Berlin in Focus: Cultural Transformations in Germany

By Barbara Becker-Cantarino | Go to book overview

suppressing them. The end of Stille Zeile Sechs finds its protagonist psychologically poised to embark on the process of Gegenwartsbewältigung. To be productive, this process requires overcoming the simple assigning of guilt and the facile dochotomization of Opfer and Täter, which still characterized Rosalind's conflicts with Beerenbaum, in favor of empathy and relentless self-scrutiny, a task which Rosalind now seems equipped to do.

As we have seen in the three narratives under discussion that have begun the laborious task of Gegenwartsbewältigung, the city of Berlin, quite logically, has, and will doubtless continue to have, a unique role to play in this process. More than any other German city, Berlin embodies the point of intersection of numerous strands of German history. On the one hand, its divided status symbolizes retribution for Germany's murderous National Socialist past; at the same time, East Berlin, as capital of the GDR, is emblematic both of the SED state and of forty years of GDR history. The decision to move the capital of the newly (re)unified Germany to Berlin moreover marks it as the site of Germany's future. Beyond that, Berlin's divided status underscores the consequences of the simplistic Opfer-Täter dichotomy operable in Cold War politics, even as it serves as the embodied reminder of the complicated enmeshment of these two categories. Its topography, marked by such scars of Nazi and GDR history as Bendler- straße (Gestapo headquarters) und Plötzensee, the Wall, and Normannen- straße (Stasi headquarters), is therefore the obvious terrain on which to determine both what will remain of GDR history and culture and to forge a viable collective future, one based on having come to terms with both Germany's Nazi and Stalinist past.


NOTES

Research for this chapter was funded in part by a fellowship from the Center for German and European Studies, located at U.C. Berkeley. I would like to thank the Center for supporting my project.

1.
As Ian Kershaw has pointed out, theories of totalitarianism that conflated fascism and communism did not arise in the post-World War II period. Such theories were already extant in the early 1930s but gained unprecedented popularity during the Cold War era ( Kershaw 1993, 7). In the postwar period it was above all Hannah Arendt The Origins of Totalitarianism ( 1951) that was the most influential in recuperating this term.
2.
True, the battle for the construction of a specifically East German heritage (Erbe) was fought primarily on the cultural front; its agenda was, however, clearly political.

-176-

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