Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain [NOOK Book]


The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 shocked the world. Ever since, the image of this impenetrable barrier between East and West, imposed by communism, has been a central symbol of the Cold War.
Based on vast research in untapped archival, oral, and private sources, Burned Bridge reveals the hidden origins of the Iron Curtain, presenting it in a startling new light. Historian Edith Sheffer's unprecedented, in-depth account focuses on Burned Bridge-the intersection between two...
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Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain

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The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 shocked the world. Ever since, the image of this impenetrable barrier between East and West, imposed by communism, has been a central symbol of the Cold War.
Based on vast research in untapped archival, oral, and private sources, Burned Bridge reveals the hidden origins of the Iron Curtain, presenting it in a startling new light. Historian Edith Sheffer's unprecedented, in-depth account focuses on Burned Bridge-the intersection between two sister cities, Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg, Germany's largest divided population outside Berlin. Sheffer demonstrates that as Soviet and American forces occupied each city after the Second World War, townspeople who historically had much in common quickly formed opposing interests and identities. The border walled off irreconcilable realities: the differences of freedom and captivity, rich and poor, peace and bloodshed, and past and present. Sheffer describes how smuggling, kidnapping, rape, and killing in the early postwar years led citizens to demand greater border control on both sides--long before East Germany fortified its 1,393 kilometer border with West Germany. It was in fact the American military that built the first barriers at Burned Bridge, which preceded East Germany's borderland crackdown by many years. Indeed, Sheffer shows that the physical border between East and West was not simply imposed by Cold War superpowers, but was in some part an improvised outgrowth of an anxious postwar society.
Ultimately, a wall of the mind shaped the wall on the ground. East and West Germans became part of, and helped perpetuate, the barriers that divided them. From the end of World War II through two decades of reunification, Sheffer traces divisions at Burned Bridge with sharp insight and compassion, presenting a stunning portrait of the Cold War on a human scale.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stanford assistant professor of history Sheffer has written a meticulous analysis of a social experiment that began in 1945 when Soviet troops occupied Sonneberg and Americans Neustadt, sister cities whose city halls were three miles apart. The first of the book's three sections covers 1945–1952, when the unfenced "green border" between the two cities became a "wild frontier," with so much violence and harassment that citizens themselves urged more control. From 1952 to 1961, East Germany built fences and cut transit links, actions mostly successful in confirming the cities' psychological separation. From 1961 to 1989, the border progressively hardened; Sheffer emphasizes that this occurred with little violence but much local grumbling and negotiation. Both sides preferred to avoid trouble. Easterners trying to escape were more likely to be caught by local civilians and police than border guards. Sheffer's Ph.D. thesis, although a superior example, is lucidly written with plenty of anecdotes, but also an avalanche of statistics in the appendixes. This is serious academic research on a narrow subject that will interest serious history buffs. 34 illus. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Sheffer's meticulous reconstruction of life on the German-German frontier sheds welcome light on broader questions of German history, and on the way human communities create and recreate themselves." —Times Higher Education Supplement

"An accessible, intriguing academic study tracking the building of the "wall in the head" between East and West Germany long before the actual construction in 1961." -Kirkus Reviews

"The Cold War may have been triggered by the great powers, but Edith Sheffer shows that it was also given shape and reinforced by ordinary people who confronted its political realities every day. Her sensitive biography of a divided German community, ranging across the entire Cold War through reunification, is filled with arresting detail, fresh evidence, and surprises. This book helps us understand not just the trauma of the Cold War but also the many troubles Germans have faced in knitting their fractured nation together after the fall of the Wall in 1989. An outstanding and innovative work." —William I. Hitchcock, University of Virginia

"Edith Sheffer's exquisitely nuanced and deeply researched narrative rewrites the history of the division of Germany, revealing an East/West border marked by the infamous Wall but actually constructed over time by postwar violence, Cold War tensions, and above all by the local everyday actions and attitudes of ordinary Germans living with and in both sides of the border."—Atina Grossmann, author of Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany

"This fascinating micro-history of living with the Iron Curtain traces its divisive social and political impact. Based on exhaustive research, the book explores the local complicity in the construction, maintenance, and subversion of the barrier, illuminates the human dimension of the German division, and explains its lingering post-unification effects."-Konrad Jarausch, author of After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995

"Edith Sheffer provides fascinating glimpses of the ways in which the Wall between East and West Germany was constructed-in every sense-by Germans on the ground, and in turn affected the character of life on either side. Significations of difference, emotional ties, misapprehensions, and mutual hostilities, were a living reality, changing over time and persisting in new ways long after the Wall itself has disappeared." -Mary Fulbrook, author of Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships

"Edith Sheffer powerfully contributes to dismantling established views on the Cold War. Locals had a constant role in producing the border and, in a bitter irony, neither efforts to evade nor ways of considering the border 'normal' overcame the sense of estrangement among former neighbors." -Alf Lüdtke, University of Erfurt

"Lucidly written with plenty of anecdotes...will interest serious history buffs." -Publishers Weekly

"Highly recommended." —Choice Magazine

Library Journal
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union built a barrier between East and West Berlin, defining the Cold War era. Sheffer (history, Stanford Univ.) uses primary and secondary sources, including interviews, to portray two sister cities (Neustadt and Sonneberg) and their Iron Curtain experience. She strongly delineates how social and psychological barriers developed and strengthened, culminating at the historical and physical barrier at Burned Bridge, a stretch of road that connected the sister cities. This compelling history brings the issue of the inter-German border to a more personal level: a bitter rending of twin cities, a tearing apart that likely happened all over Germany. After the opening of Germany's internal borders in 1989, tensions arose quickly: East Germans resented the West's privileged position, and West Germans were upset about the invasion of their city. VERDICT The romanticized version of generous Westerners and grateful, desperate Easterners is corrected here. Sheffer shows how the barriers grew and then gave way not just to freedom but to shock and uncertainty that is still apparent today. Any audience with an interest in this topic will find this accessible history an excellent way to explore the impact of the Cold War experience on a population.—Maria C. Bagshaw, West Dundee, IL
Kirkus Reviews

An accessible, intriguing academic study tracking the building of the "wall in the head" between East and West Germany long before the actual construction in1961.

Sheffer (History/Stanford Univ.) traces the demarcation between two adjacent towns in the middle of greater Germany, Sonneberg and Neustadt, connected by a naturally created road called Burned Bridge. Each became its own frontier and border town after the political delineations of World War II, largely through habit and ingrained mindset rather than physical restrictions. While the two German towns had always maintained their own personalities and friendly competition in the toy-making industry, after World War II, as per the zonal boundaries established by the victors, Sonneberg was incorporated into the Soviet zone, and Neustadt into the American. While the road of Burned Bridge had once served asthe connection between the two, it now designatedthe "symbol of severance." Gradually, two separate, mutually hostile societies grew within the respective towns, one dominated by the socialist political system, characterized by a tightly controlled economy and a censored, restricted society, the other offering democratic elections, a free market, abundant goods and services and free movement of citizens. While the border had been fairly porous immediately after the war, a growing black market and influx of refugees moving West exacerbated the tension, and both sides recognized the need for tighter controls. Through abundantly documented evidence, in the form of tidbits of small, daily social fabric delineating the ways the towns' inhabitants assimilated this partition, Sheffer reveals how an uneasy postwar society created its own "living wall." Especially chilling is the role of the Stasi—the East German Ministry for State Security—in the inculcation of neighbor spy watching and cross-border surveillance.

A methodical study of one model experiment through which the entire mindset of the Iron Curtain can be viewed.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199911615
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,308,228
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Edith Sheffer is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Peter Schneider

Part One: Demarcation Line, 1945-1952
1. Foundations: Burned Bridge
2. Insecurity: Border Mayhem
3. Inequality: Economic Divides
4. Kickoff: Political Skirmishing

Part Two: "Living Wall," 1952-1961
5. Shock: Border Closure and Deportation
6. Shift: Everyday Boundaries
7. Surveillance: Individual Controls

Part Three: Iron Curtain, 1961-1989
8. Home: Life in the Prohibited Zone
9. Fault Line: Life in the Fortifications
10. Disconnect: East-West Relations
Epilogue: New Divides


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