Monday, November 8, 2021

Andrew Demshuk's "Three Cities After Hitler"

Andrew Demshuk is associate professor of history at American University in Washington, DC. His books include Bowling for Communism: Urban Ingenuity at the End of East Germany, Demolition on Karl Marx Square: Cultural Barbarism and the People’s State in 1968, and The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory.

Demshuk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Three Cities After Hitler: Redemptive Reconstruction Across Cold War Borders, and reported the following:
Three Cities after Hitler compares the politics of urban reconstruction in three cities that had been part of Germany before the Nazi seizure of power but were rebuilt under three competing Cold War regimes: West Germany, East Germany, and Poland. One might think that this would render the Page 99 test less than ideal: each chapter features a chronological period with subsections on each state and then city (Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Wrocław). As a result, Page 99 is largely circumscribed to just one urban example, namely debates about the demolition of Leipzig’s war-torn New Theater façade at the end of the 1940s. This episode nonetheless exemplifies the quandaries surrounding what I call “redemptive reconstruction”: the process by which political and planning elites under all three regime ideologies aesthetically reevaluated and reshaped their partially damaged cities to craft a usable urban future from the physical and ideological ruins the Nazis had left behind. This essentially top-down process yielded “simplified architectural narratives,” whose didactic messaging narrated how each city was taking part in a national story of renewal (page 4). In Frankfurt and Leipzig, which did not suffer Wrocław’s cleansed memory after total population exchange, civic attachment to alternate landmarks increasingly provoked dissention from “redemptive reconstruction.” Page 99 illustrates how the seeds for broader public disaffection were already sown in the early postwar years. As the historic New Theater façade came down in 1950 to make way for a more symbolically redemptive replacement, Leipzigers “expressed suspicion that the solicitation of opinion was mere ritual.” Quotes on page 99, taken from Leipzig’s city archive, reveal anxiety from engaged Leipzigers that the press was a mere mouthpiece for state prescriptions, and gestures toward public inclusion were hollow. By ignoring public input, Page 99 concludes, “city leaders demonstrated flagrant disregard for public interest in how their cityscape evolved after Hitler,” fostering “a sense of disconnect between residents and local leaders.” As the mandates of “redemptive reconstruction” wiped out the historic core of Frankfurt and Leipzig through the following two decades, civic pride increasingly opposed the simplified urban narrative as alien to their sense of home. In Wrocław, meanwhile, public ascriptions of local and national meaning to urban spaces tended to coalesce with the top-down “redemptive” rebranding of formerly German Breslau as an ancient Polish city. But to get at the heart of this comparative story, you need to read the book.
Learn more about Three Cities After Hitler at the University of Pittsburgh Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Lost German East.

The Page 99 Test: Demolition on Karl Marx Square.

The Page 99 Test: Bowling for Communism.

--Marshal Zeringue