Kontakt: mbianchini6 [at] gatech.edu
Modeling a Technological Future:
Culture and Technological Imagination in East Germany, 1945-1990
The flag of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) forwent the Soviet sickle in favor of a surveyor’s compass, announcing to the world that the GDR was not an agricultural society; it was a technological force. Because the upper political strata of East Germany believed that science and technology offered the path to socialist supremacy, technology appeared throughout East German culture: on stamps, as the focal point of film, in the preparation and presentation of sport, and spangling the cityscape, best exemplified by East Berlin’s famous Television Tower. For East Germans, technology became the harbinger of the socialist future. Industrialization, mechanization, and cybernetics became the watchwords of communism. And as East Germany transformed into a technological culture, the State sought to ensure that this culture reflected their specific visions and played to the needs of the State conceived socialist utopia. In short, East Germany not only envisioned their own version of a technological future, but also sought to entice citizens to build and extoll that same vision. But what did this sort of culture mean for the everyday citizen? What technologies were envisioned as sites of contestation or negotiation between the State and the citizen? Such inquiry delves the long-standing conflict behind the Iron Curtain, namely what is the role of the individual in a collective state? This project answers these questions through the lens of technology.
This project, which shall serve as my PhD dissertation, examines the relationship between the State and the citizenry, changing notions of technological advancement, socialist utopianism, and cultural representations of technology, while complicating the near ubiquitous narrative of the East simply as a failed dictatorship. Realizing the breadth of research such a study could include, I shall focus on three cultural nodes – sport, modeling hobbies, and education – in order to unravel the East German interplay of technology and culture. I have chosen these main foci for their ability to directly interact with the everyday citizen of the GDR, not just the rare and privileged, creating instead a more pluralistic and deeper cultural image of East German technology. My project focuses on the history of the technological idealism of both State and citizen, and studies their conceptions of what the future could have been. This future, of course, was not monolithic. The State’s idea of a technological revolution and utopia were not necessarily aligned with the dreams of each citizen. I am, then, interested in finding these points of contention, be they on model train boards, or smuggled past censors in film and science fiction. Finally, my project situates East Germany within a history of the idea of utopia, as the apparatchiks of the East extolled their state as the final evolution of the utopian dreams of More, Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier. I hope to discover not only the limitations of such technological-socialist utopianism, but also its moments of success.