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'The Socialist Environment Should Be Beautiful': Nature and Heimat in the German Democratic Republic

Author:

Daniël Hendrikse

About Daniël

Daniël Hendrikse is student of the Research Master History at Utrecht University. He holds a BA in History, which he completed at Utrecht and Leipzig University. His main interests are modern German history, in particular the history of ideas, ideologies, historiography, as well as spatial and environmental history. 

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Abstract

Heimat – home, birthplace or motherland – is an important factor of German identity. Because it evokes feelings of belonging to a community as well as to a particular location, nature and landscape are major aspects of the Heimat concept. Throughout history, Heimat has served various nationalist, national-socialist, environmental and escapist agendas and ideologies. As Jan Palmowski has argued, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) developed its own tradition regarding a socialist Heimat. Palmowski, however, did not adequately address the role of nature itself in the East German  conceptualization of Heimat. Nature is important to take into account, especially because the GDR was infamous for its problematic environmental conditions. In order to understand the idea of nature in the East German Heimat discourse and how it contrasted with actual environmental circumstances,  this essay draws upon a variety of sources such as educational materials and printed media, most of which were made under government control. This essay claims that the nature-based notion of Heimat played a significant role in East German ideology, identity and everyday life. Nature created a feeling of belonging, even though this idea of nature contrasted sharply with the actual reality in the GDR. In the realm of ideology, a socialist idea of nature was combined with heavy industry in contrast to the bourgeois-romantic notion of unspoiled nature. In the course of the 1970s, after Erich Honecker gained power and in the face of more environmental pollution, the bourgeois notion of nature became more popular. 

 

How to Cite: Hendrikse, D., 2019. 'The Socialist Environment Should Be Beautiful': Nature and Heimat in the German Democratic Republic. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 4(1), pp.11–22. DOI: http://doi.org/10.33391/jgjh.48
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Published on 01 Apr 2019.
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