Department of Germanic Studies

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

Fri, October 25, 2019

9:00 AM - 2:30 PM

24-25 October 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, a film screening, and poster presentations by students of the Department of Germanic Studies at UT on various aspects of the Berlin wall’s history, its commemoration and its symbolism today. The symposium is for both an academic and a non-academic audience. 


25 October 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 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. 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 most  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, hundreds 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 best athletes, doping-compromised coaches, and unethical sports doctors on behalf of its own sportive nationalist ambitions.


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)


For the full program please visit: 


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