Berlin, March 13/14, 2017
“People of the world, people in America, in England, in France, in Italy! Look upon this city and see that you must not, you cannot, forsake us!” Those soon to be famous words, delivered on September 9, 1948 by Berlin’s then mayor Ernst Reuter, were more than a speech to the residents of the former imperial capital; they also announced to the world that Berlin – an “outpost of freedom” – would become the focal point of the looming Cold War. Far beyond Germany, Reuter pointed to the threat the Cold War posed to the “West” and called upon “free nations” to defy that challenge by closing ranks. Whether or not “the entire world” was looking at Berlin, as Reuter asserted, is one of the central questions to be addressed at our conference. Starting from the “frontline city” of Berlin, we will cast our glance to West Germany and its neighboring countries in order not only to frame the Berlin Airlift as a transnational memorial of the Cold War, but also to address, from outside, the question of whether Berlin was really the international focus of the East-West conflict back then, as the press and academia so often portray it.
Even today, Berlin is a multi-layered landscape of memory informed by the Cold War, which has left its tangible and intangible marks, with the Airlift, Tempelhof Airport, the Airlift memorial, and the “Platz der Luftbrücke” metro station prominent among them. For the generation that experienced West Berlin at the time, those are what Pierre Nora termed “lieux de mémoire,” or “realms of memory,” endowing their identity and a part of their collective memory. In their three-volume book about German “realms of memory,” Etienne François and Hagen Schulze wrote that these are “enduring crystallization points of collective memory and identity that outlive generations.” If that is true, then the question arises to what extent later generations, or those moving to the city (still) adopt the Airlift as part of their collective West Berliner memory.
Cultural memory is the result of ongoing political and societal processes of negotiation. So the issues raised with the “Airlift realm of memory” are when the construction process began, what the motivations were, which players were part of the process, how it developed beginning in 1948/49, and what significance we can accord it almost 70 years later. Realms of memory are not limited to localities and material objects alone. They are also manifest in personalities, mythical figures, rituals, traditions, and symbols. In those forms, they effectively take on their own gestalt, or they forge a conceptual theme, and condense collective associations.
It is not the intent of this conference to entirely ignore the political, economic, military, technological, and humanitarian challenges occasioned by the Berlin Blockade and the Airlift, or the consequences for the Cold War, or the division of Berlin and Germany. But the primary focus will be to use analysis of the various media (press, newsreels etc.) to examine the direct perception of those central Cold War events by the victorious powers, in West Germany, and in the Soviet occupation zone/East Germany. In addition, we will illuminate memories of the Blockade and the Airlift by examining the ceremonial aspects (organization, process, response) and public speeches (development of a narrative); the anniversary and its symbols (posters, stamps etc.); how they are embedded in Berlin’s topography and beyond (monuments, plaques, renaming of streets); and the museum aspects (memorial sites, Tempelhof Airport, Allied Museum, memorial site in Fassberg etc.). In that way, we can uncover the formative historical-social references and symbolism of the memory site “Airlift.” We will also incorporate a look at how the Airlift has been dealt with in the various forms of artistic expression, such as film (fiction and documentary), photography, literature (novels, thrillers, comics etc.), music, and painting, as well as an analysis of other media such as radio, video games, and even textbooks. For it is only via these various avenues that can we achieve a true impression of how the memory site “Airlift” is embedded in society.
The conference will take an interdisciplinary approach and is directed not only at historians, but also political scientists, teachers, and literary, media, art, and music theorists. The invitation to the colloquium is addressed explicitly to both experienced and younger researchers from the humanities and social sciences. Lectures can be presented in either German or English and should be a maximum of 20 minutes long, in order to leave room for discussion. The exact structure of the event will depend on the suggestions we receive. By submitting a topic, you are also agreeing to provide a piece for the conference catalogue, which will be published in the spring of 2018. Travel and accommodation costs will be reimbursed in accordance with the amount of external funding brought in.
Please submit a suggested topic, a précis of your presentation (2500 characters), and a CV by July 10, 2016, to Ulrich Pfeil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Corine Defrance (email@example.com).
The conference’s advisory council will be responsible for the selection of presentations. It is made up of Corine Defrance, Bernd Greiner, Bettina Greiner, Bernd von Kostka and Ulrich Pfeil.