Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Thomas Childers


This dissertation examines domestic culture as a project of nation building in a divided Germany between 1949 and 1989. Soviet and American backing during escalating Cold War tensions pulled East and West Germans in opposing ideological directions, which they initially expressed in diverging aesthetics. Historiography on German material culture traditionally concentrates on the East-West competition during the first two decades of the Cold War. By extending the narrative into the 1970s and 1980s, Germany's Cold War on Display: The Political Aesthetics of German-German Relations, 1949-1989 argues instead that internal economic and political collaboration between the two German states created an alternative to Americanization and Sovietization – a third way that allowed for German cultural rapprochement within the context of European integration. To display changes in political culture and trace their effect on the German-German relationship, this study analyses archival documents alongside objects of domestic culture. This approach includes a discussion of five interior design dimensions: the institutionalization process, the design discourse, production and consumption processes, furniture trade, and diplomatic utilization of design. Postwar reconstruction presented the "two countries in one German nation" with both opportunities and challenges in redefining their nationhood, global position, and cultural reputation. After initial delineation, East and West Germany's aesthetic convergence began in the mid-1960s with domestic critiques of their respective political systems. Cultural and economic cooperation following the 1972 Basic Treaty on Germany's status quo enabled both states to detach their handling of the German Question from superpower policies. One major impulse sought to salvage ties by increasing trade, resulting in a similar interior design aesthetic that facilitated exports. Other endeavors focused on normalizing German relations through cultural encounters and political treaties, reconnecting populations on both sides of the border. Concentrating on similarities and collaboration, this study refocuses Germany's Cold War - that is, the special relationship between the two German states - and offers a new context in which to understand the relative stability during four decades of division and considerably smooth transition to unification in 1990.

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