Rock'n'Roll vs. Lipsi - the Influence of American Popular Culture on the GDR

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

26 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1 Foreword

2 American Cultural Hegemony in Germany

3 American Culture in East Germany
3.1 The Wild Ones: American Movies and Halbstarke in East and West , ,
3.2 Rock’n’Roll vs, Lipsi: American Music in the GDR

4 Conclusion


1 Foreword

The total defeat and collapse of the Third Reich was the major and most distinctive feature in German history during the 20th century. The conditions now to be faced were horrible, large areas of Germany were wasted and the population dazed in des­peration at a “devastated European continent, which Nazi Germany had sought to dominate by conquest, terror, and exploitation”. (Ermarth, 1993, 4) About seven mil­lion German people, nearly half of it civilians, had died; about one-quarter to one-half of housing and transport facilities were destroyed; around ten million refugees fled from the lost eastern territories, accumulating to a total of twenty million homeless people, (vgl, Pommerin, 1995, 83)

While the German and European population had to face not only enormous devasta­tions, but also hunger, death and spreading diseases, the United States stood alone as the world’s most powerful nation. Its armies had been victorious, its cities were unlike those in Europe not a scenery of destruction, its economy was as strong as ever.

Some historians and contemporaries, however, understood the end of war inl945, with all its shocking elements, as a Zero-Hour, a liberating moment, a social and cultural vacuum, when Germany could made a completely new beginning, and start an era of reconstruction, both economically but also with changed and denazified values. This era of reconstruction, could nevertheless only be possible with the help of a strong partner. Therefore, Europe’s very survival now depended on America’s economic resources, political leadership, and military protection. [...] In return for America’s liberation of (Western) Europe, and its promise of assistance and guidance in the postwar era, the United States asked of Europeans only that they be grateful and properly deferential. (Pells, 1997, 38)

Being grateful meant, that the United States would decide on their own, which major issues needed to be solved first, and how. The United States intended to stay in Ger­many as a barrier to a Soviet invasion. Thus the building of a strong democratic and economically independent West Germany was the most essential goal to the defense of Western Europe, Critics liked to call this American dominance a Demokratur ; a mixture between the term Demokratie and Diktatur.

America’s political, economic and military supremacy was, however, always closely connected with American culture. The European population had now not only to familiarize themselves with America’s polities and social thoughts, but also with the American way of life in art and music, manner and believe. While Europe once thought of itself as the leading nation in culture and civilization, the devastations of both World Wars made them face America as the heartland of modernism and the embodiment of the cosmopolitan ideal. The American influence and apparent superiority extended to all levels of culture and into many aspects of daily life and mass consumption. It left its mark on postwar literature, theater, and architecture as well as on music, films and consumer attitudes, “Western Europe soon began to live under a Pax Americana, just as Eastern Europe came to exist under the Pax Sovietica.” (Berghahn, 1995, 68)

It was at that time, too, that Anti-Americanism began to grow bigger. This is, how­ever, not a phenomenon of the 1950s only. It was, and still is, a reaction to the position of the United States in world polities, and has followed its rise from the early 19th century to their leading position in military, political, economical and cultural fields of today. At the same time, Anti-Americanism is as well eine besondere Form der Kritik am ’Westen’, das heißt am liberal-kapitalistischen System beziehungsweise an der modernen Konsumgesellschaft, die die USA im Zeitalter des Kalten Krieges in den Augen vieler Deutscher mit noch größerer Berechtigung als vor 19f 5 verkörperten, sowie der Versuch, der vermeintlichen oder tatsächlichen Verwestlichung (oder ’Amerikanisierung’) Deutschlands entgegenzuwirken. (Gassert, 2001, 945)

Besides, Anti-Americanism can be found as well in personal attitudes and experiences of just anybody, and thus, it can finally cumulate in the political opinion of a whole country.

Within the scope of my thesis, I would like to examine the impact of American popular culture on the German Sector and the later German Democratic Republic, as well as its reception by officials and the civilian population. As America’s impact was felt in both Germanics, my research will start with a description of the American cultural hegemony in both East and West Germany shortly after the Second World War, While West German authorities, even though concerned about the impact of American popular culture on their society, soon decided to let the cultural mixing regulate itself; East German officials tried throughout their whole history to oppress and abolish these influences, I will therefore try to show the efforts that were made to restrict these foreign ’infiltrations’ in East Germany, As this thesis can only give a minor glimpse, I will concentrate on American popular culture in the fields of music and film, and the years from 1945 until the late 1960s, I will hereby especially concentrate on youth culture, as adolescents were most open to Americanization, On them, the war had made the deepest inflictions; they more than others longed for a possibility to repair the cutbacks they had to endure during the war, Americanization also meant provocation and self-confidence, a possibility to demarcate them from others and from the state in general. At the same time, young adults found themselves in the focus of a foreign industry, that saw them as target group for their consumer goods and cultural exports in music, art, and film.

2 American Cultural Hegemony in Germany

American culture has long been a part of German culture. In the Weimar Republic, Germans were already fascinated with America, as it was associated with modernity. During the Roaring Twenties, American music, movies and style, but also technologies like the assembly line, became very fashionable and were soon copied. They imported, however, more than machines, because technology as such can never be transferred solely from one country to another.

There are always values behind technology that cannot be separated out and [...] inevitably involves acceptance of doctrines and attitudes, of which the technology is merely a tangible expression. (Berghahn, 1995, 73) So, already by the mid-1920s, Americanism was perceived as controversial and widely discussed. Some considered the influences as too commercialized, and the United States themselves as a nation which lacked the same cultural and spiritual tradition as Europe, Fears spread, that these influences would destroy ones own cultural heritage. At the same time, the image of the New Woman, a strong, fashionable character which cut her hair, dressed in the latest, often daring fashion and seized her freedom and liberation, was spreading through Hollywood films and magazines. Women’s changing role in society was not only not welcome, but a threat to the male world order. All these concerns were found among all political groups, but grew especially strong among national conservatives and fascists.

It is therefore no wonder, that the National Socialists later banned much of American popular culture with a referral to its ’degenerating’ influence, Americanism became a negative term, the relationship to American popular culture difficult and ambivalent. On the one hand, jazz was banned from most clubs and dance halls, but on the other hand, American movies still were shown in cinemas around the country, and American film divas like Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo were admired by a big audience. However, the political changes in 1933 represented a break in how American culture was treated, and cultural interchange became more seldom.

Besides, there was the conviction, that the idea of Kultur, or even Hochkultur, could only be found within Europe, especially Germany, the land of poets and philosophers. The synonym culture, so the unanimous consumption, would not even translate well to the extent of the term Kultur ; and the Americans would not know the difference anyhow.

Ihnen fehlt die Schwere, die trächtige Fülle, das seelenhafte Pathos, das sich im deutschen Bewußtsein des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts mit diesem Wort verbindet und seine oft emphatische Verwendung verständlich macht. (Plessner, 1935, 57)

This lack of depth and inwardness was supposed to be especially distinct in American music, literature and theater. While Kultur needed a Seele - out of the German perspective - Americanism meant material values only.

After the declaration of war on the United States in December 1941, American cul­ture finally was condemned as inferior and the Nazi propaganda machinery got the instruction to prove so as well. Links between Jewish Bolshevism, a world conspiracy and the American president Franklin Roosevelt were established, and, as the German troops had to retreat by the end of 1944, fears of the Anglo-American soldateska, with their intention of raping and killing, constructed, (vgl, Poiger, 2000, 28)

After World War II, each German had his own impression of America, a mixture of prewar ideas together with the experiences made through wartime, fraternization, denazification and economic reconstruction. These feelings ranged from appreciation to ambivalence or hostility. The first encounter with Americans were mostly made through contacts with GI’s, These experiences of occupation shaped German reactions to American culture importantly. Firstly, through the Allied occupation, lots of goods from nylon stockings, chewing gum, and cigarettes to popular music were brought to the markets. These imports were by no means restricted to the West Zones; imported goods could easily reach the eastern parts through border traffic via Berlin, This border traffic between the different sectors prolonged all until the building of the wall in 1961, People from East Germany went shopping and enjoyed themselves in movie theaters in West Berlin, Western radio stations like AFN (American Forces Network) and Radio Luxemburg played the latest American hits.

Secondly, there was the fraternization of German woman and American soldiers, which was feared to weaken German male authorities. The women were therefore depicted as traitors, Ami-Liebchen, and prostitutes. In the minds of many Germans, these relationships were not so much about love than about food and protection.

Even more disturbing were relationships with African American soldiers.

In the minds of Germans and of U.S. military authorities alike, such re­lationships once again raised fears about miscegenation, and after the frat­ernization ban was lifted, mixed-race couples found it much harder to re­ceive marriage licenses from U.S. military commanders than their all-white counterparts, (vgl, Poiger, 2000, 35f)

How could social stability be built, the Germans feared, when there were powerful, emancipated women who outnumbered men in population on the one hand, and phys­ical and psychological wounded man who had failed their duty as defenders of and providers for German women and children on the other hand, all topped by the threat of a sexual intermixing with foreign soldiers?

After the division of Germany into four parts, the four Allies shaped the political and economic reconstruction within their zones; but with the intensification of the Cold War, three of them, the United States, Britain, and France, agreed on the shaping of a democratic state as a counterbalance to the Soviet ruled Eastern zone. Beginnings were made to establish a new society, the Federal Republic of Germany, People, however, do not change their attitudes, habits, and traditions overnight, so hostility against the victors, even if not shown openly, were not seldom. During the so called Hungerwinter 1946/47 and later, the support of the population through Care-packages, Rosinen-В omber and the accomplishments made by the Marshall-Plan helped to build a better relationship between the occupying forces and the popula­tion.

And while the authorities by the 1950s still struggled to establish a clear vision of how to solve the problem of reconstruction, the population tried to accommodate themselves under the new eireumstanees.


Excerpt out of 26 pages


Rock'n'Roll vs. Lipsi - the Influence of American Popular Culture on the GDR
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Department of English and American Studies)
HS Europe's Dream of America/America's Dream of Europe
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Rock, Roll, Lipsi, Influence, American, Popular, Culture, Europe, Dream, America/America, Dream, Europe
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Patricia Patkovszky (Author), 2007, Rock'n'Roll vs. Lipsi - the Influence of American Popular Culture on the GDR, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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