"Two Kinds of Infinity": East Germany, West Germany, and the Cold War Cosmos, 1945-1995
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Anderson, Colleen Elizabeth
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CitationAnderson, Colleen Elizabeth. 2017. "Two Kinds of Infinity": East Germany, West Germany, and the Cold War Cosmos, 1945-1995. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThroughout the Cold War, East and West German scientists and enthusiasts alike engaged with outer space. East and West German space scientists and engineers researched the cosmos and also participated in national and international space missions. At the same time, enthusiasts established hundreds of space clubs, millions of East and West Germans followed news reports about the dramatic achievements in space exploration that began in the late 1950s, and hundreds of thousands of East and West Germans attended parades for visiting astronauts and cosmonauts. In the arts, outer space was a frequent setting for popular television shows, films, and novels.
East and West Germans similarly used actual outer space exploration and fictional space settings to discuss contemporary issues. The East German space film Eolomea wondered how East Germans could build the gleaming future of socialism in a state that lacked the most basic necessities, while the West German television series Raumpatrouille decried the tightening of borders and the fear of the unknown creatures that lived beyond them. At the same time, East and West Germans attributed different meanings to space travel. West Germans used space to discuss the possibilities for and problems beyond the borders of West Germany, especially in the context of European cooperation and integration. In East Germany, both proponents of the regime and East German dissidents connected the hope for space travel with another dream that seemed just over the horizon: socialism. For proponents of socialism, space travel represented the greatest international success of the Soviet Union and thereby was the best indicator for what the bounty of socialism would look like once it was fully achieved. For other East Germans, the distance of outer space offered an ideal way to consider the possibilities for life away from the GDR and to criticize the East German regime.
East and West German participation and interest in outer space travel decenters one of the most prominent struggles between the US and USSR in the Cold War: the Space Race. East and West German enthusiasts and scientists cooperated with the US and Soviet space programs and also participated in their own space missions, notably through the European Space Agency in the west and Interkosmos in the east. Moreover, East and West Germans did not simply react to US and Soviet space travel. Rather, Germans embraced outer space as a medium in which to explore ideas about East and West Germany, the two states’ relationships to each other, and the states’ roles in the wider world. Finally, outer space travel demonstrates the changing ways in which East and West Germans understood the importance of and their role in scientific and technological developments.
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