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Book Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

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Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Hester Vaizey(Author)

    Book details


The changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 were particularly dramatic for East Germans. With the German Democratic Republic effectively taken over by West Germany in the reunification process, nothing in their lives was immune from change and upheaval: from the way they voted, the newspapers they read, to the brand of butter they bought.

But what was it really like to go from living under communism one minute, to capitalism the next? What did the East Germans make of capitalism? And how do they remember the GDR today? Are their memories dominated by fear and loathing of the Stasi state, or do they look back with a measure of fondness and regret on a world of guaranteed employment and low living costs?

This is the story of eight citizens of the former German Democratic Republic, and how these dramatic changes affected them. All of the people in the book were born in East Germany after the Berlin Wall was put up in August 1961, so they knew nothing other than living in a socialist system when the GDR fell apart. Their stories provide a fascinating insight not only into everyday life in East Germany, but also into how this now-vanished state is remembered today, a quarter of a century after the fall of the Wall.

She has delivered a fascinating glimpse into the lives of others (Daily Mail)Hester Vaizey's is the sort of scholarship I relish: detailed, plentiful new material to satisfy historians and sociologists, but respectful too of a more general readership (Rebecca K Morrison, Independent)Vaizey carefully guides the reader through all her interviews by providing essential historical contexts without contradicting the memories of the interviewees. Indeed, her method of balancing personal accounts with historical insights is one of the main strengths of Born in the GDR. (German History)Above all, her honesty, both regarding her methodology and her reactions to the interviewees' stories, is refreshing (The Writer's Drawer)A carefully-researched exploration of a disappeared society and the complexities of transition from one set of social and economic expectations to another. This is a thorough and sympathetic account of Germany's Unification generation. (Anne McElvoy, The Economist, and author of The Saddled Cow: East Germany's Life and Legacy)Born in the GDR is a helpful contribution to an understanding of the complexities of life then and its consequences now. (Ulrike Zitzlsperger, Times Higher Education)

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Book details

  • PDF | 240 pages
  • Hester Vaizey(Author)
  • OUP Oxford (9 Oct. 2014)
  • English
  • 4
  • Society, Politics & Philosophy

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Review Text

  • By MMHS on 5 November 2014

    An interesting insight into “real” life in communist East Germany and more interestingly the psychological changes experienced by those citizens as a result of re-unification.Many people who weren’t citizens of the GDR have a view of East Germany based around two parameters, the movies “Goodbye Lenin” and “The Life of Others”. This book brings a more subtle view by interviewing eight former citizens of the GDR about their personal experiences of life in communist East Germany.What is apparent is that their view varies massively depending on how much they rubbed up against the status quo. Some, who although were not party members were happy with the feeling of safety engendered by the cradle to grave support of the state and guaranteed job, despite the frustrations of not being able to get certain goods.These views contrast with others who didn’t conform and paid the consequences both professionally and personally. You would imagine that with the fall of the GDR those persecuted by the state would welcome the “New Germany”, but this not necessarily the case.The area I found most fascinating was the effects of the demise of the GDR in terms of the psychological changes where everything familiar disappears such as the sense of community, shops, youth camps, etc to be replaced by a brash and loud new world of consumerism and capitalism where a whole new set of skills and knowledge need to be learned.Hester Vaizey writes in an easy style that communicates well despite some the philosophical and psychological content and contributes new knowledge to the sadly sparse number of books in English that cover this crucial period of European and German history.

  • By ASwol83 on 9 January 2015

    Seeking to avoid extreme characterizations of the GDR as either a 'Stasiland' on the one hand or a paternal socialist utopia on the other, Hester Vaizey serves up, through the testimonies of eight East Germans, a fairly nuanced view of life in East Germany and what ensued for some East Germans when the Wall came down.Vaizey writes well, and the accounts from her interviewees manage to capture a number of the various experiences and recollections of ordinary East Germans, from Petra's regret at the way in which the good things about the GDR were summarily discarded to Mario's very real terror at the hands of the Stasi. The Stasi, though of course pervasive throughout East German society, did not, however, affect the lives of every East German by any means and many GDR citizens were able to go about their lives without being molested. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that people such as Mario were left with terrible emotional scars and that tens of thousands were shot trying to escape the GDR. As a socialist myself, I was also annoyed by the way that the elite of the SED lived in relative luxury in Wandlitz while many ordinary East Germans struggled to find good clothing or decent fruit.However, many East Germans recalled that, despite the shortages, there was still economic and social security, thanks to subsidized food and rent, for example. Some of the interviewees here found that the rat race of rapacious West German capitalism was not to their liking, as well they might. Sadly, the GDR was inevitably wholly subsumed by West Germany, both economically and culturally. Despite the GDR's very real and grave defects, this is to be regretted, since the defects of western capitalism were no less real and grave. Moreover, there is nothing to say that capitalism will last forever, despite what its most ardent votaries say or would like to believe, because, as Victor Serge said, nothing is finished yet.This slender book is a good introduction to the GDR, but those wanting to know more should perhaps turn to the works of someone like Mary Fulbrook in order to get a more detailed insight into the GDR's anatomy.


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