Karl Schlögel

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19 December 2008

Places and strata of memory

The idea of 1989 as an annus mirabilis in which everything changed is too crude, writes Karl Schlögel. Rather, it was the result of a long incubation period that took a very different course in each Eastern Bloc country. In a benchmark essay for the twentieth anniversary celebrations, Schlögel stresses the entanglements and ambiguities of postwar history and asks whether it is too soon to start talking of a “common European history”.

In 1946, Otto Hoetzsch called upon scholars to incorporate Russia and eastern Europe into their view of history. This was the conclusion he had reached after a lifetime of research. In Berlin during the 1920s, Hoetzsch, who was a scholar, politician, and tireless man of action, created networks of people interested in Russia regardless of their ideological differences. He founded the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde and the journal Osteuropa. Hoetzsch organized and inspired Russian emigrants, Baltic Germans, and Soviet Russians. After World War I, Berlin was recognized throughout the world as the centre of scholarly work on Russia and eastern Europe. The Nazis defamed Hoetzsch as a “parlour Bolshevik”, destroyed academic research on eastern Europe, and unleashed war in Europe. And after World War II, Otto Hoetzsch and his pan-European perspective suffered their final defeat in the shape of the division of Europe.

Moscow and Berlin both look back to a century of dramatic developments, some of which are similar, some which are dramatically different. Both cities have been shaped by the excessive dynamics and violence of the 20 century, both have fallen out of the circle of truly great cities and are now ready to reclaim their place.

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The Europe of the Cold War has disintegrated. Instead of two once homogeneous regions – “the East” and “the West” – there are now fragments, enclaves, and islands. Yet disintegration is a form of renewal, a time both of disillusionment and enlightenment. Thus writes Karl Schlögel in an excerpt from his book Marjampole, or Europe’s return from the spirit of the cities, translated into English here for the first time.

With the disappearance of the Iron Curtain – the Great Border – the whole system of coordinates in Europe has changed. The East no longer exists, writes Karl Schlögel, but what has emerged in its place is neither the old nor the new. It is a no-longer and a not-yet.