Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political and economic structures of the former German Democratic Republic are largely understood, yet many questions remain. What actually motivated the East Germans themselves? What common goals and values kept GDR society going and, until its unexpected collapse in 1989, seemed to make it into a relative success story?
Building the East German Myth examines the East German communist party's propagandistic treatment of German high culture, antifascism, "German-Soviet" friendship, and the German nationalist tradition. In this pathbreaking study, Alan Nothnagle argues that the party's mass events and indoctrination campaigns were not mere propaganda, but rather an ingenious program of mythbuilding by which young people were instilled with a dynamic and nearly inescapable mythology. Using a wealth of previously unexplored sources, Nothnagle shows this mythology was as essential to the GDR's existence as the Wall of the Soviet occupation and, as its leaders discovered in 1989, the GDR could not survive without it.
Alongside the economic and human costs this book demonstrates, the loss of honesty, subtlety, and a sense of proportion may represent the most devastating legacy of the East German experience.
Written to appeal to both specialists and non-specialists, Building the East German Myth will prove essential reading for those interested in German and European history, communism, political propaganda, and Cold War culture.
Alan L. Nothnagle is Assistant Professor of History, Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany.