Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland

Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland

Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland

Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland

Synopsis

When the Berlin Wall fell, people who lived along the dismantled border found their lives drastically and rapidly transformed. Daphne Berdahl, through ongoing ethnographic research in a former East German border village, explores the issues of borders and borderland identities that have accompanied the many transitions since 1990. What happens to identity and personhood, she asks, when a political and economic system collapses overnight? How do people negotiate and manipulate a liminal condition created by the disappearance of a significant frame of reference?

Berdahl concentrates especially on how these changes have affected certain "border zones" of daily life--including social organization, gender, religion, and nationality--in a place where literal, indeed concrete, borders were until recently a very powerful presence. Borders, she argues, are places of ambiguity as well as of intense lucidity; these qualities may in fact be mutually constitutive. She shows how, in a moment of headlong historical transformation, larger political, economic, and social processes are manifested locally and specifically. In the process of a transition between two German states, people have invented, and to some extent ritualized, cultural practices that both reflect and constitute profound identity transformations in a period of intense social discord. Where the World Ended combines a vivid ethnographic account of everyday life under socialist rule and after German reunification with an original investigation of the paradoxical human condition of a borderland.

Excerpt

This is a book about borders, boundaries, and the spaces between them. It is about how geographical borders may be invested with cultural meanings far beyond their political intentions and how their dismantling may be so destabilizing as to generate new cultural practices and identities. Arguing that articulations, ambiguities, and contradictions of identity are especially visible in moments of social upheaval, I portray the rapid transformations in everyday life of an East German border village, Kella, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I ask what happens to people’s sense of identity and personhood when a political and economic system collapses overnight, and I explore how people negotiate and manipulate a liminal condition created by the disappearance of a significant frame of reference.

My study derives from a borderland situation, where this state of transition can be observed in particularly bold relief. Kella, the village in . . .

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