I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Back in the GDR

Fergal Lenehan
Wie ich nach Berlin Kam – Eine Irin in der geteilten Stadt, by Elizabeth Shaw, Wolfgang de Bruyn (transl), Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg, 224 pp, €19.95, ISBN: 978-3942476577 The early 1990s were marked by a proliferation of newly created nation states upon the European geopolitical landscape, as communism disintegrated in Central and Eastern Europe. Various nations gained or regained statehood, from Latvia on the Baltic Sea to Croatia on the Adriatic. A different fate awaited the German Democratic Republic. It unified with the Federal Republic of Germany to become the neue Bundesländer; the “new federal states” of a united German nation state. Rather than a national identity being “released” into full statehood, a distinct national state identity became a quasi-regional identity, based now largely upon the idea of a shared, collective East German past. By the late 1990s and early 2000s this new East German identity was often talked about in terms of an ‑ often ironic ‑ Ostalgie or GDR nostalgia; seen for example in GDR-themed parties, shops selling former GDR products and films such as Goodbye Lenin! While the Ostalgie wave that turned some lighter aspects of a communist dictatorship into capitalist kitsch has receded, cultural traces of a distinct East German identity remain. This is to be seen, for example, in children’s literature, as East German parents share the stories they read and loved as children in the GDR with their own families. Thus, for example the bestselling and much-loved GDR children’s classic Der kleine Angsthase, translated as The Timid Rabbit, has been published in seven editions since 1994 and remains highly popular in eastern Germany (but not in western Germany). The astonishing thing about this book, at least from an Irish perspective, is that its author and illustrator was a Belfast woman and long-term GDR resident, Elizabeth Shaw. The island of Ireland did not have a great deal of contact with the GDR. Indeed, the Republic of Ireland was the last European country to formally recognise the East German state, in November 1980. This is not to say there was no contact between Ireland and the German Democratic Republic. Derek Scally has recently highlighted links (largely of the “begging bowl” variety) between the Communist Party of Ireland, the Workers Party and the East German Socialist Unity Party (SED). Irish historian of the GDR Damian Mac Con Uladh, now a journalist based in Greece who often reports for The Irish Times, has written about the small number of Irish academics…



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