GDR Revisited: New Narratives about a Vanished State


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

7:00 pm

A conversation between three women of the new generation, historian Katja Hoyer, filmmaker Eva Weber and architectural theorist Ines Weizman, moderated by award-winning author, broadcaster and foreign-affairs commentator John Kampfner.

Katja Hoyer, Eva Weber and Ines Weizman, three women from East and West Germany, all of whom based in London, discuss their views of the other Germany, 33 years after the end of the GDR, with moderator John Kampfner who started out as a journalist in East Berlin during the fall of the Wall.

The publication of the book Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990, by the London-based historian Katja Hoyer, in March of this year provoked widespread reactions, both in Britain and Germany. Besides approval and praise ("overturning cliches of East Germany" The Guardian), there was also harsh criticism, especially from Germany. There was talk of "trivialisation of a dictatorship" and historical distortion ("One-sided, grotesquely abridged, factual errors - this GDR book is a nuisance" Der Spiegel).

Emotions were running high, because the narrative of the GDR was thought to have been told already, the discourse concluded, the verdict pronounced. Arguably, this verdict was articulated differently in the East than in the West. But where has the renewed debate suddenly appeared from? What has prompted a new generation to re-examine history, and why now? The question that comes to the fore is that of discourse sovereignty. Who is authorised to express their opinions on the first socialist state on German soil? Until now, those who could give first-hand accounts have been considered most credible, the contemporary witnesses, GDR citizens on the other side of the Wall and GDR observers on this side. In other words, all those who, depending on their point of view, experienced, suffered or endured the GDR themselves.

But time marches on, and it is only natural that the younger generation asks its own questions, which, with time's distance, are discussed less ideologically, less from the "winner/loser of history" position. People like Katja Hoyer, Eva Weber or Ines Weizman, who at most personally experienced the GDR as children or young people, or even only from their later professional involvement with the second German state.

Moderator John Kampfner, bestselling author of Why the Germans Do It Better, is one of Europe’s foremost intellectuals with a deep knowledge of and a long-standing personal relationship with the once-divided Germany and its new and old capital. His new book In Search of Berlin is a dialogue between past and present that sets out a new way of looking at this turbulent and beguiling city on its never-ending journey of reinvention.

So, this should be an exciting evening at the Goethe-Institut London on 3 October 2023, "German Unity Day" – a unity which many in the West, but even more so in the East, claim has not yet been realised. Not as long as the Wall persists in the minds of many Germans, and the spiral of mutual misunderstandings, insinuations and bias determine the discourses. That's why we need new narratives about the GDR! Be there, listen and join in with the conversation.
The panel discussion will be followed by a drinks reception in the Goethe-Institut Library.

Katja Hoyer is a German-British historian, journalist, and the author of the widely acclaimed Blood and Iron. A visiting Research Fellow at King's College London and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, she is a columnist for the Washington Post and hosts the podcast The New Germany together with Oliver Moody. She was born in East Germany and is now based in the UK.

Eva Weber is a director who has found acclaim with films like the feature documentary Merkel (“A Revealing Portrait of a Woman Who Led ‘Without Ego’” –  IndieWire), the 27-minute documentary The Solitary Life of Cranes (“one of the most absorbing documentaries of the year” – Observer), the mid-length documentary Black Out (“Eye-opening… moves seamlessly between the straightforward and the poetic” – Hollywood Reporter), and the fiction short Field Study, which was nominated for a European Film Award. Her multi-award-winning films have screened at numerous festivals, including Sundance, Telluride, London, Sheffield, and IDFA. She is the recipient of a Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award; and a Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab Fellow.  

Ines Weizman (1973, Leipzig) is Head of PhD at the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art and Professor of Architectural Theory and Design at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. Trained as an architect, her research is often catalysed through architectural interventions, film essays and exhibitions. Her publications on before & after photography explored the changing perception of East German cities in the aftermath of the German reunification. In her books Documentary Architecture: Dissidence through Architecture (Santiago de Chile: ARQ Editiones, 2020) and Architecture and the Paradox of Dissidence (London: Routledge, 2013) she looked at alternative architectural practices in the Eastern bloc in the meltdown years of the cold war. Among her recent books are Dust and Data. Traces of the Bauhaus across 100 Years (Spector Books, 2019). Her installation on Josephine Baker and modern architecture across the colonized Arab world was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2023.

John Kampfner is an award-winning author, broadcaster and foreign-affairs commentator. He began his career reporting from East Berlin (during the fall of the Wall) and Moscow (during the collapse of communism) for the Telegraph. After covering British politics for the Financial Times and BBC, he edited the New Statesman. He is a regular TV and radio pundit, documentary maker and author of six previous books. His most recent book, Why the Germans Do it Better, was a top ten bestseller, Book of the Year in the Guardian, Economist and the New Statesman, and sold over 100,000 copies in all editions.
His new book In Search of Berlin: The Story of a Reinvented City, out on 5 October, is a sweeping history of Berlin, city of haven and hell, disaster and reinvention. Ever since John Kampfner was a young journalist in Communist East Berlin, he hasn't been able to get the city out of his mind. Berlin has been a military barracks, industrial powerhouse, centre of learning, hotbed of decadence - and the laboratory for the worst experiment in horror known to man.  

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