When I first began this research in 2016, the pilot project (funded by the British Academy) was entitled ‘Living on a Cold War Frontier’ (Ref SG15233). In my earliest oral history interviews, I asked former residents of British military bases in Germany lots of questions about the nature of the Soviet threat, how prepared they felt for a potential attack and their feelings about Germany’s various dividing lines and borders at the time they lived there.
I continue to ask these questions in interviews today and have heard fascinating stories about living with potential (and actual) danger: narrators recall Operation Active Edge in British military bases and Operation Rocking Horse in Berlin, both “rehearsals” for “the worst”. Others vividly describe visits to Berlin, forays into East Germany or patrolling the border in the Harz mountains (interestingly, the latter, like many existing or former border-zones, is now a ‘treasure trove for wildlife’ and a national park).
For many participants, the Cold War was very real and featured prominently in their memories of their time in Germany. For those who were there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the shifting geopolitical context seems particularly important, especially as the 30th anniversary of its fall draws near.
But others have had taken a different view. Far from a constant anxiety, for some the Cold War felt like a distant concern or one that they associated largely with Berlin or bases closer to the East German border. Other concerns were more pressing or “real”, such as base security threats from European terrorist organisations, but also far more everyday concerns associated with family life, living on the base, or work life.
So, one of the aims of this project is to explore further this variance in opinion more and ask why some felt they were on a ‘Cold War Frontier’ whereas others did not, and how to incorporate these divergent views into a social history of British base communities in Germany. Also, it will ask what this signifies for the wider history of Britain’s Cold War.
I have now spoken to almost 50 people since starting this research and am so grateful to all of them for their time and willingness to share their memories. Thank you also to everybody who has shared their memories via this webpage or indicated that they would be happy to be interviewed in future. We will be getting in touch over the summer, so thank you for your patience and interest in sharing your memories – we look forward to hearing about your experiences in Germany soon.
I will also soon be joined by a Research Assistant on this project – more news to follow soon.