West Germany, the New Start of a Republic

Staging West German Democracy

Posted September 24, 2019

Associate Professor of German, Jan Uelzmann, published a new book after five years of extensive research on the topic of West German democracy in a post-war context. His research studies the new state’s democratic institutions from the perspective of Public Relations efforts led by the administration of the Federal Republic’s first federal chancellor, Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963).

Dr. Uelzmann's book Staging West German Democracy: Governmental PR Films and the Democratic Imaginary, 1953-1963 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019) examines how political "founding discourses" of the nascent FRG were reflected, reinforced, and actively manufactured by the Federal government through PR films produced in conjunction with the West German newsreel system Deutsche Wochenschau. By looking at the institutional history of the Deutsche Wochenschau and its close relationship to the Government Press Office, Dr. Uelzmann’s study  traces the Adenauer administration’s project of maintaining a “government channel” in an increasingly diverse, de-centralized and democratic West German media landscape.

Apart from providing election propaganda for Adenauer's CDU party, the study argues that these films provided an important stabilizing factor for the FRG's project of explaining and promoting democracy to its citizens, and of defining its public image against the backdrops of the Third Reich past and a competing, contemporary incarnation of German nationhood, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In this regard, Staging West German Democracy adds in important ways to our understanding of the media's role in the West German nation building process.

In his research, Dr. Uelzmann merges approaches from cultural history, cultural studies, film studies, and literary studies to explore questions related to postwar democratization, governmental media policies of the Adenauer period, Cold War politics, the provisional capital Bonn, and Weimar modernism.

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By: Emily Snelling