Synopses & Reviews
The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 shocked the world. Ever since, the image of this impenetrable barrier between East and West, imposed by communism, has been a central symbol of the Cold War.
Based on vast research in untapped archival, oral, and private sources, Burned Bridge reveals the hidden origins of the Iron Curtain, presenting it in a startling new light. Historian Edith Sheffer's unprecedented, in-depth account focuses on Burned Bridge-the intersection between two sister cities, Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg, Germany's largest divided population outside Berlin. Sheffer demonstrates that as Soviet and American forces occupied each city after the Second World War, townspeople who historically had much in common quickly formed opposing interests and identities. The border walled off irreconcilable realities: the differences of freedom and captivity, rich and poor, peace and bloodshed, and past and present. Sheffer describes how smuggling, kidnapping, rape, and killing in the early postwar years led citizens to demand greater border control on both sides--long before East Germany fortified its 1,393 kilometer border with West Germany. It was in fact the American military that built the first barriers at Burned Bridge, which preceded East Germany's borderland crackdown by many years. Indeed, Sheffer shows that the physical border between East and West was not simply imposed by Cold War superpowers, but was in some part an improvised outgrowth of an anxious postwar society.
Ultimately, a wall of the mind shaped the wall on the ground. East and West Germans became part of, and helped perpetuate, the barriers that divided them. From the end of World War II through two decades of reunification, Sheffer traces divisions at Burned Bridge with sharp insight and compassion, presenting a stunning portrait of the Cold War on a human scale.
The Iron Curtain did not existand#151;at least not as we usually imagine it. Rather than a stark, unbroken line dividing East and West in Cold War Europe, the Iron Curtain was instead made up of distinct landscapes, many in the grip of divergent historical and cultural forces for decades, if not centuries. This book traces a genealogy of one such landscapeand#151;the woods between Czechoslovakia and West Germanyand#151;to debunk our misconceptions about the iconic partition.
Yuliya Komska transports readers to the western edge of the Bohemian Forest, one of Europeand#8217;s oldest borderlands, where in the 1950s civilians set out to shape the so-called prayer wall. A chain of new and repurposed pilgrimage sites, lookout towers, and monuments, the prayer wall placed two long-standing German obsessions, forest and border, at the heart of the centuryand#8217;s most protracted conflict. Komska illustrates how civilians used the prayer wall to engage with and contribute to the new political and religious landscape. In the process, she relates West Germanyand#8217;s quiet sylvan periphery to the tragic pitch prevalent along the Iron Curtainand#8217;s better-known segments.
Steeped in archival research and rooted in nuanced interpretations of wide-ranging cultural artifacts, from vandalized religious images and tourist snapshots to poems and travelogues, The Icon Curtain pushes disciplinary boundaries and opens new perspectives on the study of borders and the Cold War alike.
About the Author
Yuliya Komska is assistant professor of German studies at Dartmouth College. She lives in Plainfield, NH.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Peter Schneider
Part One: Demarcation Line, 1945-1952
1. Foundations: Burned Bridge
2. Insecurity: Border Mayhem
3. Inequality: Economic Divides
4. Kickoff: Political Skirmishing
Part Two: "Living Wall," 1952-1961
5. Shock: Border Closure and Deportation
6. Shift: Everyday Boundaries
7. Surveillance: Individual Controls
Part Three: Iron Curtain, 1961-1989
8. Home: Life in the Prohibited Zone
9. Fault Line: Life in the Fortifications
10. Disconnect: East-West Relations
Epilogue: New Divides