Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Andrew Demshuk's "Demolition on Karl Marx Square"

Andrew Demshuk is Assistant Professor of History at American University. His publications include The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory (2012).

Demshuk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Demolition on Karl Marx Square: Cultural Barbarism and the People's State in 1968, and reported the following:
“Cultural historical assets will obviously be kept in mind,” regional communist party boss Paul Fröhlich assured the Leipzig university senate in January 1964. This quote from page 99 of Demolition on Karl Marx Square encapsulates the deceitful rhetoric by which a diverse host of leaders pushed forth their imperative to remake this major East German city’s central Karl Marx Square into a modern campus. Fröhlich was lying when he related the “‘well known’ statistic” to his eminent audience of administrators and academics “‘that the city center was up to about 90% destroyed.’” Any of them could see for themselves that, beside the partially intact and in-use historicist masterpiece of the university’s storied main complex, the fifteenth-century Gothic University Church stood fully intact as a constant venue for concerts, lectures, and multi-confessional services. By demolishing this cherished landmark in 1968, reigning authorities proved their flagrant disregard for an engaged populace that had campaigned for years to preserve what it upheld as one of the city’s dearest “cultural historical assets.”

Page 99 thus offers a snapshot from the steady divergence in regime and public perspectives this book illustrates through a wide array of archival sources. After first unveiling the notion of a purely modern square in 1960, authorities already sought to level the church in 1964 to make way for socialist modernity. Overwhelming public concern expressed in letters and (as page 99 also reveals) active protest from the East German General Conservator and even Cultural Minister helped to stay the dynamite for four years. But then at last, even pitched letter-writing and civil disobedience failed to prevent the destruction of this urban icon in front of stunned crowds on May 30, 1968. Just weeks before the crackdown on Prague Spring, Leipzigers learned that their voices did not matter under real existing socialism. After such a profound gesture of high-level indifference, even hostility to their pleas, they gave upon on “working with” their leaders to build a socialist tomorrow.
Learn more about Demolition on Karl Marx Square at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Lost German East.

--Marshal Zeringue