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Health, Sports & Psychology

Programme 1: The Ghosts of Berlin

Updated Thursday 20th December 2007

The Open University is teaming up with BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed for an occasional series of special programmes. In the first - due for broadcast December 26th 2007 - the city of Berlin is centre-stage.

Laurie Taylor Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Berlin is haunted by histories.

The twentieth century brought defeat in the first world war and the abdication and exile of the king. It brought a Nazi government and war with much of Europe and the devastation of the German capital. It then brought a division which left one half of the city in Communist control and the other half marooned in a foreign country.

Memories of these histories are carved into the infrastructure of modern Berlin. As the process of unification develops, what is remembered and what is forgotten, what is re-used and what is demolished, bedevils and divides the capital of Germany as it tries to position itself for a global future.

A legacy of Soviet war memorials dwarf the human scale of the housing estates of the edge of the city, as an international treaty prevents them being torn down. Arguments still rage over what should replace the East German Palace of the Republic and whether reinvention of a Prussian style of architecture does more than paper over the cracks of the past. Ministries in the new capital have moved into some of Hitler's grand buildings, but is chiselling the Eagles off Goering's Air Ministry and fixing a glass portico over the entrance, enough? The holocaust memorial; the Jewish museum; Hitler's Bunker; the Stasi records; the 'death strip' on the East Side of the Wall…which needs a memorial, and what should be left unmarked?

A classic sociological work, The Ghosts Of Berlin by Brian Ladd documented the unique challenges for the changing Berlin in the late 1990s. Ten years on, in association with the Open University, Laurie Taylor returns to Berlin to update the story and discover how successful Berlin has been in taming or exorcising its unruly ghosts.

Laurie will be meeting Bruno Flierl, a former Urban Planner from the East of the City who believes the DDR is being airbrushed out of history. He will be talking to Professor Werner Sewing about the dangers of an attempt to rally the city round a common Prussian history and to Professor Lena Schulz-zur-Wisch about how memorials can paradoxically serve to isolate difficult memories so that cultures can forget.

Talking about the link between the Open University and the programme, Sue Hemmings, Social Sciences Staff Tutor, says:

"The Faculty of Social Science and Thinking Allowed share many core interests and values - both are keen to present up to the minute social science research to as broad a public as possible and to stimulate informed interest and debate. We bring our different strengths to the partnership and I look forward to building on those as we develop new programme ideas and make new connections with our audience."

On January 2nd, Laurie will host a discussion about the themes explored in the Berlin programme - a discussion that you are invited to continue on our forums.

Listen to the Berlin programme
Listen to the cities and memory discussion programme
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