Book Review: Coming of Age: Constructing and Controlling Youth in Munich, 1942-1973 by Martin Kalb.

Author:Hare, J. Laurence
Position:Book review

Kalb, Martin. Coming of Age: Constructing and Controlling Youth in Munich, 1942-1973. New York: Berghahn, 2016. xii + 273 pages. Hardcover, $85.00.

Few can deny that Germany's twentieth century ran a turbulent course, from an authoritarian monarchy to a chaotic republic, through Nazism, Communism, two world wars, and concluding with the emergence of a stable democracy. The challenge of explaining these dramatic and rapid transformations has created fertile ground for some interesting historiographical innovations. Among these has been an emphasis on 'generations' as a category of analysis. Such approaches have roughly fallen into two categories, with the first treating the common experiences of generational cohorts to assess their responses to dictatorship and war. The second, more commonly utilized in postwar histories, has explored the dynamics of intergenerational conflict. It is to this latter discussion that historian Martin Kalb's Coming of Age: Constructing and Controlling Youth in Munich, 1942-1973 makes its mark, offering a study of the perceptions of youth in Munich during the first three decades after the Second World War. For Kalb, the issue is not the reality of the youth experience in postwar Germany, but the ways in which municipal and state authorities, the press, and consumer industries constructed a series of images of youth from the late 1940s through the waning days of the so-called student movement in the early 1970s. Kalb's avowed goals are first to "challenge pervasive constructions or representations of youth as delinquent" (p. 1), and second to "demonstrate how social constructions can be powerful tools of social control" (p. 236). Ultimately, this first promise gets less attention in the study, but the second comes through brilliantly and makes for some solid cultural history.

According to Kalb, fears of wayward or hypersexualized adolescents and young adults formed a thread of continuity in the postwar era, but were particularly acute at three critical periods: the immediate postwar years, the late 1950s when Germany experienced stunning economic growth and material affluence, and the years of protest in the late 1960s. The book is thus divided into three sections examining each of these moments as vignettes in a longer history of struggles to define and control youth. Within each section, Kalb dedicates a chapter to describing the prevailing images of youth, which were typically divided firmly along gender lines.


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