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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2023

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Summary

The Fall Of The Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and German unification on 3 October of the following year were seismic historical moments. Although they appeared to heal the war-torn history of the twentieth century, unification posed the question of German cultural identity afresh. Politicians, historians, film-makers, architects, writers, and the wider public engaged in a “memory contest” that pitted alternative biographies against one another, prompting challenges to perceived West German hegemony, and posing questions about the possibility of normalizing German history. These dynamic debates are the topic of this book. By giving voice to multiple disciplinary as well as geographic and ethnic perspectives, this volume describes the continuing struggle to reimagine Germany as a unified, democratic, and capitalist country. The Berlin Wall may have been largely obliterated, but traces of the challenges to such a present remain inscribed on the physical fabric of the entire country as well as on the memories of many of its inhabitants. By mapping recent German cultural expression across a range of media, the contributions in this volume chart the multiple, and often conflicting, responses to the cataclysmic events of twenty years ago that have characterized the opening chapter of the history of the Berlin Republic.

The twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall was accompanied by a public celebration at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on 9 November 2009. Entitled “Fest der Freiheit” (festival of freedom), it was broadcast across the world, emphasizing the global significance of the events of 1989. The presidents of Russia and France, Dimitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton represented the former Allied powers. Interviews with Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity in the early 1980s and later President of Poland; Miklos Nemeth, the former Hungarian Prime Minister, who was the first to open his country’s borders with Austria; and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged the massive contribution of eastern Europeans to the collapse of Communism. Berlin schoolchildren and grassroots activists from around the world participated in the celebration by painting one thousand giant dominos, which were placed on the route that the wall had sliced through the very heart of Berlin. These were then pushed over in a carnivalesque re-enactment.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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