19th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute

Presentation of the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize

November 12, 2010, 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m.
Symposium at the GHI

  • Event Report
    Stern Prize winners Yair Mintzker and Alice Weinreb with Hartmut Berghoff
    Stern Prize winners Yair Mintzker and Alice Weinreb with Hartmut Berghoff

    The 19th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute featured the award of the 2010 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes to Yair Mintzker (Princeton University) and Alice Weinreb (Northwestern University). Mintzker received the prize for his dissertation "The Defortification of the German City" (Stanford University, 2009). Weinreb was honored for "Matters of Taste: The Politics of Food in Divided Germany, 1945-1971" (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2009).

    The prize selection committee was composed of Mary Lindemann, chair (University of Miami), Donna Harsch (Carnegie Mellon University), and Ian McNeely (University of Oregon).

    After introductory remarks by Hartmut Berghoff, director of the GHI, the award ceremony was chaired by David Blackbourn (Harvard University), president of the Friends of the GHI. After the presentation of the awards, each of the Stern Prize winners gave lectures about their dissertation research.

    In his presentation, Yair Mintzker argued that the demolition of German city walls in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a significant historical moment that signaled a transformation of the urban environment on three interrelated levels: the city's ability to defend itself from external (military) intervention; public security within the city; and the symbolic level of the way burghers and foreigners imagined and constituted the urban community. Explicating these three levels further, Mintzker examined the number and spread of early modern urban fortifications, the walls' policing roles, and the most important metaphor contemporaries used to describe urban communities at the time: the city as a living, breathing, pulsating individual or organism. Only after appreciating both the functions and the symbolic meaning of early modern city walls, he argued, can we begin to understand why they were demolished in such great numbers in the transition to the modern era and why defortification was perceived as a dramatic-indeed, traumatic-event by the urban community.

    Alice Weinreb began by discussing the origins of her dissertation, which dramatically changed over the course of her research. A former East German nutritionist told her to research East Germany's school lunch program, while a West German archivist suggested researching "hunger deaths" during the occupation years. Ultimately, the dissertation came to be framed around these two major poles of hunger and collective feeding programs. In order to understand the category of hunger in postwar German development, Weinreb explained, her dissertation reaches back to the deprivations of World War and the specific "hunger rhetoric" that was central to Hitler's popularity. Food and its imagined absence, she argued, were crucial for the shaping of the Cold War. Indeed, American and Soviet attempts to resolve the food crisis in occupied Germany were one of the opening acts of the Cold War. The second half of the dissertation is made up of three comparative chapters on school lunches, factory canteens, and private kitchens - the three primary sites for individual food consumption and production. School lunches were cancelled in the FRG in 1950, whereas in the GDR they expanded to eventually encompass up to 90% of school-age children. In contrast, the workplace canteen was constructed as a site for negotiating the meaning of labor in both East and West Germany, and an opportunity for optimizing productivity while cementing specifically East and West German social systems. Finally, a chapter on the private kitchen, site of private "home cooking," shows how it came to symbolize the troublesome relationship between everyday life and modernity in both the FRG and the GDR. In conclusion, Weinreb argued that her dissertation explores the ways in which food concerns, nutritional policies, and hunger fantasies shaped the development of the two postwar German states. Concerns over food, hunger, and nutrition connected schools, factories and private homes and were central for postwar refashionings of the worker, child and housewife as well as for the postwar definitions of communism, capitalism, and democracy. At the same time, given the specific weight of the German past, ideas of gender, nation, and race were always implicated in everyday food practices of both the GDR and the FRG.

    Fritz Stern commented briefly on both presentations, before the floor was opened to the audience for a lively discussion. Articles by both Stern Prize winners on their dissertation research will be published in the Spring 2011 Bulletin of the GHI.

  • Picture Gallery
  • 19th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute

    November 12, 2010, 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m.
    Symposium at the GHI - Directions

    Prize Winners

    • Alice Weinreb (Northwestern University): "Matters of Taste: The Politics of Food in Divided Germany, 1945-1971" (University of Michigan, 2009)
    • Yair Mintzker (Princeton University): "The Defortification of the German City" (Stanford University, 2009)

    Please RSVP (acceptances only) by Tel. 202.387.3355, Fax 202.387.6437, or E-mail.

    The Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute in generously supported by the Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius ZEIT Foundation