Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Continuities of an East German Heimat: Gender and Technological Progress in Du bist min. Ein deutsches Tagebuch

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Continuities of an East German Heimat: Gender and Technological Progress in Du bist min. Ein deutsches Tagebuch

Article excerpt

Schöne deutsche Heimat - wir sind dazu aufgerufen, sie wieder zu entdecken und sie uns ganz eigen zu machen . . .

- Johannes R. Becher

Post-war studies of German Heimat (homeland) first focused on the manner in which the National Socialists co-opted and transformed this existing notion to fit their hyperreactionary myth of German nationalism. In the eighties and nineties, scholarship began to analyze how the desire for Heimat had been transformed in post-war West Germany, and primarily dealt with the Heimat films of the 1950s and Edgar Reitz's well-known mini-series Heimat (1984). While recent interest in theories of memory has led to renewed assessments of the Heimat concept, fewer scholars have looked at these fantasies in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). This lapse is due to the presumption that GDR ideology left no room for a discourse on Heimat. However, all manifestations of ideology are embedded in the culture in which they appear and necessarily redirect existing metaphors to new ends. Texts produced in East Germany were cultural as much as they were ideological. Thus, the Heimat discourse did not disappear. As the quotation above suggests, it was reappropriated in a variety of ways, both officially and unofficially, to fit the contemporary needs of the GDR's population.

The studies that do exist on GDR Heimat outline the ways in which the country's Socialist Unity Party (SED) officially engaged with the inherited discourse and redirected it. A continual tension existed between what historian Alon Confino best describes as "the two faces of the East German Heimat idea" (110). One face represented the more generic, empty symbol of the security and beauty of home and natural landscape that drew upon past German representations of a timeless Heimat. The second, pointedly ideological, historicized the new Heimat as socialist, determined by class and by the workers' ownership of the means of production. Confino argues that East Germany pursued this two-pronged strategy until the socialist dimension collapsed in 1989.

An additional feature of these two faces becomes apparent when looking at the portrayal of Heimat from the perspective of gender. Since the inception of modernism, Heimat had been associated with the hearth and the home, traditionally female, domestic spaces. Heimat was something to be protected and fought for. The fatherland represented that which was political or governmental, a traditionally male, public space. As a "feminine" realm, Heimat coexisted with the fatherland in gendered symmetry (Confino 49). Yet the fatherland had failed; Allied forces had dismantled and divided it. There were now two, where there had been one. In East Germany, usage of the term "fatherland" was unfeasible due to its fascist connotations. The two faces of Heimat in East Germany took the place of the equilibrium between Heimat and fatherland. In the first, women play traditional roles. In the second, socialist Heimat, women take on the role of the socialist personality. This muscular female peasant/worker, who populated GDR cultural production, fought and sacrificed for socialism. She was modeled on the male prototype that occupied the public sphere. In order to become political, and specifically socialist, in East Germany, women had to take on the characteristics of their male counterparts.

The conservative continuity of this dual approach to Heimat is evidenced in the film Du bist min. Ein deutsches Tagebuch (1969), the project of Annalie and Andrew Thorndike. Perhaps the most granthose film project of the East German film studios, Du bist min was to become a contested site for the official definition of Heimat. That it would do so becomes clear given the original names for the film: Die Deutschen and Das deutsche Wunder. The Studio for Documentary Film initially slated it as the 70mm German sequel to the Thorndikes' epic propaganda ñlmDas russische Wunder (1963). The title made direct reference to the West German Economic Miracle. …

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