The twentieth century has seen major conflicts over property relations. Two world wars, mass murder, large-scale expulsion, flight from East to West Germany during the Cold War, and extensive confiscations brought about immense struggles over property and its allocation. Our panel views land registries (Grundbücher) as arenas where struggles over houses and land took place. In doing so, we ask the following questions: How did the relationships people developed with their homes and land affect social processes of integration, compromise, and compensation in Germany during the twentieth century? How did specific events and systems in twentieth-century Germany shape concepts, conflicts and practices of property? The exploration of these questions is based on three case studies: firstly, the implications of the Nazi plunder of Jewish property (“Aryanization”) for the implementation of the West German Equalization of Burdens Law (Lastenausgleichsgesetz); secondly, landed property claims and disputes as part of the Cold War in Germany; and, thirdly, conflicts regarding home ownership in East Germany before, during, and after 1989. Central to these case studies is the assumption that land registries, as the material loci where information about property and its owners is recorded, offer a unique window into struggles over societal resources. Our panel thus works towards two related goals. The first is a reappraisal of key transitional periods in modern German history based on new empirical evidence derived from land-and-home related property transfers and conflicts. The second is carving a more prominent role for land registries in the study of twentieth-century Germany. Indeed, we believe that Grundbücher can be used as a generative source for exploring “Deutungskämpfe” on property ownership.
Iris Nachum’s study focuses on the 1952 West German “Equalization of Burdens Law”, which was enacted to compensateethnic Germans, among others, who were expelled at the end of the Second World War from Eastern Europe to West Germany. Her central interest concerns cases where expellees demanded redress for lost property acquired in the Nazi period in the context of “Aryanization”.
Sagi Schaefer’s work focuses on new land registries generated in the FRG as part of the Cold War. The people and organizations behind these projects saw their land registries as bulwarks against Eastern Bloc expropriations. Schaefer’s research shows that property disputes and the ideological positions they pushed played crucial roles in the process of German division.
Kerstin Brückweh studies property restitution in reunited Germany in a long-term perspective, reaching back to the GDR as well as to Nazi Germany. She focuses particularly on practices regarding homeownership in the GDR and inquires how the principle of “restitution before compensation” affected the everyday lives of East German residents after 1990.