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Research Projects

Index

The Berlin Wall Foundation conducts historical research projects on the history of German division, German-German migration, the division of Berlin, the Berlin Wall and its victims. Unlike universities and non-university research institutions, the Foundation does not conduct basic or method-generating research. The projects are designed as applied research. In addition, the Foundation's projects are usually of a long-term nature, depending on work capacity and the topic at hand. The Foundation seeks cooperation with university and non-university research institutions.

Deaths at the Berlin Wall

Deaths at the Berlin Wall

The research project on the deaths caused by the GDR border regime at the Berlin Wall, conducted from 2006 to 2009, pursued two goals: Given the varying estimates on the number of victims that was circulating publicly, it aimed to determine a partial account of the deaths caused by the GDR border regime based on methodically sound research. At the same time, the project strove to lift the 140 or more victims from anonymity through biographical research that would facilitate individual commemoration. The project findings were incorporated into the Foundation’s commemorative practices and served as the basis for the Window of Remembrance that stands on the memorial grounds. 

 

Project directors: Dr. Hans-Hermann Hertle, Dr. Maria Nooke
In cooperation with the Center for Contemporary Research in Potsdam

Funded by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media

Project findings:

  • Hans-Hermann Hertle und Maria Nooke (Hg.): Die Todesopfer an der Berliner Mauer 1961-1989. Ein biographisches Handbuch, Berlin 32019.
  • Hans-Hermann Hertle and Maria Nooke (ed.): The Victims at the Berlin Wall, 1961-1989. Biographical Handbook, Berlin 20191.

Deaths Caused by the GDR Border Regime in Berlin before 1961

Deaths Caused by the GDR Border Regime in Berlin before 1961

Before building the Wall, the SED established a border regime at the Berlin borders that claimed at least 39 lives. The research project examined the contours of the border regime that was established at the time of the Berlin Blockade and which underwent major changes in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built. Following the methodology of the project on deaths at the Berlin Wall, this project focused on the biographies of the people who died, the circumstances of their deaths, and the public reaction at the time and after 1989. The project ended in 2013.

Project supervisor: Dr. Gerhard Sälter
Funded by the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship and the Berlin Lotto Foundation

Main project findings:

  • Gerhard Sälter, Johanna Dietrich und Fabian Kuhn: Die vergessenen Toten. Die Todesopfer des DDR-Grenzregimes in Berlin von der Teilung bis zum Mauerbau (1948-1961), Berlin 2016.

Memory of Former Border Soldiers of the GDR after 1990

Memory of Former Border Soldiers of the GDR after 1990

The Berlin Wall Foundation holds a large collection of interviews with former border guards. These serve as the basis for a project begun in 2021 that examines the connection between the politics, individual and collective memory in light of ongoing debates about the shortcomings of the unification process and the disregard of East German experiences. The project, which employs oral history methods, explores how border guards experienced their military service and how this view changed, in light of efforts to come to terms with the GDR past in unified Germany.

Supervisor: Dr. Sarah Bornhorst, Prof. Dr. Daniel Siemens
Project researcher: Christopher Law
In cooperation with Newcastle University
Funded by the Northern Bridge Consortium

GDR Border Police

GDR Border Police

The research project, conducted from 2002 to 2007, focused on the transformation of the border police from a police authority created in the post-war period to a military instrument of the GDR border regime. It described the transformation of the border police into a tool of the SED’s border regime and also described the resistance among border police members and how they reacted to their changing responsibilities. 

Project researcher: Dr. Gerhard Sälter
Funded by the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship

Main project findings:

  • Gerhard Sälter: Grenzpolizisten. Konformität, Verweigerung und Repression in der Grenzpolizei und den Grenztruppen der DDR (1952-1965), Berlin 2009.

Made it in the West?

Made it in the West? The Integration of GDR Migrants

The research project examines the integration experiences of GDR refugees and immigrants in the years 1950 to 1989. The study describes their expectations and opportunities during the course of their integration. Based on interviews with contemporary witnesses, the project focuses on two very different integration milieus: the densely populated city of West Berlin and the rural state of Hesse. The project was completed in 2020.

Project supervisor: Dr. Andrea Genest
In cooperation with the Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation

Main project findings:

  • Bettina Effner: Der Westen als Alternative. DDR-Zuwanderer in der Bundesrepublik und West-Berlin 1972 bis 1989/90, Berlin 2020

The Voluntary Assistants of the Border Police and the Border Troops

The Voluntary Assistants of the Border Police and the Border Troops

The GDR border police, like the border troops created in 1961, were supported by volunteers from population who, in addition to their regular jobs, helped the GDR authorities secure the border and prevent escapes This research project, which began in 2004 and is still ongoing, examines both the intentions of the SED in securing the support of the population in this delicate task and the motives of the volunteers’ who offered their assistance. It also investigates the contours of social integration in the SED’s system of rule in the GDR.

Project researcher: Dr. Gerhard Sälter
Funded by the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship

Preliminary project findings:

  • Gerhard Sälter: Loyalität und Denunziation in der ländlichen Gesellschaft der DDR. Die Freiwilligen Helfer der Grenzpolizei im Jahr 1952; in: Der willkommene Verrat. Beiträge zur Denunziationsforschung, hg. von Michael Schröter, Weilerswist 2007, S. 159-184.

The Border System

The Border System

Preventing escapes and emigration became a central policy focus of the SED in the GDR. The long-term project, which began in 2005, examines the interplay of various authorities in the GDR in response to the ongoing flight of refugees even after the Wall was erected and the borders were closed, and to the rise in requests to leave the county that began in the late 1970s. A central thesis of the project is that within the Cold War, preventing migration became a secret goal of the GDR state and that the border regime increasingly determined the agenda of the security agencies. The character of the GDR as a police state was probably due in large part to the SED’s efforts to prevent migration to the West. The project also examines the cooperation between different agencies in this area, with all their frictions and conflicting ideas of security.

Project researcher: Dr. Gerhard Sälter
Funded by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media

Preliminary project findings:

  • Gerhard Sälter: Fluchtverhinderung als gesamtgesellschaftliche Aufgabe; in: Die Mauer. Errichtung, Über­windung, Erinnerung, hg. von Klaus-Dietmar Henke, München 2011, S. 152-162.
  • Gerhard Sälter: Policing the Border Area in East Berlin: Rules, Conflicts, and Negotiations, 1961-89; in: Cold War Berlin. Confrontations, Cultures, and Identities, hg. von Stefanie Eisenhuth, Konrad H. Jarausch und Scott H. Krause, New York 2021, S. 45-59.

The Reception Procedure in West Berlin

The Reception Procedure in West Berlin and Anti-Communist Organizations

Various authorities were involved in the refugee reception procedure at the Marienfelde reception center. Western intelligence agencies questioned GDR refugees to gain information about the GDR and probably to recruit agents as well. Anti-communist organizations, who questioned refugees about their motives for fleeing, had their own agenda regarding the GDR. The project, completed in 2012, sheds light on the interplay between the attempt to exert influence in the GDR and the assessment of refugees.

Project supervisors: Dr. Bettina Effner, Dr. Enrico Heitzer, Dr. Gerhard Sälter.
Funded by the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Main project findings:

  • Keith R. Allen: Befragung, Überprüfung, Kontrolle. Die Aufnahme von DDR-Flüchtlingen in West-Berlin bis 1961, Berlin 2013.

The Water Border in Divided Berlin, 1945–1990

The Water Border in Divided Berlin, 1945–1990

About one third of the East Berlin and GDR borders to West Berlin ran along waterways and bodies of water. This created special conditions for the division and the border regime of the GDR, of which the forms and effects are still hardly known. The project focuses on the history of division with regard to the German-German and European waterways and the border regime in Berlin.

Project researchers: Dr. Gerhard Sälter and Dr. Manfred Wichmann

Preliminary research findings:

  • Gerhard Sälter und Manfred Wichmann: »Das Grenzregime der DDR in Berlin am und unter Wasser«, Navalis 15, 1/2018, S. 24–25.

Research

The Foundation supports students, journalists and researchers in their search for topics, literature, and material on the history of division and the Berlin Wall.

Contact: Dr. Gerhard Sälter
saelter [at] stiftung-berliner-mauer.de

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