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Envisioning Socialism

Television and the Cold War in the German Democratic Republic

Heather Gumbert

Publication Year: 2014

Envisioning Socialism examines television and the power it exercised to define the East Germans’ view of socialism during the first decades of the German Democratic Republic. In the first book in English to examine this topic, Heather L. Gumbert traces how television became a medium prized for its communicative and entertainment value. She explores the difficulties GDR authorities had defining and executing a clear vision of the society they hoped to establish, and she explains how television helped to stabilize GDR society in a way that ultimately worked against the utopian vision the authorities thought they were cultivating. Gumbert challenges those who would dismiss East German television as a tool of repression that couldn’t compete with the West or capture the imagination of East Germans. Instead, she shows how, by the early 1960s, television was a model of the kind of socialist realist art that could appeal to authorities and audiences. Ultimately, this socialist vision was overcome by the challenges that the international market in media products and technologies posed to nation-building in the postwar period. A history of ideas and perceptions examining both real and mediated historical conditions, Envisioning Socialism considers television as a technology, an institution, and a medium of social relations and cultural knowledge. The book will be welcomed in undergraduate and graduate courses in German and media history, the history of postwar Socialism, and the history of science and technologies.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This work is the product of more years than I would like to admit. That it has finally seen the light of day, so to speak, is due to the support of a number of institutions and individuals. I began this project as a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, where I received financial, collegial, and moral support. Generous gifts...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-13

I had been in the archive not more than a month when I found a peculiar fragment of the past. In the late 1950s the East German television service had received a letter from an enthusiastic viewer proposing the scenario for a new show. The action revolved around a strong, male protagonist who fought for...

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1. Cold War Signals: Television Technology in the GDR

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pp. 14-35

On 2 June 1952, the director of the State Broadcasting Committee (SRK) Kurt Heiss called the recently appointed head of the provisional television center Wolfgang Kleinert and declared, “We must start broadcasting tomorrow, as if we have a real program!”1 These first broadcasts were haphazard. They were...

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2. Inventing Television Programming in the GDR

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pp. 36-59

In mid-1952, a young television worker named Günter Hansel arrived for his first day of work at the East German television service (DFF). Despite his youth and inexperience, his new boss immediately threw him into producing the news. Hansel, one of the service’s first employees, experienced “torturing...

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3. The Revolution Wasn’t Televised: Political Discipline Confronts Live Television in 1956

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pp. 60-80

In November 1956, an East German broadcasting enthusiast wrote to the head of the State Broadcasting Committee, Gerhard Eisler, to express his dismay with the news coverage of the East German press and broadcasting services. Heinz D., the deputy director of a medical training facility (but who described...

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4. Mediating the Berlin Wall: Television in August 1961

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pp. 81-104

In July 1961, the DFF presented the East German television audience with the case of five East Germans arrested for economic espionage against the GDR. The group appeared before the criminal court, accused of gathering information on members of the East German intelligentsia and convincing them by...

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5. Coercion and Consent in Television Broadcasting: The Consequences of August 1961

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pp. 105-134

As the Second Berlin Crisis reached a climax with the border closure of August 1961, East German authorities were in a position of renewed strength both in relationship to the West and in their relationship to their own citizens. The initial international diplomatic uproar over the Berlin Wall faded, but 13 August...

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6. Reaching Consensus on Television

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pp. 135-157

In August 1961, just days before the construction of the Berlin Wall and while the DFF was still working out the final storyline for Fetzer, the department of television drama of the DFF filmed the final scene of a new mini-series, Revolt of the Conscience (Gewissen in Aufruhr). Hans Oliva wrote the script based on...

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pp. 158-164

By 1989, there was a fairly widespread Western consensus that East Germans spent their evenings watching Western television. Even the (former East) German cultural historian Helmut Hanke characterized West German television as “the only open window on the world, a window that, even during the Cold War...


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pp. 165-216


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pp. 217-230


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pp. 231-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780472120024
E-ISBN-10: 0472120026
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472119196

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol