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Debating German Cultural Identity since 1989

Debating German Cultural Identity since 1989

Edited by Anne Fuchs
Kathleen James-Chakraborty
Linda Shortt
Volume: 107
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Debating German Cultural Identity since 1989
    Book Description:

    The events of 1989 and German unification were seismic historical moments. Although 1989 appeared to signify a healing of the war-torn history of the twentieth century, unification posed the question of German cultural identity afresh. Politicians, historians, writers, filmmakers, architects, and the wider public engaged in "memory contests" over such questions as the legitimacy of alternative biographies, West German hegemony, and the normalization of German history. This dynamic, contested, and still ongoing transformation of German cultural identity is the topic of this volume of new essays by scholars from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Ireland. It explores German cultural identity by way of a range of disciplines including history, film studies, architectural history, literary criticism, memory studies, and anthropology, avoiding a homogenized interpretation. Charting the complex and often contradictory processes of cultural identity formation, the volume reveals the varied responses that continue to accompany the project of unification. Contributors: Pertti Ahonen, Aleida Assmann, Elizabeth Boa, Peter Fritzsche, Anne Fuchs, Deniz Göktürk, Kathleen James-Chakraborty, Anja K. Johannsen, Jennifer A. Jordan, Jürgen Paul, Linda Shortt, Andrew J. Webber. Anne Fuchs is Professor of German Literature at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Kathleen James-Chakraborty is Professor of Art History at University College Dublin, Ireland. Linda Shortt is Lecturer in German at Bangor University, Wales.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-786-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Anne Fuchs, Kathleen James-Chakraborty and Linda Shortt
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Anne Fuchs, Kathleen James-Chakraborty and Linda Shortt

    The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and German unification on 3 October of the following year were seismic historical moments. Although they appeared to heal the war-torn history of the twentieth century, unification posed the question of German cultural identity afresh. Politicians, historians, film-makers, architects, writers, and the wider public engaged in a “memory contest” that pitted alternative biographies against one another, prompting challenges to perceived West German hegemony, and posing questions about the possibility of normalizing German history.¹ These dynamic debates are the topic of this book. By giving voice to multiple disciplinary as well...

  5. Part I. Historical and Sociological Reflections:: 1989 and the Rehabilitation of German History

    • 1: 1989 and the Chronological Imagination
      (pp. 17-29)
      Peter Fritzsche

      Nineteen eighty-nine was instantly recognizable as an eventful “event,” one that merited inclusion in global-dating systems. It was connected to 1945 to periodize the Cold War, to 1917 to mark off the era of Communism, and to 1914 to frame the “short twentieth century,” characterized by the world wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, and their aftermath, in contrast to the long nineteenth century from 1789 to 1914. The usefulness of “1989” as a date to establish periods indicates the continuing pertinence of dating systems and periodization.¹ It confirms the historical nature of two deeply embedded systems that accompanied post–Second World...

    • 2: Unity on Trial: The Mauerschützenprozesse and the East-West Rifts of Unified Germany
      (pp. 30-45)
      Pertti Ahonen

      National unification posed many challenges for germany.¹ The “blooming landscapes” that Chancellor Kohl predicted for the former GDR in the summer of 1990 proved slow in coming, as severe economic difficulties and accompanying social and political problems enveloped the region instead. The initial result was an overall sense of discomfort and continuing division in East and West alike, as graphically described by an East German pastor in 1991:

      Now we lie rather heavily in the stomach of the well-nourished and groomed Federal Republic — with our heavy metals, asbestos-palaces, rotted landscapes, kaput cities, Stasi-snares that reach all the way to...

    • 3: Apples, Identity, and Memory in Post-1989 Germany
      (pp. 46-64)
      Jennifer A. Jordan

      Originally this chapter was called “Pigs, Potatoes, and Collective Memory,” and was based on several assumptions about the ways that food operates as a lieu de mémoire, or a site of collective memory and identity, in post-1989 Germany.¹ After sifting through books, newspaper articles, websites, and cookbooks, however, it quickly became apparent that the word “apples” most certainly belonged in the title as well. That is, apples turned out to be even more resonant than pigs and potatoes, as they were the object of all kinds of memory work in eastern and western Germany alike. From Dresden to Stuttgart, Magdeburg...

  6. Part II. Architectural and Filmic Mediations:: Germany in Transit and the Urban Condition

    • 4: Topographical Turns: Recasting Berlin in Christian Petzold’s Gespenster
      (pp. 67-81)
      Andrew J. Webber

      This essay revisits the territory explored in the last chapter of my recent book, Berlin in the Twentieth Century: A Cultural Topography.¹ With this book I aimed to contribute to the topographical turn in cultural criticism and was concerned, in particular, to show how cultural topography is also linked to forms of urban tropography: figurative placements and turnings of urban space that determine its representation in high and popular cultural forms. The figurations — topoi and tropes — in question are partly found in the way in which urban space is cast in civic terms, especially in its representative forms:...

    • 5: Interrupting Unity: The Berlin Wall’s Second Life on Screen — A Transnational Perspective
      (pp. 82-99)
      Deniz Göktürk

      On the evening of 9 November 1989 I had dinner at a friend’s home in my former neighborhood of Schöneberg in Berlin. At some point the phone rang, and another friend informed us that the border had been opened. In disbelief, we both assumed that this was a joke. My host did not have a television set, so I cycled home, switched on my little black-and-white TV, and there it was: pictures of people climbing over the Wall and driving through checkpoints. Not until the next day did I venture out to see real border crossers at Bornholmer Strasse. Despite...

    • 6: Beyond the Wall: Reunifying Berlin
      (pp. 100-116)
      Kathleen James-Chakraborty

      For much of the twentieth century Berlin was a battlefield. The violent suppression of the Spartacist uprising and the street fights of the early 1930s bracketed the Weimar Republic. The Soviet invasion of 1945 and the quelling of the revolt of 1953 followed. During the rest of the Cold War the major battles were no longer military but ideological. Architecture and urbanism served as ideal means for expressing the apparent superiority of one political system over another in areas such as the provision of housing, the maintenance of historical monuments, and the establishment of thriving civic institutions. Rather than resulting...

    • 7: The Rebirth of Historic Dresden
      (pp. 117-128)
      Jürgen Paul

      Although the reconstruction of Berlin garnered the bulk of the international attention paid to contemporary German architecture and urbanism, it was not the only city in the newly reunited country whose appearance changed radically during these years. How to reinvent the past to serve as the badge of a proud past and possibly progressive — but firmly capitalist — future was a common theme from the Ruhrgebiet in the western corner of the country to Saxony in the far east.¹ While in Berlin and the Ruhrgebiet most of the history employed in this effort was relatively recent, dating back no...

  7. Part III. Retrospective Reimaginings:: The Death and Afterlife of East and West Germany in Contemporary Literature

    • 8: Labyrinths, Mazes, and Mosaics: Fiction by Christa Wolf, Ingo Schulze, Antje Rávic Strubel, and Jens Sparschuh
      (pp. 131-155)
      Elizabeth Boa

      In the opening essay in this volume Peter Fritzsche notes how different start dates produce different historical narratives: temporal perspective shapes the contours and fixes the boundaries of a field of inquiry. Perspective, contours, boundaries, and field are, of course, spatial metaphors. If the events of 1989 marked an epochal revolution, they also precipitated a geographical revolution: along with the institutions of actually existing socialism the whole geography of power collapsed.¹ The sheer suddenness encouraged arguments in favor of the hardness of culture: spaces mapped by cultural geography perhaps trump times chronicled by political history. To quote an early geographer,...

    • 9: Reimagining the West: West Germany, Westalgia, and the Generation of 1978
      (pp. 156-169)
      Linda Shortt

      In a recent article in Die Zeit a variety of contemporary German writers were invited to engage in an imaginative brainstorming on how Germany could possibly improve on its 1990 performance, should unification only take place now in 2010.¹ While the question may seem quite frivolous, the answers proffered expose some of the intricacies and problems of the post-unification era, which is characterized neither simply by resentment and division nor by a homogeneous unified German identity, but rather by the dynamics of memory contests. Spanning a wide range of responses, from a playful “don’t annoy Christa Wolf,” or the suggestion...

    • 10: “Dem Sichtbaren war nicht ganz zu trauen”: Poetic Reflections on German Unification in Angela Krauss and Monika Maron
      (pp. 170-183)
      Anja K. Johannsen

      In autumn 2009 the weekly newspaper Die Zeit published an article that discussed the question of which East German city was more entitled to call itself the heroic site of 1989: Berlin or Leipzig.¹ Although the peaceful revolution actually began in Leipzig with the so-called Monday demonstrations, Berlin is generally regarded as the most prominent symbol of unification because of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This competition between these cities over which site deserves more recognition for its historical role in 1989 reflects the ongoing contest about how 1989 is currently being remembered. The dramatic events in Berlin —...

    • 11: Cultural Topography and Emotional Legacies in Durs Grünbein’s Dresden Poetry
      (pp. 184-204)
      Anne Fuchs

      In 2005 Durs Grünbein’s Porzellan: Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt (Porcelain: poem about the demise of my city) appeared. The renowned Dresden-born poet reimagined in this cycle of forty-nine poems the destruction of the city from the position of the postwar generations, who have no personal connection to the event but nevertheless have been exposed to an omnipresent murmur about cultural loss. Its publication coincided with the consecration of the famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), probably the single most potent architectural symbol of civic democracy, unification, and international reconciliation in the German cultural imagination. Originally designed by George Bähr...

    • 12: History from a Bird’s Eye View: Reimagining the Past in Marcel Beyer’s Kaltenburg
      (pp. 205-220)
      Aleida Assmann

      As time passes and the temporal distance between ourselves and the traumatic events of the Second World War grows, the quality of embodied memory that we associate with the status of the witness and with the genre of testimony is giving way to encoded representations of the past.¹ Our image of the past is less and less influenced by contact with survivors and members of the war generation and more and more by mediations and remediations of past events. This new media milieu of representations that has been formed over the last two decades has had a profound effect on...

  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-244)
  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 245-248)
  10. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)