19th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI

Nov 12, 2010

Award of the Fritz Stern Prize at the GHI | Prize Winners: Alice Weinreb (Northwestern University) and Yair Mintzker (Princeton University)

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

Event Report

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.


Prize Citations

Selection Committee: Mary Lindemann, chair (University of Miami), Donna Harsch (Carnegie Mellon University), and Ian McNeely (University of Oregon) 

Yair Mintzker (Princeton University), The Defortification of the German City (Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 2009).

Prize citation Yair Mintzker's dissertation on The Defortification of the German City, is one of those rare and wonderful topics that seem so obvious but only after someone, like Mintzker, has done it. His work demonstrates how the gradual disappearance of the old city walls was neither an obvious nor an inevitable process. Not only does Mintzer cross established chronological boundaries, moving easily and sure-footedly from the mid seventeenth century through the railway age, he also breaks down other accepted distinctions between large cities and small towns and between the putatively pronounced distinctions characterizing German-speaking areas and their neighbors. Mintzker combines sensitivity to differences and individual idiosyncracies with a strong line of argument and an original conceptualization. He shows how city walls did not merely come tumbling down; their demolitions required negotiations among, and between, those in the city and those outside. Moreover, he demolishes simplistic interpretations of why the walls had to go. He rejects as facile and inadequate explanations based on the need for room to expand and on the sheer inevitability of industrialization and economic growth in favor of a more subtle understanding of how politics worked within the cities, between cities and their surroundings, and within the larger German and European worlds. Especially impressive is Mintzer's ability to draw theory out of his rich empirical materials. Deeply researched, elegantly presented, and robustly theorized, it is a tour de force of historical writing and analysis.

Alice Weinreb (Northwestern University), Matters of Taste: The Politics of Food in Divided Germany, 1945-1971 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 2009)

Prize citation: Alice Weinreb's dissertation on Matters of Taste: The Politics of Food in Divided Germany, 1945-1971, is a highly sophisticated investigation of post-war experiences in the two Germanies. Several previous studies have considered food and hunger but none has systematically made them the focus of a German-German comparison. Her work deftly explores the multiple discourses about food, hunger, the body, and national identity and uses these discourses to illuminate a host of historical questions centered on the transition from the Nazi regime to postwar Germany and, subsequently, the divided country's history during the 1950s. Professor Weinreb focuses closely on food, its production, consumption, and value as a contested political terrain, contextualizing and historicizing these topics in several key ways. First, she places postwar food and hunger in the broader context of German history. Second, she anchors German hunger in both a comparative European context and within particular post-war political cultures. The dissertation combines in a wonderful and impressive scholarly manner a series of consequential historical topics, memory and identity, barbarism and victimhood with what would seem the most prosaic ones, such workplace canteens and the provision of school lunches. Its empirical richness combined with its strong conceptual framework make this work an excellent vehicle for interrogating our categories of prosperity and want, wartime and peacetime, capitalist and socialist, German and other.