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The GDR Today V

121 Muirhead Tower
Social Sciences
Friday 13th September 2019 (09:30-18:00)
Download the date to your calendar (.ics file)

The IGS is hosting a two-day postgraduate colloquium focusing on memories and histories of GDR politics, culture, and society. 

The year 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions across Central and Eastern Europe which swept away over 40 years of Communist rule. As this momentous anniversary draws closer, the GDR proves more than ever to be a popular topic of academic research. New approaches have attempted to locate the GDR’s place within a wider transnational context, as well as consider aspects of Heimat, identity and memory.

The GDR remains central to debates about identity and shared cultural values in the Berlin Republic. Prolonged controversy about appropriate memorials to remember the GDR on the one hand and revelations about the Stasi past of high-ranking politicians on the other continue to trigger public discussions about whether the reunified Germany has truly ‘come to terms with’ (aufgearbeitet) the socialist past. Most recently, new divides have been opened up along the former Iron Curtain with the refugee crisis, as the East German past has been blamed for hostility towards refugees in the new federal states.

Over the last two decades or so, scholars have made significant progress to challenge top-down images of the GDR as a totalitarian Stasiland which dominated the years immediately following reunification. Since the late 1990s, they have increasingly turned away from the focus on the repressive state apparatus and have instead begun to explore everyday life and GDR culture in its full complexity. This research has helped to counter simplistic top-down approaches and reveal the inherent tensions in socialist society. Recent volumes have increasingly used memory as a lens through which to examine the GDR. They have thus not only firmly established a counter-perspective to the one-dimensional approaches to East Germany which dominated the early 1990s; they have also encouraged a fruitful engagement between past and present in our understanding of socialist East Germany and its afterlives.

The colloquium is the fifth in the series of ‘The GDR Today’, which was launched in 2014 at the University of Birmingham, was subsequently held in 2015 at the University of Bristol, at Bangor University in 2017, and Newcastle University in 2018. The series has so far brought together a range of researchers from across Europe and North America. The papers presented previously exhibited a wide range of fresh approaches to conceptualising the GDR and its legacy in contemporary Germany from several disciplines. Like its predecessors, this colloquium is designed as a forum for postgraduate researchers to discuss the state of scholarship on the GDR and identify areas for future research.


9.30 – 10.00:      Registration and Welcome

10.00-11.00:       Keynote Lecture

Prof. Jan Palmowski (University of Warwick): Arisen from Ruins – Socialism and ‘National’ Identity in the GDR

Chair: Prof. Anna Saunders (University of Liverpool)

11.00-11.30:        Tea and Coffee

11.30-12.30:        Panel I: Art, Politics and Identity

Matthew Hines (University of Birmingham): A ‘Productive’ Alternative to the Socialist Realist Model: Reapproaching Marxist Theatre in Heiner Müller’s Der Bau

Kathryn Kelley (City University of New York): ‘Opening Minds and Hearts’: The Extraordinary Role of Classical Ballet in Social and Political Life in East Germany

Evelyn Preuss (Yale University): No Love Story, but the Legacy of a Legend, or Movies Make a Mind-Set

Discussant: Dr Debbie Pinfold (University of Bristol)

12.45-13.45:        Lunch

13.45-14.30:        Panel 2: The GDR in Transnational Context

George Gibson (University of Birmingham): Briefe ohne Unterschrift: An Analysis of Letters to the West from Citizens of the GDR

Alistair Somerville (Georgetown University): “Denn Adenauer will Hitlers Werk fortsetzen.” Re-assessing the East German government’s Attempts to Shape Narratives of Political Scandal in West Germany

Discussant: Dr Joanne Sayner (Newcastle University)

14.30-14.45         Break

14.45-15.45:        Panel 3: The GDR after the GDR

Philipp Ebert (University of Cambridge): Socialist State Crime and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1961 – 2005

Susan Wachowski (University of Southhampton): Experiences of the Wende in the GDR Jewish Community

Liz Emery (University of Bristol): ‘Wenn die Zeit endlos wär, so wie Sand am Meer…. Wünsch ich mir ein Stück davon jetzt zurück’ : Ostalgie in east German Popular Music

Discussant: Prof. Sara Jones (University of Birmingham)

15.45-16.15         Tea and Coffee

16.15-17.00         Roundtable:                       Life (after) studying the GDR: Pathways after the PhD

Dr Stephan Ehrig (University College Dublin), Dr Joanne Sayner (Newcastle University), Prof. Anna Saunders (University of Liverpool), Dr Marcel Thomas (University of Oxford), Dr David Zell (University of Birmingham)

Chair: Dr Debbie Pinfold (University of Bristol)

17.00-18.00         Douglas Irving (translator): Distant Signs by Anne Richter: Contemporary German/ GDR Fiction in English Translation

Chair: Prof. Sara Jones (University of Birmingham)

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