[Dis]Connected Conference: 2nd CfP

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2014 marks a number of important anniversaries for Germany as it is 100 years since the start of the First World War, 75 years since the start of the Second World War, and 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. With these anniversaries in mind, the [Dis]Connected postgraduate conference aims to bring together postgraduates researching the overarching themes of change and continuity in German society and will take place in Leeds on 23rd June 2014.

The conference committee welcomes proposals for papers which assess the legacy of these anniversaries, focusing on how they have impacted the subsequent development of both German society and issues of national identity. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

–        Change and continuity after the First World War
–        Pacifism and political engagement in Germany
–        Representations of Germany history
–        The influence of unification on contemporary German society

250 word proposals should be emailed, along with a short academic biography, to
disconnected2014@gmail.com no later than 21st March 2014.

Registration for the conference is also open for non- speakers. The conference is free to attend and anyone wishing to do so should email disconnected2014@gmail.com for details

The conference is generously supported by the German Historical Society. However, unfortunately the conference organisers are unable to offer any financial assistance to cover attendees’ transport and accommodation costs.

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Poster Display in Headingley Library

To mark 75 years since the start of the Second World War, the [Dis]Connected team worked with a group of first year students from the University of Leeds to create posters about the lives of victims of National Socialism. The people chosen to be the subjects of the posters ranged from feminists to magazine editors to resistance fighters. Four posters were selected and are currently on display in Headingley Library.

The four posters and their creators are:

Fritz Gerlich by Hollie Robson, Ruby Friel and Amy Wright

Hannah Senesh by Hannah Seers, Ellie Roberts and Gina Young

Helene Melanie Lebel by Katherine Jones, Hannah Williams and Robyn Street

Zofia Yamaika by Wilfred Joules, Robin Prince and Rory Boyle

[Dis]Connected Postgraduate Conference 2014 CfP

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2014 marks a number of important anniversaries for Germany as it is 100 years since the start of the First World War, 75 years since the start of the Second World War, and 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Therefore, the University of Leeds, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, is organising the [Dis]Connected event series with the purpose of assessing the legacy of these anniversaries, focusing on how they have impacted the subsequent development of both German society and issues of national identity.

As part of this event series, the [Dis]Connected postgraduate conference will take place in Leeds on 28th June 2014. The conference aims to bring together postgraduates researching areas relevant to the [Dis]Connected project to investigate the overarching themes of change and continuity in German society in an interdisciplinary conference. It will give postgraduates the chance to discuss their work, receive feedback, and engage with new ideas in the expanding field of German Studies in a friendly but formal environment.

250 word proposals for papers are invited from  postgraduates with an interest in the conference themes. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

–        Gender and sexuality
–        Politics and International Relations
–        Memory and trauma
–        Representations of Germany history
–        The evolution of urban space and the gentrification of German cities

Proposals should be emailed, along with a short academic biography, to disconnected2014@gmail.com no later than 17th January 2014.

The conference is generously supported by the German Historical Society. However, unfortunately the conference organisers are unable to offer any financial assistance to cover attendees’ transport and accommodation costs.

Springsteen in East Berlin

Springsteen

It was a thunderous example of what the man himself would call ‘the everlasting power of rock and roll’. When Bruce Springsteen, all presence and perspiration, bounded onstage under the glowering skies of East Berlin on the 19th of July 1988, he captured the hearts and minds of a generation which, under the thumb of a fearsome albeit fading regime, had been wondering whether to stick or twist. With the Boss’ stirring lyrics still ringing in their ears, these were the people who, a year later, would tear down the Wall.

Forget David Hasselhoff’s freeloading exploits and trite lyrics the following summer. Born and raised on the mean streets of New Jersey, Springsteen has always been awash with empathy for the plight of the individual. The collision of a wordsmith on a quest for ‘a world I can call mine’ and a people suffocated by a government of which George Orwell would have been proud was always going to be a match made in heaven. Granted, there is something captivating about watching an American rock star on the far side of the Iron Curtain repeatedly baying the word ‘Cadillac’ into his microphone at the top of his lungs in front of an audience for whom the Trabbi was as good as it got. However, it is the moment of silent communion between Springsteen and the Berliners towards the end of the show that makes the pulse race.

As we inch ever closer to the twenty fifth anniversary of the Wende, the blunder the Communist authorities made in allowing the concert to go ahead demands a closer look. Seduced by the Free German Youth’s promises of songs depicting ‘the shady side of American reality’, the suits gave the green light to a showman who, unbeknownst to them, had been juggling the role of his country’s moral compass with a dogged patriotism that tended to give the benefit of the doubt to the little man in American society. Something else that had failed to register in the corridors of power was that Springsteen and his E Street Band were a flurry of self expression, colour and, last but by no means least, fun. As such, they were the very antithesis of the East German regime and, by the time the first strains of Born In The USA rang round the makeshift arena midway through the set, it no longer seemed to matter that this was the most unremittingly anti-American record of Springsteen’s entire repertoire. The crowd was sold.

The Boss has never been averse to breaking into social commentary on stage, even displaying a penchant for covering his idols’ songs to illustrate his point. Should any of the 300,000 strong audience in East Berlin that evening have remained uncertain of his political orientation in the wake of a brief speech in which he distanced himself from any government and expressed the hope that ‘one day all the barriers will be torn down’, Springsteen obligingly launched into a hearty rendition of Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom. A lyrical tour de force shot through with utopian visions, this will have spoken to all those East Germans capable of deciphering Dylan in his prime. The concert, then, was a heady mixture of idealistic sentiments that, in the words of spectator Jörg Beneke, hammered the ‘nail in the coffin’ of the East German government.

Did Springsteen shake the foundations of the Berlin Wall? It is tempting to conclude that he did. After all, November the 9th 1989 did not come out of the blue. It is true that the act of dismantling the wall happened quite literally overnight but the wheels had been set in motion long before. This was the bandwagon onto which Hasselhoff would jump with such alacrity, as the people’s restlessness reached fever pitch that summer. If you retrace their footsteps, though, all roads lead to a cycle track in the Weissensee district where, once upon a time, Asbury Park’s favourite son had demonstrated that the grass sometimes is greener on the other side.

Jack Arscott

Sources:
Connolly, K. (2013) ‘The night Bruce Springsteen played East Berlin – and the wall cracked’ in the Guardian

Image: Bundesarchiv

Time for the Nazis to Move Off-Screen?

Zweileben

At the end of August Georg Maas’s film Zwei Leben was chosen as the German entry to this year’s Oscars and will now be put forward for consideration as part of the Best Foreign Language Film award. It was a move that surprised many as, although the film was released in Norway last year, a country where the majority of the film’s narrative plays out despite being in the German language, it was only released in Germany in mid-September, a full three weeks after it was chosen as the German Oscar entry. Furthermore, it beat critics favourite Oh Boy (Jan Ole Gerster, 2012) to the nomination, a film which had proved a surprise domestic indie hit and was named best film at this year’s Lolas (German Film Awards) .

If Oh Boy was judged to have been the best German film of the last 12 months at the Lolas, the question has to be why this did not transfer into being the German entry for the Oscars? Of course it may be that the 4 month gap between the Lolas in April and the decision on the Oscar entry, along with the later release for Zwei Leben, simply gave a chance for a better film to be come along. However, a look at the two films different narratives hints at another reason.

Zwei Leben tells the story of the breakdown in a mother’s relationship with her daughter as secrets from her past begin to emerge, a troubling history inescapably linked to Germany’s own past since the end of the Second World War, from the Nazis through to the East German Stasi. In comparison, Oh Boy is an understated contemporary film which tells the story of Niko, a young man trying to find his place in modern-day Berlin.

It is this difference in the time frame within which the films are set which highlights the problem at the core of the decision to select Zwei Leben. Not many German films manage to secure an international release and an Oscar nomination is one way to achieve this. Yet, in the last 10 years only 2 films chosen to be the German entry to the Oscars had contemporary narratives. As a result, this year’s decision to select another film with a nostalgic story is simply a continuation of this limited and historically biased situation; a situation which is creating problems for cultural concepts of Germany internationally.

Politically, the Euro crisis may have seen Germany begin to reassert a new confidence as a leading world power once more, yet culturally the country seems stuck in the past. This is particularly the case for its cinema globally as, whereas the New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s gained plaudits around the world for their tales of life in contemporary West Germany, German films released abroad today are still trading on the country’s infamous history.

Domestically, the German film production landscape is a diverse one, with a raft of films in different genres and styles being made by a growing number of directors, yet the international image of the country’s cinema is one firmly rooted in a bygone era. The problem is that, whilst German film at home may have moved beyond the process of coming to terms with the past and started to reflect more contemporary issues, international perceptions of the country are still based on Germany being the land of Fascists and Secret Policeman. It may be a more successful strategy both commercially and critically to play to these stereotypes, but in order to begin to change perceptions of the country and allow the rest of the world to get to get to know present-day Germany better, the agencies responsible for selecting which films to promote abroad need to change tack and begin to take a risk on these more contemporary stories.

Luke Postlethwaite

Image: critic.de

Snapshot of History

Clementine Max 1919

This photograph was taken in Munich in 1919. One year after the close of WW1, Munich was the centre of a political maelstrom: bombed in 1916 by the French, capital of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, site of street battles between the communists and the Freikorps. And yet, none of this is in the photograph. The photo is giving us a glimpse into the private, domestic lives of those who experienced these troubles. By reaching out through photographs into the past we can bring forward stories to the present. We can tell the narratives of those who have been lost. But at the same time, in old photographs like these which are so far removed from the candid camera shots on phones, we must remember that we’re telling stories not unearthing a hidden absolute truth.

So what kind of story can we tell from this photograph? The man is wealthy Jewish banker Max Kramer and the woman is his wife, Clementine. The house in Munich sadly no longer exists but we can see from their clothes, Max’s occupation, and the visible furniture that they were a wealthy couple. At least, they were in 1919. In just ten years from this photo, they lost the vast majority of their fortune and housewife Clementine took a job in a department store.

The posture of the couple is striking in all its strangeness. She seems to be leaning in affectionately but at the same time she looks like she might be about to pop off somewhere. By 1919, she was a published writer with her short stories featuring in weekend supplements, Jewish magazines, etc. By the time of her death in 1942, she had written over 75 short stories and many poems. Her first full length novel may have been on her mind although it wasn’t published until 1927. The focus of her creative output was always pacifism, the role of women, and fighting anti-Semitism. During the First World War she published work about longing for peace and wrote privately about the sufferings of mothers who had lost their sons. She was also an activist in the women’s movement. Before this photo, she had been involved in the German suffrage campaign, providing aid to war widows and displaced women, and campaigning for the rights and welfare of Jewish women.

All that is left of Clementine is her collection of creative writing, articles she wrote on women’s topics, and the meagre timeline of her life provided by her nephew. We know that she was deported to Theresienstadt in the spring of 1942 and in November she died. What we don’t know is everything before that. By investigating the woman she was through this photograph and not pitying her for the victim she became we can celebrate her life and her contribution to her community.

Corinne Painter

Image: 1919; Clementine Kraemer Collection; AR 2402; box number 1; folder number 8; Leo Baeck Institute

Regeneration or Revision?

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In the years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has undergone a massive programme of reconstruction that has transformed its city centre from the epicentre of one of the defining political battles of the Twentieth Century to that of a modern-day metropolis. Yet, whilst areas such as those around Potsdamer Platz may have seen numerous new buildings rise from the ashes of division, other parts of the city have been forced to adapt and redefine their position within this new topography without undergoing any major facelift. The issue with this is that these buildings bring with them a remembered history and so pose a problem for the current transformation of Berlin as to how to incorporate this into its contemporary cityscape.

This is perhaps best illustrated in the way that the Fernsehturm, the tower at the centre of Alexanderplatz, has now become one of the default symbols for the unified city, alongside the likes of the Brandenburg Gate. When it was conceived in the 1960s, the tower was meant as a show of strength by the East German government, a communist monolith that could be seen from all over the dived city. Therefore, the Fernsehturm is undeniably communist in origin which means that, on the face of it, its strong presence within Berlin today acts as both a celebration and a reminder of the city’s communist history.

However, the problem is that, rather than being part of a greater commemoration of this part of the city’s past, the Fernsehturm’s re-appropriation by the contemporary city is done so in a way that breaks any meaningful links the building has to the old East Berlin, something that can be seen in the two major ways the tower’s image is being used as a symbol of Berlin. On the one hand it is regularly projected as the archetypal symbol of the contemporary city, a standalone logo which dominates the unified skyline. Yet the use of its image in such away, devoid of its Alexanderplatz locality, causes the tower to lose any association to the eastern part of the city. Equally, on the other hand, it crops up time and again as a kitsch symbol of the city’s communist heritage, sitting alongside images of the Ampelmann in numerous Berlin tourist shops. Whilst its use here may more obviously maintain the tower’s association with its communist past, the problem is that this past is being commoditised, becoming a product to be consumed in the contemporary city, a superficial act which once again robs the building of any symbolic, genuine link to its past.

Although it may be a powerful and bold move to base the contemporary identity of Berlin around such a strongly communist symbol, the methods used to achieve this are failing to build any connection with the building’s history into its new identity, meaning that it becomes as lacking in relevance for Berlin’s past as the new buildings around Potsdamer Platz. Obviously it would be impossible for a city with such a tumultuous and contentious history as Berlin to move on in any productive way if it stopped to commemorate every event from its history. However, the contemporary use of the Fernsehturm highlights how its current redefinition of its post-unification centre risks creating a new topography and identity for the city which pays little homage to the past, a development that would not only be foolish but could have massive implications for the future stability and growth of the city’s identity as a disconnection develops between Berlin’s past and its present.

Luke Postlethwaite

Image: mauro_ventura on Flickr