UCL News


A Social History of the German Democratic Republic

5 December 2005

Coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, and the recent election as German Chancellor of Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, Professor Mary Fulbrook (UCL German) has written a new book on little-understood social aspects of life behind the iron curtain.

people's state

"The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker", published by Yale University Press and supported by a research award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), draws from the rich archival legacy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Professor Fulbrook said: "Headline stories of Cold War spies and Communist political repression conflict with many people's recollections after the unification of Germany. The current wave of 'Ostalgia', as popularised in films like 'Goodbye Lenin', is of course partly rooted in eastern Germany's contemporary economic problems - but it also reflects the fact that many people were genuinely committed to aspects of life in the GDR, and were able to lead what they perceived as fulfilled and 'perfectly ordinary' lives. My book seeks to explore that paradox."

The book analyses the transformation of East German society from the ruins of Hitler's Third Reich to a modernising industrial state. It explores aspects such as housing, leisure, youth, gender, and patterns of health and illness, as well as looking at the ways in which people participated in the micro-structures of power. Directly challenging the 'top-down' narratives of totalitarian theorists, the book develops the notion of a 'participatory dictatorship' and provides extraordinary insights into the ways in which individuals actively sought to shape their own lives.

Head of the UCL German Department, Professor Fulbrook has published extensively on 20th century German history, although her research interests span a variety of fields including religion and society in early modern Europe, the German dictatorships of the twentieth century, and historiography and social theory. Professor Fulbrook has just been awarded a prestigious Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, to support her new research on German generations in war and peace.

Image: 'The People's State'