Third-party funded project

Mapping and Transforming. Interdisciplinary Approaches to City Maps as a Visual Medium of Urban Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, 1939-1949

Research department: Contemporary History and Archive

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Christoph Bernhardt Dr. Piotr Szczepan Kisiel

Consortium: Otto Friedrich University Bamberg (Coordination) Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe - Institute of the Leibniz Association GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Funding Organization: Federal Ministry for Research and Education (BMBF)

Duration: 11/2020 - 10/2024

Cities affected by the Second World War had to redefine their urban self-image and undertake a revision of their building stock in the face of the impending or real bombing disaster. In the years 1939 to 1949, city administrations, specialised authorities, associations, companies and private individuals drew maps that made material and ideal assessments of the buildings. They provided information on changes to the population structure, technical infrastructures, demolition and stabilisation needs or rubble displacement and building material extraction. Thematic maps were created in accelerated procedures and specifically in preparation for decisions on demolition or reconstruction after the war. As media for guiding urban planning and political planning processes, they are thus today visual sources of the transformation intentions of the time.

The research network "Mapping and Transforming. Interdisciplinary access to city maps as a visual medium of urban transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, 1939-1949" explores the functions of city maps in transformation processes for selected cities in Central and Eastern Europe in interdisciplinary cooperation, from the perspective of the humanities and engineering sciences, social geography and computer science. The project is analysed under the following questions:

a) In what way did the visual programme of maps and infographics develop with regard to the depiction of damage surveys as well as reconstruction and rebuilding plans?

b) How did groups of actors from politics, administration, business and civil society use issue maps as arguments for their restructuring and reconstruction goals in the context of changing fronts and political affiliations?

c) Which functions did mapping and recording assume in the reconstruction planning as well as in the material reconstruction and development of Central and Eastern European cities?

The sub-project at IRS brings together heterogeneous and under-researched datasets, maps and archival material to examine the transformation of selected cities in East Germany and communist Poland. These include: Chemnitz/Karl-Marx-Stadt, Magdeburg, Neubrandenburg, Weimar, Bolesławiec/Bunzlau, Myślibórz/Soldin, Racibórz/Ratibor and Szczecin/Stettin. The sub-project is dedicated to the period up to the 1960s and questions the legacy of National Socialist cartography and war damage in the planning of socialist cities.

This sub-project focuses in particular on war damage and thematic maps and analyses the intentions, strategies and logics of reconstruction or post-war urban planning in a comparative perspective. Planning aims to critically de/reconstruct these maps and asks about their authors (who were not limited to Speer Ministry staff). Finally, it examines how the (partially) destroyed building fabric was dealt with in practice.

Other sub-projects:
Sub-project: KAR_Bestand (Otto Friedrich University Bamberg, Dr.-Ing. Carmen M. Enss, Dr.Klaus Stein)
Sub-project: KAR_Discourse (Herder Institute for Historical Research on Eastern Central Europe, Dr Elisa-Maria Hiemer)
Sub-project: KAR_Social Cartography (Dr Carol Ludwig, GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences)

A Look Back at the International IRS Summer School 2022

The five-day summer school "The Socialist City: Planning, Transformation and Aftermath" at the beginning of August 2022 dealt with matters of urban planning and housing construction from a comparative perspective. Participants discussed both urban planning and housing policy issues in the context of the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia and with counter-examples from France. Excursions in former East Berlin to the focal points of urban planning and architecture in Karl-Marx-Allee (former Stalinallee), monument protection (Nikolaiviertel and Gendarmenmarkt) and state surveillance (Hohenschönhausen) gave the researchers additional insights into the topic. more info


Kisiel, P. (2023). Meaning beyond Accuracy: War Damage Map of Cottbus. Journal of Urban History.