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The Martin Centre Research Seminar Series: Transnational memory-sites: Bi-communal representations of trauma in Polish-German border towns

Maximilian Sternberg (Lecturer, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge)
When May 09, 2014
from 01:15 PM to 02:15 PM
Where Classroom, Department of Architecture
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This paper is part of a British Academy-funded project that investigates cross-border interactions and transformations of public space in the German-Polish border towns of Frankfurt-Slubice, Guben-Gubin and Görlitz-Zgorzelec along the Oder-Neisse border. Despite modest populations, the border towns have major symbolic value for two nations attempting to write a new chapter in a history marked by war, trauma and deep resentments. The eastward expansion of the EU has propelled the towns from the margins to the heart of Europe. Yet, cultural, linguistic and socio-economic divisions run deep.

The rivers Oder and Neisse River running through the towns are simultaneously a state border and an urban boundary. They are also a border within the supranational bloc of the EU, between a founding and a new member-state. The project sheds light on how communities use urban environments to cope with legacies of conflict and ongoing ethno-national difference, particularly the trauma of displacement. The border towns have all witnessed a growing interest in addressing the traumas and wider heritage of World War Two in recent years. This paper explores how these towns’ largely separate memory cultures since World War II are being re-negotiated in light of increased cross-border interaction and cooperation. It investigates the spatial expressions of new forms of remembrance, focusing on the emergence of shared lieux de mémoire, such as the reconstruction of the ruined medieval church in Polish Gubin, damaged in the war, and the creation of an information and cultural centre in Stalag VIIIA, a largely forgotten but very significant prisoner of war camp in Zgorzelec. The recent reconfiguration and reimagining of these sites is the result of cross-border cooperation and originated in initiatives of civil society that subsequently received public funding. The paper explores these different representations of sites closely linked to the traumas of the World War Two. It explores to what extent these heritage practices may affect future transnational relations on everyday urban and spatial levels.

Maximilian Sternberg is University Lecturer at the Department of Architecture in the University of Cambridge. He is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Urban Conflicts Research ( He is the author of Cistercian Architecture and Medieval Society (Brill, 2013) and co-author of the Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places (Routledge, 2013), as well as co-editor of Phenomenologies of the City (Ashgate, forthcoming). He is a Fellow of Pembroke College Cambridge.