cover image Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany

Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany

Katja Hoyer. Basic, $35 (496p) ISBN 978-1-541-60257-1

Historian and journalist Hoyer (Blood and Iron) captivates with this compassionate narrative of a lost nation. The German Democratic Republic was founded on October 7, 1949, and “vanished literally overnight” when Germany unified in 1990. Arguing that the German national obsession with Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“the process of ‘overcoming’ history”) has denied East Germans their past, Hoyer retells the country’s short history through the eyes of its soldiers, workers, mothers, and students, capturing the ardor and joy of people striving to build a new nation. Hoyer astutely analyzes East Germany’s formative moments, such as Stalin handpicking the country’s inaugural leaders—president Wilhelm Pieck and Communist Party head Walter Ulbricht. She heaps criticism on Ulbricht for his lack of charisma and for his harsh work quotas that led to the June 1953 uprising; when Moscow sent in tanks to quell the protests, at least 55 people were killed. She writes that the Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, was “undoubtedly a human tragedy,” but stresses that “the most abiding memories many East Germans have of this time are shaped by the large-scale building projects, new professional opportunities especially for women, families obtaining their first cars,” and other modernizations. While readers may question whether this economic gain and social stability made up for the regime’s repressiveness, Hoyer’s sympathetic chronicle succeeds in reclaiming East German history for the East Germans. (Sept.)