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Yesterday evening our guest was historian Jens Schöne, who just published his newest work „Die DDR. Eine Geschichte des Arbeiter- und Bauernstaates“ ("The GDR. A history of the state of workers and peasants") at the Berlin Story publishing company, which offers an overall view of the GDR era. The book is also available in English („The GDR“), which unfortunately is still a rare fact considering the existing literature about the GDR. The book is very popular in our museum store, especially the English version is highly demanded by our interested international tourists.
Mr. Schöne studied Recent and Modern History at Humboldt University Berlin and received his doctor's degree in 2004 with a work on the collectivization of the GDR agriculture. Currently he is holding the position of Associate County Representative for the Stasi documents in Berlin and is also working as an associate lecturer at Humboldt University since 2007. Therefore he also mentioned some of his experiences with interesting students yesterday evening.
After a short introduction of the book a discussion followed rather quickly, since the audience's strong desire to exchange opinions was quite strong. The focus of the evening was drawn to the results as well as shortcomings of the present research on the GDR. Therefore Mr. Schöne started with an overview of the topics which have been discussed lately in this specific field. He furthermore suggested to open up one's view. According to the historian it is no coincidence that many people cannot identify with the general academic representation of the GDR. It is not necessarily about a revision of the overall assessment of the GDR as a dictatorship but more about an extension of research topics such as the Ministry of the Interior, the bloc parties or economy.
An especially interesting question was the one concerning the general concentration on the rehabilitation of the Ministry of State Security. Schöne however regards this development as necessary and inevitable. He stated that this process is absolutely logical, since the research is institutionalized in form of an authority which by law is merely permitted to deal with this topic. According to Mr. Schöne, further research institutions and professorships at universities for the topic GDR, which could dedicate their work to other aspects of GDR history with the support of state money, are missing. A member of the audience remarked that due to the concentration on the Ministry of State Security the institution has been turned into the “big monster”, which allowed other structural institutions which were also supporting the dictatorship to slip away from the question of guilt rather unnoticed and without much public recognition.
A lady from the audience further questioned whether it made sense to do research on the GDR, which obviously was intended as a rather provocative statement but nonetheless resulted in numerous other comments. Behind this remark of course stands the “great question” concerning the general sense of dealing with and doing research on history, which called for some more universal answers. A member of the audience then skillfully summarized the discussion as follows: By reading books such as the one by Mr. Schöne no one could tell her any nonsense and the reader will be enabled to disagree with others during future discussions.
To recall the entire highly interesting discussion would overwhelm the format of this report, for rarely have I been to one of our events where so many diverse responses were contributed by our audience. The evening seemed like a nice conversation among a bigger group, where all participants were very familiar with the topic. I highly enjoyed the many thought-provoking impulses and would therefore like to thank Jens Schöne, Stefan Wolle and each and every one of our guests for this great evening!