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BURNED BRIDGE by Edith Sheffer

BURNED BRIDGE

How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain

By Edith Sheffer

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-19-973704-8
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

An accessible, intriguing academic study tracking the building of the “wall in the head” between East and West Germany long before the actual construction in1961.

Sheffer (History/Stanford Univ.) traces the demarcation between two adjacent towns in the middle of greater Germany, Sonneberg and Neustadt, connected by a naturally created road called Burned Bridge. Each became its own frontier and border town after the political delineations of World War II, largely through habit and ingrained mindset rather than physical restrictions. While the two German towns had always maintained their own personalities and friendly competition in the toy-making industry, after World War II, as per the zonal boundaries established by the victors, Sonneberg was incorporated into the Soviet zone, and Neustadt into the American. While the road of Burned Bridge had once served as the connection between the two, it now designated the “symbol of severance.” Gradually, two separate, mutually hostile societies grew within the respective towns, one dominated by the socialist political system, characterized by a tightly controlled economy and a censored, restricted society, the other offering democratic elections, a free market, abundant goods and services and free movement of citizens. While the border had been fairly porous immediately after the war, a growing black market and influx of refugees moving West exacerbated the tension, and both sides recognized the need for tighter controls. Through abundantly documented evidence, in the form of tidbits of small, daily social fabric delineating the ways the towns’ inhabitants assimilated this partition, Sheffer reveals how an uneasy postwar society created its own “living wall.” Especially chilling is the role of the Stasi—the East German Ministry for State Security—in the inculcation of neighbor spy watching and cross-border surveillance.

A methodical study of one model experiment through which the entire mindset of the Iron Curtain can be viewed.