Images of a new German identity
: the portrayal of the unification process in documentary and feature films since 1990

  • Barend Schutte

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    German unification is frequently seen as an event and a date October 3, 1990 - on which a divided people could finally live as one, restored to a natural state of togetherness. Within Germany, however, the experience since 1990 has been one of realisation of deep inner division, and recognition that unification is in fact a long term process, and perhaps even an uncertain goal in Europe, where, everywhere else, new regional consciousnesses are questioning old national identities. Since the future role of Germany in Europe is a major and controversial issue in economic, political and cultural circles, the critical construction of realistic and authentic portrayals of post-unification Germany is of considerable importance. The concept, size and location of a 'German nation' have been contested and fought over from outside and within since its 19th century forging under the leadership of Bismarck, but if one proceeds on today's dominant assumption that between 1949 and 1989 the German people existed as one nation, though they were separated by one of the most tightly guarded borders in world history - a border that separated more than just two countries, but rather served as the confrontational line between two superpowers with opposing ideological, economic and political systems - one can come to the logical conclusion that German unification in 1990 was merely an event which enabled 'the German Nation' to live in the same, unified country once again. However, if one recognizes the fact that 40 years of separation superimposed on more complex historical and contemporary mappings inevitably led to the development of two distinct collective identities, it becomes clear that German unification was - and still is - in fact an on going process of attempting to merge the peoples of two states into one, or one into the other. This is a process that will reach deep into the 21st century, involving the development of a new German national identity within the European Union in a rapidly changing world. This thesis does not try to speculate on or define a 'general' or 'essentialist' sense of what the new German national identity might be. It rather analyses texts of a selection of Germany's image makers since 1990, and examines critically a range of constructions of the new identity from documentaries and docudramas to feature films. The project does not ask to be judged as a contribution to film studies in the narrow sense of that term, seeing itself instead as an interdisciplinary undertaking which derives its insights from a fruitful mix of approaches used in Critical Discourse, Analysis, History, Cultural Studies and Film Studies. Just as it may be said that the German Democratic Republic to some extent talked itself out of existence through its people's acceptance of Western discourse, and images of a Western consumer paradise, so it is now worth analysing how the new Germany is, in complex and sometimes contradictory and sceptical ways, attempting to talk itself into existence through discourse and imagery. The thesis examines whether and how, through the medium of film, opinion formers and creative minds, with their various agendas are seeking to influence public perceptions of the post-1990 confrontation between idealised projections of German identity and recalcitrant reality.
    Date of Award2005
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Nottingham Trent University

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