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Colleen Anderson, Harvard University, History

Outer Space in East and West Germany, c. 1949-1995

My dissertation considers perceptions and presentations of outer space in East and West Germany from 1949 through 1990. It uses sources from the variety of actors who engaged with outer space, including scientists, politicians, science fiction authors, and amateur enthusiasts. In combining their different notions of outer space, my project reconsiders how East and West Germans saw themselves and the wider world.

From 1949 through 1990, East and West Germans alike used outer space to express their opinions about politics, life, and culture within the FRG and GDR. For instance, the East German Socialist Unity Party (SED) used the 1957 launch of Sputnik to anticipate the victory of socialism; science fiction authors in both states used cosmic settings to question state and society; and following the first Soviet unmanned mission to Mars, West German observers wondered whether the Red Planet would soon become a ‘red’ planet. Yet East and West Germans were not merely bystanders to space exploration. West Germany was a founding member of the European Space Agency, and East German space scientists participated in the Soviet-sponsored Interkosmos program.

Outer space, therefore, offers numerous avenues for the study of East and West Germany in conjunction and individually. First, the participation of East and West German scientists, authors, and enthusiasts within Germany and abroad illuminates East and West Germany’s international roles and also Germans’ perceptions of the world around them. Second, the distinctive ways in which East and West Germans approached and engaged with space permit a reexamination of society within each state. And finally, this combination of East and West German domestic history, their international roles, and their perceptions of themselves and the world around them offers a fruitful approach to the combined study of the two German states.