Eine Brille liegt auf einem aufgeschlagenen Buch

What are you reading, Ms Sonsala?

Anna Sonsala is administrative assistant to four junior groups at the Max Delbrück Center. She also works on innovative science communication formats. Her reading tip is a book that transforms archive material into a captivating story about the “destruction of the East German public sphere.”

The book “Pressefrühling und Profit: Wie westdeutsche Verlage 1989/1990 den Osten eroberten” by communications scientist Mandy Tröger tells the story of East German publishers after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s about secret agreements and lobbying, ignored resolutions and an aggressive price war. It is the story of David against Goliath. But there is no happy ending: Within just two years around 80 percent of East German magazines were forced off the market. In the words of communications scientist Klaus Beck, the book is “as exciting as a business thriller” and contributes to critical media history.

The book – actually a revised version of Tröger's dissertation and for which she received an award from the German Society for Journalism and Communication Studies (DGPuK) – is based almost exclusively on archive material and interviews with contemporary witnesses. However, by using a storytelling approach, Tröger manages to present data, facts and figures in such a way that even those who are not familiar with the subject will be captivated.

For Tröger, it is essential to take a critical look at the time of transformation following reunification, as she sees a strong connection between the experiences of reunification and the recurring “Lügenpresse” (lying media) debates, which have been associated with hostility towards science and anti-intellectualism (Face the Facts, Heinrich Böll Foundation).

With her argument, Tröger clearly positions herself as “third generation East.” But she shows herself open to criticism in the foreword. For this reason, I recommend – for the sake of completeness – to follow “Pressefrühling und Profit” with Klaus Beck’s open-access commentary on the book. Beck, in addition to much praise for Tröger’s work, also points out one or two weaknesses in her argumentation. I suggest reading Beck’s commentary especially if you, like me, have never experienced the GDR yourself.

This fall, we will be celebrating another anniversary – 35 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. On this occasion, we can expect a flare up of the public discourse on the success of German reunification.

Mandy Tröger: “Pressefrühling und Profit: Wie westdeutsche Verlage 1989/1990 den Osten eroberten.” Herbert von Halem Verlag, 2019. (German)


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