Compass is an archive of Library news from 2005 - 2008. For the latest Library news check the Library Blogs.
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   Volume IV, Issue 3
February 2008   

Connecting everyday life and iconic historical events

Paul Steege, associate professor of history, presented his new book, Black Market, Cold War: Everyday Life in Berlin, 1946-1949, to the University community on Feb. 11 as part of the Scholarship @ Villanova series.

In his book, published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press, Dr. Steege examines the everyday life (Alltagsgeschichte) of Berliners and shows how ordinary Berliners shaped political developments in post-war Berlin from 1946-1949. He highlights and explores the numerous connections between everyday life and iconic historical events.

The historical event at the core of Black Market, Cold War is the Berlin blockade and events leading up to it. Today the blockade is often portrayed as a turning point when cooperation between the Allied Forces broke down, and Berlin changed from a city divided into four sectors into one defined by eastern and western zones of influence.

Dr. Steege points out that public perception mistakenly credits the Berlin airlift (AP Image photo), in which U.S. and British troops flew necessary supplies into Berlin after the Soviet Union cut off supply routes on the ground, with ending the Berlin blockade. In reality there were never enough goods flown into Berlin to keep Berliners alive during the blockade nor was the blockade as absolute as one assumes. On the contrary, the Soviet side never seriously intended to enforce the blockade, as people and supplies passed in and out of Berlin on a daily basis.

According to Dr. Steege, Berliners would not have survived the blockade if they had been the passive recipients of American aid as they are often portrayed. Instead, Berliners were active agents whose survival strategies not only shaped their own destiny but also shaped the Cold War. Dr. Steege explores in great detail the myriad strategies that Berliners adopted in order to endure post-war conditions in their city. When rationing cards did not suffice, Berliners turned to gardening, bartering, foraging and the ubiquitous black market.

Dr. Steege contends that the Berlin blockade is not the iconic historic event that started the Cold War. Reality is much more fluid. The Cold War was as much the result of Russian-German daily encounters after the fall of Berlin as it was the result of international politics.

He also pointed out that the role of "the people” in accomplishing the end of the Cold War with the Solidarity movement in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Berlin Wall is widely acknowledged, but that the role of the people at the beginning of the Cold War is comparable and needs to be recognized as well.

Contributed by Jutta Seibert; photograph by Alice Bampton