Cfp: Crossing the Iron Curtain: Tourism and Travelling in the Cold War

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Time: 7-8 April 2017
Place: University of Amsterdam
Abstract deadline: 15 December 2016

The image of the Iron Curtain as an impenetrable obstacle to mobility between East and West during the Cold War has long been criticized. However, studies of encounters between East and West and their importance in the cultural Cold War has tended to concentrate on professionals such as the artists and scientists exchanged through cultural agreements. Yet millions of westerners went on holiday behind the Iron Curtain and a considerable number of easterners did the same in the west.

This workshop focuses on the mobility between the two camps motivated by the search for pleasure and recreation. It welcomes contributions that deal with touristic encounters between East and West of individuals and groups, on either side of the Iron Curtain. Contributions querying political tourists and the politics of inter-bloc tourism on local, regional, national, or international level are also invited.

The workshop is held on 7-8 April 2017 at the University of Amsterdam and is organized by the European Travel Cultures research group. A keynote lecture will be given by Angela Romano, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute.

Deadlines: Please send an abstract of up to 500 words and a short bio (max. 100 words) to before 15 December 2016. Notification of acceptance will be issued at the end of the year. Final workshop papers are due on 15 March 2017.

Conference fee: €50 covering lunches and a conference dinner.

Funding: Limited funding is available to cover accommodation and travel costs. Please
indicate when submitting the abstract if you would like to apply for funding.

Conference organisers: Christian Noack & Sune Bechmann Pedersen


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Tintin and counterfeit criminals in Cold War Europe – UPDATED

De zwarte rotsen

I’m currently a visiting researcher at the University of Amsterdam and doing my best to learn Dutch on the side. As a big fan of Hergé and Tintin (Kuifje in Dutch), I of course had to buy the heap of cheap Kuifje comicbooks I came across at the IJ-Hallen flea market this weekend (the largest flea market in Europe). The stack included De zwarte rotsen (Org. L’Île Noire) in which Tintin tracks down a network of counterfeiters based in Scotland.

This seventh volume of Tintin’s adventures first appeared in black and white in French in 1938. A coloured edition appeared in 1943, and a thoroughly revised and substantially shortened edition was finally produced in 1966. The greatest change to the 1966-edition was the use of the ligne claire drawing style that had become the trademark of Hergé by this time.

Diesel locomotive

Moreover, many details were added and/or changed to increase the verisimilitude. For instance, the many trains and airplanes that feature in the story were updated to modern ones, so that diesel locomotives replaced steam trains and Tintin now takes leave on a jet plane at the end.Jet plane


Tintinologists have long discussed the pros and cons of the different versions, yet one element the fans seem to have overlooked: the story’s curious pre-war geography.The villains forge their money on a remote Scottish island, but they collaborate with criminals all over Europe. On the island, Tintin finds a piece of paper with addresses in Prague, Potsdam, Vienna, and Amsterdam.

Since the original edition had been conceived prior to the outbreak of the Second World war, this did probably not pose too much of a stretch for the readers of the time. The original included plenty of slapstick comedy and far less realism than the 1966.version, which is now the standard edition.

Praha Potsdam cropped

The question, however, is: why on earth did Hergé keep these adresses in the 1966-edition, when he brought numerous other details up to date with the post-war realities? In 1966, Prague and Potsdam were firmly placed in the thoroughly policed Communist camp. To adult readers of the time, it was simply unthinkable that a European gang of counterfeiters should be able to collaborate across the Iron Curtain. It wouldn’t have required much work to replace Prague and Potsdam with Bern and Bologna. Especially not in comparison with the extensive work that went into redrawing the entire volume. So, did Hergé intentionally leave these traces of a pan-European pre-war criminal network as a curious juxtaposition to a divided Cold War Europe? Or was it merely oversight that allowed the addresses of Czech and East German villains to remain in the updated Cold War universe of De zwarte rotsen?

*** UPDATED 18 May 2016

On my way back to Amsterdam from a conference in London last Saturday I had time to stop by the Tintin Boutique in Brussels to have a look at some of the other versions of the L’Île Noire.


In the updated French version from 1966, Tintin finds the list of the accomplices and notes that they operate “in all countries”. In the Dutch translation in the original post above, that had become an “international gang”. In the English translation, however, the factual dissonance is even more pronounced as Tintin actually spells out the countries in which the network operates: “Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Holland, Austria, … All over the place.” This only adds to the conundrum as it explicitly foregrounds the unrealistic nature of the network. The inattentive reader would perhaps not study the addresses carefully and question the presence of Prague and Potsdam on the list, but with the help of the English translator, the discrepancy between contemporary post-war technology and pre-war Europe-wide criminal networks is highlighted – and the verisimilitude that Hergé pursued so carefully suffers an even bigger blow.

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Reel Socialism reviewed


The latest issues of the Swedish magazine Respons (5/2015) includes a very favourable 3-page review of my thesis, Reel Socialism, defended at Lund University in May 2015. Reel Socialism is called a “pioneering work” and the reviewer hopes for a revised edition in Swedish. Repons is a magazine devoted to reviews of arts, humanities, and social science literature published in Sweden. The review is part of a special section on Communism in East European cinema and will be made available online six months after its publication.

Reel Socialism was also mentioned in a recent op-ed by the Czech-Swedish film expert Hynek Pallas at the Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet.

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“Reel Socialism” ready for defence

On Friday I submitted my PhD thesis, Reel Socialism: Making Sense of History in Czech and German Cinema since 1989. The public defence (disputationen in Swedish) will take place in Lund on 22 May. Thanks to X Film AG for allowing me to use the still from Good Bye, Lenin! (Becker, 2003) on the cover. The image depicting a fake news report concocted by the protagonists encapsulates perfectly the constructed nature of historical narration in cinema.


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Weissensee – A conversation with screenwriter Annette Hess

Weissensee is a German TV serial (2010-) about two families set in East Berlin during the 1980s. A Romeo and Juliet story about impossible love between the son of a Stasi officer and the daughter of a dissident singer. Its second season was aired on Swedish Television last autumn to great acclaim. In Germany, about 5 mio viewers tuned in on Tuesday evenings. WeissenseePrecisely a month ago, the screenwriter behind Weissensee, Annette Hess, visited Lund to partake in a panel debate about the serial, its reception in Germany, and the process of coming to terms with the communist past in TV and cinema after 1989. I had the pleasure of also being on the panel, together with Mrs Hess and Fredrik Persson-Lahusen, and as soon as time allows me, I shall publish my thoughts on the serial and the discussion with the screenwriter in a longer post. The event was organized by Ingrid Rasch and Tredje Rummet in collaboration with the academic conference Human Rights and Memory, held in Lund 4-6 December 2014.

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A conversation about nothing with @NeinQuarterly

In conversation with Eric Jarosinski (@NeinQuarterly)

Eric Jarosinski (@NeinQuarterly) and I in front of a questioning audience. Photo courtesy of @anamariaduteac

Last Tuesday Eric Jarosinski, also known under the Twitter handle @NeinQuarterly, visited Lund University to talk to a very diverse crowd of students, software designers, engineers, IKEA bosses, political scientists, and a few familiar faces from LUX, Lund University’s brand new building housing most of the humanities departments. I had the honour of moderating the evening which included a trombonist and a torrent of questions asked by a particularly lively audience.

Kimberly Nicholas live tweeted the event and has summed up the evening perfectly in a Storify.

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@NeinQuarterly in Lund

A Civilization of Discontents

A Conversation with Nein.Quarterly about Social Media in the Golden Age of Crisis in the Humanities


@Nein.Quarterly (a.k.a. Eric Jarosinski) and his #FailedIntellecual Goodwill Tour 2014-15 visits Lund University 21 Oct, 18.15-20.00, LUX:C121

The Twitter phenomenon @NeinQuarterly (A Compendium of Utopian Negation) visits Lund for a structured conversation about social media and the crisis in the humanities.

Behind the Twitter handle @NeinQuarterly is Eric Jarosinski, previously a professor of German at University of Pennsylvania, now, a regular contributor to Die Zeit and an author of aphorisms inspired by Adorno, Benjamin, Kafka and Nietzsche followed by 90,000 on Twitter. His first book, Nein. A Manifesto, will be published in 2015.

Admission to the event is free, but registration is necessary. Please follow this link to confirm your participation:

The event is sponsored by HT and Humtank and will be moderated by yours truly.

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