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9 - Socialism on Display: East Berlin as a Capital

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

Andreas Daum
Affiliation:
State University of New York, Buffalo
Christof Mauch
Affiliation:
Universität zu Köln
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Summary

The German Communists installed in power at the end of World War II were not exactly bursting with national pride. They were the antinationalists; nationalism had been the coin of their right-wing opponents before 1933 and of their oppressors thereafter. In 1945, the Communists were bidding to control a people whose collective enthusiasm had sustained the bloody suppression of domestic Communism and then the even bloodier invasion of the Soviet Union. It was a collective identity in need of radical redirection. Yet there was no question of turning their back on their national heritage. Stalin's Soviet Union had already reconciled Bolshevism with national identity, and the Soviet model of nationality, like the Soviet model of many other things, would shape eastern Germany in crucial ways. More immediately, the German nation had to be rebuilt so that it might be controlled, and the German Communists seized the arsenal of German national symbols, cautiously but firmly, to assert their control. These symbols included Berlin itself as well as particular buildings and places within Berlin

Amid the ruins of war, a new beginning might have entailed the choice of a new capital, but there seems to have been no hesitation in laying claim to Berlin, even though control of the city was shared by the four Allied powers. Except for the Reichstag building, the traditional centers of power - from the royal palace to Wilhelmstrasse - lay within the Soviet sector of the city, and this fact offered the Communists a strategic advantage in the anticipated struggle for hegemony.

The division of Berlin, and of Germany, was no one’s intention. As it became a fact in the late 1940s, however, both sides reluctantly made plans that implicitly bowed to reality. The West German state settled in faraway Bonn; for it, Berlin remained the undivided future capital, but only in the form of national mythology and fanciful urban plans. Nor did the East renounce its claim to all of Berlin. However, the “Westberlin” unavailable to it faded from sight (and eventually all but disappeared from maps) as concrete plans emerged for the territory that would actually function as “Berlin, capital of the German Democratic Republic.” Although the entire city remained technically under four-power control, the Soviet Union permitted the German Communists effectively to incorporate East Berlin into their new state, the GDR, founded in 1949.

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Berlin - Washington, 1800–2000
Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities
, pp. 217 - 232
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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