Michael Lemke. Schaufenster der Systemkonkurrenz: Die Region Berlin-Brandenburg im Kalten Krieg. Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 2006. 424 S. EUR 49.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-412-02606-6.
Reviewed by William Berentsen (Department of Geography and European Studies Program, University of Connecticut)
Published on H-German (May, 2008)
East-West Cold War Competition: Berlin-Brandenburg as Showcase
A quotation from the beginning of this work perhaps does the best job of giving a reader an idea of the nature of the collection's contents: "Berlin symbolized and represented not only the global conflict between systems [capitalism and socialism]; the division of the world, Europe and Germany [into East and West]; but also the nature, structure and goals of their supporting, antagonistic world political systems" (p. 11). This edited volume consists of eighteen well-written chapters, all focused on various aspects of competition (Systemkonkurrenz) and conflict between the political and socioeconomic systems supported on one side of Cold War Berlin's boundary by the GDR and the USSR, and on the other side by the FRG and the western Allies. All contributions carefully cite a range of sources, more than three hundred references in all. The volume is divided into three sections: politics, the economy and social issues, and culture and daily life. The editor, Michael Lemke, also provides a good introduction, which explains the importance of the topic and provides an overview of a closely related research project at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung (ZZF) Potsdam and an introduction to each paper in this volume. Several of the papers were presented at a ZZF-sponsored conference on the same topic covering the 1948-61 period. The book is part of a fairly long series of ZZF publications that focus on comparative research on the history of divided Germany, and its authors command a breadth of experience and academic disciplinary focuses.
The "Politik" section of the book has five papers, each dealing with a particular aspect of the politically complex conditions in Cold War Berlin, including papers focused on Soviet intelligence activities in Berlin (1958-64); Walter Ulbricht and Four Power rights and conflicts (1963-71); the U.S. Military Liaison Mission's role in securing release of American soldiers held by GDR and USSR authorities after their helicopters were grounded in the GDR; an early example of Willy Brandt's pragmatism in the (ever problematic) attempts to secure passes for West Berliners into the GDR; and problems faced by the churches affected by cross-border activities in Berlin (relating to movement of parishioners and clergy, and to churches within organizations whose boundaries spanned the politically imposed East-West Berlin divide). These are all good case studies. Christopher Winkler's "Der Hubschrauberzwischenfall von 1958" also has a particularly engaging "Cold War spy thriller" aspect.
The seven papers in the "Wirtschaft und Soziales" section treat Berlin politics associated with the introduction of the GDR and FRG currencies into the city; the Brandenburg region's chamber of industry and commerce (1945-53); economic competition between capitalism and communism in Berlin-Brandenburg (1945-61); problems related to the flow of refugees into the Berlin region after WWII; urban and housing policies in East Berlin; the evolution of medical polyclinics in East and West Berlin; and the disagreements between GDR authorities and the medical faculty at the Berlin University (now Humboldt University) that helped lead to the creation of West Berlin's Free University. Six of these are case studies; Harald Engler's paper on competition between capitalism and communism in Berlin-Brandenburg provides both an overview of that topic and a call for research on selected, related issues.
The "Kultur and Alltag" section has five papers that deal with a variety of topics within the cultural sphere: competition and evolution of professional music organizations in East and West Berlin; comparative government policies toward bookstores and differing "shop window" practices of bookstores in the two parts of the city; "dueling" sports organizations; radio stations in East and West Berlin; and fanciful and practically oriented postwar ideas for restructuring Berlin's urban landscape.
Within the book's three broad topics noted above, some subthemes are represented by papers in more than one section, such as urban and land use planning and cross-border cooperation, competition, and conflict between similar organizations in both East and West Berlin (such as universities; music and sport organizations; radio programs; and businesses and economic systems). While some papers refer to conditions in Brandenburg, little content deals with regional issues that go beyond "metropolitan Berlin." All of the issues covered within the book resonate largely within the context of divided Germany, divided Europe, and the Cold War. The book's emphasis on a Systemkonkurrenz theme within the context of greater Berlin is reflected effectively in all of the essays. Overall, greater criticism and suspicion are focused on the actions and intentions of the SED and the USSR, but those of Berlin, the FRG, and western occupation authorities do not escape entirely unchallenged.
The "Schaufenster" theme in the book is most directly addressed in Siegfried Lokatis's "Berliner Buchschaufenster im Kalten Krieg," an essay that includes both literal and more figurative discussion related to it. Several other papers explicitly or implicitly use the metaphor of the shop window as well, such as Michael Lemke's "Der 'Sängerkrieg' in Berlin" and Jutta Braun and René Wiese's "Duell an der Spree: Sportkultur und Sportverkehr in Berlin (1949-1961)," both of which recount the political-economic intrigues and absurdities of cross-boundary competition and conflict in Berlin. An overview of Berlin's "retail landscape" and street-level shop windows in West and East Berlin, each with distinctive characteristics and underlying causal factors, would have made another good case study within the theme, but is not included.
Much can be praised in this collection and little can be found (at least for a generalist reader) to criticize. In particular, the volume's essays adhere well to central themes, avoiding the great breadth of quality and content in papers frequently found in edited volumes. Some of the papers were more interesting and readable than others given my interests, but the quality and breadth of the contributions will almost certainly mean that an individual reader can find his/her own favorites. The book will most interest, in particular, readers focused on the study of divided Berlin and/or on competition and conflict between capitalism and communism during the Cold War. I highly recommend the book for the libraries of institutions and individuals with collections on these topics. Selected chapters would be good candidates for graduate student reading lists in social sciences courses on Germany and the Cold War.
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William Berentsen. Review of Lemke, Michael, Schaufenster der Systemkonkurrenz: Die Region Berlin-Brandenburg im Kalten Krieg.
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