I’m about to go on vacation, but wanted to post a quick link I’ve horded in my bookmarks and haven’t shared yet. The German Bundesarchiv has a wonderful digital media site. Part of this archive shows news footage and other films from the 1940s (and other eras, of course). I’ve spent a lot of time watching Welt in Film, for instance, news feature clips on all sorts of topics in Germany and the world in the postwar era. Everything is in German, but even if you don’t know the language, the footage is wonderful for immersing yourself in the era.
If there’s a news magazine anywhere in the world as thick, diverse and indepth as the German Der Spiegel, I’d like to know about it. Since 1947, the weekly with the red-rimmed cover has analyzed German and world events with its own flair, a spark of independence that must have sometimes irked the allied powers during the occupation of Germany.
Spiegel was modeled after American and British news magazines. When it first appeared in the British Zone in January 1947, it had a small but significant readership, limited at the time by the postwar paper shortages. In its first few years, it developed a reputation for precise, factual journalism that it largely still holds today. It tries to be what good journalism should be — a watchdog over the government. It took to heart the goal of the Allies, who wanted to encourage a free press in Germany after years of Goebbels’ propaganda machine.
The Spiegel archives are a goldmine. Digitized as text and scanned so you can see the actual pages. If you read German and have a lot of time on your hands, browse the early postwar issues — for free. Just click on the link and scroll down to the “Weitere Titelbildgalerien und Heftarchive” where the years are listed. The articles are opinionated, sometimes snarky, often humorous and always intelligent.
I’ve learned about odd things, like Graf Adalbert Keyserlingk’s orphan village on Lake Constance, largely empty in 1947 because of the bureaucratic difficulty in sending some of Germany’s 1 million orphans out of the allied zones. I learned that the Parisian fashion world started showing women with short hair again after a period when longer hair was mode. And I learned just how hard it was for German brides to get permission to marry their GI boyfriends and move to the US (I’ll be writing a post about this soon).
Oh, and the modern Spiegel is worth reading too. It has the largest circulation of any newsmagazine in Europe. And it’s outlived similar magazines like Newsweek (gone) and Time (dwindled now to almost nothing).
I learned to read German from two sources — “Tim und Struppi” comics, and Geo Epoche, a glossy history magazine. I don’t work for Geo, have never written for them. The recommendation I’m making here is purely from a history buff who has loved the magazine for years.
Geo has a photo-heavy edition called Panorama, and the latest is all about postwar Germany from 1945-1955. I picked up Trümmerzeit und Wiederaufbau yesterday from the local news stand. The magazine is black and sleek. It lays out the period photos beautifully, some in panorama format over two pages. The most startling photos are usually the color ones, and there are a few here that just leap off the page. The large format color photo of Berlin in ruins is for me almost worth the price of the whole magazine.
If you want to take a look, here’s the link to the Geo page. It looks like they only have a German language website, but if you’re an English speaker and really want the magazine, maybe you can have it sent to wherever you are.
I’m not a fan of German music in the 1940s. The Nazi era and World War II weren’t times of great creative achievements in Germany. No wonder — when Goebbels put a straight-jacket on film, music and other arts in the 1930s, many of Germany’s best artists, often Jews or anti-Nazis, left the country or were forced to stop creating and innovating.
In the postwar years, the Germans could finally listen to the allied airwaves without fear of reprisals (it was a crime in the war to listen to BBC). Young Germans especially got their first taste of the newest in allied music. I hadn’t thought about what an important cultural issue this was until I visited the Allied Museum in Berlin exhibit “The Link with Home — and the Germans Listened in.”
The Armed Forces Network (US), the British Forces Network and the Radio Forces Francaises gave allied soldiers news and entertainment from their home countries and their zones. They were geared to young soldiers at first, and as the occupation of Germany continued, to family members. Here are a few shows from an early program of the British Forces Network:
07.10 Sunrise Serenade. Bright and Breezy listening for a Sunday morning.
09.45 Hour of Charm. An American programme of Morning melody.
14.45. Transatlantic Quiz. America v. Britain, a contest to find who knows most about the other’s country.
20.30. The Army Radio Orchestra. Conducted by R.S.M. George Melachrino with guest artistes.
21.10 Weather forecast for the British Zone.
Without intending to, the allied radio stations attracted large numbers of German followers. Young people would crowd to AFN’s open house to get a glimpse of their favorite disc jockeys. Their relaxed style attracted the Germans because it was so different from the controlled tone of German radio. The programs weren’t overtly political, also a novelty for Germans used to everything being propaganda one way or another.
Of course, allied radio was subtly political in the sense of presenting American or other allied ways of life as an attractive alternative to the Nazi era. Again, this wasn’t its main mission, just a nice side effect, one more cultural tool — like the British, French and American cultural centers all over Germany — that opened the Germans to the world.
I’m on a role now with the new pages, this one on films set in postwar Germany (and in one case you’ll probably guess, in Vienna).
Most of them are German films, well worth a look even if you don’t know the language. The footage was often shot on location, making the films an authentic snapshot of Germany in the first years after the war.
If you have any suggestions to add, especially English films, let me know.
Enjoy the show!