Press Releases

Behind the Berlin Wall – the human dimension of the creation and ultimate dissolution of the GDR – University of Reading

Release Date : 06 November 2009

New research published this autumn throws fresh light on the experiences of ordinary East Germans before and after the creation of the Berlin Wall.

As Germany marks 20 years since the fall of the Wall on 9 November, Prof. Patrick Major, Associate of the Centre for East German Studies and member of the Department of History at the University of Reading, publishes accounts of how East Germans were affected by the border closure in 1961, using records from the East Germany's communist party - the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the police and Stasi. His bottom-up approach to Cold War politics considers the entire history of the GDR and beyond, from 1945 to the present day, and the role that the forbidden West played in East Germany.

He argues that twenty years after its demise, "historians cannot see the Wall for the bricks" and that the time is right "to bring ordinary people more firmly back to centre stage. Without becoming sentimental or vindictive, and investigating the impact of high politics at the grass roots, we may better understand the human dimensions of the Wall."

His latest research looks at the reasons why one in six East Germans left while the border was open pre 1961 and the role West Berlin played in offering shopping, cinema and a taste of capitalism. He then traces immediate reactions to the building of the wall and the attempts to discipline the population in its shadow. The book also considers how East German cinema and thriller fiction sought to explain the building of the Wall.

His research also looks at the limitations of sealing off a country in the age of modern communications, as Beatlemania behind the Wall inspired bands such as 'The Butlers', 'The Bottles' and the 'Music Stones'. He argues that the origins of the protest movement in the late 80s came from the hundreds of thousands of people seeking to emigrate from a country which fell into a human rights dilemma, needing financial aid from the West in return for freedom of travel concessions. He has also re-examined the half-hearted reactions of the West, and disagreements between the mayor of West Berlin and the Western Powers.

The fruits of his research are published in November in a major new book, Behind the Berlin Wall: East Germany and the Frontiers of Power (OUP) and also in In the Shadow of the Wall (National Archives Press, scheduled for early 2010), as well as an article in BBC History Magazine for November 2009.


Further information from James Barr, Press Officer, University of Reading on 0118 378 7115

Notes to editors:

Prof. Major is available to comment on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the history of the former GDR.

Centre for East German Studies at the University of Reading

The only facility of its kind in the UK, the Centre comprises an extensive archive and a research network in Great Britain and Germany. The Centre was founded in 1994 to draw on research strengths within the Department of German Studies and to bring together interest in that part of Germany that came under Soviet occupation in 1945 and formed the territory of the GDR from 1949 to 1990, and which since unification has become known as the 'neue Bundesländer'. The Centre's activities aim to provide an academic focal point within the United Kingdom for research into the culture, society, history, media, literature and film of this area from 1945 to the present.


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