Making History in Berlin

Photo: Dave, Kirsty and Katie walking the Berlin Wall

Dave, Kirsty and Katie follow the traces of the Berlin Wall

How do we remember and discuss the past? It’s a complicated question for any society, and nowhere more than in Germany.

Germans are already preparing for the extraordinary ‘constellation of anniversaries’ to come in 2014: 100 years will have passed since the outbreak of World War I, 75 years since the beginning of World War II – but also the 25 years since the ‘Peaceful Revolution’ of 1989, and 10 years since the eastward expansion of the European Union.

East Germany's Ampelmännchen still feature on many of Berlin's traffic lights: Berliners campaigned successfully against adoption of West Germany's UK-style, slimmer, 'Traffic Light Men' after reunification.

Are these events linked? How can they be explained and whose account should be promoted by the state – if any? A group of Glamorgan’s second-year history students – with funding from the German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD) – are spending a week in Germany to investigate the commemoration of the past: the involvement of historians, curators, artists, and architects; Germans and visitors; state and entrepreneurs.

Our starting point is Berlin, a city bearing the mark of past conflicts. Since 1989, Berlin has been transformed into the prosperous capital of a united Germany, but features as prosaic as pavement markings, tramlines, and traffic lights still offer clues to cold war divisions – reminders which Berliners have been reluctant to lose. From state-funded institutions to roadside traders, various agents offer their versions of the past to a German public grappling to define a national identity and to tourists curious about the drama and tragedies of our shared histories.

There’s a blend of nostalgia, pragmatism, and political principle in these many presentations of the past. To learn more, we’ll make our first visit to a foundation established and funded to reappraise the East German state, where we’ll hear how the German government applies the foundation’s motto: ‘Remembrance as Duty’.
Towards the Brandenburg Gate

Towards the Brandenburg Gate

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