Caught in the Net: Fish, Ships, and Oil in the GDR-Poland Territorial Waters Dispute, 1949–1989

Article published in Central European History 56 (2023), Special Issue ‘Everyday Transnationalism, Global Entanglements and Regimes of Mobility at the Edges of East Germany’, pp. 173-195. doi:10.1017/S0008938922001029.

Abstract: The 1945 Potsdam Agreement established a new border between Poland and Germany at the so-called “Oder-Neisse line,” but it left unsettled the question of the maritime boundary on the Baltic Sea. Until 1989, the water border remained a matter of dispute between the German Democratic Republic and the Polish People’s Republic, socialist allies otherwise at pains to demonstrate unity in geopolitical matters—especially with regard to their shared “border of peace and friendship.” In the intervening decades, East German fishermen and Polish ship captains repeatedly ran afoul of the invisible water border, the importance of which increased as UN conventions on the Law of the Sea affected fishing, shipping, drilling, and security matters. This article examines the diplomatic dispute over territorial waters in relation to its environmental dimensions and social consequences, demonstrating how the challenges of governing transnational space in a water environment greatly complicated everyday life for water users as well as the border work of both states.