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Life among the Ruins: Cityscape and Sexuality in Cold War Berlin Hardcover – Dec 20 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2011 edition (Nov. 18 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230202012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230202016
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,148,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Evans's analysis of the available visual material proves to be innovative and illuminating." - Malte Zierenberg, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany

"Greatly aided by her eloquent storytelling, the book reaches out across disciplines and appeals not only to historians of postwar Germany but also to geographers as well as scholars of film, literature, and gender studies." - Yuliya Komska, Dartmouth College, United States

About the Author

JENNIFER V. EVANS is Associate Professor of History at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She teaches a variety of courses in 20th century German history, while her primary area of research is the history of sexuality. She has written about the regulation of same-sex sexuality in Cold War Germany, pink triangle victims during and after the Holocaust, and queer erotic photography as a form of self-narration.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Postwar Berlin as sociological curiosity June 24 2012
By Eric Dietrich-Berryman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Life Among the Ruins is an earnest attempt to survey and illuminate a hideously deformed world that lay in rubble. I have a direct personal interest in the subject and, sadly, the effort here is only a marginally successful treatise of Berlin and its population in 1945 and following. The problem is basically form over feeling. Jennifer Evans has no personal experience of those dark times, nor is one necessary. It is entirely necessary, however, to trade clinical detachment for something approaching a modicum of human understanding. In this she fails. For instance, John Keegan's The Face of Battle and John Barber's account of the siege of Leningrad are compelling histories founded on painstaking research blended with deep human insight. Evans depends on contemporary sociological jargon, supercilious observers, poorly understood archival sources in translation and shallow generalizations.

What is one to do with "purile fetishization," sexualization of the space," "desires of the ruins," "affective register," "commodity fetishism," or "existing social cavities" among the litany of cant with which this book is cobbled together? When Evans writes "burgomeister" (sic) it is obvious that she does not read or speak German. Her grasp of military history begs correction. There was no "armistice" in 1945. Germany surrendered unconditionally. Capitulation without quarter. No less questionable is the pronouncement that "The year 1945 did not herald a radical break from what came before, but 1961 did." The year 1945 broke with the past in Germany (as well as Japan) in the most definitive way imaginable. By comparison, the Communist sealing of East Germany in 1961 is a geo-political footnote.

Here's my experience as a boy among Berlin's ruins: we starved. We were evacuated to places other than Bavaria. In my case it was a children's home in Upper Silesia. At the finale my mother and I walked from the Harz back to Berlin, a journey of about 100 miles. It took us three months. We were always cold. We begged anything the Occupation soldiery would toss our way, especially cigarettes. Merciless competition came from limbless urchins, stumps wrapped in rags, who propelled their little wheeled carts at break-leg speed whenever we pounced on something a soldier had flung our way. We never badgered Russians. The French kicked. Brits had almost as little as we did. We looked for bits of wood and coal.

There were not a quarter million prostitutes trawling for customers. Women in Berlin gave themselves not because of a breakdown of morality but to get something to eat for themselves and their children and their aged parents, and to trap just a moment of warmth and comfort in an icy world. The winter of 1945-1946 was particularly harsh, as was the next winter. In this context, prostitution begs for a much more elastic, softer definition.

I smoked my first cigarette at age six. Most of everything I could cadge from the uniformed lords was brought home. Smoked cigarettes were stripped of their tobacco, re-rolled and traded for food. Hook an American and your mother became the envy of the neighborhood. Mine found a Royal Air Force cook. Jackpot! Night clubs like Resi and Die Badewanne became oases in a grim world, not the sex traps claimed. Some day there may be a comprehensive work that examines with care and sensitivity the Berlin of the Götterdämmerung postwar era. This is not that book.

Eric Dietrich-Berryman