Bonn, the transitional capital and its founding discourses, 1949-1963
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My dissertation reconstructs sociopolitical new-beginning discourses pertaining to Bonn, the provisional West German capital, during the Federal Republic’s founding years. Combining approaches from history, cultural studies, and literary studies, I look at Bonn as a projection screen through which to explore the new-beginning discourses that challenged the FRG during its founding years. I argue that there exists a common pattern of contradiction throughout these discourses, as West Germans attempted to straddle the sociopolitical divides and contradictions between the Nazi past, and a now West-oriented future. With individual chapters addressing different cultural domains, my dissertation offers a cultural cross-section of how Bonn was instrumental in implementing a complex strategy for a new beginning in a post-fascist, war-torn society. Chapter one contextualizes the history of the search for a provisional capital of 1948/9 in symbolisms about Bonn that were seldom explicitly expressed, but which help explain the choice of Bonn as provisional capital, paying particular attention to the fact that it was a provincial city removed from the flashpoints of recent German history. The second chapter investigates city-planning debates about the Bonn federal district to highlight the dynamic ways in which West Germans negotiated the status of their provisional capital in relation to larger geopolitical questions of the Cold War and the division of Germany. Chapter three traces the complex genesis of the Neues Bauen-infused, modernist architecture employed by architect Hans Schwippert in the Bundeshaus and Palais Schaumburg renovations. It goes on to illustrate how the FRG’s early, official architectural stance is one based on contradiction and negotiation between two opposing conceptions of political architecture: the traditionalism of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Schwippert’s moderate modernism. The final chapter examines the spatial configurations of two “Bonn-novels,” Wolfgang Koeppen’s Das Treibhaus (1953) and Günter Weisenborn’s Auf Sand gebaut (1956) to argue that both “Bonn novels” portray the city as a topographical contradiction, divided between the “old Bonn” and the “political Bonn,” with corresponding, largely incompatible social spheres. Both novels exploit this characteristic to express a critique of the democratic process in Bonn.