Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow: Remembering Youth in Postwar Berlin

Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow: Remembering Youth in Postwar Berlin

Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow: Remembering Youth in Postwar Berlin

Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow: Remembering Youth in Postwar Berlin

Excerpt

This study has its roots in a year-long teaching assistantship at the HeinrichHertz Schule in Berlin-Friedrichshain. As one of the first American assistants sent to the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), I was expected to invigorate English language instruction at the Gymnasium, which was located just off the Frankfurter Allee. I lived only a few blocks away, subletting an unfurnished room from a young couple with a five-year-old daughter and a parakeet. The building was undeniably Altbau, dating from before World War II; my room had high ceilings, French doors leading to a dusty balcony, and a brown coal stove which the landlord informed me [was no trouble, just give it lots of air or we'll all die from the carbon monoxide.]

My colleagues in the Hertz Schule teachers' lounge, of course, were well acquainted with the subtleties of brown coal heating. Yet some seemed to be slowly suffocating in the wake of German unification. They had grown up and found careers in the GDR, playing by the established rules; they knew where, within the confines of that authoritarian society, to find breathing space. After 1990, however, they faced new parameters, personified at the Hertz school by a new district superintendent (brought in from the West) and a young teaching assistant who, despite an obvious lack of pedagogical training, was instantly popular among students—she was, after all, a native speaker, an American.

On one level, students at the school confronted the same challenges. Like their teachers, they had developed expectations and goals—some of them quite explicit —which were anchored in basic assumptions about East German society and the future. They too were surprised by my pedagogical assumptions and methods. More significantly, they watched familiar authority figures—parents . . .

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