From Germanic Heritage to Primitive Communism

Change and Consistency in Conceptions of Prehistory in Museum Exhibitions in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

Associated PhD project

The history of primitive society was part of the national historical narrative in the GDR and served in this way the historical legitimation of the SED dictatorship. However, the socialist conception of prehistory possessed a heavily loaded ideological legacy with the ‘German prehistory’ of the Nazi period. The construction of a superior ‘Nordic race’ and Germanic culture achieved great popularity in the ‘Third Reich’ and supported the entrenchment of the ‘blood and soil’ and living space ideologies among the general public. In the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR, the broadly effective popularisation of a ‘history of primitive society’ rested above all on the large museums for pre- and early history in Schwerin, Potsdam, Halle, Dresden and Weimar. In view of the ‘prescribed anti-fascism’, these museums were confronted with the task of mastering the politically required narrative turn from an ethnic-nationalist conception of prehistory to a Marxist one. In the process, prehistorical discoveries were admittedly furnished with new, politically correct interpretations in the exhibitions, but in the subtext old prehistorical narratives often survived.
Using an extensive body of exhibition photos, this doctoral project analyses the depiction of prehistory in museums of the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR as well as discourses that led to the alteration or persistence of conceptions of history.

Arne Lindemann

Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

Email: lindemann [at]