Book essay by
About the author:
Redefining Kellaís Heimat
Kella is a small village inhabited by approximately six hundred people; it is located in north-central Germany, on the boundary of Hesse and Thuringia. The village was divided, and partially surrounded by, the East German border until 1989. Daphne Berdahl, the author of Where the World Ended: Re-Unification and Identity in the German Borderland, resided there from 1990 to 1992 and wrote an ethnographic study about the economic, political, and social/cultural changes within the village. Berdahl utilized interviews of villagers and town records to get a feel of what it was like in Kella during the construction of the barbed wire fence in the 1950s (that would later become the fortified state border) and what it was like for Wessies and Ossies to finally meet again in 1989, after the Wall came down. She also uses these interviews to get an understanding of what it was like to have their concept of Heimat, literally home or homeland, first split in two and then removed altogether. One of Berdahlís main themes is borderland and how they shape a personís character or identity. Her main goal in the book is to:
... illuminate how a figurative borderland, characterized by fluidity, liminality, ambiguity, resistance, negotiation, and creativity, is dynamically heightened, accelerated, and complicated in the literal borderland of Kella, where specificities of both come into especially sharp relief. (Berdahl, 9)
Daphne Berdahlís book looks at the many different views of borderland; cultural, religious, gendered, political, and economic. Her first chapter chronicles her arrival to Kella in December 1990. This chapter is designed to give readers a general history and outline of the village. The author wants to show how the village transitions in the six years of her observations. The second chapter deals with everyday life under socialism, and how Kellans began to get a feel for their new ideals, with regards to politics, the economy and potentially different gender norms. Here she also looks at the power struggles between the classes and the relationships between the state and its citizens. Chapter three is about religious identities and resistance to socialist reforms of Catholicism. Berdahl looks at the change between popular faith and institutionalized religion since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chapter four deals with the new inequalities after capitalism is "introduced" into Kellan society and how they deal with new types of consumption. She argues that when capitalism is introduced the new village elites seize social capital and transform the meanings and the principles of the consumer market economy. The author states that chapter five is her core chapter in this book. This chapter expands her borderland argument. Here she explains the Kellan experience under socialism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the border maintenance and identity invention after the 1989 Wende (political turn). Chapter six looks at the transformed constructions of gender before and after the Wende in Kella; mainly how Western images of womanhood have altered ideals of women as workers and mothers under socialism. The last chapter deals with the several different ideas of historical memory since the fall of the Berlin Wall. By looking at how, even though the Berlin Wall is no more, the memory of the past creates, as she quoted from Peter Schneiderís novel The Wall Jumper, a "wall in our heads" (pg.166).
Within Daphne Berdahlís book there is a main theme of the border, and then the absence of a border, as a consistent and imposing presence, a multitude of practical and philosophical concepts for Kellans and a challenge to their societal and cultural norms. I will be arguing that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 caused Kellan men and women to challenge their previous identities, formed by the construction of the Wall, and then forced them to construct different sets of beliefs with regards to economics, consumerism, and the restructuring of societal norms.
During Eastern Germanyís second economy, social and cultural capital were the most practical forms of goods. The second economy is about bartering my goods for your goods and acquiring social status through these shared networks of people. Women would wait in lines outside of Konsum, Kellaís only store, and buy items that they not only needed for themselves and their families, but mostly to barter for later. They did this because the Berlin Wall cut off access to outside consumer goods, and they created a barter system to try and compensate for that. Berdahl says that "the political economy of socialism was based on a logic of centralized planning, the aim of which was to maximize the redistributive power of the state" (pg. 115). People, as a reaction to this planned economy, began to hoard and to barter goods that were no longer available to East Germans. "Networks of friendships, acquaintances, and associates were created and maintained through gift exchanges, bribes, and barter tradeÖGifts, exchanged among kin, friends, or acquaintances, were often used instrumentally" (Berdahl, pg. 118). As an illustration, Berdahl describes how Kellans got their elderly Wessi relatives to smuggle forbidden commodities across the border and then later used those goods as needed. The Ossies forged their own type of consumerism in the East, thus establishing a small part of their identities.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berdahl notes a transition in Ossi consumerism from "consumer crazy" to "resistance consumers" of East German goods. In 1990 Ossis were made fun of because they were seemingly "consumer crazy" to the Wessis. A letter written to Wessi relatives from an Ossi man in Berdahlís book talks about him and his child driving through the border, from east to west, and marveling at the many shops and grocery stores in nearby Wessi cities. Google marcuse 133c to find where this essay is published on the web. But this amazement soon wore off. By the end of her stay in 1992, Berdahl encountered more and more Ossis driving their Trabis, women wearing their Kittels (smocks--a sign of a working woman), and buying local brand detergents instead of Wessi brands. Kellans did this when they began to realize that they were losing their Heimat, their discourse of identity. Many Wessis touted that Ossis needed Nachholungsbedarf, literally to catch up with Wessis economically, politically, and culturally.
Ossi women were strongly involved in first conforming to Western ideals, and then resisting them. Berdahlís book is not quite clear on how Kellan women went from embracing them and then resisting them. Perhaps it is because many women will react differently to the same situations that this is not clear in her book. Women under the new economy strived tolive up to socialismís expectations as working women and as nurturers to their families. They were part of Einwohnerversammlungen (town meetings), church social life, working at either the toy store or the clips factory, and being a "traditional homemaker." Many women Berdahl spoke to said that they had a double or even triple burden on them. I think this would be one of the reasons why many Ossi women looked, at first, to the Wessi women for direction and influence. After the Wende many Kellan women were the first to be laid off from their jobs and the most overlooked when it came to official positions of the city. This was due to Wessi ideals of what a woman was expected to be and expected to do within society. Many women gave up their previous jobs and official positions and mainly stayed at home. They mirrored many of the Wessi womenís actions, such as staying at home, having children at a younger age, and becoming more active consumers. One woman told Berdahl "I feel freer nowÖ.I can do what I want. I can go shopping, not necessarily to buy things but to look" (pg. 195). These womenís identities were at first shifted towards Wessi ideals when those concepts seemed fresh and new, and perhaps "better", and then shifted away from Wessi ideals and towards their self-created Ossi ideals. They were not entirely based upon either Wessi or Ossi traditions, morals, values, it was more of a combining of the two belief systems.
At the end of Berdahlís ethnographic study in 1992, and when she revisited Kella in 1996, she observed a few new mentalities and behaviors. First, Kellans seem to appreciate western consumer goods, but they still have pride in their own Ossi-made goods. Second, they understand the concept of consumerism, yet they do not seem "consumer crazy" like several years ago. And lastly, women can, and do, help create new identities, and maintain them, when it comes to the figurative new borderland of Germany by actively participating in the government, Einwohnerversammlungen (town meetings), and by establishing themselves as German consumers. Her study of the Kellan community after the fall of the Berlin Wall has tried to clarify the many different meanings of borderland "by examining the creation, maintenance, transformation, and invention of different kinds of boundaries and border zones in daily life" (Berdahl, pg. 233). I have tried to argue, and show, that the 1989 Wende caused Kellan men and women to challenge not only their own identities, but to challenge the images that the West is showing them politically, economically and culturally.
Reviews of Berdahl's book:
by Marion Deshmukh in: The Historian, v. 63(Fall 2000), 182f.
Elizabeth Ten Dyke, Dresden: Paradoxes of Memory in History (London /New York: Routledge, 2001)(Studies in Anthropology and History, v. 28), 316pp. not held by UCSB [DD901.D78 D95 2001]