The Disappearance of Everyday Life in East Germany
RIBA LKE Ozolins Studentship 2001
Field of Research
It is now widely recognized that the reunification of Germany at a legal and political level created a kind of cultural and urban vacuum in the ex-GDR. This thesis tries to chart the process in which reunification robbed the cities of the ex-GDR of their physical and institutional marks of 'everyday life' and replaced them with the imposition of those of the ex-Federal Republic. This process which has not been systematically studied under the special consideration of urban imagery and is argued to be a major source of the ex-GDR's populations sense of estrangement from the new Germany.
Topic of Research
My research concerns the semiology of the everyday in East Germany, concentrating upon its transformation since the fall of the Wall in 1989. Particular attention will be paid to the analysis of the architectural condition in Leipzig and Berlin during this period of transformation. Photographic material will play a privileged role in this examination.
The loss of objects of the everyday This study of architecture and urban imagery will show how the loss of well- known physical marks and their substitution has led to a feeling of displacement for many East Germans. The research will include issues and objects which fall into this class: the replacement of the popular little figure of the pedestrian traffic light and the 'Green Arrow' which after the Fall did not fit the regulations of the West; the destruction of the Berlin Wall and its problems of preservation; the removal of parcel boxes which where situated in everybody's neighbourhood, the discontinuation of social institutions such as the 'Houses of Culture' and problems of their reuse; the neglect and disappearance of the experience of children in the city (kindergartens, playgrounds, groups of children as a common image of the street scenery,); and the collapse of 'Subotnik'- activities as a form of residential participation. These and many other phenomena which filled the landscape vanished. This has led to a dissatisfaction which is currently expressed on the Internet, in private exchanges and in other unofficial realms. It has the paradoxical effect of converting the official life of the GDR into an unofficial discourse of regret within a reunified Germany. My thesis seeks to interpret this introverted discourse.
This thesis requires on the one hand a methodology for the study of everyday life and its signification. To help in this respect, a long line of French thought on the Everyday (Lefebvre, Barthes, Perec, Althusser, de Certeau) will be consulted. But since the particular problem is the sudden disappearance of this world this problem of signification inevitably becomes intertwined with consideration of memory. Issues of collective memory, forgetting, nostalgia, amnesia, longing and homesickness will be required to supplement such an account of the sign.
The thesis has as its main object the analysis of the materials referred to above. But it will also hopefully connect to current German discussions of how these issues can best be handled. And more precisely curational discussions of how to preserve and represent these objects of everyday life.
Ines Geisler studied architecture at the Bauhaus- University Weimar from where she graduated in 1998. In 1995/96 she studied at the Ecole d'Architecture de Belleville in Paris and at the Sorbonne. In 1999 she graduated from the University of Cambridge with a Master of Philosophy at the Department of Architecture. Until she began her PhD thesis at the Architectural Association in London in 2000, she worked in practices in Leipzig and Berlin. Since 2001 she teaches at the AA in Histories and Theories and is Unit Tutor in the Diploma School.
Email: Ines Geisler