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German Memory Contests

German Memory Contests: The Quest for Identity in Literature, Film, and Discourse since 1990

Anne Fuchs
Mary Cosgrove
Georg Grote
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    German Memory Contests
    Book Description:

    Since unification in 1990, Germany has seen a boom in the confrontation with memory, evident in a sharp increase in novels, films, autobiographies, and other forms of public discourse that engage with the long-term effects of National Socialism across generations. Taking issue with the concept of "Vergangenheitsbewältigung," or coming to terms with the Nazi past, which after 1945 guided nearly all debate on the topic, the contributors to this volume view contemporary German culture through the more dynamic concept of "memory contests," which sees all forms of memory, public or private, as ongoing processes of negotiating identity in the present. Touching on gender, generations, memory and postmemory, trauma theory, ethnicity, historiography, and family narrative, the contributions offer a comprehensive picture of current German memory debates, in so doing shedding light on the struggle to construct a German identity mindful of but not wholly defined by the horrors of National Socialism and the Holocaust. Contributors: Peter Fritzsche, Anne Fuchs, Elizabeth Boa, Stefan Willer, Chloe E. M. Paver, Matthias Fiedler, J. J. Long, Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, Cathy S. Gelbin, Jennifer E. Michaels, Mary Cosgrove, Andrew Plowman, Roger Woods. Anne Fuchs is professor of modern German literature and Georg Grote is lecturer in German history, both at University College Dublin. Mary Cosgrove is lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-676-3
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    A. F., M. C. and G. G.
  4. Introduction: Germany’s Memory Contests and the Management of the Past
    (pp. 1-22)
    Anne Fuchs and Mary Cosgrove

    In an essay entitled “The Present as History,” the eminent British historian Eric Hobsbawm cites the famous opening lines of L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between (1953): “The past is another country. They do things differently there.”¹ For Hobsbawm, Hartley’s aphorism aptly summarizes a key idea that should guide good historical research, namely that historical understanding is premised on the “otherness of the past.”² When historians fail to keep this insight in mind, they run the risk of producing anachronisms rather than credible historical explanations. And yet, the point of Hobsbawm’s essay is to turn this premise precisely on its...

  5. Positions

    • 1: What Exactly is Vergangenheitsbewältigung? Narrative and Its Insufficiency in Postwar Germany
      (pp. 25-40)
      Peter Fritzsche

      One year after Stalingrad, Victor Klemperer imagined how the war would be represented once it had ended. He transcribed into his diary the story of Horst-Siegfried Weigmann, whose death had been announced in the local paper on 19 January 1944, with a swastika inside the Iron Cross at the side of the notice. The announcement read: “Ordained by fate, my only dear son, student of chemistry, Lance Corporal Horst-Siegfried Weigmann, volunteer, holder of the Iron Cross, Second Class, participant in the Polish and French campaigns, was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from this life in the midst of his studies at...

    • 2: The Tinderbox of Memory: Generation and Masculinity in Väterliteratur by Christoph Meckel, Uwe Timm, Ulla Hahn, and Dagmar Leupold
      (pp. 41-66)
      Anne Fuchs

      Väterliteratur (fathers’ literature) could be considered a late byproduct of the student movement of 1968 in that some of its former members embarked on a literary exploration of postwar German family life in the late 1970s.¹ Concerned with the authoritarian father figures that, according to these authors, dominated the family dynamics of the postwar period, these novels attempt to show how the National Socialist past of the war generation infiltrated postwar family life. Wavering between a whimsical style on the one hand and outright aggression towards the domineering father figure on the other, these narratives have been dismissed by some...

    • 3: Telling It How It Wasn’t: Familial Allegories of Wish-Fulfillment in Postunification Germany
      (pp. 67-84)
      Elizabeth Boa

      GDR literature was highly dialogic. Given the level of state control over journalism and film, the literary field offered an arena of coded debate for the discerning reader to decipher. Literature mattered; it was politically significant. In postunification times state intervention has receded, but leitmotivic echoes and aesthetic stratagems still wander from text to text as vehicles of political and moral argument feeding on and into the often bitter polemics in the journalistic media. The polemics frequently turn on competing historical paradigms, taking the form of memory contests. As Mary Fulbrook notes, a sense of acceptable national identity is often...

  6. Mediations

    • 4: Being Translated: Exile, Childhood, and Multilingualism in G.-A. Goldschmidt and W. G. Sebald
      (pp. 87-106)
      Stefan Willer

      Current German literature is marked by a new tone in the representation of scenes, events, and figures of the National Socialist period and the Shoah: it diverges from previous ways of coming to terms with the past. This is true not only for younger writers who — like Norbert Gstrein in Die englischen Jahre (The English Years, 1999) or Selbstporträt mit einer Toten (Self-Portait with a Dead Woman, 2000), Marcel Beyer in Spione (Spies, 2000) and Katharina Hacker in Eine Art Liebe (A Form of Love, 2003) — work on a narrative dialectics of memory and imagination, but also for writers of...

    • 5: “Ein Stück langweiliger als die Wehrmachtsausstellung, aber dafür repräsentativer”: The Exhibition Fotofeldpost as Riposte to the “Wehrmacht Exhibition”
      (pp. 107-126)
      Chloe E. M. Paver

      This essay examines divergent approaches to the scholarly analysis and public exhibition of a particular corpus of photographic images: photographs taken by, or of, Wehrmacht soldiers during the Second World War. Though my title refers to the two exhibitions whose competing approaches are my central concern, properly speaking the exhibitions in question numbered three: two related but distinct exhibitions organized by the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (hereafter HIS) on the subject of the crimes of the Wehrmacht, which ran from 1995–1999 and from 2001–2004 respectively;¹ and, sandwiched between them in the year 2000, the exhibition Fotofeldpost: Geknipste Kriegserlebnisse...

    • 6: German Crossroads: Visions of the Past in German Cinema after Reunification
      (pp. 127-146)
      Matthias Fiedler

      If one substitutes the term “memory” for “history” in the above quotation from Wolfgang Koeppen’s 1951 novel Tauben im Gras (Pigeons in the Grass), an accurate description of the intellectual atmosphere in postunification Germany emerges. For at least two decades now almost every public utterance about the Third Reich — political, cultural, or artistic — has ignited fierce and passionate memory contests. The inaugural ceremony of the Neue Wache in Berlin, Martin Walser’s speech in the Frankfurter Paulskirche, the erection of a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, the Crimes of the Wehrmacht exhibition, all these are examples of the ferocity of public memory...

    • 7: Monika Maron’s Pawels Briefe: Photography, Narrative, and the Claims of Postmemory
      (pp. 147-166)
      J. J. Long

      Monika Maron’s Pawels Briefe (Pavel’s Letters, 1999) is one of numerous recent German-language texts that thematize the efforts of the so-called second generation, sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors and perpetrators, to uncover, reconstruct, and represent events that happened before they were born. The narrator of this autobiographical text seeks to piece together the biography of her grandfather, Pawel Iglarz, a Polish Jew who had converted to Baptism and emigrated with his wife Josefa to Berlin, where he worked as a tailor until the Nazi rise to power. In 1938 he was expelled from Germany. Offered the choice between divorce...

  7. Ethnicity/Hybridity

    • 8: Imagined Identities: Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors in Literature
      (pp. 169-192)
      Dagmar C. G. Lorenz

      The representation of Jewish identity after the Shoah in German and Austrian texts is a complex and often problematic issue, showing up the highly contentious nature of German-Jewish memory contests. On the one hand post-Shoah Jewish identity continues to be negotiated within firmly established traditions; on the other hand any such negotiation involves an engagement with the Austrian and German cultural contexts. The destruction of the Jewish communities and cultural networks in Europe caused an unprecedented breakdown in continuity and a divide across which the search for an authentic Jewish tradition seems impossible. Jewish intellectuals and poets left behind a...

    • 9: Of Stories and Histories: Golem Figures in Post-1989 German and Austrian Culture
      (pp. 193-208)
      Cathy S. Gelbin

      A figure from Jewish tradition seized upon by Christian writers during the early nineteenth century and only later adopted by Jewish authors, the Golem has since embodied the ambivalent in- and outside perspectives on Jews in the German-speaking lands.¹ Its recent revival in German and Austrian culture reflects the shifting political and cultural constellations in post-1989 Europe, and exemplifies the Golem’s heightened popularity during periods of radical change. The following exploration of the Golem in contemporary literature and film will show how this abject figure has come to embody the competing and overlapping discourses around the Nazi and GDR past,...

    • 10: Multi-Ethnicity and Cultural Identity: Afro-German Women Writers’ Struggle for Identity in Postunification Germany
      (pp. 209-226)
      Jennifer E. Michaels

      German unification brought for Afro-Germans,¹ as well as for African and other non-white immigrants and asylum seekers, an increased feeling of vulnerability and not belonging. As Marilyn Sephocle observes: “Before German unification African Germans had to grapple with identity/image issues. Today their focus is on something even more pressing: fear of being attacked.”² In the following, I will focus in particular on texts by May Ayim, Helga Emde, and Ika Hügel-Marshall, who played an important role in founding the Afro-German group. Theirs are strong voices against the increase in racist violence in the immediate postunification years. In their postunification texts,...

  8. Memory Politics

    • 11: The Anxiety of German Influence: Affiliation, Rejection, and Jewish Identity in W. G. Sebald’s Work
      (pp. 229-252)
      Mary Cosgrove

      In a stimulating article on travel in W. G. Sebald’s writing, John Zilcosky puts forward the argument that Sebald overturns a Romantic and postmodern travel strategy, which consists of getting lost only to recover oneself finally with greater clarity and a more assured sense of identity.¹ Such a travel paradigm is based on upholding a clear dichotomy between home and away. Zilcosky argues that Sebald’s deconstruction of this traditional opposition differentiates him from contemporaries such as Roland Barthes, who transform the margin into a new home, making it into familiar territory. Resisting any “disingenuous attempt to turn the margin into...

    • 12: Between “Restauration” and “Nierentisch”: The 1950s in Ludwig Harig, F. C. Delius, and Thomas Hettche
      (pp. 253-270)
      Andrew Plowman

      In Wer mit den Wölfen heult, wird Wolf (Whoever Runs With the Pack Becomes a Wolf, 1996), his third autobiographical novel, Ludwig Harig repeatedly reflects upon the Zeitgeist defining the Federal Republic of Germany during the 1950s.¹ His recurring preoccupation is the contradictory outline retrospectively presented by the era. “Zu keiner anderen Zeit lagen die großen und die kleinen Dinge weiter auseinander als Anfang der fünfziger Jahre” (at no other time were the important and the small matters further apart than at the start of the fifties), he writes:

      Was ging’s uns an, wenn in Korea die Kanonen wieder krachten,...

    • 13: On Forgetting and Remembering: The New Right since German Unification
      (pp. 271-286)
      Roger Woods

      Located at the intersection of culture and politics and to the right of mainstream conservatism, the New Right in Germany today provides an interesting case study in forgetting and remembering. What kind of collective political and cultural memory is the New Right trying to construct, and how much of a turning point was German unification for this construction? The New Right has seen generational change among its own ranks since it came into existence at the end of the sixties, and a key question of postmemory¹ — what happens to the memory of National Socialism with the passing of the generations...

    • 14: A Heimat in Ruins and the Ruins as Heimat: W. G. Sebald’s Luftkrieg und Literatur
      (pp. 287-302)
      Anne Fuchs

      Published in 1999, the essay Luftkrieg und Literatur (Air Raids and Literature),¹ a revised version of Sebald’s Zurich lectures on poetics from 1997, deserves particular attention in a present-day context as it thematizes the wartime destruction of the Heimat with a palpable vehemence. On a thematic level the essay deals superficially with a critical stock-check of postwar society and literature, against which Sebald levels the charge that they have up to the present day suppressed both the destruction of German cities during the Allied bombings of Germany and the disastrous long-term effects of this event on the collective psyche. The...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 303-328)
  10. Notes on the Editors and Contributors
    (pp. 329-332)
  11. Index
    (pp. 333-344)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 345-345)