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Where the World Ended

Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland

Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 307
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  • Book Info
    Where the World Ended
    Book Description:

    When the Berlin Wall fell, people who lived along the dismantled border found their lives drastically and rapidly transformed. Daphne Berdahl, through ongoing ethnographic research in a former East German border village, explores the issues of borders and borderland identities that have accompanied the many transitions since 1990. What happens to identity and personhood, she asks, when a political and economic system collapses overnight? How do people negotiate and manipulate a liminal condition created by the disappearance of a significant frame of reference? Berdahl concentrates especially on how these changes have affected certain "border zones" of daily life-including social organization, gender, religion, and nationality-in a place where literal, indeed concrete, borders were until recently a very powerful presence. Borders, she argues, are places of ambiguity as well as of intense lucidity; these qualities may in fact be mutually constitutive. She shows how, in a moment of headlong historical transformation, larger political, economic, and social processes are manifested locally and specifically. In the process of a transition between two German states, people have invented, and to some extent ritualized, cultural practices that both reflect and constitute profound identity transformations in a period of intense social discord.Where the World Endedcombines a vivid ethnographic account of everyday life under socialist rule and after German reunification with an original investigation of the paradoxical human condition of a borderland.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92132-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This is a book about borders, boundaries, and the spaces between them. It is about how geographical borders may be invested with cultural meanings far beyond their political intentions and how their dismantling may be so destabilizing as to generate new cultural practices and identities. Arguing that articulations, ambiguities, and contradictions of identity are especially visible in moments of social upheaval, I portray the rapid transformations in everyday life of an East German border village, Kella, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I ask what happens to people's sense of identity and personhood when a political and economic system...

  6. 1 The Village on the Border
    (pp. 23-43)

    When I first arrived in Kella in 1990, crossing the border from West Germany to East Germany entailed much more than a simple territorial passage. The gradual transition in the roads leading to the village was itself a liminal space, a product of the roads’ borderland location as well as of a consciousness of their temporary remoteness that was heightened by the new pavement and construction that surrounded other border crossings. To reach Kella, you had to exit the fast-paced western German highway (B27) near the town of Eschwege, follow wide, well-paved roads through the western village of Grebendorf, and...

  7. 2 Publicity, Secrecy, and the Politics of Everyday Life
    (pp. 44-71)

    Even more than in other regions of the GDR, the state was a constant and highly visible presence in Kella. Because of its immediate proximity to the border between East and West Germany, sirens, army jeeps, border guards, and watch towers were part of daily life (Figure 8). A “signal fence,” armed with an optical and acoustic alarm system as well as multiple rows of barbed wire, ran directly behind many village homes and gardens. Curfew was usually set at 11 P.M., but during periods of especially strict state control people had to be back in the village by sundown....

  8. 3 The Seventh Station
    (pp. 72-103)

    One warm spring evening in 1991, our neighbor, Hans Becker, invited us to join him on a walk to the Kella chapel (Figure 10). It was Good Friday, and although the priest had preached in church that afternoon against working on a holy day, Hans had spent the day cleaning and remodeling a cousin’s home.¹ He dropped by our place to pick up the chapel key, which was temporarily in our care so that we could visit the local pilgrimage site with some guests from Göttingen, and invited my husband and me to join him. During the forty years of...

  9. 4 Consuming Differences
    (pp. 104-139)

    One of the more amusing and frequently trying aspects of fieldwork in Kella was learning nicknames. A common feature of European village life, the limited number of family names in the community necessitated the use of nicknames to identify particular individuals.¹ Ethnographic studies of European villages point out how the use and shared knowledge of nicknames can express a sense of communal belonging (Mewett 1982, 1986; Peace 1986). They may also be categories of social classification, the way inequalities are talked about in village discourse.

    In Kella, the local nickname for one of the village’s most affluent residents under socialism...

  10. 5 Borderlands
    (pp. 140-183)

    This popular joke, one of many such witticisms to be circulated nationally and locally after the Wende, poignantly captures the heightened tensions between East and West Germans after re-unification. Drawing on the slogan of the demonstrations in the fall of 1989, “We Are One People,” it expresses both the hope of unity and an increasingly common perception of two emergent (and divergent) German identities. It also reflects the asymmetrical nature of inter-German relations: while the Ossi strives to be “one” with his western neighbor, it is the Wessi who is empowered to deny this unity. Germany may be unified into...

  11. 6 Designing Women
    (pp. 184-205)

    A year into my fieldwork, several women from the village began to paint silk together (Figure 18). Although they met only six or seven times, these women were attempting to renew a community that had been lost when the factory in which they worked was closed. “This is like wornen drüben,” one woman commented. “They have their bowling clubs, their crafts courses. They have to keep busy.” Before long, however, the women recognized that they were not like women drüben. As we began to paint our scarves, women moved from project to project, picking up a paintbrush or glitter and...

  12. 7 The Dis-membered Border
    (pp. 206-225)

    Werner Schmidt, one of the few “really reds” in Kella, once told me, “If you want to conquer a [political] system, and conquer it quickly, then you have to portray this system in the ugliest colors possible. That’s how it is. And that can be dirty work.” Werner was commenting on the West German media’s frequent comparisons of the GDR with the Third Reich, a portrayal that was part of a general and rapid devaluation of the East German past by dominant West German discourses. As we saw in chapter 2, Werner himself felt victimized by these attempts to “overcome...

  13. Epilogue: The Tree of Unity
    (pp. 226-234)

    During re-unification celebrations on October 3, 1990, residents of Kella, visitors, and local politicians from West Germany planted an oak sapling near the village soccerfield. The Tree of Unity was intended to symbolize renewal and the growing together of the two Germanies after forty years of division. A year later, the tree was dead, symbolizing for many villagers the lost hopes and expectations of re-unification itself (Figure 28). “Of course it died,” one woman told me, flipping her wrist forward and shaking her head to emphasize what many perceived to be the obvious symbolic connection between the tree’s death and...

  14. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 235-238)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 239-262)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 263-284)
  17. Index
    (pp. 285-294)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)