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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans made the Iron Curtain
by Sheffer, Edith Alice Replogle, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2008, 641; 3353455
Abstract (Summary)

How did a line on the ground become a "wall in the head"? This dissertation explores the creation of the Iron Curtain over half a century between two adjacent German towns, Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg. These cities were joined by a road called Burned Bridge, but then found themselves—after 1945—divided into East and West. The interactions of townspeople behind and across the Iron Curtain reveals the startling extent to which they participated in their own partition.

This study challenges several long-standing tenets of the Cold War: that the Iron Curtain was unilaterally imposed by Soviet and East German leadership upon a unified, resistant populace, that the West wholly opposed it, and that it was thus a product, not a producer, of East-West divergence. Rather, surprising events at Burned Bridge suggest how the border was dynamically constructed by local, state, and global interests, an axis of anxiety that assumed a life of its own. While devised in Moscow and Washington, Berlin and Bonn, the Iron Curtain was shaped and enforced by the wary residents who lived along it—victims who became its willing and unwilling wardens.

On the heels of Hitler's "Thousand Year Reich," nervous Germans on both sides broadly accepted the border against other Germans. Without preexisting religious, ethnic, or ideological differences, the sheer process of accommodating the boundary fueled oppositional identities, becoming a mindset and a way of life. Although the Iron Curtain was always far more porous than it appeared, ordinary people perceived less freedom than actually existed. As this mental boundary reinforced the physical border, frontier citizens helped construct their own captivity.

Burned Bridge is both a symbol and a protagonist of Germany's postwar journey from Nazism to democracy and to communism and its dissolution. It suggests the complex core of a Cold War nation that was defined more by the interaction, than the segregation, of its opposed halves. Belief in the Iron Curtain solidified the Iron Curtain—which why it was so quick to build, as well as so quick to fall down. Division was, indeed, a "wall in the head."

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Connelly, John
School: University of California, Berkeley
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Modern history
Keywords: Berlin Wall, Border, Burned Bridge, Cold War, East Germany, Germany, Iron Curtain, West Germany
Publication Number: 3353455
ISBN: 978-1-109-09760-3
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