[URBANTH-L]REV: McMullen on Mazur-Strommen, _Engines of Ideology: Urban Renewal in Rostock, Germany_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Fri Jun 2 14:49:47 EDT 2006

[forwarded from H-German]

Published by H-German at h-net.msu.edu (June 2006)

Susan Mazur-Stommen. _Engines of Ideology: Urban Renewal in Rostock, Germany
1990-2000_. European Studies in Culture and Policy. Münster: LIT Verlag,
2005. xi + 226 pp. Map, photograph, notes, index, bibliography. EUR 29.90
(paper), ISBN 3-8258-6892-3.

Reviewed for H-German by Shannon McMullen, Department of Sociology,
University of California, San Diego

Rostock: Post-Socialist Urban Renewal in Profile

According to the jacket blurb, Mazur-Stommen's study "explores the
relationship between ideology and specific architectural forms, the role of
revitalization programs with external funding in this process, and possible
conclusions regarding the future of other small cities in the Baltic
region." This intended focus of Mazur-Stommen's book, based on her
dissertation, is a valuable contribution to a very small literature on
twentieth-century urban renewal in Germany in the context of reunification
and post-socialism. In particular, her focus on the eastern city of Rostock
helps widen the English language discussion of urban issues beyond Berlin.
The ethnographic approach promises to provide a rich account of Rostock as a
"particular place and time, rather than a collection of impressions elicited
from a set of its inhabitants" (p. vii). In other words, it is the form and
meaning of Rostock's built environment the author wishes to explain. In this
way, the book is an addition to a growing literature on the social
significance of architecture.

Mazur-Stommen's main argument is that "local ideologies and vernacular
architecture" (that is, diverse and "authentic") are being replaced by
repetition and a German urban uniformity in the context of reunification and
Europeanization, which results from what Mazur-Stommen calls
"corporatization." This term is defined as "the wholesale construction of
landscapes and environments where the long-term, collective efforts of a
culture are replaced by rapid, streamlined decisions made by a few people"
(p. 2). Furthermore, these few people, as experts or "specialists," often
come from outside of Rostock. Mazur-Stommen argues that their status as
outsiders means they have their own agendas, which do not always overlap 
the community's best interests. Community participation, often a stated goal
of federal or EU programs, is given lip service, but does not materialize in

At the same time, Mazur-Stommen finds evidence of an underdeveloped civil
society that lacks experience and organization to resist or counter
well-funded and powerful corporatism. Mazur-Stommen's experience with the EU
Interreg IIc program "Integrated Urban Planning and Management" outlines
this dynamic in Rostock (see her chapter entitled "Altstadt--The Historic
City"). Frustration--that both of residents and the author--comes
across in quotes from interviews and in excerpts from field notes based on
participant-observation in urban renewal programs. The book is at its
strongest when it gives insight into these issues and the ways in which they
intersect with a municipal planning system grappling with the legacy of
socialism and the demands of capitalism.

Influenced by the work of Brian Ladd on Berlin, a second related hypothesis
in Mazur-Stommen's study is that historic preservation as part of urban
revitalization and the development of tourism in Rostock leads to the
promotion of historical buildings and periods with a high level of cultural
acceptance, and the lowest potential for conflict.[1] Mazur-Stommen expected
a focus on the Hanseatic past (pp. 31-32). Here the focus is trained most
directly on the relationship between ideology and architecture alluded to in
the title of the book. While such a focus does not constitute a new
argument, the details of such a process in Rostock would have added to our
knowledge of how competing social visions and power differences affect urban
form. Although Mazur-Stommen claims that "a subtle favoring of traditional
forms does run throughout the decisions made about handling restorations and
reconstructions," the book does not systematically explain just how history
and architecture are intertwined in urban renewal efforts (p. 60). On the
other hand, we do receive a better description of the processes of
gentrification with their positive and negative effects (pp. 154-170).

In general, empirical findings specific to Rostock that are promising in
their significance remain underdeveloped in relation to the larger issues
the book purports to discuss. These analytical problems are compounded by an
unclear, confusing structure and organization, which tends to disconnect
related ideas and arguments. Why, for example, if the "researcher who wants
to deal with the complexity of cities must first deal with the tangle of
literatures that attempt to explain the origin, function, form, history,
meaning and experience of cities," does the chapter that could help
contextualize and position the author's work come at the end, right before
the conclusion (p. 182)? Chapter divisions often seem to separate rather
than gather related material. Perhaps this organization accounts for the
significant amount of repetition that runs through the text. (The repetition
could also be the result of inadequate editing, of which there is also

Mazur-Stommen's book will be appreciated for providing an anthropological
approach to the built environment and exploring the relationships between
ideology, architectural form and the differing social experiences of those
forms. Additionally, the book is a good introduction to the many issues
relating to inter-regional and post-socialist urban development in reunified
Germany as seen through the case study of Rostock.


[1]. Brian Ladd, _The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the
Urban Landscape_ (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997).

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