The fall of the Berlin Wall : what’s in a title

25 years ago, on 9 November 1989, following weeks of images on the world’s television screens of candle-lit demonstrations in Leipzig, overcrowded embassies and trains, the Berlin Wall opened and residents of East and West Germany flooded across the former border. Some of these images are recorded in 9. November 1989, der Tag der Deutschen (9000.d.4068). The period between October 1989 and reunification a year later was one of tremendous upheaval and rapid change. The turmoil was reflected in the publishing industry, as editions licensed between East and West (Lizenzausgaben) became a thing of the past, replaced initially by joint East/West publications, only for such joint enterprises rapidly to disappear. Old GDR publishing houses were merged or closed, and new publishing houses sprang up, many of them very short-lived.


Selected books of the Berlin Wall in the UL

It has been estimated that from November 1989 onwards a new book on contemporary events was being published every working day. Cambridge University Library did its very best to keep abreast of all these titles and collected extensively in the field. It could be a strange experience. In writing to ask a new publisher about titles and prices, sometimes the actual books were sent by return without charge. We were one of six British libraries who contributed to a union list of titles, along with the Bodleian, the university libraries of Nottingham, Portsmouth and Warwick, and the Institute of Germanic Studies of the University of London (now part of Senate House Library). This was published in 1993 under the title Two into one : Germany 1989-1992 : a bibliography of the ‘Wende’ (Cam.d.993.5, R560.G69). The introduction pays testimony to the range of Cambridge’s collecting activity: “Of those libraries contributing, only Cambridge University can be said to cover every aspect of the subject”.

Cambridge has 11 titles published after the fall of the Wall at the end of 1989, and another 210 covering the immediate aftermath in 1990. There was an eagerness to describe the popular protests in the weeks leading up to November 9th, so we have titles describing events in Leipzig (Leipzig im Oktober (571:78.c.95.45) ; Leipziger Demontagebuch (S570.a.99.4) ; Leipziger Ring (571:78.c.95.53)), in Dresden (Dresden : die friedliche Revolution, Oktober 1989-März 1990 (9001.b.3093)) and in Berlin (4.11.89 : Protestdemonstration Berlin DDR (Heym.a.66.2) ; Berlin im November (S570.c.99.5)).

There is a powerful impression when scanning these titles of history unfolding not in terms of weeks and months, but in hours and days, particularly in the 1989 publications – Stundenbuch einer deutschen Revolution (9002.d.7690), Vier Tage im November (S570.b.99.2), Sieben Tage in Oktober (571:78.c.95.52), 100 Tage, die die DDR erschütterten (9000.d.4844). Political leaders rose and fell with equal rapidity. Each had their moment in print. With the fall of the Berlin Wall the world of Honecker, Mielke and Stroph was swept away, briefly to be replaced by the government of Egon Krenz (571:78.d.95.32) and then by Hans Modrow (571:78.d.95.55 and 571:78.d.95.63) and Lothar de Maizière (9000.d.8894), before they in turn were overtaken by events and lost prominence. Proposals for a new form of government for a separate GDR were made and equally quickly dismissed , as in Entwurf Verfassung der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (2000.7.498) and Das Umbaupapier (DDR) (571:76.d.95.160).

Titles themselves can become more obscure. There are several in the collection alluding to such things as food shortages, cars and secret police, which would have had immediate relevance and poignancy in 1989/1990, but the significance of which has dimmed with time – Alles Banane (571:8.d.95.13), Mit tschekistischem Gruss (9000.d.8773), Trabbi Salz und freies Grün (571:8.d.95.10), Glatzen am Alex (9000.d.7347).

The collection also has a number of titles which place emphasis on collective action, on “we” and “us”. Cambridge has three different books published in 1990 with the same title, Wir sind das Volk (9000.d.6715, 571:78.d.95.60, 9000.d.6716), a much repeated mantra of the time. Titles with a similar idea of common purpose include Gemeinsam sind wir unausstehlich (9003.d.292), ‘Ohne uns läuft nichts mehr’ (571:78.d.95.26), and Wir wollen mehr als ein ‘Vaterland’ : DDR-Frauen im Aufbruch (9002.d.3535). However, in a clever twist on the theme Wir sind das Geld (9000.d.8308) suggests anything but unity of purpose, as the subtitle ‘wie die Westdeutschen die DDR aufkaufen’ makes clear.

The use of imperatives and exclamation marks gives a sense of the drama and immediacy of events. There are many examples in the collection – Räumt die Steine hinweg (9000.d.5878), Genossen! Rückt den Schlüssel raus! (571:76.c.95.421), Aufbruch! (571:78.c.95.55), Der Honecker muss weg! (575:44.b.95.1), Schnauze! (571:78.c.95.50). Demokratie, jetzt oder nie! (571:78.c.95.67) is inverted in another publication as Jetzt oder nie – Demokratie! (571:78.c.95.66).

Not all titles give that same sense of determination and forward movement, however. The titles of eleven 1990 imprints are formulated as questions, most notably when the confident self-assertion of Wir sind das Volk is converted into a query in Sind wir ein Volk? (571:8.c.95.4). Other titles looking forward to the future with uncertainty include Jetzt wohin? (9003.d.4776), Neues Denken oder neues Tanken? (225.d.99.1), Lesben und Schwule – was nun? (244.d.99.4) and Deutschland, einig Vaterland? (9000.d.6152).


At the Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989: Stefan Heym (Heym.a.66.1-top); Demonstration (C203.c.5972-bottom)

At much the same time that this collection was built up, the University Library also acquired the personal archive of East German novelist Stefan Heym. When he fell foul of the East German regime, Heym was no longer published in the East, but with the fall of the Berlin Wall his fiction once again became freely available. Heym also published extensively at this time – Stalin verlässt den Raum (749:39.d.95.128, Heym.32.1), Einmischung (749:39.c.95.34, Heym.31.1) and Filz ; Gedanken über das neueste Deutschland (9001.c.7599, Heym.33.1). His archive includes video and audio recordings of his speeches, interviews and statements during 1989 and 1990, as well as tapes and transcripts of interviews conducted by Heym and his wife with East German refugees in Giessen in September 1989.

David Lowe and Joanne Koehler

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