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East German city planning is a particular interest of mine because here the frictions between the utopian aspects of the socialist project and the concrete realities of daily life in the GDR are revealed in a most telling way. East German leaders were determined to create the “new socialist personality” (their version of the Homo Sovieticus) and saw in city planning another tool to facilitate this goal. At the centre of these efforts were four so-called “socialist cities”, towns planned from the ground up and, theoretically at least, built in such a way as to enable its citizens to live their lives in conformity with the values and priorities of the state’s socialist ideology. Over the past number of years, I managed to visit three of these several times (Eisenhüttenstadt, Hoyerswerda and Halle-Neustadt), but had never made it to the fourth, Schwedt. That changed this past April when I was able to spend a day in this town in the lovely Uckermark region to the north-east of Berlin.

Public Art from GDR Era, Pt. 1

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My guide in Schwedt was Dr. Johanna Goldberg, a resident of the town since 1969 and someone who will be familiar to regular readers as the subject of several recent posts. My hope was that she would be able to give me a personal take on Schwedt’s history and I was not disappointed. Before heading out for my tour, however, I gave a close read to Dr. Philipp Springer’s Verbaute Träume: Herrschaft, Stadtentwicklung und Lebensrealität in der sozialistischen Industriestadt Schwedt (Blocked Dreams: Power, City Planning and Daily Life in the Socialist Industrial Centre of Schwedt – Ch. Links Verlag, 2006), a detailed look at the development of this “socialist city” and source of many of the facts laid out here. Read More

Early last year, I published a post on a Reconstruction Card belonging to a “Johanna Goldberg”, a young woman who’d resided in East Berlin in the 1950s. This name’s possibly Jewish character had me speculating on who this individual was and what her story might be. At the time I promised to do some digging to see if I could find out the story of this person. While doing so, I came across a self-published autobiography entitled Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor) by a Johanna Goldberg whose biographical information suggested that I might be on the right track. So, I bought the book and while reading, quickly realized that I had stumbled on to a remarkable individual.

Dr. Johanna Goldberg's autobiography Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor).

Dr. Johanna Goldberg’s autobiography Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor).

However, as this Johanna Goldberg’s life path took her from a childhood spent largely in foster care through to medical studies, marriage and eventually a position as doctor, I began to suspect that perhaps I had not found the person I was looking for.  There was no mention here of a period spent in post-war Berlin or any reference to Jewish roots. So when I  managed to locate the author and asked directly, I wasn’t too surprised to find the following response in my email inbox soon after:

“Dear Mr. Kleiner, many thanks for your letter and your project.

I am not the Johanna Goldberg from Treskowallee in Berlin whom you are looking for, but I suppose that I do indeed belong to the ‘Reconstruction’ generation [Aufbaugeneration] of Germans.”

And on the issue of a possible Jewish connection in her family:

“My husband’s family has no Jewish roots. They come from the Czech/German border region and there was, maybe still is, a village with that name there. But that was long ago.” (email, Feb. 22, 2013)

And with that, both my theories were, alas, shot down. My spirits soon lifted, however, when Dr. Goldberg declared herself ready to answer the many questions that had come to mind while reading her book and sure enough, several weeks later the first of several extensive emails arrived with detailed answers and reflections on themes that I had raised. Because of the way in which Dr. Goldberg’s life illustrates a number of recurring motifs of life in the GDR, I will dedicate my next three posts to presenting her biography.

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