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Recasting German Identity

Recasting German Identity: Culture, Politics, and Literature in the Berlin Republic

Stuart Taberner
Frank Finlay
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Recasting German Identity
    Book Description:

    This collection of fifteen essays by scholars from the UK, the US, Germany, and Scandinavia revisits the question of German identity. Unlike previous books on this topic, however, the focus is not exclusively on national identity in the aftermath of Hitler. Instead, the concentration is upon the plurality of ethnic, sexual, political, geographical, and cultural identities in modern Germany, and on their often fragmentary nature as the country struggles with the challenges of unification and international developments such as globalization, multiculturalism, and postmodernism. The multifaceted nature of German identity demands a variety of approaches: thus the essays are interdisciplinary, drawing upon historical, sociological, and literary sources. They are organized with reference to three distinct sections: Berlin, Political Formations, and Difference; yet at the same time they illuminate one another across the volume, offering a nuanced understanding of the complex question of identity in today's Germany. Topics include the new self-understanding of the Berlin Republic, Berlin as a public showcase, the Berlin architecture debate, the Walser-Bubis debate, fictions of German history and the end of the GDR, the impact of the German student movement on the FRG, Prime Minister Biedenkopf and the myth of Saxon identity, women in post-1989 Germany, trains as symbols and the function of the foreign in post-1989 fiction, identity construction among Turks in Germany and Turkish self-representation in post-1989 fiction, the state of German literature today. Contributors: Frank Brunssen, Ulrike Zitzlsperger Janet Stewart, Kathrin Schödel, Karen Leeder, Ingo Cornils, Peter Thompson, Chris Szejnmann, Sabine Lang, Simon Ward, Roswitha Skare, Eva Kolinsky, Margaret Littler, Katharina Gerstenberger, and Stuart Parkes. Stuart Taberner is Lecturer in German, and Frank Finlay is Professor of German and Head of the Department of German, both at the University of Leeds, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-608-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Stuart Taberner and Frank Finlay
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Stuart Taberner

    In his controversial speech on receipt of the Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels in 1998 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, writer and intellectual Martin Walser (1927–) complained bitterly that the institutionalisation and apparent instrumentalisation, that is, the exploitation for political ends, of the Holocaust in the Federal Republic had made it impossible for Germans to see themselves, and to be seen from outside, as “ein normales Volk, eine gewöhnliche Gesellschaft.”¹ Almost ten years after unification — which repaired the most tangible consequence of German enthusiasm for Nazism, that is, the division of the country — the nation still could not truly...

  5. Berlin

    • The New Self-Understanding of the Berlin Republic: Readings of Contemporary German History
      (pp. 19-36)
      Frank Brunssen

      The East German revolution of 1989 and the ensuing unification of the two Germanys in 1990 was the most significant caesura in recent German history. Since 1990 all those images and perceptions of Germany that had been established during the decades of the Cold War have had to be revised.¹ One of the most important changes that took place in the course of the transition from a divided Germany to the Berlin Republic concerned the way in which Germans see themselves and would want to be seen from outside. Since the Wende or turning-point of 1989/90, this changed perception has...

    • Filling the Blanks: Berlin as a Public Showcase
      (pp. 37-50)
      Ulrike Zitzlsperger

      When discussing the role of the general public in the Berlin of the 1990s it has to be remembered that events leading up to reunification were set in motion by ordinary people. Media soundbites such as “Ein Volk sprengt seine Mauern” serve to remind us that the memory of reunification does not just cast back to the political processes at work; it also entails a reflection on individual perceptions and experiences. A sense of having participated in the making of history thus shapes memory. The feeling of having played a part in events was bolstered by the media’s documentation of...

    • Das Kunsthaus Tacheles: The Berlin Architecture Debate of the 1990s in Micro-Historical Context
      (pp. 51-66)
      Janet Stewart

      Throughout the 1990s, Berlin has been a city obsessed with architectural and planning issues. Exhibitions, television, video, film, radio, literature, newspapers and magazines have all played their role in stimulating and feeding public debate, not merely in Berlin, nor indeed Germany, but throughout the world.¹ There have been myriad publications on the “New Berlin,” most of which focus on the reconstruction of the Potsdamer Platz, Europe’s “largest building site.”² Architects, architectural historians, urban planners, cultural historians, sociologists and others have been drawn to Berlin, fascinated by the chance to experience at first hand the massive reconstruction of a European capital...

    • Normalising Cultural Memory? The “Walser-Bubis Debate” and Martin Walser’s Novel Ein springender Brunnen
      (pp. 67-84)
      Kathrin Schödel

      The controversy which followed Martin Walser’s speech on receipt of the Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt on 11 October 1998 was one of the first major debates on practices of remembering the Third Reich and the Holocaust in Germany after the era of Helmut Kohl (1982–1997). It was also the first full-scale discussion among intellectuals attempting to define a new German national identity — or resisting that aim — in what is now often called the Berlin Republic.

      In this context it is less important, perhaps, to do full justice to the complex, self-reflexive structure of...

  6. Political Formations

    • “Glücklose Engel”: Fictions of German History and the End of the German Democratic Republic
      (pp. 87-104)
      Karen Leeder

      I shall start with a quotation from Wolf Biermann’s “Barlach-Lied”:

      Was soll aus uns noch werden

      Und droht so große Not

      Vom Himmel auf die Erden

      Falln sich die Engel tot.

      Biermann’s 1965 song, warning of imminent threat, diagnoses the darkening times by referring to a fall of angels. They fall dead from the heavens like insects or birds in a hostile climate.² And similar, if less poetic, obituaries have been issued by a number of commentators in different fields. Gerhard Bott, former Director of the Walraff-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, in an examination of the angel in Western art, speaks of...

    • Successful Failure? The Impact of the German Student Movement on the Federal Republic of Germany
      (pp. 105-122)
      Ingo Cornils

      In 1993, Matthias Kopp’s film essay “Erfolgreich gescheitert,” broadcast on Deutsche Welle-TV, cemented the dual view of the impact of the German student movement on the Federal Republic of Germany. The movement was seen to have succeeded because — in spite of opposition to American capitalism and global power politics — it secured West Germany’s orientation toward the West. Thus it promoted sexual liberation, a tolerant multicultural society, equality, a sense of hope, and thriving subcultures. The student movement was seen to have failed because it was remarkably ineffective regarding any change in the political system, the economy, or the...

    • The PDS: “CSU des Ostens”? — Heimat and the Left
      (pp. 123-140)
      Peter Thompson

      In characteristically polemical manner, Christian von Ditfurth thus presents the recent stance adopted by the Partei des demokratischen Sozialismus on the national question and the social coherence of the five new states as the worst of all worlds. By using the term Marxism-Leninism he reinforces the impression that the PDS is an unreconstructed Stalinist party, and by describing Heimat as a “letzte Bindemittel” he also gives the impression that the party is using this term as a desperate and cynical ploy. The PDS’s use of Heimat, therefore, is presented by von Ditfurth as a bad thing — because the concept...

    • “An Helligkeit ragt in Europa vor allem mei’ Sachsenland vor”: Prime Minister Biedenkopf and the Myth of Saxon Identity
      (pp. 141-156)
      Chris Szejnmann

      This essay deals with Saxon identity and broadly with how this identity has developed over the last two hundred years. It summarises and assesses the validity of certain “positive” stereotypes that have been used in descriptions of Saxon people and analyses how contemporary politicians, most importantly the state’s first post-unification Prime Minister, Kurt Biedenkopf, have used them.

      When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and ceased to exist in October 1990, the Freistaat Saxony was reconstituted and became a state (Land) within the federal structure of the newly unified country. After the Second World...

    • Unifying a Gendered State: Women in Post-1989 Germany
      (pp. 157-170)
      Sabine Lang

      The pre-unification Federal Republic of Germany had the dubious reputation of being arguably one of the most gendered societies within the European Union (then the Europe Economic Community). Neither in its economy nor in its political culture and institutional makeup had the constitutional right to equality been realised. In the world of employment, for example, the vast majority of women dropped out of the workforce for several years to enable them to become the primary caregivers in the family, resulting in a severe narrowing of their career horizons once they decided to re-enter the labour market. Working mothers with small...

  7. Difference

    • “Zugzwang” or “Stillstand”? — Trains in the Post-1989 Fiction of Brigitte Struyzk, Reinhard Jirgl, and Wolfgang Hilbig
      (pp. 173-190)
      Simon Ward

      This article examines how three authors with GDR backgrounds, Wolfgang Hilbig, Brigitte Struyzk and Reinhard Jirgl, exploit the literary potential of the railway network in recent novels which take stock of the situation in Germany since 1989. In using the railway as a setting these writers are engaging with a topos whose cultural significance has its roots in the material presence of the railways as a major form of communication in Germany since the 1830s. That significance has not diminished to mere nostalgia in the meantime, as is seen, for example, in the role trains have played during times of...

    • On the Function of the Foreign in the Novels Andere Umstände (1998) by Grit Poppe and Seit die Götter ratlos sind (1994) by Kerstin Jentzsch
      (pp. 191-204)
      Roswitha Skare

      The images of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the words of the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt: “Jetzt wächst zusammen, was zusammengehört,”¹ still have the power to move us, despite the fact that more than ten years have passed since the events themselves. Amidst the euphoria of 1989/90, indeed, nothing seemed farther from the mark than the SED’s claim that the two different states had become different nations and had developed separate identities,² in particular, in East Germany, a “Socialist GDR identity.” Although the notion that there might exist a separate GDR identity had been raised before 1989,...

    • Migration Experiences and the Construction of Identity among Turks Living in Germany
      (pp. 205-218)
      Eva Kolinsky

      Having migrated from their native country with the encouragement of the German authorities for the purpose of finding work, Turkish residents in the Federal Republic have long been regarded, and are occasionally pitied, as an underclass with lower educational or vocational qualifications than Germans of their age group and fewer opportunities for socio-economic participation.¹ In today’s “risk society,” their place appears to be “ganz unten,” that is, at the bottom.² Some observers even view Islam, and values or political orientations associated with it, as lacking modernity and believe that Turks would do better to abandon them.³ Does not present-day Germany...

    • Diasporic Identity in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Mutterzunge
      (pp. 219-234)
      Margaret Littler

      As the United Germany enters the twenty-first century and officially declares itself a country of immigration, it is acknowledging a state of affairs which has existed de facto for at least fifty years. The country which is now contemplating a new wave of young, skilled workers from abroad has yet to come to terms with the legacy of the recruitment of foreign workers in the postwar economic boom. The fact that the Anwerbestopp in 1973 resulted in the transformation of migrant labour into minority populations is well-documented, as is the predominance of the Turkish minority. In 1973 Turks constituted a...

    • Difficult Stories: Generation, Genealogy, Gender in Zafer Şenocak’s Gefährliche Verwandtschaft and Monika Maron’s Pawels Briefe
      (pp. 235-250)
      Katharina Gerstenberger

      More than ten years after the fall of the Wall Vergangenheitsbewältigung is out of favor with most Germans. The unified country, it seems, requires a self-definition in which the Holocaust no longer plays a central role. Fundamental to these efforts is the desire to establish Germany’s normalcy as one democratic nation among others. Leading politicians such as Secretary of State Joschka Fischer envision a Germany that is mindful of its past yet at the same time a self-confident member of the new Europe. Coming to terms with the past was a West German project of the 1970s and 1980s, to...

    • Drowning or Waving: German Literature Today
      (pp. 251-266)
      Stuart Parkes

      Concern about the health of German literature is nothing new. Firstly, in comparison with Britain or the USA, literature and literary life in Germany have been more frequently linked with questions of national status and prestige. How far back this kind of concern reaches can be seen from the references to efforts to create a national theatre as a kind of compensation for the lack of political unity in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung. Almost two centuries later, in the postwar period, such concern was particularly visible in the case in the GDR for which the acknowledgement of literary achievement...

  8. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  9. Index
    (pp. 271-276)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)