Preservation for the Masses: The Idea of Heimat and the Gesellschaft für Denkmalpflege in the GDR

  • Brian Campbell (Autor/in)


This paper explores the links between historical preservation and Heimat in the German Democratic Republic. How did East Germans view their Heimat through the mens of their historical landscape, how did this change and what effect did party and governmen policy in the GDR have on this? Early citizen preservation activities were brought under the aegis of the Kulturbund, where older concepts of a German Heimat persisted until the late 1950s when the SED initiated an effort to promote a new „socialist Heimat“ over the more traditional one. This hurt citizen preservation acitvities until the early 1970s when SED policy towards the cultural Erbe, or heritage, changed. In 1977 a Gesellschaft für Denkmalpflege within the Kulturbund was formed to promote preservation activities, so long as they reinforced ideological goals. But despite attempts by the SED and GDR to create and impose a „socialist Heimat“ the focused on recent historical events, most society members devoted their attention to older objects. As more East German became involved in volunteer preservation acitivities, they voiced a growing dissatisfaction with construction and presercation policies which were eliminating the individual character of cities and towns throughout the GDR while funneling resources towards Berlin. This paper was originally presented at the Second East Germany Revisited Conference in Berlin at the Humboldt-University on October 5, 2003.