Fachkonferenz · Berlin

01.06.2022 - 03.06.2022 · Ganztags
The Red Globe. Writing the World in Eastern European Travel Literature of the Cold War

After years of isolation and division during the late Stalinist period, the so-called ‘Thaw’ in the cultural politics of socialist Eastern Europe in the second half of the 1950s enabled a broadening of horizons. This made it possible to address previously hidden facts about the recent past, the appropriation of aesthetic forms and the reception of contemporary art, cinema and literature from the West. Above all, however, it meant the physical opening up of borders. Not only were foreign journalists, cultural and sports delegations, festival visitors and travel groups allowed to visit the world behind the Iron Curtain, but, vice versa, a host of reporters, writers and artists set out to travel to capitalist foreign countries—especially countries engaged in the struggle for independence from their colonisers. Travel literature became one of the most popular genres of those years. Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund crossed the entire Global South with their Czechoslovak Tatra cars, Daniil Granin explored capitalist countries such as Japan and Australia, and Ryszard Kapuściński became the most important reporter of the anti-colonial liberation struggle.

These texts not only meant confronting the readership at home with previously unknown and foreign worlds but also paved the way for the emergence of a new global consciousness, which was to be clearly distinguished from the ‘imperial gaze’ of the capitalist West. ‘Writing the world’ on the one hand meant striving to find a socialist understanding of a ‘Red Globe’ to match the competing narrative of globalisation as Americanisation, which emerged victorious in the end. On the other hand, travel writers quickly moved on from the initial “dumbfounded gaze” (Ilya Kukulin) to develop a language of their own with which to represent and classify the ‘blue planet’ as a whole. This new language was an essential part of the search for a new, post-Stalinist subjectivity.

While the online conference “Inherit the World: Strategies of ‘translatio’ in the Soviet Literary Cosmopolis,” held from May 27–29, 2021 and the conference “(Post)-Soviet Cosmopolis: The Soviet Project of World Literature and its Legacies,” held from December 8–10, 2021, asked how the Soviet understanding of a multinational and world literature as an imperial legacy lives on to this day, the conference on the “Red Globe” will build on this and focus on a specific genre of this world literature, namely travelogues. The planned conference will explore how travel texts of the post-war period developed through encounters with other cultures and ways of life—a socialist perspective on a global scale on collective belonging and imaginary communities in the context of the East-West conflict. Special attention will be paid to focal points of the Cold War conflict, particularly Berlin. In these years, the image of West Berlin as the “window to the free world” and the staging of East Berlin as a global metropolis of peace and friendship competed with each other and made the former German capital one of the key sites for renegotiating globality.

At the same time, writing travel texts always meant comparing one’s own point of view with the everyday reality of a world divided by conflicts and wars. The tensions between international solidarity, ‘capitalist interventions’ and regional interests, global networks and local economies, industrial modernisation and ecological destruction found their way into the travel literature of those years in diverse ways, and also contributed to the development of a cosmopolitan consciousness. The aim of the conference is to reconstruct this phenomenon, largely forgotten due to the economic and political failure of this “alternative globalization” (James Mark, Artemy M. Kalinovsky and Steffi Marung).

Abb. oben: Fotografie aus der Sammlung Jiří Hanzelka und Miroslav Zikmund, © Muzeum jihovýchodní Moravy ve Zlíně (Süostmährisches Museum in Zlin).


Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et.