, “Konstruierte Kontinuitäten und divergierende Neuanfänge nach 1945,” in Gebrochene Wissenschaftskulturen: Universität und Politik im 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Michael Grüttner et al. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010), 215–245, here 218f.


Brandau, Raketenträume, 252–254.


Ibid., 158.


Julius Mader, Das Geheimnis von Huntsville (Berlin: Deutscher Militärverlag, 1963). On Mader, see Michael Neufeld, “‘Smash the Myth of the Fascist Rocket Baron’: East German Attacks on Wernher von Braun in the 1960s,” in Imagining Outer Space, ed. Alexander C.T. Geppert (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012), 106–126.


“Massengrab an der Raketenrampe: Historiker Jens-Christian Wagner über Heinrich Lübkes Rolle beim Einsatz von KZ-Häftlingen in Peenemünde,” Der Spiegel, 27 May 2001, 22.


Rainer Eisfeld, Mondsüchtig: Wernher von Braun und die Geburt der Raumfahrt aus dem Geist der Barbarei (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1996), 95.


Interview Kanetzki. All quotations from interviews have been translated by the author.


Mosaik (Berlin: Neues Leben, since 1955).


Ruth Kraft, Insel ohne Leuchtfeuer (Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 1959).


Dolores Augustine, Red Prometheus: Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany (Boston: MIT Press, 2007), 243–262.


Ibid., 13–15. See also Werner Albring, Gorodomlia: Deutsche Raketenforscher in Russland (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991), 37–44 and Kurt Magnus, Raketensklaven: Deutsche Forscher hinter rotem Stacheldraht (Klitzschen: Elbe-Dnjepr-Verlag, 1999), 346–351.


See Manfred Kanetzki, MiGs über Peenemünde. Die Geschichte der NVA-Fliegertruppenteile auf Usedom (Herzogenrath: Mediascript, 2014).


Wolfgang Bialas, “Antifaschismus als Sinnstiftung: Konturen eines ostdeutschen Konzepts,” in Die NS-Diktatur im deutschen Erinnerungsdiskurs, ed. Wolfgang Bergem (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2003), 151–170.


Lutz-Günther Fleischer, ‘Natur- und technikwissenschaftliche Aspekte des wissenschaftlich-technischen Fortschritts und seiner Beschleunigung,” in Grundprobleme der Beschleunigung des wissenschaftlich-technischen Fortschritts in der populärwissenschaftlichen Propaganda der URANIA (Berlin: Urania, 1978), 20–31, here 23, 30.


Ibid., 31.


Bode and Thiel, Raketenspuren, 127.


Interview Profe.




Interview Kanetzki.


Interview Profe.




At the time of the interview in 2018, conspiracy theories had become a prominent issue in German (and international) political discourse. Michael Butter, “Nichts ist, wie es scheint”: Über Verschwörungstheorien (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2018), 179–186.


Interview M.




As sociologist Michael Rutschky has argued, the GDR was “invented” as a coherent narrative of collective experience in the early 1990s—not because people wished back the old state but because they protected their self-determination amidst political, economic, and cultural changes over which they had no power. Michael Rutschky, “Wie erst jetzt die DDR entsteht. Vermischte Erzählungen,” in Merkur 49, no. 558/559 (1995): 851–864.


Many of these managers were trained engineers, and the East German state had promoted a technicist understanding of progress since the Second Five-Year plan of the late 1950s. It focused on the stabilization of the economic system through increases in industrial production. See Markus Pohlmann, “Die Industriekrise in Ostdeutschland: Zur Rolle ökonomischer Eliten und ihrer Unternehmenspolitiken,” Deutschland Archiv 38, no. 3 (2005): 417–424.


Eva Lütkemeyer, “Gezeitenwechsel an der Ostsee: Die Privatisierung des DDR-Schiffbaus,” Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, accessed 15 September 2021,


Leo Schmidt and Uta Mense, Denkmallandschaft Peenemünde: Eine wissenschaftliche Bestandsaufnahme—Conservation-Management-Plan (Berlin: Links, 2013), 10.


Interview G.


Berlin, Bundesarchiv, Stasi-Unterlagen-Archiv, MfS HA I Nr. 20984, 52.


Interview Profe.


Interview G.


Interview M.




Lothar Kettenacker, Germany 1989: In the Aftermath of the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2014), 190; Andrew Bickford, “Red Radiation: East German Army Officers in Post-Unification Germany,” in Remembering the German Democratic Republic: Divided Memory in a Unified Germany, ed. David Clarke and Ute Wölfel (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 169–181.


Interview Dietze.


Interview M.


Interviewee M explained that although this “theft” provoked considerable outrage among Bundeswehr officers, since both planes had been set to be decommissioned anyway an agreement over a permanent loan to the museum was made.


Matthias Schmidt, Albert Speer: Das Ende eines Mythos—Speers wahre Rolle im Dritten Reich (Munich: Scherz, 1982); Thomas Franklin, An American in Exile: The Story of Arthur Rudolph (Huntsville: Kaylor, 1987).


Norbert Haase and Bert Pampel, “Einführung,” in Doppelte Last—doppelte Herausforderung: Gedenkstättenarbeit und Diktaturenvergleich an Orten mit doppelter Vergangenheit, ed. Norbert Haase (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1998), 32; Nina Ziesemer, Denkmalbestand im Wandel: Denkmale der DDR nach 1989 (Baden-Baden: Tectum, 2019), 176.


“Friedenspfeife auf Raketen-Trümmern,” Tagesmagazin, 2 July 1990.




Interview G.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, “HTI-Einladung Vortragsreihe,” 1 October 1992.


Aleida Assmann, Erinnerungsräume: Formen und Wandel des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1999), 299f.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, “BMFT-Schreiben zum Raumfahrtpark,” 17 December 1992.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, “Das Historisch-Technische Informationszentrum: Der Grundstein für einen Raumfahrtpark,” November 1992 (my translation).


On contested memories after the end of the Cold War in Europe, see Benoît Challand, “1989, Contested Memories and the Shifting Cognitive Maps of Europe,” European Journal of Social Theory 12, no. 3 (2014): 397–408, and Benoît Challand, Małgorzata Pakier, and Bo Stråth, eds., A European Memory? Contested Histories and Politics of Remembrance (New York: Berghahn, 2010).


Christoph Lorke, “Contested Spaces, Contested Memories: Images of Post-Soviet Military Bases in Reunified Germany,” Český lid 106, no. 4 (2019): 439–461, here 442.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, “BDLI-Planung Gedenkveranstaltung,” 4 September 1992.


Deutscher Bundestag, 12th legislative period, protocol of the 109th session, Bonn, 7 October 1992, 9291 (my translation).


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, Einladungsflyer 1992—Deckblatt.


Interview Kanetzki.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv, Heinz Groesser, IEP-Rundschreiben Mai 1972; Peenemünde, HTM Archiv, Wernher von Braun, Letter to Grösser, 18 November 1971 (my translation).


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv, “Peenemünde and the V-2,” Sunday Times, May 1992.


Marion Richardt, “Britische Kritik an Museum,” Neubrandenburger Zeitung, 1 June 1992.


Peenemünde, HTM Archiv, 1990–1996 Konzept Museum Raumfahrt, Letter IEP to HTI—event planning, 1 July 1992 (my translation).


Gudrun Heinrich, “Fanal ‘Rostock Lichtenhagen’: Rassistische Ausschreitungen und die junge Demokratie,” in Land im Umbruch: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern nach dem Ende der DDR, ed. Stefan Creuzberger, Fred Mrotzek and Mario Niemann (Berlin: be.bra, 2018), 292–309.


“Verschläft Schwerin ein historisches Ereignis?,” Die Welt, 24 July 1992.


Deutscher Bundestag, 12th legislative period, protocol of the 110th session, Bonn, 8 October 1992, 9805.


Ibid., 9327 (my translation).


Deutscher Bundestag, 12th legislative period, protocol of the 109th session, Bonn, 7 October 1992, 9293.


Interview Kanetzki.


Interview G.


Matthias Kettner, “Technik und Governance,” in Handbuch Kulturphilosophie (Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 2012), 231–233.


See Uwe Henrik Peters, Lexikon Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie, medizinische Psychologie: mit einem englisch-deutschen Wörterbuch im Anhang (Munich: Urban & Fischer, 2007), 24.


Sarah Farmer, “Symbols that Face Two Ways: Commemorating the Victims of Nazism and Stalinism at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen,” Representations 49 (Winter 1995): 97–119.


Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution Archives, 18–181, Michael J. Neufeld Papers 1988–2017, Dirk Zache, Press Conference Peenemünde 28 September 2002.


Interview Neufeld.


See Michael J. Neufeld's contribution to this special issue.


Dietze, Wolf. Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Daniel Brandau, Peenemünde, 27 October 2017. Dietze was the JG-9's commander when it was disbanded in 1990.

G (initial changed). Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Daniel Brandau, Peenemünde, 24 March 2017. G. was a civilian who joined the museum society in 1988 or early 1989.

Kanetzki, Manfred. Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Constanze Seifert-Hartz, Peenemünde, 11 December 2017. Kanetzki was an officer at the JG-9, a member of the museum society from 1990, and an employee at the museum from 1997 to 2013.

M (initial changed). Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Daniel Brandau, Peenemünde, October 2017. M. was a West German armed forces officer and member of the transitioning team of 1990.

Neufeld, Michael J. Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Daniel Brandau, Karlshagen, 21 March 2018. Neufeld was a member of the state-appointed advisory board of the Peenemünde museum.

Profe, Peter. Braunschweig, Archiv Technische Universität, interview conducted by Daniel Brandau, Peenemünde, 22 March 2018. Profe was instructor at the JG-9and director at the HTI/HTM from 1991 to 1996.

Contributor Notes

Daniel Brandau teaches at the Freie Universität Berlin. Email:

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  • Figures 1 and 2.

    Map of the Peenemünde development and testing facilities as they existed from 1936 to 1945, and a satellite image of the same area today.

    On the map, the village of Peenemünde with its harbor can be seen on the bottom left, with the power plant and the oxygen factory next to it. On the eastern shore across the island was the Army Research Center with its test stands, laboratories, and factories, which were all demolished after the war. The satellite image (Figure 2) shows that today the area is mostly forest (with many unexploded shells in the ground), so the visitor has to use his imagination in order to understand that this was a military-industrial site during the Second World War. Treasure hunters often break in at night to dig for valuables that they can sell on the black market. The place has been (and still is) dominated by what was there but can no longer be seen. Since there is not much left in and around Peenemünde (aside from the power plant, the ruins of the oxygen factory and a few walls and cables), the symbolic capital of Peenemünde seems to be the ground itself. (Both images © HTM Peenemünde; map illustration by Manfred Kanetzki)

  • Figures 3 and 4.

    Tradition book of the First Security Brigade of the First Flotilla, 1967–1977.

    All units of the First Flotilla had their distinct tradition books, honor books, and guest books. A tradition book of the First Security Brigade, used from 1967 to 1977, contained two pages with images depicting Peenemünde's fascist period by focusing on weapons and their production. These included the V-1 flying bomb, but notably not the A4/V-2. The book also highlighted victims, destruction, and, in a self-referential twist, photos of official rituals of remembrance. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive)

  • Figures 5 and 6.

    “Heinrich Rau corner” and “tradition room” of the fighter squadron JG-9, with pilot and cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn visiting on 18 January 1980.

    The “Rau corner” (Figure 5) was located in the entrance hall of JG-9 headquarters and showed photos of “heroes” of the squadron. The photo is probably from the day of its dedication on 1 March 1981. The separate tradition room (Figure 6) was used for social gatherings and receptions. It displayed objects such as weapons, badges, and suits. The photo shows (from left to right) colonel Bräuer of the political department of the Third Air Defense Division, major general Günter Oldenburg (1931–2010), and colonel Sigmund Jähn. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive, ANV Collection JG9-Fotozirkel “Eugen Heilig,” 3904-1)

  • Figure 7.

    Peenemünde Space Park concept, 1992.

    In a departure from a historical museum, the federal government and industrial partners supported a space park concept that would have included a science center. Using Peenemünde as little more than a starting point, it focused on science education as well as the economic development of the region. (© HTM Peenemünde Archive, Raumfahrtpark Collection)


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