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American Culture in East and West German Reconstruction
In 1953 Karl Bednarik published a book, which was widely read and reviewed in West Germany, on what he called a "new type" of young male workers. According to Bednarik these young men were characterized by two things above all: their love for westerns and other sensationalist films and their enthusiasm for jazz. That same year East German officials and newspapers drew a similar image of male adolescents. In the aftermath of the June 1953, uprising in East Germany, they accused "Tangojünglinge" (Tango-boys) and other young males in "Texas shirts" and cowboy pants of having caused "provocations."
In the decade following World War II, many East and West Germans came once again to believe, and fear, that American popular culture was shaping young Germans and especially young German men. From the late 1940s through the first half of the 1950s, debates over westerns, gangster stories, and jazz became vehicles through which Germans on both sides of the descending Iron Curtain discussed American influences and changing German identities. How to make German boys into men who were neither too weak nor too aggressive and how to make German girls into respectable women became one of the major challenges for East and West German authorities, as they were seeking to separate themselves from National Socialism and to rebuild their societies—and soon also their armies—in the face of the Cold War. The conflicts over American popular culture between East and West German authorities and adolescents became a central component in the cultural and political dynamics that shaped the growing division between the two Germanies.
Along with the ideas about America that Germans had developed during the Weimar and Nazi years, the experiences of U.S. and Soviet occupation, including fraternization, rape, denazification, and economic policies, were important in shaping ambivalent and often hostile East and West German attitudes toward American influences. In the midst of poverty and ruins, the Allies, and the newly appointed German authorities, began to ask how Germans should educate and entertain themselves. Because of censorship and economic constraints, Germans had relatively little access to American westerns and gangster movies in the immediate postwar years and adolescents instead avidly consumed dime novels. By the early 1950s, however, the U.S. film industry was delivering plenty of movies, including westerns and gangster films, to West Germany. Throughout the 1950s American films made up the majority of movies released in West Germany, and Germans flooded to see them.
Even with the division of Germany, American influences could still be felt in the Soviet Zone and later in the GDR. Authorities there increasingly tried to prevent their population's exposure to American culture, but they could not control access. In East Germany, no American movies were released in the 1940s and only six American films were shown in the course of the 1950s, but East German authorities were well aware that every day thousands of East Germans, especially young people, crossed the borders to the Western sectors of Berlin where they watched West European and American movies. East German papers even reviewed many American films as soon as they opened in West Berlin. By contrast, Soviet productions, which made up at least 50 percent of the movies released in the Soviet Zone, were "too heavy," too serious, or too militaristic for German audiences who complained that such movies provided little enjoyment. As one Soviet cultural officer concluded, Germans were interested only in films about adventure and romance. American movies thus quickly proved more popular than Soviet productions. Also, Germans in all zones could listen to jazz on the radio and in clubs in the late 1940s, and many of them adopted American dance styles such as the boogie.
While many U.S. government programs in the 1940s and 1950s sought to prove to Germans that the United States was a land of high culture, East and West German officials, like authorities in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, grew increasingly worried about the impact that American movies, jazz, and boogie-woogie had on German youth. In the new German states, youth protection efforts varied, but both sides often drew on prewar discourses in their efforts to contain the impact of American-style consumer culture. At the same time, East German authorities made highly publicized efforts to exploit hostilities toward American culture that existed in East and West Germany. During the 1950 trial of Werner Gladow, whose gang had engaged in a crime spree across East and West Berlin, and the 1953 East German uprising, East German officials and the press linked American culture directly to juvenile delinquency and political deviance. This put West Germans, who were forging an alliance with the United States and who had plenty of Americans in their territory, into an awkward position. However, in both Germanies some officials also tried to use American or American-influenced cultural products, such as movies or jazz, to attract adolescents to their respective political causes. Under the conditions of the Cold War and in the context of diverging political and economic systems, such voices gained some, if always embattled, force in West Germany.
OCCUPATION AND FRATERNIZATION
In 1945, neither Germans nor the Allies who had defeated Germany had a clear vision of what the future would hold for the country. Most German cities lay in ruins, many people lived in cellars and destroyed buildings, often separated from their families. Millions of Displaced Persons (former concentration camp inmates and forced laborers) were awaiting repatriation or immigration visas. Moreover, millions of "ethnic Germans" who had fled or were expelled from the Eastern parts of the former Reich and the German-occupied territories were searching for new homes. Geographically and politically, Germany was divided into four occupation zones: American, British, French, and Russian, each with its military government. The Allies also divided Berlin into four sectors, although the city had a common administration.
During the following years, the four Allies shaped the political and economic reconstruction within their zones, even as they increasingly transferred control to German authorities. With the intensification of the Cold War, the Western Allies—the United States, Britain, and France—agreed to cooperate as they built a democratic state with a market economy in their three zones, which covered the Western two thirds of Germany and held over 70 percent of its population. In 1947 the United States and Britain formed "Bizonia." A year later "Trizonia," which also included the French zone of occupation, followed. In the Eastern zone, the Soviets, together with German communists, pursued the nationalization of industries, introduced land reform, and insured that the SED, the Socialist Unity Party, became the ruling party.
Even as the Allies repeatedly exchanged notes and held conferences about building a united Germany, the Cold War division of the country took shape. In 1947, the Soviets rejected the economic aid offered by the United States through the Marshall Plan. The following year, in June 1948, the Western Allies reformed the currency in the Western zones, thus stabilizing economic activity there and also affirming the division of Germany. In response, the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on West Berlin, which lasted until May 1949.
Berlin would not remain unified in this climate. In November 1948, Soviet and East German authorities put an end to the united German local administration for all of Berlin and formed a separate Berlin government in their sector. Germans (and the world) came to think of the Soviet sector as East Berlin and of the three Western sectors as West Berlin.
The Allies continued to formalize the division of Germany over the next year. In May 1949, the Federal Republic was founded on the territory of the three Western zones, and in October the founding of the German Democratic Republic on the territory of the Soviet Zone followed. By 1955, both German states became formally sovereign while firmly tied to the two emerging political and military blocs: NATO in the West and the Warsaw Pact in the East.
In the second half of the 1940s, Allies and Germans were very concerned with the provision of food and housing, but they were also trying to figure out how to reconstruct and reeducate a nation that had waged a terrible war and committed horrific crimes in an effort to forge a racial utopia. Many Germans were anxious and feared retribution; others hoped for radical change.
The experiences of occupation shaped German reactions to American culture in important ways. The American military presence in Germany changed with the developments of the Cold War. When Germany signed the declaration of unconditional surrender in May 1945, 2.6 million U.S. troops were deployed in Europe. The vast majority of them was quickly deactivated and replaced with a much smaller force necessary for the occupation of the American zones in Austria and in Germany (including Bavaria, Hesse, northern sections of Baden and Württemberg, and the city of Bremen). In 1950 American troop strength in Europe dropped to a mere eighty thousand. With the outbreak of the Korean War that same year, however, the U.S. government reversed this trend and by 1951 a quarter million American soldiers were again stationed in Germany, most of them in the West German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which had originally been part of the French zone of occupation. Until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the United States would retain similar or higher troop strength in West Germany as its central contribution to the NATO forces in western Europe.
Fraternization of German women and American soldiers accompanied the American military presence and worried many Germans. In the West German press of the late 1940s, stories critical of female divorcees and "fraternizers" replaced laudatory reports about the brave Trümmerfrauen (women who were clearing the rubble of destroyed cities). Fraternizers were depicted as selfish and seemed to further weaken German male authority. In the West perhaps more so than in the East, the disruption and guilt of these years were thus frequently displaced onto women.
West German commentators focused especially on those women who had relations with American soldiers. In spite of an initial U.S. ban on fraternization, aimed at reinforcing the notion of collective German guilt for war atrocities, many GIs struck up relationships with German women almost as soon as they entered German territory. American posters and literature gave dire warnings to U.S. troops about contracting venereal diseases from German women. Billboards showed a woman in a trench coat with "VD" stamped across her chest, and this acronym was further popularized with the song "Veronika, Danke Schön."
Nevertheless, more positive American views of German women soon prevailed, and in the minds of U.S. soldiers and politicians, the "rubble woman" replaced the male Nazi storm trooper as the dominant German image. Americans, like postwar Germans, did not view women as ardent followers of National Socialism and thus ignored women's contributions to the Nazi regime and the war effort. The apparently rapid rise of this view may have been aided by the fact that by December 1945, most U.S. troops who had seen combat were replaced by young men who had not fought the war in Europe. Official U.S. representations at home increasingly sought to desexualize relations between American GIs and German women in order to make German women and American behavior abroad appear respectable to domestic audiences. Popular German representations, in turn, did just the opposite. Germans used "Veronika" to label all women who entered relationships with GIs as prostitutes. Other derogatory expressions included "Amiliebchen" (Ami-lover) and "soldiers' brides." Drawing on the German stereotypes of powerful American women, called Amazons by some Weimar commentators, and playing with the term American zone, critics also referred to the German female fraternizers as "Amizonen." Particularly disturbing to these critics were no doubt the relationships between African American soldiers and white German women, who were often called "Negerliebchen" (Negro lovers). In the minds of Germans and of U.S. military authorities alike, such relationships once again raised fears about miscegenation, and after the fraternization ban was lifted, mixed-race couples found it much harder to receive marriage licenses from U.S. military commanders than their all-white counterparts.
During the 1940s, many of the relationships between German women and U.S. soldiers were based on a need for food, consumer goods, and protection. That is not to say that mutual affection could not play a role; certainly numerous relationships ended in marriage. But in the minds of many Germans, the food or nylon stockings that German women received from their American lovers, or the dances they danced with them, confirmed a link that had a long history in German anti-Americanism: the link between consumption and the oversexualization of women. And even more so than in the interwar years, Germans now related these phenomena to the weakness of German men. Such concerns and the derogatory labels for German women who entered relationships with U.S. soldiers would continue well beyond the period of occupation. Over the next decades, reporting about American soldiers and their predilections for drinking, dancing, and/or German women would cement the link that most Germans made between America, consumption, and materialism.
Overall, West German views of the United States continued to be deeply ambivalent. For many Germans, female "fraternizers" came to stand in for what they experienced as an emasculation and victimization first at the hands of the U.S. occupation force and then at the hands of the American military superpower. But alongside the criticisms of fraternizers and materialism existed a strong admiration for U.S. efforts to alleviate German deprivation, especially through the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan, and CARE (Cooperative for American Relief to Everywhere) packages.
The images of fraternizers, wealth, and materialism, associated with one superpower, the United States, contrasted sharply with the images of the other superpower, the Soviet Union. Although hard to quantify, responses first to Soviet occupation and then to continuing Soviet influence in East Germany were more negative. Nazi propaganda that had portrayed Soviet soldiers as brutal subhumans appeared to be confirmed in the minds of many Germans when soldiers of the Red Army pillaged German towns and engaged in a campaign of mass rapes in 1945. In the Eastern Zone, the threat of rape continued for women until Soviet troops were confined to their barracks in the winter of 1947–48. To be sure, rapes also occurred in the West in 1945, but to a much lesser degree. As with fraternization in West Germany, mass rapes in East Germany were part of the gender crisis caused by war and occupation. But ironically, mass rapes also facilitated a resolution of this crisis in East Germany. In 1945 many German men failed to come to the aid of women, but over the following years, their role as protectors against a (diminishing) threat of rape became part of a "remasculinization" that happened perhaps more speedily in East than in West Germany. While Soviet authorities and the leadership of the SED successfully suppressed public discussions of looting and rape, these events undoubtedly contributed to hostility toward the Soviet Union. Likely they also led to lower rates of fraternization, although the Soviets initially did not impose a fraternization ban, and fraternization between German women and Soviet soldiers happened for much the same reasons as in the West. Reparations set by the Soviets, which sharply reduced industrial capacity in the Eastern Zone, and the Marshall Plan, which soon spurred economic development in the Western zones, exacerbated this contrast between a Soviet Union associated with deprivation and a United States associated with prosperity—a contrast that Western propaganda would certainly exploit as the Cold War picked up.
The seeds of this contrast were already planted during the early occupation when Allied cultural visions still shared many similarities. In occupied Germany the four Allies determined cultural policies, although they began to return control to the Germans in 1946. Each in their own zone, the Allies seized and denazified the mass media; they licensed newspapers and radio stations and controlled movie programs. In the Eastern zone, Soviet and German communists tried to foster a classical German tradition (for example, the works of Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven) and opted for some variety in cultural life, in order to effect an "antifascist democratic" transformation of Germany. Their programs featured folk dances, films, and public ceremonies, and included Soviet music and film, but in 1945 and 1946, they agreed that it was not yet time to adopt a Soviet model in Germany. 14 The Western Allies also hoped to counter Nazi ideas, which they believed were deeply ingrained in German society, through reeducation programs. As part of these efforts to turn Germans into democrats, they, too, sought to foster a classical German tradition, supplemented with modernist art.
Excerpted from Jazz, Rock, and Rebels by Uta G. Poiger. Copyright © 2000 the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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