The Communicative Construction of Space-Related Identities. Hamburg and Leipzig Between the Local and the Global

  • Yvonne RobelEmail author
  • Inge Marszolek
Open Access
Part of the Transforming Communications – Studies in Cross-Media Research book series (TCSCMR)


The chapter analyzes the communicative construction of space-related identities in mass communication from a historical point of view. Focusing on the 1950s, it deals with the medial construction of space-related identities in Hamburg and Leipzig. The main question is how the changing cities’ media ensembles relate to the transformations in urban collectivity building. Elaborating to what extent the local in Hamburg and Leipzig was constantly constructed by discourses on the global, we argue that the constructions of global images are very stable umbrella notions, even though the changing media ensembles and the worsening Cold War during the 1950s had some impact on gradually emerging new formations of space-related identities. Finally, the chapter discusses the idea of an entangled perspective, which could enrich the historical view of communicative figurations.

7.1 Introduction

‘Leipzig—not the gate to the world as Hamburg is’, claimed the authors of a broadcast celebrating Leipzig’s millennium jubilee on Deutschlandradio in 2015. 1 Their statement captured the common feeling in Leipzig: that it was not as famous as Paris or Hamburg, although the citizens of Leipzig have always been proud of their metropolitan traditions. This is true for Hamburg too: Both cities have frequently presented themselves as cosmopolitan and open to the world (Rembold 2003; Amenda and Grünen 2008). Therefore, both have been able to look back on a long tradition of highlighting their respective importance by stressing their global connections and declaring their specific locality as world territory, with responsibilities and privileges on a global scale. No wonder that both cities were constantly classified as open-minded metropolises in media discourses of the 1950s. What we observe here is the communicative construction of space-related identities in mass communication. Focusing on the 1950s, our chapter will deal with the medial construction of space-related identities in Hamburg and Leipzig. Our main interest is to follow up the complex process of how the changing cities’ media ensembles relate to transformations in urban collectivity building. In so doing, we ask from a historical point of view how collective space-related identities were imagined, constructed and changed in mediated communication processes. In particular, how were global reference points produced in mass media discourses? How were they connected to local characteristics?

After some notes on the state of research and our methodology, we will first examine the historical, political and media contexts that affect the construction of the cities’ global self-images. Second, we will elaborate to what extent the local in Hamburg and Leipzig was constantly constructed by discourses on the global. In consequence, we argue that the constructions of global images are very stable umbrella notions, even though the changing media ensembles and the worsening Cold War during the 1950s had some impact on gradual new formations of space-related identities. In a third step, we will discuss different visual examples to show that media communication plays a decisive part in constructing multiple collective identities. Accordingly, we will show that markers of mobility and modernity, in particular, were important for the mediated construction of the cities’ cosmopolitanism, which besides all similarities were framed by special discourses in the East and the West. Because of these similarities and differences in Hamburg and Leipzig, we finally discuss the idea of an entangled perspective, which could enrich the historical view on communicative figurations in a special way.

7.2 State of Research and Methodology

There is a wide range of studies from different disciplines concerned with the constructions of identities and space. In particular, research in social and cultural studies has underlined that collective identities aren’t genuine, essential and homogeneous entities, which we are born with, but constructed and transformed permanently in relation to our socio-cultural environment (Hall 1992). Based on that assumption, historians have contributed in many ways to processes of collectivity building. Some have focused on how special social domains (milieus) have emerged and asked for common values and standards of groups (e.g. Schmiechen-Ackermann 1997; von Reeken 1999; Bösch 2002). Others have researched the relevance of ‘inventing traditions’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1992) or ‘imagining communities’ (Anderson 2006) for processes of nation building. Like the latter, many have concentrated on the spread of nationalism (see also Balakrishnan 2012; Glasze 2013), but have overlooked the interlinkage between different ‘spaces’; for example, between the nation, the region, the local and the global.

Furthermore, it is astonishing that the role of communication and mediatization for the process of—especially urban—collective identity building has so far not been investigated in depth (Arnold et al. 2008; Daniel and Schildt 2010: 9–32; Schildt 2012). Currently, there is a widespread argument that space has to be thought of as ‘relational’, which means space isn’t deep-rooted or static but a mutable outcome of an ongoing process of communication (cf. Geppert et al. 2005). This theoretical assumption also affects our view on identities, as Doreen Massey has pointed out: ‘if we make space through interactions at all levels, from the (so-called) local to the (so-called) global then those spatial identities such as places, regions, nations, and the local and the global must be forged in this relational way too, as internally complex, (…) and inevitably historically changing’ (2004: 5). Within this complex field, media not only mirror changeable ideas of space and connected ideas of collective identities but play a decisive role in their construction.

Referring to Stuart Hall (1992), we argue that urban dwellers in Hamburg and Leipzig were confronted with multiple identities: media communication in the 1950s comprehended different space-related identities—both in an interwoven and in a competitive way. Especially the local and the global closely interacted in the construction of particular urban space-related identities and were parts of changing communitization processes within the two cities.

Analyzing the cities’ identity constructions by using the concept of communicative figurations enables us to ask for the dynamic interrelation between the medial, political and social contexts that shape these processes of communicative construction. As the concept stresses the significance of the different media ensembles, it helps us to research their significance for transformation and, at the same time, to overcome the focus on one single ‘dominant medium’ that until today is characteristic for most of historic media research (Marszolek and Robel 2016). Following the non-mediacentric understanding of communicative figurations, we argue that different aspects were crucial for changes in or the persistence of Hamburg’s and Leipzig’s identity constructions. Only one of them was the framing of different political systems. Deeply connected with this, the changing cities’ media ensembles were another.

As Hepp and other scholars have pointed out, referring to times of deep mediatization, communicative figurations are shaped by media and by the differentiated use of media. Thus, the concept of figurations exhibits a strong bias to the investigation of communicative practices. However, not only individuals are involved in these communicative practices but also collectivities and organizations. Taking our historical perspective, it is mostly impossible to investigate the use of media by individuals; but we can ask for the role of media for collective processes of identity building.

In this respect, ideas of critical discourse theory are helpful. To work on the spatiality of collective identities and imagined communities we employ discourse analysis as a particular research perspective as well as a methodological approach to our sources (e.g. Landwehr 2008; Keller 2011; Dreesen et al. 2012). In this framework, we argue that media not only figure themselves as places of structures, but generate structures and negotiate—in our case—space related to exclusion and inclusion.

Our chapter is based on profound research into historical sources we mostly found in media themselves. We examined the local newspapers, radio and television programmes as well as the programme guides. Archive sources rounded up the research. We focused mainly on visual material, identifying the interrelations between the local and the global in the constructions of self-images.

A comparative perspective is inherent in all stages of our argument. As we concentrate on the 1950s, we are dealing (1) in Leipzig with the first decade of the development of a socialist society and its close links to the Soviet Union and (2) in Hamburg with the reconstruction of democracy and self-positioning in the Western world. Besides standard methods of comparison in historiography (Haupt 2001; Kaelble and Schriewer 2003; Häberlen et al. 2011), finally we pick up the latest concepts of entanglement probed in transnational historiography (Middell 2000; Werner and Zimmermann 2006).

7.3 Changing Cities’ Media Ensembles and Their Impact on Identity Constructions

Traditionally, Hamburg and Leipzig were places of particularly dense communication and as prominent media locations allocated highly diversified media ensembles.

Accordingly, Hamburg, within the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), could build on its traditions as a media location, especially with respect to audio media. After 1945, the radio station Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR), based in Hamburg and Cologne, broadcast within the British occupation zone (von Rüden and Wagner 2005). In 1956 it was separated into Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) and Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). The former has remained in Hamburg. The city had a pioneer role in the development of television as well, since the Nordwestdeutscher Fernsehdienst in Hamburg started its experimental broadcasts as early as 1950 (Wagner 2008). Even after the West German public television broadcasting service (ARD) was founded in the same year, Hamburg didn’t lose its significance, as can be seen from the fact that the daily news has been produced in Hamburg since 1952. It later became the popular Tagesschau. Although Hamburg wasn’t a major location for magazines during the Weimar Republic, in the 1950s in particular the magazine market expanded rapidly (Führer 2008: 246–269). The most successful magazine, not only in the north, was the TV programme guide Hör zu!, which has been published since 1946 (Seegers 2001). In addition, the Hamburger Abendblatt, which was first published in 1948, and has been the highest circulating and most-read daily newspaper in Hamburg since as early as 1950 (Führer 2008: 515). The trans-local daily newspaper Die Welt, the illustrated magazine Stern, the political magazine Der Spiegel and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, as well as the tabloid Bild, all of which have been produced in Hamburg since the beginning of the 1950s, clearly made the city the ‘centre of the west German press’ (Führer 2008: 261).

Leipzig lost its international importance as a distinguished location for press and publishing houses after 1945 (this being especially the case before and at the beginning of the Weimar Republic), but the city still continued to be important for media in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The Leipziger Volkszeitung has been published since July 1945 (Schlimper 1997) and later became one of the big regional organs of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In 1946 the radio station Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Sender Leipzig started to broadcast regularly. From 1949 to 1952, the popular regional radio programme guide Der Rundfunk. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Leipzig was published. And it was Leipzig which—because of the trade fair in autumn 1953—opened the so-called Fernsehstuben (locations for public TV-viewing) as one of the first cities in the GDR (Meyen 1999: 120).

Both German media environments after 1945 were characterized by the reorganization of media institutions after the war, the initially strong influence of the occupying powers, the continuing and increasing importance of radio and finally by the (second) beginning of TV during the 1950s. The re-establishment of media and the media organization in Hamburg and Leipzig showed some similarities owing to the same starting point after the Nazi period and the lost war. However, the different political systems had various impacts on the (ideological) alignments of their media ensembles, the professionalization of journalists and so on. Even though there was no direct competition between the cities, the media ensembles were active players in the rivalry between the systems in the Cold War.

With the founding of the FRG in 1949 in the West, a federal political system was established that particularly affected media organization. Accordingly, during the 1950s a regional media structure developed. Owing to Hamburg’s character as a city state, the regional and the local were difficult to keep apart. Already in 1950, the NWDR devised special programmes for the North and the South within the VHF transmission area. Since then, Hamburg has broadcast a special music programme for the North (titled ‘Welle der Freude’). The separation into NDR and WDR in 1956 led to the regional broadcasting structure of the Weimar republic being re-established for good (Führer 2008: 129–131).

Television, still a young medium, picked up the growing regional and local trend in the programmes offered (Schildt 2012: 259), and Hamburg was one of the first cities to start a regional television magazine in 1957. The so-called ‘Nordschau’ included political and cultural reports from the four Northern federal states of Hamburg, Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, special reports on rural areas, as well as series on the East German state. 2 The ‘Aktuelle Schaubude’, an entertainment show produced in a glass box in the city centre, thus enabling urban dwellers to watch the live production every Saturday, became particularly popular. Walter Hilpert, general director of the NDR, opened the first ‘Nordschau’ with the following words: ‘Our aim: The Nordschau should observe and listen to the diverse topics in North Germany; especially to the persons and characters who are working there. This programme will live out of the space which we are broadcasting to. At the same time, it is to be made for a northern Germany without any provincial narrowness.’ 3 Beside the regional concept of the ‘Nordschau’, it seemed important to claim Hamburg’s and Northern Germany’s trans-local open-mindedness.

In the GDR, at the latest from 1952 onwards, well-established older regional references for the construction of identities were officially undesirable. When enforcing the administrative reform of 1952, the party replaced the five states created after 1945 with 14 newly formed districts and 217 completely new counties. Accordingly, media were directly influenced by the reform of 1952 and the diffusion rates of regional pages in newspapers were adapted to the newly formed districts. Thus, until 1952 readers in Leipzig received the edition for north-west Saxony, and from 1952 the edition for the district of Leipzig. Presumably that changed the reports in their spatial range. Regional radio stations such as Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk were abolished. Although this didn’t mean constructions of regional identities ceased to exist (cf. Palmowski 2009), this step did strengthen the interconnection between Leipzig’s local characteristics and global references.

An important role for the permanent construction of local identity was played by Leipziger Stadtfunk. This was produced by a small studio located in the town hall and could be listened to through loudspeakers in the city centre, in different urban quarters and in some factories in town. The airtime could be from just one hour a day to the whole day (especially during trade fairs). In addition to official statements from the government or local leisure time recommendations, distributed radio reporters (Funkkorrespondenten) 4 provided reports from local factories or about leisure-time activities with their co-workers. 5 Stadtfunk can be seen as a special part of the urban soundscape of Leipzig’s past—understood as an acoustic surrounding of people in a particular place at a particular time (Birdsall 2012). Leipzig Stadtfunk, in a way a child of the Cold War, 6 existed from 1950 until 1995. It couldn’t be switched off and replaced by another broadcast as radio or television programmes could be, but belonged to daily (acoustic) life—for example, while people were waiting at the tram station. In this way Stadtfunk immediately impacted on the communicative construction of social reality in Leipzig.

Not only through Stadtfunk could people in the performative sense listen to their Saxon speaking ‘neighbours’. Even after the abolition of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, the radio reported from urban quarters, from factories and from the streets of Leipzig. 7

While Stadtfunk primarily strengthened the local space, locally labelled music shows such as the ‘Leipziger Allerlei’ (‘Leipzig Potpourri’) 8 or the ‘Hamburger Hafenkonzert’ (‘Hamburg harbour concert’) (Tiews 2014), permanently reinforced the global importance of the respective cities. The interlinkage between the local and the global, especially in Hamburg, became obvious in special broadcasting formats which connected the city to global travel. The best-known example was the weekly radio programme ‘Zwischen Hamburg und Haiti’ (‘Between Hamburg and Haiti’), which was broadcast from 1951. 9 Even today, every Sunday listeners can ‘accompany’ reporters on their travels around the world. In the 1950s, Hamburg acted as the port location of departure; the world ‘outside’ was shown as manifold and exotic (cf. Klamroth 1956). Certainly, ‘the faraway’ always referred to spaces of proximity and the home as well. For example, in the radio programme guide Hör zu! of 1955 one could read: ‘It is so easy: The Sunday morning coffee behind you, waiting for lunch, you switch on the radio—and promptly you are a foreign people’s guest.’ 10 In a way, this statement illustrates the increasing retreat into the private sphere which was characteristic for the 1950s.

The examples of Hamburg and Leipzig both show that the historical context not only affected the cities’ media ensembles, but also the programmes on offer and the content alignments. Within the local or regional programme selections linked to Hamburg or Leipzig, the global was a very often-used reference.

7.4 Hamburg and Leipzig as ‘Global Players’?

When researching the ‘regularities’ and ‘predominant statements’ (Foucault 2003) in media discourses on the cities’ images, we are inevitably confronted with global references. During the 1950s, slogans such as ‘Hamburg, the gate to the world’ and ‘Leipzig, the showcase to the world’ were omnipresent. They were produced and reproduced cross-medially, both as part of image strategies and unintended discourses. The main reason for both cities to enhance their claim to be part of the world in the 1950s was of course that after the defeat of National Socialism both parts of Germany had to reinvent their positions in a world divided by the Cold War. In this sort of very dense cross-media communication, the differences in the media ensembles were much fewer than in other periods. In our figurational perspective we can illustrate the differentiation within the communicative figurations by such cross-media references.

Stressing the importance of the yearly trade fairs, Leipzig had a multiple image as a city that had a particular standing across the globe. This can be shown cross-medially by textual, visual and audio sources. For instance, the radio and TV programme guide Unser Rundfunk frequently announced reports on the trade fairs with titles such as ‘Leipzig—a global meeting point’, ‘Leipzig—in the spotlight of the world’ or ‘Leipzig—the global showcase’. 11 On television, the daily news ‘Aktuelle Kamera’ frequently confirmed Leipzig’s significance as the place of ‘the greatest trade fair in the world’. 12 In about 1955, a ‘corporate video’ about the city, titled ‘Leipzig—the bridge to the world’, was produced. The movie, commissioned by the district council, introduced Leipzig as the ‘heart of the European continent’ because of its importance as the global city of trade fairs. 13 Books (e.g. Hennig 1959), and songs, 14 repeated the slogans of ‘the global showcase’ or ‘the gate(way) to the world’ again and again. Accordingly to them, Leipzig was not only seen as a global meeting point, but as a showcase, bridge or gate to the world.

However, Leipzig’s image as a global showcase was deeply embedded in the city’s narrative, although in the Weimar Republic Leipzig had not been given the official title as a trade fair city because different urban actors highlighted the city’s manifold traditions as the location of the book trade or fur trade and as a place of music, art and science. Only in 1937 was it recognized as a trade fair city of the German Reich, 15 and framed by the nationalist narrative and identity constructions of the Nazi period. After 1989, Leipzig re-enhanced its image as a meeting point between the transformed East and West and as a ‘global player’.

For Hamburg, a similar dominance of global references is apparent, even though they aren’t connected to a single event like the trade fair in Leipzig. It is striking how consistently Hamburg has been called the ‘gateway to the world’ even right up to the present day. Lars Amenda has stressed how this slogan has become increasingly important for the image policy of the city since the Weimar Republic, and that it was nationally framed and overemphasized during National Socialism and reinvented after the Second World War (Amenda and Grünen 2008). During the 1950s, the metaphor of the world’s gateway was omnipresent, especially within media discourses. We can find it as a visual signal within the logo of the Hamburger Abendblatt, the most important local newspaper: Since 1948, the logo has shown a gate between two towers, surrounded by the text: ‘With home in your heart, embrace the world.’ 16 The slogan ‘gateway to the world’ was again used in 1951 as the title for a broadcast on schools radio (Schulfunk) of Norddeutscher Rundfunk. 17 In the same year, a documentary film titled ‘Germany’s Gateway to the World’ was produced in German and English language versions which showed the daily business of the Hamburg port (Landesmedienzentrum Hamburg 1999: 57f.). In 1953 and 1955 other movies were produced that used the slogan, too (1999: 61–64/78). Another example is the book Hamburggateway to the world, which was published in various editions during the 1950s (Amenda and Grünen 2008: 82). Like Leipzig, Hamburg was not only thought of as the gateway to the world, but also as a global meeting point and bridge between different worlds. 18

These metaphors are accompanied by their own connotations and open up a range of diverse associations. Whereas especially the meeting point and showcase metaphors emphasize an integrative moment and the world in one’s own home, the gateway to the world metaphor stresses ideas about travel and departure. But in the Hamburg and Leipzig cross-media sources it is evident that these connotations seem to be interchangeable. Both were important ways of claiming the cities’ significance for the world and served as umbrella notions which were rather stable in their significance. However, what we can certainly show is that ‘places are also the moments through which the global is constituted, invented, co-ordinated, produced’ (Massey 2004: 11), and vice versa. The local and the global are closely interlinked and interact.

7.5 Visual Signs for the Cities’ Cosmopolitism

During the 1950s, the visual dimension became more and more important for creating and communicating such space-related ideas of identity. In this period, the visual repertoire not only became larger but also more variegated, strengthening the visualization processes of the previous decades. Leipzig and Hamburg were very often presented via visual markers, thus reinforcing the interlinkage between the local and the global.

During the 1950s, the most striking visual marker for Leipzig was the globe. Functioning as a logo for the city’s trade fair as well, it stands for the international importance of Leipzig. Together with pictures of Leipzig’s town hall, of its rebuilt ‘modern’ central railway station or of lines of cars within the city centre, 19 the globe stressed the mobility, hence the modernity of Leipzig. Using signs like this, pictures showed a vivid city, open-minded, with its gates always open for visitors from all over the world.

For example, see Fig. 7.1: the cover of the radio programme guide in March 1955. As an announcement of the spring trade fair, the picture relates Leipzig to the world in a particular way. Reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s dance with the globe, the woman seems to be playing cheerfully with the globes. We can see two globes—possibly symbolizing the two political worlds, which appear to meet easily in Leipzig. By placing the one world in front of the woman and the other in the middle of her hand, the picture confirms Leipzig’s location in the middle (or rather the heart) of Europe and the globe.
Fig. 7.1

Cover page Unser Rundfunk, 9/1955, © Burda News, TV Spielfilm Verlag GmbH, Redaktion F.F. dabei

As other pictures illustrate, Leipzig was very often seen as the centre or heart of the world. Without any doubt, one important spatial imagination during the 1950s deals with the difference between West and East. This was used as a reference point for that picture as well. The symbol of the globe was especially suitable to stress both Leipzig’s and the GDR’s openness to the world and the (dichotomic) territorial borders. The two globes symbolized this competitive situation with the West, while the reference to Charlie Chaplin strengthened the anti-fascist narration and the new invention of the GDR. As we know, photographs are not only influenced by culture and politics, but they also help to create and stabilize them (Christmann 2008). In this sense, they could formulate different and parallel existing space-related ideas of identity. On the one hand, the photograph of the woman dancing with the globes obviously goes hand in hand with gender constructions. On the other hand, it refers to older traditions of commercial photography, especially in a magazine such as this programme guide, which was a well-known medium itself, being an all-German tradition before 1945. The dynamic use and interpretation of a picture like this can only be understood if one knows about the cities’ special (political and historical) framings, and about the changes within both German media environments and within Hamburg’s and Leipzig’s media ensembles. The concept of communicative figurations highlights these points and, in this way, helps to investigate the construction of identities as an intertwined process shaped by media and other political and social forces. With this in mind, we can ask for a media-related transformation of the communicative construction of ‘social reality’ during the 1950s and its impact on the transformations of communicative figurations and the social domains.

In Hamburg, visual signs of modernity and mobility played a similar key role in the construction of a cosmopolitan urban identity (cf. Stoetzer 2006) as in Leipzig during the 1950s. They were inseparable from the history of the city’s media ensemble, as can be shown by ‘Mecki’—a fictional hedgehog who was designed to create a feeling of identification with the programme guide Hör zu! in West Germany. Existing since 1949, Mecki’s most conspicuous attribute was his role as a globetrotter, 20 who on the one hand permanently crossed boundaries, but on the other was deeply entrenched in his hometown, Hamburg. Hence, he was a well-known globetrotter with familial background. The world he was living in was a very cosy one, free from social or political conflicts. Mecki’s ‘personal life’ (he became engaged to Micki in 1952) was shaped by traditional civic values and morals. To some extent, he stood symbolically for the cosmopolitan and bourgeois part of ‘the Hanseatic’ that was reinvented during the 1950s (Seegers 2015).

However, the most dominant sign for Hamburg’s mobility and its global mindset was the port. Thus, the visual representation of the city during the 1950s was accompanied by pictures of industrial docks, cranes, tugboats or sailing boats, ships’ ropes and, of course, the Elbe river with its renowned landing stages. 21 Sometimes it was reduced to a few maritime signs, such as the anchor or seagulls. 22 Sometimes male actors represented it; for example, the dockers or the more romantic figure of the sailor setting out as a young man from Hamburg into the world. 23 These pictures and the combination of visual markers give an impression of an industrious city set in relaxing surroundings that at the same time was a place of departure into the world. 24 In a way, the general social and economic departure of the 1950s was represented in those pictures. Moreover, the port in particular was very often seen as a mysterious and shady space that had its own special atmosphere. It is striking how often the Port of Hamburg was depicted in romantic light at night time. 25

Whereas Hamburg stressed the metaphor of departure into the outside world, Leipzig (imaginarily) opened its doors to invite the world into the city. Beneath the superficial similarities, we have to deal with the underlying differences in ascribing the mediated constructions of Hamburg and Leipzig as cosmopolitan cities. Of course, these differing understandings of cosmopolitism depended on the historical context of the divided world. For instance, the strong references to mobility and modernity in Leipzig are embedded in the efforts to demonstrate the ‘Weltniveau’ of the GDR and the orientation to a socialist future. Thus, media discourses on the global and imagined transnational spaces confirmed very real territorial political borders.

The prominent role of visual media for the imagination of those ‘modern’ and ‘mobile’ global spaces within national borders is remarkable. According to approaches of visual history (Paul 2006), images are not only representations of a reality which is formed ‘somewhere else’, but have to be seen as an important part of the construction of social sense and values. Harald Welzer et al. (2002) have clearly shown how visual and audio-visual media produce people’s ideas of ‘reality’, and even form their ‘own personal’ memories and identities. During the 1950s in Hamburg and Leipzig, programme guides or movies, in particular, dealt with global references, much more so than daily newspapers. Moreover, it is striking that visual metaphors such as ‘showcase into the world’ or ‘global viewpoint’ were used progressively after 1953—while the experimental time of TV broadcasting in both German states fascinated large parts of society. 26 However, the growing differentiation within the cities’ media ensembles strengthened the spread and popularization of the modern, mobile and open-minded images of Hamburg and Leipzig during this decade.

7.6 A Plea for an Entangled and Cross-Media Historical Approach

Media in East and West always reacted to each other and to the dynamics of the Cold War. Dominant discourses on the ‘economic miracle’ in the West and the ‘building of socialism’ in the East stressed the differences between the systems. Nevertheless, the link between the local, the national and the global was variable, as can be shown for Leipzig: In the early 1950s, the Leipzig trade fair was presented as a symbol of German unity and a perfect example of border crossing. 27 As an all-German event, it was considered to be part of the fight for the reunification of the German ‘fatherland’. 28 Yet, from 1952 onwards it was to demonstrate the economic growth of the young GDR and the growth of socialism in a divided world. 29 As such, the trade fair’s logo changed from one world in 1952 to two worlds placed next to each other in 1953. At the same time the trade fair’s significance was seen from an increasingly international perspective. 30 The picture of the woman dancing with two globes represents this as well. By the second half of the 1950s at the latest, the Leipzig trade fair acted definitely as a symbol of strength of the GDR in the increasingly competitive situation with the West. 31

Likewise in the West, even the ‘unpolitical’ character of Mecki, not without reason, again and again travelled to the United States of America. 32 But how can we highlight the historic political context for identity constructions and at the same time overcome the problem that comparisons between totalitarian and democratic systems often tend to grow too dichotomic and normative? To investigate communicative figurations means to enhance the comparative perspective. For historians, one of the main problems with comparison is to identify the different levels of transformations, since in the past this has often led to neglecting the similarities of the two political systems. As a result, for our comparative investigation on Hamburg and Leipzig, ideas of entanglement or ‘histoire croisée’ (Middell 2000; Werner and Zimmermann 2006) come in useful because—with the shift to global or transnational history—they focus on mutual influences and entanglement beyond relatively plain comparisons. The interrelation of space plays an important role in these studies, as scholars enhance the entanglement between the national, the regional and the local, as well as in transnational relations (Middell 2000; Werner and Zimmermann 2006). These ideas of entanglement not only help to shed light on the interrelations between the East and the West in the context of the Cold War, but also take into account that in Germany, in particular, experiences and mentalities as well as (mediated) routines and expectations have been deeply shaped by a common past (Bösch 2015; Wierling 2015). This could explain why the global metaphors in Hamburg and Leipzig in a way functioned as open umbrella notions, interchangeable and overlapping. However, these entanglements were far away from being on the same level. In fact, they were asymmetric. The young GDR had to struggle far more to position itself in the divided world of that time. The state (and Leipzig) had to invent new traditions or interpret old metaphors by embedding them in a new narrative, whereas Hamburg enhanced more or less the continuities of the story of the port overlapping the ‘dark years’ of the Nazi regime.

Furthermore, space-related identity constructions in Hamburg and Leipzig have to be analyzed in an entangled perspective because people in the East often participated in Western media and vice versa. Having this in mind, media also reported on the cities beyond the border; for example, when the programme guide Der Rundfunk announced a radio broadcast entitled ‘Beautiful German Heimat’, reporting on Hamburg as the ‘gateway to the world’. 33 The other way around, the print press in Hamburg frequently reported on the Leipzig trade fair, amongst other things asking whether Leipzig should be seen as the ‘gateway to the East’. 34 Thus, we can understand both cities as communicative figurations whose borders permanently blurred. Then again, the research on entangled communicative figurations highlights the cross-medial character of the identity constructions and, at the same time, observes the dynamics of changing media ensembles, as is apparent in the special role given to the visual within both cities’ image building. Moreover, the cities communicative figurations seem to be variable and very stable at the same time—besides the differences between a dictatorship and a democracy and connected to different political, social and medial frame conditions.


  1. 1.
  2. 2.

    NDR Unternehmensarchiv, Nachlass Proske.

  3. 3.

    NDR Fernseharchiv, No 0001009705, Nordschau, 01.12.1957, 2.04–2.31 min (quote translated by the authors).

  4. 4.

    The Funkkorrespondenten as one active group within Leipzig’s communicative figuration were a special mixture of semi-professional and non-professional journalists. Reaching back to older socialist traditions, in the GDR they were part of the ideology of ‘democratic’ mass media in general. Cf. Richter (1993).

  5. 5.

    Stadtarchiv Leipzig, StVuR Nr. 22020; Rohr (2011).

  6. 6.

    Especially after the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, loudspeakers played an important role for the (listenable) demarcation from each other. Cf. Stratenschulte (2013).

  7. 7.

    From the second half of the 1950s at the latest, local and regional programmes were being promoted again. The Sender Leipzig then regularly broadcast its own programmes once or twice a day, including the ‘Stadtreporter’. At first, these programmes of the district broadcasting stations (Bezirksstudios) were part of the schedules of Berliner Rundfunk; after 1956 they became part of Radio DDR.

  8. 8.

    ‘Hörerstimmen zu Leipziger allerlei’, Der Rundfunk 2/1951: 4; ‘Nicht zerstreuen, sondern erfreuen!’, Unser Rundfunk 18/1958: 7.

  9. 9.

    Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Best. 621–1/144, Nr. 1201 (transcriptions 1956–1960).

  10. 10.

    ‘Zwischen Hamburg und Haiti’, Hör zu! 46/1955: 3 (quote translated by the authors).

  11. 11.

    Cf. Unser Rundfunk 36/1953: 9–11, 37/1954: 16–17, 9/1955: 10–11, 10/1957: 12–13, 36/1954: 14.

  12. 12.

    Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam, Deutscher Fernsehfunk, Aktuelle Kamera, 03.03.1959.

  13. 13.

    Staatsarchiv Leipzig, Best. 22043, Leipzig—Brücke zur Welt’, around 1955, 17 min.

  14. 14.

    In 1960 the radio broadcast the song ‘Leipzig—the gate(way) to the world’. Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam, ZMV8349.

  15. 15.

    Stadtarchiv Leipzig, Kap. 66, Nr. 27.

  16. 16.

    Cf.: ‘Anno Domini 1241’, Hamburger Abendblatt 14.10.1948: 3.

  17. 17.

    Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Best. 621–1/144 Nr. 1759, ‘Hamburg – Tor zur Welt’.

  18. 18.

    Cf. ‘Treffpunkt am Tor zur Welt’, Hör zu! 27/1953: 24–25. See also: ‘Blaue Nacht am Hafen’, Hör zu! 43/1952: 3.

  19. 19.

    ‘Leipzig Treffpunkt der Welt’, Leipziger Volkszeitung 25.02.1956: 1.

  20. 20.

    Symptomatically, Hör zu! several times reported on Meckis’s voyages under the heading ‘Look out into the world’. Cf. 10/1951: 5; 10/1952: 4.

  21. 21.

    Cf. ‘Menschen im Hafen’, Hör zu! 44/1957: 12–13.

  22. 22.

    Cf. Hör zu! 29/1950: Cover.

  23. 23.

    Cf. ‘Kapitäne von morgen’, Hör zu! 18/1954: 8; ‘Vorzimmer der weiten Welt’, Hör zu! 48/1956: 20.

  24. 24.

    Cf. ‘Um die Ecke geht es nach Amerika’, Hör zu! 01/1957: 3.

  25. 25.

    Cf. ‘Tausende Kontorhauslichter am Tor zur Welt’, Hamburger Abendblatt 23.02.1953: 3.

  26. 26.

    Moreover, the television itself was titled as the ‘showcase into the world’. Cf. ‘Fernsehstart’, Hör zu! 52/1952: 6–7; Diercks (2000).

  27. 27.

    Cf. ‘Messe der Erfolge. Leipziger Herbstmesse 1950’, Der Rundfunk 35/1950: 3; ‘Messegäste grüßen aus Leipzig’, Der Rundfunk 10/1951: 16. Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam, Hörfunk, Nr. 2025527, MDR, ‘Zeitgeschehen vom Funk gesehen’, broadcasting from 10.09.1951.

  28. 28.

    ‘Die Messe hat eine wichtige Friedensmission zu erfüllen’, Leipziger Volkszeitung 05.09.1952: 1.

  29. 29.

    ‘Leipziger Messe 1952 – Erste Messe im Aufbau des Sozialismus’, Leipziger Volkszeitung 07.09.1952: 1; ‘Größte Gebrauchsgütermesse eröffnet’, Leipziger Volkszeitung 07.09.1958: 1.

  30. 30.

    Appropriately, the ‘Leipziger Stadtreporter’ of Berliner Rundfunk explained: ‘Particularly from the licence plates and the cars manufacturers’ logos [within the city] one can see which role Leipzig has to fulfil as a city of trade fairs and as a connection between two global markets. Yes, because of this, there are the two globes and the traditional MM within the emblem of the trade fair.’ Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam, Schriftgut, F094-01-00/0054, p. 0072-0075, undated broadcasting, presumably March 1954 (quote translated by the authors).

  31. 31.

    ‘Die Herbstmesse 1958 – ein Schlag in Erhards Wirtschaftswunder’, Leipziger Volkszeitung 17.09.1958: 2; ‘Treffpunkt Leipzig’, Unser Rundfunk 37/1958: 2.

  32. 32.

    E.g. ‘Mecki in Amerika’, Hör zu! 33/1951: 32–33.

  33. 33.

    ‘Schöne deutsche Heimat’, Der Rundfunk 39/1952: 7.

  34. 34.

    ‘Leipziger Messe – Tor zum Osten?’, Die Zeit 37/1954: 9.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Centre for Contemporary History in HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information ResearchUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

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