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Building Socialism reveals how East German writers' engagement with the rapidly changing built environment from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s constitutes an untold story about the emergence of literary experimentation in the post-War period. It breaks new ground by exploring the centrality of architecture to a mid-century modernist literature in dialogue with multiple literary and left-wing theoretical traditions and in tune with international assessments of modernist architecture and urban planning.

Design and construction were a central part of politics and everyday life in East Germany during this time as buildings old and new were asked to bear heavy ideological and social burdens. Writers such as Heiner Müller, Christa Wolf, Günter Kunert, Volker Braun, Günter de Bruyn, and Brigitte Reimann sought to fashion plays, stories, and novels adequate to the construction and use of enormous factory complexes and experimental new towns, the large-scale demolition of Berlin's tenements and the reshaping of its ceremonial center, and the propagation of a pared-down modernist aesthetic in interior design. Writers' representation of the problems of designing, building, and using architecture and understanding buildings' place in history formed part of a turn to modernist literary devices, including montage, metaphor, and shifting narrative perspectives. East Germany's literary architecture also represents a sophisticated theoretical reflection on the intractable problems of East Germany's socialist modernity, including the alliance between state socialism and technological modernization, competing commitments to working-class self-organization and the power of specialist planners and designers, and the attempt to create an alternative to fascism.