LECTURE: Illusions of Border Control: The Unexpected History of German-German Mass Migration 1961-1989


Location: 119 DeBartolo Hall

Join us for a lecture by Dr. Frank Wolff,  Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor in German Studies at Notre Dame. Dr. Wolff teaches Modern History and Migration Studies at Osnabrück University, Germany. He received his MA from Cologne University and wrote his dissertation at Johns Hopkins University and Bielefeld University where he earned his PhD (summa cum laude, 2011). His first book on the transnational history of the Jewish Labor Bund has been published with Böhlau in 2014. It has received international praise and the 2016 Humanities International Award, and is recently being translated into English (Brill 2018, Haymarket Publishers 2019).


Walls, in the conventional wisdom, control populations. In a prime example, East Germany sealed its border with the Berlin Wall. Yet, between 1961 and 1989 almost 600,000 people left the GDR. Despite criminalization of emigration and even applying for permission, prospective emigrants forced the state to let them go. 

Migration policy, it turned out, could not be practiced at the border, but as a long process of negotiation between the state, migrants, and international contacts. In the end, the Berlin Wall provided an illusion of control, an illusion that eventually lead to the state’s collapse. 

Poster Wolff