Comics as Museum: Curating the Past in the German Graphic Novel

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 12:00 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Elizabeth Nijdam, Freie Universität Berlin
In 2009, for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, three graphic

novels were published narrating histories of the German Democratic Republic

(GDR), Simon Schwartz’s drüben!, Claire Lenkova’s Grenzgebiete, and Flix’s (Felix

Görmann) Da war mal was... (2009). Directed at the generation of young adults who

witnessed the collapse of the GDR but were too young to understand the complexity

of their country’s divide, these three publications imparted the experience of living

in East Germany through the eyes of the children that grew up there. Since 2009,

more graphic novels thematizing the GDR have begun to appear, and what started as

a commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall has quickly turned into a trend in the

representation of East German experience.

Among the autobiographical, fictional, and non-fictional graphic narratives

on East German history, there is a particular subgroup of this emergent genre, which

I have termed graphic historiography. This category of graphic novels is decidedly a

niche phenomenon, featuring about a half dozen comic books that bare striking

similarities. Highly curated and officially funded by German political, historical and

cultural institutions, they feature graphic narratives that themetize important

events in East German history and well-documented aspects of living in the GDR.

Furthermore, these graphic novels are heavily researched with traces of that

process clearly signaled within the texts themselves.

Through my analysis of photographic images as markers of authenticity in

Susanne Buddenberg and Thomas Henseler’s Berlin – Geteilte Stadt, this

presentation demonstrates how graphic historiography curates the East German

past through the mobilization of archival images, while simultaneously revealing

history’s contradictions. By drawing attention to history’s curation via the archival

documents required to establish historical writing’s “authenticity,” graphic

historiography demonstrates how history itself is also a construction.