Week II



* PUBLIC EVENT. (Please note: this syllabus still subject to adjustment.)
Syllabus includes Core Readings and Films. Please also see: Institute Resources.

NB: Workshop discussions often focus on lectures/films that take place the DAY BEFORE.


9:00 – 12:00:  Workshop, Skinner 201, UMass

Ties to the East: Political Song / Art and the Working Class
This workshop will focus on two outgrowths of a populist approach to the arts. 1) The Bitterfeld Way was East Germany’s project to bring art and art-making into the daily lives of working people, starting in the late 1950s. 2) Part of a mass song tradition long associated with socialism and other protest movements, political songs in the GDR embodied multiple contradictions; as GDR singer-songwriters began writing new songs, those who were critical of the establishment increasingly came under official scrutiny. Those interested in the controversy between the USSR and the GDR over stolen art and are welcome to continue the discussion of Friday afternoon’s film over lunch.


David Robb, “Political song in the GDR: The Cat-and-Mouse Game with Censorship and Institutions” in Protest Song in East and West Germany Since the 1960s, ed. David Robb (Rochester: Camden House, 2007), 227-254.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Film Screenings, ILC S240, UMass
Introduced by Johanna Yunker

Two short films on political song:

I’m a Negro, I’m an American: Paul Robeson
GDR, 1989, dir. Kurt Tetzlaff, b/w, 83 min., doc.
In honor of his 90th birthday, this film showcased the American performer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who lived for a while in the GDR. At the height of his fame and skill, Robeson was forced to end his career amidst Cold War and anti-Communist hysteria. Biographical notes on the son of a former slave, who became a world-renowned actor and singer, explain his uncompromising position in the face of racism and political restrictions.

I’m Ernst Busch
Ich bin Ernst Busch. Germany, 2000, dir. Peter Voigt, color, 60 min., doc.
A portrait of communist singer Ernst Busch, who first rose to prominence as an interpreter of political songs, particularly those of Kurt Tucholsky, in the Berlin cabaret scene of the 1920s. He starred in the original 1928 production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, as well as in the subsequent 1931 film by G. W. Pabst, and appeared in Kuhle Wampe, the 1932 German movie directed by Slatan Dudow. Busch fled from the Nazis to the USSR, then fought in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. A beloved figure in the GDR, he is best remembered for his performance in the title role of Brecht’s Life of Galileo and his recordings of workers songs, including many written by Hanns Eisler.

*19:00-21:00: Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Introduced by Seán Allan

On the Banks of the Saale
An der Saale hellen Strande–ein Kulturhaus erzählt. Germany, 2010, dir. Helga Storck & Peter Goedel, b/w & color, 90 min., doc., ST
A documentary about the Friendship House, one of the most successful culture houses (Kulturhäuser) of the GDR, located at the huge Buna synthetic rubber factory in Schkopau, near Halle. It explores the impact of the Bielefeld Way, the GDR’s national experiment in bringing culture to workers and encouraging workers to make art themselves. The film features historic footage and interviews with those who participated, as well as national leaders in cultural policy.


*10:00 – 12:00: Keynote Lecture II, Old Chapel, UMass
Elaine Kelly, University of Edinburgh

Music, Modernity and Socialist Ideology: Sounding Utopia in the GDR
Parallel to the introductory lecture on GDR art, this lecture will provide an introduction to the key figures, styles, and trends that characterized the musical culture of the GDR. Looking at both the composition of new music and the reception of the musical canon, it will explore how cultural ideology was constructed and interpreted and discuss the constructs of progress and modernity that were encoded in East German composition and performance. Finally, it will consider some of the issues pertaining to the legacy of this culture in the wake of the state’s demise.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Film Screenings, ILC S240, UMass
Introduced by Elaine Kelly

Johann Sebastian Bach
GDR, 1950, dir. Ernst Dahle, b/w, 35 min., doc.
This documentary about J.S. Bach was produced for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of his death. It was the first cinematic attempt by the GDR to lay claim to the shared German cultural canon.

Ludwig van Beethoven
GDR, 1954, dir. Max Jaap, b/w, 95 min., doc., ST
Four years later, a full-length film was made to commemorate the perceived importance of Beethoven to GDR identity. Because of his engagement with the principles of the French Revolution, this composer was particularly prized as a forerunner of revolutionary socialism, and was taken up as the subject of an East German feature film in 1976 as well.

17:30 – 19:00: Exhibition Opening, Olver Design Building Gallery, UMass

Mutterkuchen: Selected Works by Anke Feuchtenberger
Curated by Bibiana Medkova

Anke Feuchtenberger (b. 1963) was raised in East Berlin, where she trained as a graphic artist at the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee. Shortly before the fall of the Wall, she co-founded the political artists’ collective PGH Glühende Zukunft. In her comics, theater and political posters and other works, Feuchtenberger blends different artistic traditions, including German Expressionism. Her work frequently reflects her feminist activism by focusing on the relationship between women and their children and society. Since 1997, she has taught drawing and media illustration at Hamburg’s Academy of Applied Sciences. [] Exhibited works selected from a collection donated to the DEFA Film Library and the University of Massachusetts Amherst by (East) German filmmaker Jörg Foth.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 201, UMass

Claiming Germany’s Cultural Heritage
The biographies of many composers and artists, especially those who had lived or worked within the physical boundaries of what was now the GDR, including Bach, Handel, Schütz, and Mendelssohn, were reshaped into socialist heroes within the GDR music and art worlds. These socialist narratives reflect the GDR’s eagerness to establish itself as the guardian of the German national heritage, and hence the “better Germany.” This workshop will give participants a chance to speak in-depth with Elaine Kelly about the readings and the role of classical music in the early GDR.


Sigrid Hofer, “The Dürer Heritage in the GDR: The Canon of Socialist Realism, its Areas of Imprecision, and its Historical Transformations,” Getty Research Journal 4 (2012): 109-126.

Elaine Kelly, Composing the Canon in the German Democratic Republic: Narratives of Nineteenth-Century Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014]), selections from Chapter 1 “Writing the Nation,” 37-49.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

14:00 – 16:30: Workshop, Skinner 201, UMass

Pedagogy Workshop: Encouraging Students to Listen to Film Music
This workshop will center on active learning activities that can be used in an undergraduate classroom across disciplines, to help students better analyze the uses and impact of film music. Participants will divide into small groups to try one of three techniques: a) graphically plotting the music in a certain scene; b) creating their own soundtrack, using music sampling software; and c) classifying the existing music using various film music taxonomies—including one developed by composer Hanns Eisler, Composing for the Films, in Hollywood, before he moved to the GDR.

*19:00 – 21:00: Screening, SOM 137, UMass
Introduced by Skyler Arndt-Briggs

Love’s Confusion
Verwirrung der Liebe, GDR, 1959, dir. Slatan Dudow, b/w, 76 min.
In this colorful and entertaining romantic comedy, with a score ranging from classical references to the most up-to-date musical styles of the early 1960s, art student Sonya and medical student Dieter enjoy their modern lives. When they attend a Carnival party at the art school, however, Dieter’s eye is caught by another woman. The best-known and last completed film of director Slatan Dudow—who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler on the classic Weimar Republic film Kuhle Wampe—this film ran into trouble with officials due to its stylized vision, as well as frank depictions of nudity and consumerism.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 201, UMass

International Trends and Competing with the West
Just as the GDR was in a political competition with the West to prove the value of the socialist path, it perceived itself to be in a cultural competition as well. Although not as marked in the visual arts until the 1980s, film and music became sites of struggle during the 1950s. The situation was complicated: on one hand, GDR officials were rigidly resistant to fashions and trends from the West, especially those influencing young people; at the same time, it was already clear that the state required the income that derived from entertainment vehicles. In this ambivalent climate, East German filmmakers and musicians were freer to make use of popular styles of film and music coming from West Germany and even America. As jazz and movie musicals became widely popular over the course of the 1950s, GDR musicologists and elites grappled with how to account for these genres within a socialist aesthetic.


Joshua Feinstein, The Triumph of the Ordinary: Depictions of Daily Life in the East German Cinema, 1949-1989 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), Chapter 3 “A Case of Love Confused? Slatan Dudow’s Verwirrung der Liebe as a Meditation on Art and Industry.”

Uta G. Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), Chapter 4 “Jazz and German Respectability,” 137-167.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

Optional: Individual talks with Elaine Kelly

*19:00 – 21:00: Film Screening, Amherst Cinema
Introduced by Johanna Yunker

Midnight Revue
Revue um Mitternacht. GDR, 1962, dir. Gottfried Kolditz, color, 104 min.
This musical comedy revolves around the attempt of an inexperienced producer to create a musical revue film. With clever references to Hollywood revue films, it exemplifies a push to compete with the West’s biggest studio and make box-office hits that would bring in revenue and appeal to GDR audiences.


9:00 – 12:00: Workshop, Skinner 201, UMass

Pedagogy Workshop: Using Artworks to Reach Visual Learners

This workshop will center on active learning activities that can be used in an undergraduate classroom across disciplines, to help students (particularly those who are visual learners) consider cultural and political trends. Participants will divide into small groups to try a variety of activities that ask students to use higher critical thinking skills by describing, analyzing, comparing, and evaluating selected works of art produced in 1964-65 by successful GDR artists, such as Bernhard Heisig, Werner Tübke, and Heinz Zander.

12:10 – 13:50: Lunch, Franklin Dining Hall, UMass

*14:00 – 16:30: Lecture & Short Films, SC E470
Johanna Yunker, UMass Amherst

Music, Modernity and International Solidarity
Issues of race underpinned the critical discourse on “authentic” jazz forms, and the GDR’s enthusiasm for certain jazz genres signaled solidarity with oppressed African Americans. This solidarity can also be seen in works by GDR composers that addressed the global south: Paul Dessau wrote a requiem for the assassinated Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961; Dessau and Reiner Bredemeyer composed music in the later 1960s for documentaries about Vietnam and Africa made by Heynowski and Scheumann; and Ernst Hermann Meyer premiered an opera about an interracial relationship in South Africa in 1973. Interestingly, the conspicuous lack of musical “exoticism” (e.g., using timbres or melodies from Africa) suggests that these composers positioned the Congo and Vietnam as part of the Eastern Bloc in the global Cold War, as opposed to as an exotic “Other.”

This lecture will be followed by a selection of short films on the topic (see the Recommended Viewing list for details):

Uschi Brüning
GDR Magazine 1972/25 – #1 (GDR, 1972, 8 min., color, doc.)
Famous GDR jazz singer Brüning works on her new record.

Monolog for a Taxi Driver
An East Berlin taxi driver’s shift on Christmas Eve turns into a reflection on life, society, and his strained relationship with his wife. This short film features a surprisingly modern jazz score by Karl-Ernst Sasse.

Walter Heynowski links East German blood donors to the Vietnamese people who receive this precious gift in a series of intercut images set to original choral music by Paul Dessau.

Paul Dessau
A portrait of prominent GDR composer Paul Dessau during rehearsals of his orchestral work entitled Bach Variations. He speaks up against the oversimplification of music.

Against Idiocy in Music – Hanns Eisler
In this portrait of one of East Germany’s most renowned composers, Hanns Eisler speaks about his difficulties with socialist cultural policies, including the ban of his opera Johannes Faust.

(GDR, 1981 Heinz Nagel, 6 min., color, anim.)
An animated interpretation of Bayon’s Suite No. 4. The musical ensemble’s works blend Khmer pentatonic music with classical, jazz and rock elements. Bayon contributed a song to The Lives of Others (2006).

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