Representing East Germany since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia

Representing East Germany since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia

Representing East Germany since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia

Representing East Germany since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia

Excerpt

The picture on the cover of this book, taken in March 2004, is of Aage Langhelle's installation, 'DDR®', which at the time filled the advertising hoardings of one of the many underground platforms at Berlin's Alexanderplatz. It presents the acronym of the old East German communist state in a series of images as if, in the artist's own words, it were simply a 'product logo'. Langhelle's playful re-appropriation of a once vilified political regime highlights an extraordinary shift that has taken place since unification in German society's relationship to this period of history – a shift that is the focus of this volume. On 9 November 1989, in German commonly referred to as the Wende or 'turning point', the world witnessed the euphoria of the revellers on top of the Berlin Wall, celebrating the collapse of a structure that had probably been the best-known symbol of the Cold War and with it the beginning of the end of the East German communist dictatorship. 'Now everything [would] grow together that belong[ed] together', the former Chancellor Willy Brandt famously predicted. And with unification less than a year later, the nation agreed consigning Germany's failed 'socialist experiment' to the dustbin of history. How was it, then, that some fifteen years later the name of such an unloved regime could become a publicly funded pop-art exhibit in one of the capital's central stations? How was it, in other words, that by 2004, for some people at least, the GDR had become 'hip'?

In order to answer this question, I trace the changing ways the GDR period has been dealt with since unification, as well as the role played by the east German population within the new Federal state, across a range of cultural discourses produced by both easterners and westerners since 1989. The notion of 'culture' has always played a central role in Germany's self-perception. As early as the eighteenth century, a time when the idea that Germany might one day be a unified political entity was still a distant dream, the concept of the Kulturnation (cultural nation) became an important idea around which a German national identity could begin to coalesce. In the unification treaty of 3 October 1990, culture was once again invoked as an important tool in the reconstruction of a national German identity, described in Clause 35 in the following terms:

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