I recently had the chance to speak with Victor Grossman, an American Communist who defected to the East Bloc at the height of the “Red Scare” in 1952, for the Radio GDR podcast. Once on the other side of the Iron Curtain, he found himself in the GDR, a country that would be his home until it ceased to exist in 1990. While a strong supporter of “the socialist project”, Grossman is clear-eyed about the GDR, its achievements and shortcomings.

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For this episode of the the Radio GDR podcast I sat down with Debby Pattiz to talk about the unusual semester she spent in the GDR back in 1988 as a Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) student on exchange to Wilhelm-Pieck Universität in Rostock.

Our episode begins with an exploration of the history of the GDR’s extensive “Ausländerstudium” (Foreign Students) program, which brought over 100,000 college students from close to 140 countries to universities in East Germany.

The second part of the episode focuses on Debby’s research into the unprecedented Brown-Rostock Program, which enabled dozens of Brown students to spend a semester in the GDR during the 1980’s. We examine the exchange’s Cold War geopolitical context and its impact on US-GDR bilateral relations in the 1970’s and 1980’s (including: the USA’s expanding war in Southeast Asia, recognition of the GDR by the United Nations, signing of the Helsinki Accords, the 1983 Able-Archer exercises, and CIA/MfS interest in the program).

To hear my chat with Debby, please click here.

I was back on the Radio GDR podcast for an episode featuring a conversation with Tim Mohr, author of Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. For this chat, I was joined once again by Dr. Edward Larkey, an expert on GDR music and with a particular expertise on the East German underground in the country’s later years.

In this episode, Tim tells us about the emergence of the punk movement in the GDR, the challenge it posed to “real existing socialism”, the lengths authorities went to in order to neutralize the threat and the role punk played in bringing the Wall down in November 1989.

To hear this episode, go to: https://radiogdr.com/burning-down-the-haus-punk-rock-revolution-and-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-with-tim-mohr-42/

For a Spotify playlist of some of the artists and songs mentioned in this episode, click here.

In this episode of the Radio GDR podcast, I take part in a group conversation with Michael Wagg about his book The Turning Season: DDR-Oberliga Revisted.

In his book, Michael brings readers on his extended road trip to the former-East during which he revisits the 14 clubs that made up the 1989 DDR-Oberliga, GDR soccer’s top flight. In our talk with Michael, we explore his experiences on the road and hear about a variety of fates that met these teams and their supporters in newly unified Germany.

To listen to this podcast, please click here.

For part three of my Radio GDR podcast series with Dr. Ed Larkey. we continue our discussion on the broad theme of how popular music and politics intersected in the GDR, this time in the 1970s and 1980s.

In this episode, we touch on how youth culture evolved in these decades and how the Party did, or didn’t, respond. We look at the cultural touchstone that was 1973’s World Festival of Youth and Students in East Berlin, an event that has come to be known by some as “The Red Woodstock”. Other topics discussed will include the Festival of Political Song, an annual event which Ed attended while living in the East and we even get a first person account on the festival from Chris Tait, the singer/guitarist of Chalk Circle, a Canadian alternative band that performed at it in 1989.

You can find this episode online here: https://radiogdr.com/the-red-woodstock-politics-and-pop-music-in-east-germany-part-3/

For a Spotify playlist of songs mentioned in this episode, click here.

I’m pleased to be contributing another episode to the Radio GDR podcast, again with Dr. Edward Larkey, a Professor Emeritus in German and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In this second of three episodes looking at aspects of popular music in the GDR, Ed and I look at the relationship between popular music and politics in the first two decades of East Germany’s existence, the 1950s and 1960s. We discuss the ways in which the ruling SED Party and East German authorities tried to create a distinctly socialist youth culture that was appealing and delivered the desired ideological content

You can find the episode here: https://radiogdr.com/politics-and-pop-music-of-east-germany-part-2/.

Here is a Spotify playlist that accompanies Politics and Pop Music in the GDR Part 2.

Episode one provides an overview of pop and rock music from the GDR, again with Ed at the other mic. Find this show at: https://radiogdr.com/musik-in-der-ddr-rock-and-pop-music-of-east-germany-127/

The eastern German city of Leipzig is known as the “City of Heroes” for its role as home to the protests which led to the demise of the state socialist regime. Explanations for why Leipzigers took to the streets have often focused on a number of factors including political repression, the desire to travel and economic stagnation, but author/academic Andrew Demshuk makes a compelling argument in his book Bowling for Communism that, for many Leipzigers, the slow motion decay was a decisive factor in their decision to rise up.

Demshuk will make his case at an online event presented by the Goethe-Institut Toronto on Thursday, January 28th from 6 – 7 pm EST. I’ll be joining the author to discuss his exciting work and it would be great to have some GDR Objectified readers there too.

For further details on this event and to register, click here.

Looking for ways to spend time with my family this Christmas season, I decided to try my hand at the medium of felt buildings. My partner and daughter were working on seasonally-themed structures, but I figured GDR modern structures might benefit from the felt treatment . . .

First up, was a recreation of the “Maple Leaf” canteen in central East Berlin. The building’s distinctive roof was the trademark design of the iconic GDR architect Ulrich Müther and its shape gave the building its name. The canteen opened in 1973 and could seat up to 880 diners at once with its clientele coming from local schools and workplaces. Sadly, the “Maple Leaf” fell to the wrecking ball in 2000.

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Had Täve Schur not existed, the GDR would have had to have invented him. In fact, one might argue that it did.

Gustav-Adolf Schur, or Täve as he is known to all East Germans of a certain age, was a road racing cyclist whose fame grew throughout the course of the 1950s as he moved from one sporting success to the next.

Täve Schur celebrates winning the Karl-Marx-Stadt to Leipzig leg of the 1955 Peace Race
(photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-30443-0001)

His evolution into becoming an East German sporting icon was not, however, simply the result of his remarkable career, but also a reflection of his having been embraced by the nascent Workers and Peasants’ State. Indeed, Schur emerged onto the scene at a time when the GDR leadership was searching for ways to raise the country reputation both at home and abroad. In Schur, the regime found a homegrown hero who was demonstrating to the world – and his fellow East Germans – the heights which they – and, implicitly, their political / social system – could reach.

For those interested in the aural medium of podcasting, I have once again had the pleasure of contributing to the excellent Radio GDR podcast, this time for an episode entitled “Musik in der DDR: Rock and Pop Music of East Germany”.

In this the first of three episodes on popular music in the GDR, I am joined by Dr. Edward Larkey, an expert on GDR music and author of Rotes Rockradio. Populäre Musik und die Kommerzialisierung des DDR-Rundfunks (Red Rock Radio. Popular Music and the Commercialization of GDR Broadcasting).

With Ed’s input, I put together a Spotify playlist of GDR Music to accompany this episode.

Among the themes we touch on in this episode are:

  • The evolution of the Party’s acceptance and understanding of “pop music”
  • The GDR’s “pop music” system: how did it work, who was approved, how much censorship was there and how did that work?
  • Was there a distinct “GDR pop music”? Was it genuinely popular? What was its relationship to Western music?
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