Andrew S. Tompkins

Building Blocs: Germans and Their Neighbours in the 1970s

Presented at the ‘Living in European Borderlands’ conference, Université de Luxembourg, 20-22 November 2014.

Abstract: The 1970s constituted a period of increasing cross-border integration within the competing transnational blocs of Eastern and Western Europe.  For the first time since the Second World War, East Germans and Poles could visit one another’s countries with relative ease, similar to their counterparts in France and West Germany (though not to the same extent).  The increased travel opportunities and cross-border work arrangements of the period led, on both sides of the “Iron Curtain”, to more frequent encounters between citizens of states that had once been bitter enemies but which were now vital allies. 

How did those living along the front lines of both old conflict and new cooperation experience such contact? To what extent did relations on the ground among Poles and East Germans, Frenchmen and West Germans mirror the broader frameworks of “Socialist fraternity” or “European integration” and to what extent did they diverge from them? How did everyday encounters overcome old stereotypes and what new frictions did they generate? This presentation will answer such questions by focusing on cross-border contact in the domains of work and travel in the Rhine and Oder-Neisse borderlands during the 1970s.  By telling stories from Eastern and Western Europe together, the presentation aims to add nuance to our understandings of each and to demonstrate how Europeanization has developed along multiple, sometimes contradictory trajectories. 

"Living in European Borderlands" poster