Moranda, Scott. The People's Own Landscape: Nature, Tourism, and Dictatorship in East Germany. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. x + 229 pages. Cloth, $70.00.
In the decade following German unification, studies of the German Democratic Republic were strongly influenced by theories of totalitarianism, typically positing a stark contrast between an overbearing state and a beleaguered society. In more recent years, scholars of everyday life such as Paul Betts and Mary Fulbrook have criticized this binary opposition of people and power, instead emphasizing the entanglement of citizens with the communist dictatorship, even while acknowledging the regime's repressive aspects. Historian Scott Moranda adds to this discussion with The People's Own Landscape, effectively demonstrating that instead of bitter disagreement between ordinary citizens and the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) over land usage, there was for most of East German history a remarkable consensus between rulers and ruled that scientific and authoritarian management of nature could yield limitless economic abundance and higher standards of living. As a result, the GDR countryside "evolved into a world created (or, from some points of view, destroyed) by both authorities and consumers" (p. 6).
Moranda explores the history of GDR environmentalism through tourism and landscape planning in six chronological chapters. His study mines national and local archives for government reports, correspondence, and memoirs to reconstruct policy debates among bureaucrats, scientists, ecological activists, and ordinary citizens about how to manage East German landscapes. The book begins by situating East German attitudes towards the environment in a longer historical trajectory. Since the nineteenth century, growing numbers of Germans harbored dark fears about hunger and lack of resources, anxieties that led them to embrace statist solutions to resolve these problems of scarcity under both the Weimar democracy and Nazi dictatorship. In many ways, the East German regime fit comfortably into this longer pattern of bureaucratic management of nature, even if disagreement on specific policies for land usage were frequent.
Among the main participants in these debates were landscape architects, doctors, and scientists. Coming from this longer tradition of statist environmental management, they argued that if planned carefully, nature could be both a resource of industrial development and...