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The Unintended Consequences of Socialism: What Ultimately Protected Nature in the GDR

March 26, 2017 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

“Giftküche DDR” – the lead story of Der Spiegel in January 1990 about the GDR’s toxic legacy confirmed the worst fears about the environmental record of state socialism. Yet days before unification became official in October 1990, the only freely elected government of East Germany created five national parks, six biosphere reserves, and three nature parks, putting 10% of its state territory under nature protection, compared to 1% in the West. The existence of ecologically valuable landscapes on the territory of the GDR obviously preceded the state. But the fact that such landscapes still proved worth protecting in 1990 appears at first irreconcilable with the news coverage. The presentation uses the national park program as a window onto the environmental history of East Germany and seeks to explain how ecologically precious landscapes emerged amidst the bankruptcy assets of the GDR.

Astrid M. Eckert is Winship Distinguished Research Professor and Associate Professor of History at Emory University in Atlanta. She is a historian of Modern Europe and Germany. Her publications include The Struggle for the Files: The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War (2012). Her current project explores the meaning and consequences of the Iron Curtain for West Germany in economic, cultural and environmental terms.