Representing German Identity in the New Berlin Republic: Body, Nation, and Place

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This study examines the multiple and conflicting ways in which German national identity is spatially expressed through the material and metaphor of the human body. In particular, it describes the various gendered, sexed, and raced constructions of Germany, as they emerged in the capital city of Berlin since 1989. Based on two ethnographic case studies situated in neighboring urban environments, the Love Parade and the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the author shows how bodily representations of post-1989 Germany are fluctuating between the sexualized, demasculinized celebration of multiculturalism and the repeatedly racist, masculinist and even anti-Semitic reconstruction of German nationhood. While the German government is making active efforts to situate the future Berlin Republic within a network of increasingly integrated European nation states, and is involved in sponsoring both the Love Parade and the MMJE, social movements in Berlin are actively supporting and contesting such politics. It is this struggle between government efforts and grassroots politics, and the role of the human body in the political process of constructing collective identities that this book ultimately explores.


“Rarely do singular texts revolutionize fields of study … Presently, Olaf Kuhlke’s monumental study of German national identity will achieve such a stature. Conceptually, Dr. Kuhlke examines the reconstruction of German national identities, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, through representations of collective history and memory as they are inscribed on material landscapes as well as through public performances. He argues that nations construct their collective identity on the basis of selective interpretations of their past; they create mythical origins and select historical events as the cornerstones of celebration. His central premise is that contemporary German national identity is negotiated on the basis of a multitude of conflicting perspectives about German history, cultural heritage, the political economies of reunification, and the socio-cultural politics of European integration and transnational capitalism. Dr. Kuhlke forwards the argument, however, that the body and embodied representations are crucial to these reconstruction efforts. In so doing, he contributes to the corporeal turn in cultural and political studies. Theorists in a range of disciplines have increasingly viewed the body as an important site of political struggle. This importance is evidenced, for example, by the governmental and societal regulations regarding individual and collective behavior, reproductive rights, and violence. A corporeal turn is also manifest in body modifications: as people become embodied texts, they call into question such notions as the body’s universality and naturalness … Dr. Kuhlke’s main thesis is that the human body is at the center of material and discursive practices aimed at representing and enacting German national identity. Specifically, the body may be conceived as a representational icon embedded in the material environment; a metaphor representing nation-building places in text; as a performing agent operating within particular systems of cultural and political signification; and as an agent of spontaneous, strategic, and emotional expression of the human need to communication and form communal relationships. His thesis is supported by two distinct, yet reinforcing case studies: the Love Parade festival and the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. Combined, Dr. Kuhlke suggests that these case studies capture a series of debates that have gripped Germany since reunification, namely how certain places and events that signify German national identity should be interpreted and represented … Dr. Kuhlke’s ambitious study interweaves nationalism, landscapes, and the body in innovative ways, both theoretically and substantively. Through an engagement with youth cultures, performativities, and sonic landscapes of music, he provides a crucial, and critical, understanding of the embodiment and representation of national identity on and in the urban landscapes of Berlin. His work is thus not an endless recycling of staid concepts applied to happenstance settings, but rather the charting of new territories. This present study, adroitly written and elegantly argued, promises to contribute to our understandings of the contested meanings of who we believe we were, we are, and yet to be.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) James A. Tyner, Kent State University

“I highly recommend it for publication as both scholarly and groundbreaking. The topic is provocative and timely, and has significant implications across the social sciences and humanities. The manuscript is comprised of sound theory and has a tight conceptual framework as well as an appropriate research design. The author’s analysis of events described and well as his interpretations and conclusions are appropriate and relevant. Dr. Kuhlke introduces and logically organizes a comprehensive theoretical structure and a thorough literature review, yet writes in a clear style and effectively communicates and integrates a large body of diverse and interesting ideas and examples in support of his arguments. Dr. Kuhlke’s manuscript innovatively approaches and effectively presents several contesting viewpoints about the construction of German national identity. He argues convincingly that in order to understand the contemporary construction of German national identity, multiples roles of the body must be considered. His critical geography of negotiating German identity successfully decodes ideology embedded in parading and in the built environment to reveal essences of being previously unseen, neglected or ignored. He draws parallels between the Berlin Love Parade and the Dada movement that are fresh and thought-provoking. Kuhlke combines diverse scholarly sources with field work to capture multiple perspectives on his topic that bridge social science and humanistic studies. He adds to the discourse of critical social theory in unprecedented and unusual ways, and his scholarly efforts and case studies will be particularly valuable to advance feminist, post-structural and postmodern studies. He especially advances the study of the role of ideology in built environment, and the power of parading as a social movement with tremendous political implications. This is an area of geographical research that has enormous growth potential and the potential to influence social policy and planning in ways that government and policy makers will find valuable.” – Professor David J. Nemeth, University of Toledo

Table of Contents

1. From subjectivity and positionality to ethnography and theory
2. Exploring the theoretical frontiers of body, nation and place
3. Expanding the boundaries of methodologies in search of the nation
4. The spectacle and the nation: The Love Parade on Berlin’s historical and contemporary map
5. Deconstructing the nation: Body politics and the incorporation of Germany
6. Mapping the genealogy of teutonic beats: The aesthetics of raving and the discursive construction of German national identity
7. Situating the past, situating the future: Finding a place for the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
8. Analyzing the German patient: Disembodied memory and the construction of national identity
9. Concluding Remarks

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