Jennifer Allen

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Department:
History
Term:
Fall 2012

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought not only the immediate challenge of joining two different political and economic systems—capitalist democracy in the West and socialism in the East. It also initiated the task of reconciling two conceptions of national and cultural identity—a Western narrative based upon restitution and repentance and an Eastern one framed by anti-fascist resistance—to create a common, useable past. Echoing claims made by one West German writer well before the fall of the Wall, however, both established and recent scholarship, have maintained the thoroughgoing incompatibility of these two agendas. Easterners and Westerners built a “wall in the head” that would long outlive the wall on the ground. Despite the rush to overcome the political divide, an enduring popular psychological divide would ensure the endurance of a cultural schism. These narratives, however, are hard-pressed to explain how, very shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans from both sides of the Iron Curtain rallied together in remarkable numbers for a common cause. Against Germany’s tortuous tradition of a powerful centralized state, they demanded that decentralization, radical democratization, and localization become the cornerstones of a new German Kulturpolitik, or cultural policy. My dissertation addresses this ironic moment in which Germans responded to the call for national unity with a call for the fragmentation, perhaps even the denationalization, of culture and politics. To explain how these demands were popularized and used in the service of creating a new kind of culture for a new Germany, my research explores the rise of contemporaneous decentralizing cultural policies in three very different areas of German life: in the academe, in politics, and in art circles. By consulting membership lists and other participation registers, programmatic proposals, and national policy concessions that resulted from their lobbying in order, I aim to argue that a new generation of Germans, eager to overcome the fractures of their Cold War upbringings, was defined by the desire to understand decentralized, grassroots cultural politics as capable of generating a new national unity.