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Burned Bridge

“Edith Sheffer’s brilliant book reveals how geopolitical conflicts and state-imposed policing may have redrawn the map, but that ‘local actions actually constituted the border’” — American Historical Review

“This extremely well-researched book is a model of the genre. […] a powerful social history of the inter-German border.”  — The Federal Republic

“On the basis of an extraordinarily wide sweep of archives, publications and interviews, the author exemplifies the process of division and its impact on people’s habits and thoughts.”  — Book of the Month Club

The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 shocked the world. Ever since, the image of this impenetrable barrier between East and West, imposed by communism, has been a central symbol of the Cold War.

Based on vast research in untapped archival, oral, and private sources, Burned Bridge reveals the hidden origins of the Iron Curtain, presenting it in a startling new light. Historian Edith Sheffer’s unprecedented, in-depth account focuses on Burned Bridge-the intersection between two sister cities, Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg, Germany’s largest divided population outside Berlin. Sheffer demonstrates that as Soviet and American forces occupied each city after the Second World War, townspeople who historically had much in common quickly formed opposing interests and identities. The border walled off irreconcilable realities: the differences of freedom and captivity, rich and poor, peace and bloodshed, and past and present. Sheffer describes how smuggling, kidnapping, rape, and killing in the early postwar years led citizens to demand greater border control on both sides–long before East Germany fortified its 1,393 kilometer border with West Germany. It was in fact the American military that built the first barriers at Burned Bridge, which preceded East Germany’s borderland crackdown by many years. Indeed, Sheffer shows that the physical border between East and West was not simply imposed by Cold War superpowers, but was in some part an improvised outgrowth of an anxious postwar society.

Ultimately, a wall of the mind shaped the wall on the ground. East and West Germans became part of, and helped perpetuate, the barriers that divided them. From the end of World War II through two decades of reunification, Sheffer traces divisions at Burned Bridge with sharp insight and compassion, presenting a stunning portrait of the Cold War on a human scale.

Reviews

–  Katherine Pence, American Historical Review

–  William Gray, Journal of Modern History

–  Peter Caldwell, Central European History

–  Arnd Bauerkämper, German History

–  Pertti Ahonen, The New Republic

–  Michael Ploenus, H-Soz-u-Kult and H-German

–  Ulf Zimmermann, H-German

–  Roger Morgan, Times Higher Education

–  Gerhard Weinberg, Book of the Month Club

–  P. Krammer, Choice

–  Library Journal, November 1, 2011

–  Publishers Weekly, July 4, 2011

–  Kirkus, June 15, 2011

– Neue Presse, Peter Tischer, “Grenze erscheint in neuem Licht,” March 16, 2012

Interviews and feature articles

–  Marshall Poe, New Books Network, October 14, 2011

–  Kareem Yasin, “The Wall of the Mind,” The Human Experience, Stanford University August, 2011

–  P-squared, “Where to Draw the Line,” July 23, 2012

–  Education and Deconstruction, “Book of the Week, Burned Bridge,” June 17, 2012

–  Gennady Scheyner, Palo Alto Weekly, “Behind the Curtain,” September 16, 2011

–  Robin Lindley, “Exploring ‘The Wall in the Head,” History News Network, November 14, 2011

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