Andrew Demshuk (2020)

A Polish Approach for German Cities? Cement Old Towns and the Search for Rootedness in Postwar Leipzig and Frankfurt/Main

Zeitschrift European History Quarterly
Abkürzung der Zeitschrift EHQ
Heftnummer/Volume 50: 1(2020)
Seitenzahl(en) 88-127

ISSN: 0265-6914, (eISSN) 1461-7110

This essay explores the consequences of a hunger for history amid the architectural desolation that had blighted most German cities by the 1970s. After sweeping demolitions had wrought a so-called 'second destruction' that eclipsed the scale of wartime losses, Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain steadily identified Poland as a model for humane reconstruction. Not just historic preservation but even historic replicas long rejected by preservationists as inauthentic were demanded as a way out of modernist anonymity and ugliness to make 'home' in an invented history. It was a trend as thoroughly comprehensible as it was problematic – for which history would one privilege? If modernism had encouraged an escape from the past, preservation or reproduction of choice monuments threatened to instill selective forgetting, a reinvention of the past that could marginalize or twist the lessons of wartime destruction. To grapple with these quandaries, this essay begins with an exposition of the increasingly lauded Polish solution through close analysis of the old town in Wrocław, the very 'capital' of so-called 'Recovered Territories' acquired from Germany after the Second World War. Having reviewed the genesis, realization, and shortcomings of Poland's nationalized reinscription of urban space, German disappointment with modernist erasure will be examined in Leipzig and Frankfurt, each leading cities in their respective Cold War successor states that roughly paralleled each other in their increasing interest in Polish methods. After timid attempts at preservation and replicas in each city before the mid-1960s failed to satisfy the public longing for hominess, debates intensified about whether to replicate a sweeping array of monuments lost to war and demolition. Alienated in 'their own' cities, residents in Frankfurt and Leipzig incited discourse with contemporary ramifications about how to appropriate one's surroundings as home.