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Reverberations of War

Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945


Dr Julia Wagner


Julia Wagner is currently writing a book about postwar tourism and the reverberations of war. A mere decade after World War Two Germans in East and West (re-) discovered the desire for international travel. By the mid 1950s going on a holiday was increasingly considered the norm rather than a luxury in West Germany. By 1968 the majority of West Germans were spending their main annual holiday trip abroad. Because of the restrictions on foreign exchange and free travel, tourism patterns of East German tourism differed significantly from the West. However, East Germans were soon allowed to visit other socialist countries. In the 1970s the number of people undertaking foreign travel rose to up to one quarter of the population. Many German tourists chose to spend their holidays at European countries which had been attacked and/or occupied by the German military during during World War II. The inhabitants of these countries had often suffered brutal persecution and starvation. Millions had died in the fighting and in the bombing campaigns; Jewish populations had been decimated in the Holocaust. The effects of destruction and bombing were still visible in many parts of Europe and memories of wartime violence fresh. Now, a few years after the end of the violence, people in the formerly occupied countries encountered Germans again – this time not as soldiers but as paying guests.


Tourism was the first occasion when large groups of Germans met their former enemies met under new circumstances. Most tourists set out to have a good time and enjoy the lighter side of life forgetting about the problems of everyday life for the duration of their holiday. However, although relaxation, sightseeing and acquiring a tan might have been at the forefront of the tourists’ mind, they often encountered reminders of the violent past during their stay abroad. These could be incidents of resentment, such as name-calling, refusals on the part of their hosts to serve them or even physical violence. Yet mostly they were more subtle encounters, such as noticing the after effects of the wartime destruction, conversations with locals, visits to war cemeteries, memorials to victims of Nazi violence and other occurrences that triggered reflection about the events which had happened during the war at the very places they were visiting at tourists and elsewhere in Europe. These – often unexpected – reminders were hard to fit into the dominant narrative of a happy and successful holiday. However, some German also travelled abroad specifically to revisit and remember aspects of the recent past. Among them were former soldiers returning to the sites they had seen during the war and ethnic Germans returning to their former homes in Eastern Europe as tourists.

Based on an analysis of first hand travel accounts by German tourists from East and West this book asks how German tourists experienced and reflected on this incongruity between holidays and confrontation with the Nazi past.



For further information about Dr Wagner visit her UCL staff page