Department of Germanic Studies

Cultures of the Berlin Wall - from 1989 to 2019 An interdisciplinary symposium

Thursday, Oct 24 - Friday, Oct 25 2019

Briscoe Center for American History

SRH 2.106

The University of Texas at Austin

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in November 2019, the Department of Germanic Studies at UT Austin will organize a symposium to commemorate this historical event that in many ways links the histories of Germany and the United States. The aim of the symposium is to provide an interesting and diverse account of the history of the two Germanys, The Cold War, the fall of the Berlin wall and the transnational dimensions and US-German relations during these times and events. The symposium will combine scholarly talks on cultural, political and historical issues with a talk by Tyler Marshall, the former Germany correspondent of the Los Angeles Times, an interview with the American author Tim Mohr on the role of the GDR punk movement in the East German democratization movement, and a film screening. The symposium is for both an academic and a non-academic audience. 

There will be poster presentations by students of the Department of Germanic Studies at UT Austin.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

3:00 - 3:15 p.m. Welcome by organizers and Opening Address by Consul General Thomas H. Meister, Consulate General of Germany in Houston 

3:20 - 3:50 p.m. Jeremi Suri, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, UT Austin: America’s Vision of a “New Germany” and the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Although American leaders had long demanded the destruction of the Berlin Wall, they had done very little serious thinking about what would happen once the Wall actually came down. The leading figures around Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush continued to operate under the assumption that the Wall, and the division of Berlin and Germany, would last for many more years. In late 1989 and early 1990 American policy-makers had to react quickly to basic questions about the future of Germany, Europe, and the NATO alliance. This paper will explore the historical record of how American leaders worked with their European counterparts to forge a new vision for a reunited Germany anchored in the European Community and the Western alliance. The paper will analyze the far-sighted thinking about peace and cooperation in Western and Central Europe, but also the narrow understanding of deepening grievances in the former East Germany and Russia. America’s evolving vision of a “New Germany” was liberal and restrictive at the same time.

3:55 - 4:25 p.m. Hans C. Boas and Marc Pierce, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin: The German language in East and West Germany 

How can political ideologies alter the use, prestige, and political status of a language and its dialects? What role does a common language play for national identity? This talk addresses these questions by first outlining how standardizing the German language after 1871 was integral to the national identity of the German Reich. The second part briefly discusses how the Nazi ideology influenced the German language and its use between 1933 and 1945. The third part shows how different political ideologies in East and West Germany influenced the development of the German language, resulting in distinct lexical and phraseological differences between East and West. The fourth part discusses which linguistic differences continued to exist after German reunification in 1990 and which ones dissolved. 


4:25 - 4:40 p.m. Coffee Break


4:40 - 5:10 p.m.  John Hoberman, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin: Competing countries: Sports and Politics in the two Germanys

The fall of the Berlin Wall catalyzed the collapse of an East German dictatorship that had worked for decades to create the movs successful competitive sports program in human history.  East Germany's Olympic-medals-per-capital ratio left other sports powers like the United States and the Soviet Union in the dust. This triumph was prefigured by a decision made in 1950 by Walter Ulbricht, the first East German dictator, that this small Communist country would make its international mark as a sports powerhouse that could challenge the athletic might of the superpowers. The grotesque result of this politically driven sports mania was the secret government-sponsored program that administered powerful doping drugs to thousands of athletes, including many teenagers, hundresds of whom suffered lasting medical damage. While sports doping was common in other countries, including West Germany, the East German sports "machine" combined legitimate athletic training, the recruitment of talented children, and performance-enhancing pharmacology to become the most spectacular sports nation on Earth. As East Germany fell apart, the West German sports establishment absorbed many of its athletes, doping-compromised coaches, and unethical sports doctors on behalf of its own sportive nationalist ambitions. 

5:15 - 6:30 p.m. Burning down the Haus” - the role of the punk movement in the end of the GDR. A reading with music with Tim Mohr, author of “Burning down the Haus. Punk rock, revolution, and the fall of the Berlin wall”. Moderated by Dr. Kirkland A. Fulk, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin 


Friday, October 25, 2019

9:00 - 9:45 a.m. Sabine Hake, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin: Divided Berlin during the Cold War

Events commemorating the events of 1989/90 often focus on the Wall as the main symbol of the East-West divide. But Berlin was already divided before 1961: as the four-sector city, as the former (and future) German capital, and as the main battleground during the Cold War. This presentation focuses on East and West Berlin during the 1950s to show how art and architecture were weaponized in the confrontation between capitalism and communism; how different models of society found expression in urban planning and urban life; and how popular culture (film, music, fashion) became a powerful tool in the process of Americanization and the development of a postwar youth culture throughout the city. This presentation emphasizes the little-known East German perspective; film clips will be included.

9:50 - 10:20 a.m. Martin Nassua, Bundeswehr University Hamburg: Germany’s Limitations and Perspectives for a Foreign and Security Policy 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Germany is central to Europe, its geographic position, its economic strength, and its military potential put it first among equals in NATO and the European Union. Yet, Germany’s society and polity are more than reluctant to acquire a strategic role. The various reasons for this situation are addressed in this presentation from various angles, including personal observations of an interested student of history and not an official position of the German Armed Forces. The presentation will focus on Germany’s role in the two World Wars, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War era. 

 10:20 - 10:40 a.m. Coffee Break

10:40 - 11:10 a.m. David Crew, Department of History, UT Austin: Living on the Edge: The Rise and Fall of the Inner-German Borderlands and the Berlin Wall, 1945-1989

Popular memory of German division in the Cold War is dominated by images of the Berlin Wall. But the fortified German border extended some 1,393 kilometers (866 miles) from the Baltic Sea to Czechoslovakia. Construction of the wall in Berlin in 1961 was the end of one important phase in the fortification of the German-German border, not the beginning. This talk will discuss how the “Iron Curtain” was made real on the ground along the frontier between East and West Germany, between West and East Berlin as well as between Bavaria and Czechoslovakia and the effects upon the everyday lives of West and East Germans (both within and outside of these Cold War borderlands) during more than four decades of division.

 11:15 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Tyler Marshall (formerly with the Los Angeles Times): The fall of the Wall: If the initial Joy was so real, what made the happily ever after so hard?

Tyler Marshall was working as a journalist in Germany when the Berlin wall fell. In his presentation he will talk about his personal memories of the days immediately after the event, the reactions of  people in both the East and the West, and he will discuss whether Germany thirty years later really is one united country.

12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00 - 1:20 p.m. Film screening by Sabine Waas, graduate student, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin: The fall of the wall told through the lens of German and American movies 

 1:25 - 1:55 p.m. Benjamin Wright, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History: Since you're here... Studying the Berlin Wall through the Briscoe Center's collections

The fall of the Berlin Wall wasn't siimply a historically important event, it was an iconic cultural moment that captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. But those millions didn't experience events in person--- they percieved them through the accounts and images of photojournalists, newspaermen and television reporters who descended enmasse into Berlin during the fall of 1989. The Briscoe Center is home to numerous collections that document the activites of American correspondents on the ground in Germany including, Dan Rather, Flip Schulke, and Rod Nordland, as well as the producers, assistants and researchers who worked in the background. Together they helped a generation of Americans to make sense of history as it unfolded. The Briscoe Center for American History's archival holdings represent more than a century of collecting efforts at the University of Texas at Austin with particular strength in photography, news media, and national politics, as well as foundational collections in the history of Texas and the South.

 2:00 - 2:30 p.m. Hannes Mandel, Department of Germanic Studies, UT Austin: No Accounting for Taste: Did Product Design bring down the Wall?

The two Germanies that existed between 1949 and 1990 not only constituted two opposing economic systems. They also instituted a different kind of relationship between the Otto Normalverbraucher (i.e. John Doe, or “Otto the Average- Consumer”) and the various products on the consumer market. While acknowledging that no monocausal explanation will do justice to the complex developments leading up to 1989, the talk takes the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall as an opportunity to speculate on the particular role of socialist product design and advertising in the emergence of a collective individualist identity crisis. The question is: If the collective was king in the GDR, what role was left for the customer?

Organized by Barbara Laubenthal and Hans C. Boas (Germanic Studies, UT Austin)

Sponsored by the Department of Germanic Studies, Briscoe Center for American History, Center for European Studies, Department of History, Texas Language Center, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Washington D.C.).