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Archaeology in the former German Democratic Republic since 1989.

The breakdown of the regime in the German Democratic Republic and the subsequent unification of Germany has had a deep impact on archaeological research, as on most spheres of life. Not all the consequences of the problems that have arisen have yet become completely apparent, and the creation of new structures is not yet complete. As a result, the necessary temporal detachment -- and also the internal detachment important for the author, who is involved in this reorganization -- is not sufficient for this to be a suitably balanced overall picture. Many statements, if they go beyond pure interpretation of facts, will be subjective and should be accepted as such.

The changes that have taken place since 1989 can only be understood by people who are acquainted with the previous state of affairs, and so I shall refer back to that period throughout the paper. This is all the more necessary since there has not yet been sufficient re-examination of the state of archaeological research in the German Democratic Republic. Apart from the work of Hansen (1964), which deals only with the beginnings, there is only the account by Behrens (1984) which is, particularly in its assessments, not satisfactory. This can also be said of some of his reviews (especially Behrens 1990), where he tries to analyse the theoretical basis of the subject. After unification Hansel (1991) produced a summary of prehistoric research in Berlin, and in this he demonstrated in particular the connections between scholarship and politics; his overview, however, has not gone uncriticized (Gringmuth-Dallmer 1991). The statements in this paper cannot therefore be proved in all details, but they arise from the personal knowledge and experience of the author, who worked in the Academy of Sciences in Berlin from 1968 to 1991.

The paper will not consider the larger concerns of archaeological work -- research, teaching and Bodendenkmalpflege (protection of archaeological monuments) -- separately, but will instead discuss four aspects that confront nearly every scholar. These are:

* the factual aspect

* the political aspect

* the subjective aspect of dealing with facts and politics

* the organizational-administrative aspect.

The factual aspect

In evaluating the essence of archaeological research since 1989 and its future development, the question of whether an archaeology typical of the GDR ever existed -- which, considering the political system, could only have been a Marxist one -- is of decisive importance.

If only the material and its interpretation, particularly as manifested in journals (apart from the Ethnographisch-Archaologische Zeitschrift), are considered this question has to be answered in the negative. There is hardly any article or monograph about an archaeological excavation or find which could not have been published unchanged in any scientific periodical in the West. This is true for the vast majority of the work published in the GDR, and there is thus no cause to make any fundamental changes in the content of research work.

Alongside this objective treatment attempts were made early on to interpret finds on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, the only philosophy declared acceptable by the Communist Party and the government leadership. This period was introduced by an article by Otto (1953), whose first quotation came from Stalin. The author tried in this way to make a career for himself through the Party. He was soon promoted to the rank of professor and took up influential positions at the university, as well as, from 1964, at the Academy of Sciences. He tried to get archaeology on the officially approved course by means of his students, by editing the Ethnographisch-Archaologische Zeitschrift, and by chairing the Fachgruppe Ur- und Fruhgeschichte der Historikergesellschaft der DDR (Pre- and Early History Group of the Society of Historians of the GDR). Werner (1953) analysed the principles of Otto's efforts, and he responded to the criticism (Otto 1954). The discussion, however, has not continued although it was initiated by the editors of the journal Forschungen und Fortschritte. It was felt that the increasingly difficult relationship between the two parts of Germany, and thus also within scholarship, should not put under even more stress.

Only a few scholars followed Otto's example of an archaeology modelled on Marixism-Leninism, and those few were mostly his students. But they were sufficient in number for all the leading positions in the subject to be occupied by members of the Communist Party of the GDR (SED) until the beginning of the 1980s. We shall return to this below.

While the management of specialist museums by the Party faithful led to scarcely any change in academic standards, the situation was more critical at universities, and especially at the Academy of Sciences, where W. Unverzagt had built up a strong institute of prehistory and early history after World War II. In 1969 it became part of the Zentralinstitut fur Alte Geschichte und Archaologie (Central Institute for Ancient History and Archaeology: ZIAGA), which comprised nearly all archaeological and ancient historical subject-areas. Besides prehistory and related natural sciences, there were several ancient oriental disciplines, ancient history, classical philology, and classical archaeology, including numismatics and epigraphy, right down to study of the ancient history of the Americas; it ended up having more than 180 staff members. Its director, Joachim Herrmann, only partially continued the research trend towards the treatment of source material based on Unverzagt's tradition, especially from the early Middle Ages; in this connection the abolition of the Handbuch der vor- und fruhgeschichtlichen Wall- und Wehranlagen is particularly regrettable. On the other hand, transregional investigation of specific issues (e.g. settlement patterns, agriculture, land use) has produced new and productive initiatives.

Apart from this fundamental research, strenuous attempts were made to prove the existence as early as prehistoric times of principles that were, according to official interpretation, to lead eventually to communism, using the scholars of ZIAGA, and also of other institutes, for this purpose. The main means to demonstrate this thesis were large-scale presentations, mostly initiated and edited by Herrmann. Special mention should be made of Menschwerdung, Die Germanen, and Die Slawen in Deutschland: a Prehistory of Central Europe was started but was never finished. Published were a two-volume Lexicon of Early Cultures, which was to show the development of mankind from its beginnings to around AD 1000 (in the GDR the term AD was replaced by the term 'unserer Zeitrechnung', meaning 'of our chronology') and the proceedings of conferences organized by ZIAGA on subjects such as 'Productive powers and society formation in the pre-capitalist period' or 'Family, state and society formation: basic problems of pre-capitalist periods one hundred years after Friedrich Engels' work The origins of the family, private property and the state'. All these works contain strongly ideologically based passages, alongside many excellent contributions by leading specialists, who published their research entirely or nearly without making political concessions. The value of these works on the whole cannot be denied, but they will not be continued in the foreseeable future.

The adoption of Marxism in German politics had prevented any real discussion (apart from the controversy between Werner and Otto) of the potential existence of starting-points which might productively influence the interpretation of archaeological material. In the west, the opposition of the 'Two World systems' in direct confrontation in the GDR made factual discussion impossible, as there was never any questioning of the basic issue, that is, whether the totalitarian system of the GDR was correct in its reference to Karl Marx's philosophy. In the east, all criticism which went beyond certain detailed aspects founded in 19th-century research was out of the question, as it was immediately misinterpreted as criticism of the prevailing political system. There is a need to make up lost time. A lecture by Angelika Trager at the Rostock archaeological congress in 1992 entitled 'Welche Stellung und Funktion hatte der Marxismus in der Vor- und Fruhgeschichtsforschung der DDR -- totale Niederlage einer "deutschen" Theorie?' (What position and function did Marxism have in the research of the GDR in pre- and early history -- has the 'German' theory been totally defeated?) demonstrates that this need has been recognized.

If Marxism is considered with the necessary objectivity, it is impossible simplistically to juxtapose 'Marxists' and 'Non-Marxists' in the way, for example, Hermann Behrens does. Nor can such objectivity disqualify archaeologists on the grounds of their having been Marxists. Those in leading positions, moreover, have nearly all published work, many of them a great deal, based on pure scholarly methods and thus free of ideological bias.

On the other hand it should not be forgotten that no interpretation of historical (and therefore also archaeological) source material is possible without the intrusion of the scholar's basic position, whether consciously or unconsciously. Care should be taken not to apply standards for Marxists that do not hold good for others.

The political aspect

At the start of the fundamental changes in the GDR in 1989 all the leading positions in research, teaching, specialist museums, and in archaeological heritage management (Bodendenkmalpflege) were occupied by members of the SED, who supported the politics of the state. Some of them were excellent scholars, but in some cases it is doubtful, because of the standard both of their academic and their leadership qualities, whether those concerned would have reached these positions in a democracy. The question of their future could not be solved entirely within the discipline, but had to be considered within the framework of total political developments, a topic too complex for discussion here. Some were forced to retire because of massive pressure applied by their colleagues, others by their new regional (Land) government or their university. A third group gave up their positions voluntarily, realizing that their close involvement with the old system would not allow them to continue to work in the same way. As a result of these developments, no leading functionary of the GDR period was in post at the end of 1991.

Of course, the political developments did not affect only the leading academics. The vast majority of archaeologists and their colleagues in related subjects had also suffered above all because their international contacts had been severely limited, since only those permitted to travel (mostly Party members, but not even all of them) were allowed to go into the 'capitalist' West, to which the Federal Republic of Germany also belonged. With the opening-up of the borders this restriction was lifted, and all concerned are making the most of the new opportunities, the only limitations now often being a lack of funding.

Among this group are scholars with high international reputations who could not expand sufficiently, because of their political views and their refusal to let non-archaeological considerations affect their interpretation of archaeological material. Unfortunately the expectation that vacant positions would be offered to people from this group has been fulfilled only very partially. At the universities this was partly due to the lack of finance, whilst at the museums and research institutes for Bodendenkmalpflege the reason was that nearly all positions were filled by directors from the former Federal Republic, even where competent people from inside the institutions themselves would have been available. Time will tell whether this has been a success in each case.

Despite all these reservations, it must be observed that every attempt was made to deal delicately with political problems. The former leading academics in their subject, if they have not taken early retirement, still have jobs, even if without the leadership position. In this respect, archaeology and other subjects differ favourably from some sectors, especially economics, where old forces are sometimes still powerful and influential. Otherwise, political activity at a lower level, which hardly anyone could avoid, was not held against people, so long as no connection with the state security system could be proved (as happened in a few cases).

If the result is unsatisfactory, the reason lies in the substantial reduction in posts in some areas, which affected both academic and technical staff. On the whole, care was taken to apply only criteria of performance and achievement only, but in some cases this did not prevent the dismissal of qualified staff.

For clearly political reasons the Museum fur deutsche Geschichte (Museum of German History) in Berlin, where there had been a department of prehistory and early history employing several scholars, was closed. This museum had been well equipped and was there for reasons of pure propaganda; it was intended to show a steady historical progression from a classless primitive society to the independent nation of the GDR, and so there were no grounds for it to exist after unification. The archaeologists who worked here have found jobs at other museums.

The prehistory and early history group of the Society of Historians of the GDR was dissolved as well; this had been an organization with duties comparable to those of the Museum fur deutsche Geschichte. It had come into existence in 1959 to replace the Mittelund Ostdeutsche Verband fur Altertumsforschung (Central and East German Association for Ancient Studies) the foundation of which had been prevented by massive Party intervention, as Coblenz (1992) has recently demonstrated. Consequently a considerable number of archaeologists never joined it. However, it must not be judged too harshly. Apart from events with purely ideological aims like 'Die Funktion der Ur- und Fruhgeschichtsforschung im System der sozialistischen Bildung und Erziehung' (The function of research in prehistory and early history in the system of socialist education and training) (Schlette 1966), 15 conferences, with subjects mostly of a high standard, were held during its lifetime; the last volume, Mensch und Umwelt (Man and Environment), appeared in 1992.

The Mittel- und Ostdeutsche Verband fur Altertumsforschung could finally be founded in 1991 under the chairmanship of Gunter Wetzel. It works for the 'promotion of archaeological research in Central and East Germany in all its aspects' and strives, together with the West and Southwest German Association for Ancient Studies, for the 'representation of archaeology at national level' (Ausgrabungen und Funde 36, 1991; 303f.). The three societies mentioned thus represent archaeological research in the whole of Germany. The impending establishment of a joint association (with the existing ones being retained) ought to make their work even more effective.

The psychological aspect

The questioning of fundamental academic and political research premises that had been valid for decades forced all scholars to come to terms with the new situation, for which they were not themselves responsible. This was, as has been stressed already, no problem from an academic point of view for those who had always tried to maintain their inner independence and to keep their scholarship as free from ideology as possible, which meant abandoning all hope of a career (excluding the generation who were appointed in the first few years after World War II). The others, who were almost exclusively Party members, reacted in very different ways. Some of those under 40, whose parents had grown up under the socialist regime, experienced a complete breakdown of their whole value system, which often led to a strong sense of insecurity. For the fall of one system did not automatically lead to the acceptance of the other; indeed, the question must be asked whether such an abrupt change would be at all possible or even desirable. Others have grasped the new rules of the game very quickly so that it appears as if they had always lived and worked under the current conditions. How far this conceals real conviction or again only pure ambition can only be surmised.

The older generation, who had occupied all the leading positions, react with even more subtle differentiation. Alongside those who also immediately adapted to the new conditions (the so-called 'Wendehalse' or 'wrynecks') and those who also lost their orientation, there are some who, in the last analysis, are not prepared even to question their old positions.

More serious than cleaving to old academic positions, which should certainly be considered a positive character trait, is the fact that some of the people involved are not prepared or able to admit that they had objectively been active supporters of a system whose despicable contempt for human values is becoming fully apparent only today. They deny their political responsibility by appealing to their personal integrity, whether real or ostensible, or to their excellent scholarship. This attitude manifested itself when at the Congress in Madrid in August 1990 Joachim Herrmann stood again for election as secretary of the International Association of Historians. It must have been obvious to him -- and he had been told so in unequivocal terms -- that his election would not be accepted by German historians under the new conditions, as in his case not only academic criteria would apply. The displeasure at his behaviour, which made acceptance of ZIAGA and its consequent restructuring much more difficult, gave the final impetus to Herrmann's resignation in September 1990, which was forced by his colleagues.

Of course, the changed external conditions have perforce had a psychological effect. If, two years after unification, academics still have no job or only a temporary one, or merely hear promises which might or might not be kept, even those who are themselves politically blameless find it difficult to identify with the new situation.

The structural aspect

The academic structure in the Eastern European nations differed fundamentally from that in the West in that large segments of research were taken away from the universities and concentrated in the Academies of Sciences. This had the consequence that the universities were poorly equipped where finance and personnel were concerned (third-party financing was unknown) and they concentrated mainly on teaching. Student numbers were limited, since according to the principles of a society completely planned in every respect, only that number of students was graduated as there would be jobs for later on. The only structure comparable to this in the former GDR could be found in the Bodendenkmalpflege, which was concentrated at regional museums.

The link between teaching and research, which contrasts with that in the former Federal Republic, requires thorough restructuring. First, a strengthening of the universities is necessary; in the end only Berlin and Halle had offered a full training. Here the currently critical financial situation prevents the necessary expansion. Until November 1992 only two chairs were advertised in Berlin, and one each in Halle, Leipzig and Greifswald, and no doubt a second one will follow in Halle. The situation in Jena is still not clear. Since the dissolution of the independent institute in 1967 Karl Peschel, one of the most outstanding scholars of the former GDR, has been working there; because of his political integrity he had never been given a chair, and he would be the first to be morally entitled to this position on this basis alone. Now he is professor, but without an Institute. This situation is totally unacceptable. Thuringia has always belonged to one of the core regions in Europe, in archaeological terms, and therefore also urgently needs its own institute. It can only be hoped that the situation there, as at the other universities in the eastern part of Germany, will soon change.

The main problem was posed by the restructuring of the Academy of Sciences. In contrast to the universities, where because of the teaching aspect particularly stringent political standards were applied for employing people, and where scholars like Karl Peschel were therefore the exception, it offered more extensive employment opportunities for people who at least tried to avoid political demands, even if they consequently had no prospect of a career. These scholars now constitute a highly qualified group, which should be retained for research. For this reason a so-called 'evacuation committee' of the Deutschers Wissenschaftsrat (German Academic Council) was appointed. This consisted of 25 academics in high positions (two of them from the east) from different subjects; among the prehistorians there were only two Germans and one Englishman. The committee had the task of judging the academic value of projects submitted and of examining the achievements of each individual scholar. It was on the committee's recommendation that ZIAGA was dissolved. About 25 members, half from the academic and half from the technical side, were attached to the Romisch-Germanische Kommission of the German Archaeological Institute as a Department of Prehistory and Early History. The way in which both sides sought a mutually advantageous solution to their problems is among the positive experiences of the German unification process, which should not be taken for granted. Other former ZIAGA members are to be given positions at universities during the next five years within the framework of an 'academic integration programme', and one group has been taken over by a newly founded Forschungszentrum fur Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas (Research Centre for the History and Culture of Eastern Central Europe).

Finally, some academics remain who at the moment have no prospect of long-term employment. For them an attempt is being made to soften the harshest aspects through government employment-creation schemes and the involvement of projects with third-party finance.

In purely administrative terms, the situation was favourable for the Bodendenkmalpflege (Archaeological Heritage Protection organizations). When in 1952 the administrative Lander structure was dissolved and a division into 14 regions introduced, the archaeological museums in Schwerin, Potsdam, Halle, Weimar and Dresden were responsible for this work and as such they were among the few institutions whose sphere of influence was essentially unchanged. With the reintroduction of the Lander in 1990 no fundamentally new structures had to be created.

The essential changes came about mainly because, unlike the GDR with its uniform legislation, monuments protection in the Federal Republic is the responsibility of the Lander, who all issue their own laws. While having largely identical rules they show vast differences in individual cases (Reichstein 1984). The so-called Verursacherprinzip ('principle of originator') in some Lander should be stressed, whereby the person who disturbs the archaeological remains has to finance explorations, which brings important financial resources into research.

Further changes concern the formal division of specialist museums and government offices of the Denkmalpflege, which have, however, remained throughout under one central control. It should be noted that archaeological offices are no longer in charge of the protection of monuments, which is the responsibility of local government offices. This has the advantage that it is easier to get successful legal prosecutions.

The situation in Berlin, where the offices for the protection of monuments in both parts of the city have to be amalgamated, is a special case. After a period of transition there will be an archaeological regional government office (at Land level) with its main seat at Schloss Charlottenburg and a branch in central Berlin. The head of this regional government office, W. Menghin, is also the director of the Museum fur Vor- und Fruhgeschichte in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

The new arrangements have the marked disadvantage that all newly discovered finds are no longer state property and thus handed over to the museums, as had been the case in the GDR. This has already had consequences which are taken for granted in the West, but which are felt to be catastrophic in the East, in that, despite the law, rich find spots, especially of Roman coins, are being looted by private, individuals with metal detectors. Apart from the loss of irreplaceable material this makes research more difficult in so far as it is now no longer possible to publish the exact location of finds.

What does the future hold?

One of the main problems of the coming years will be the excessive number of tasks the Bodendenkmalpflege has to tackle. The extensive earth-moving resulting from road- and railway-building works in particular, and the establishment of commercial areas and the renovation of old parts of cities and towns, makes archaeological excavation, even of all important objects, impossible. Some relief will be felt in some of the Lander at the financing of excavations on the basis of the Verursacherprinzip. A precondition for this is, however, that there should be a sufficient number of qualified staff. Among academics this can at present come only to a limited extent from the East German universities, with their inadequate staffing and poor finances. In the technical sphere, there used to be a special course for excavation technicians and restorers in the GDR, but this was not the case in the old Federal Republic. Here attempts are being made at the present time to create an officially recognized professional profile by absorbing the experiences of the former GDR. On the whole, unification creates favourable preconditions for an exchange with the former Federal Republic, and this has begun to take effect, but unfortunately so far it runs almost exclusively in one direction.

A special characteristic of research in the GDR was the great number of amateur monument wardens, numbering some 2000, who watched earth-moving operations and conducted surface surveys. In this way they discovered many find spots and supplied researchers with valuable material. The umbrella organization under which many activities took place was the now dissolved Kulturbund. Founded with the object of controlling, at least in part, the leisure activities of the population, it in many cases allowed work to be carried out that was unaffected by political demands.

Problems that are more difficult to resolve than that of organization, which can easily be solved by providing new structures (e.g. archaeological associations), result from the fact that the changes in the eastern part of Germany have affected the lives of nearly every citizen so deeply that there is often hardly any time for developing personal interests. Higher demands and qualifications on the one hand and unemployment on the other prevent this. Great efforts will be necessary to maintain earlier old standards.

On the whole, with the demands that are being made of the monuments protection bodies, it will be difficult to conduct sufficient systematic research for a number of years. Here especially the Department of Prehistory and Early History of the German Archaeological Institute will have an important task, and attempts should be made to link the demands of monuments protection with thematic research by choosing objects which have long been on a danger-list. The greatly expanded scientific sector of the subject (radiocarbondating, archaeozoology, archaeobotany, dendrochronology) will play a special role in this. The hope is that the Berlin Museum fur Vor- und Fruhgeschichte, which had been torn apart by World War II and is now reunited, will in the future represent an important factor in this research.

An opportunity to initiate systematic, targeted research projects that had not been recognized in the era of the GDR lies in the well developed system of third-party financing in Germany, especially through the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). It will be particularly important for the universities that are not so well equipped.

More attention will be paid to co-operation with institutions of east and southeastern Europe, with which there had already been good contacts during the era of the GDR. Since archaeological research faces considerably greater problems there than in the eastern part of Germany, this co-operation is considered to be especially important.

Since there has essentially been no re-examination of the archaeology of the Third Reich in either East or West Germany -- valuable work by the modern historians Bollmus (1970) and Kater (1974) merely documents the external development of the arguments between the various interest groups -- the task of looking into the archaeology of the GDR in its totality and variety has now become urgent. Every conceivable attitude, from ruthless striving after career advancement down to complete renunciation of any professional promotion, has been manifested. This could have direct results in academic work (for example in essentially superfluous quotations from Marx, Engels or even Lenin) but in the end the difference in achievement that existed, as everywhere else, was not at all, or only to a very limited extent, linked with the political stance of individual scholars. It is nearly impossible for someone who has not himself or herself lived in this situation to recognise the problems and to order the available information correctly. That is why this re-examination can only be done by archaeologists from the former GDR; this article represents a modest contribution to that process.

If we survey the development as a whole, we may say that the archaeology of the GDR has, despite all difficulties, achieved a great deal. To retain the positive aspects and to build on them, and to pick up new impulses, will be a rewarding task in the next few years.


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