Alternative Lifestyles as Oppositional Social Practice in the GDR and the FRG, 1965 – 1980
Associated PhD project
Based on extensive research into the events of 1968, the student movement and its consequences, the 1970s are regarded as the ‘Red Decade’ (Gerd Koenen), when a highly politicised generation searched for ‘collectivity and community, social significance and political power’. These aims drew continuous attention in publications about the ‘period of 1968’, the Green Party, new social movements and terror groups; whilst people searching for an alternative lifestyle outside the public eye and established structures were often overlooked.
But more than the discussions about the revolutionary aims of the student movement, it was the rather non-political sphere of questioning traditional values that had a stake in society. Some people on the left valued the up-and-coming underground culture as a chance to reform society. Referring to international phenomena like the Hippies and Diggers in the United States, people tried to establish a network of alternative economic and cultural institutions. At the end of the 1970s, living an alternative lifestyle was considered as modern by a growing socially and demographically diverse group in West Germany. In the light of a growing sense of crisis, the search for an alternative lifestyle was discussed as an avant-garde paradigm. Older participants of the debates referred to roots in the German movement for ‘Lebensreform’ (life reform) at the beginning of the twentieth Century, focusing on a long-term transformation of civil society.
In the GDR, people also tried to follow the idea of an alternative lifestyle but such experiments were somewhat harder to realise. The socialist state interpreted any alternative lifestyle as adversarial to the communist idea of forming a new socialist community, especially when they referred to Western ideas. Nevertheless, there were options to live an alternative way of life to the expectations of the Socialist Party – being an artist, working freelance or abandoning a career and social positions and living alternatively in private.
The project enquires into the pre-war and contemporary international roots of alternative lifestyles in Germany, exploring their different reception and social practice in East and West. Examining the contemporary discourse and its dynamic power plays, the study describes the different phenomena and discussions about alternative lifestyles, focusing on the changing values in both German societies in the 1970s.
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
Email: menzel [at] zzf-potsdam.de