The History of the Green Movement in East and West Germany

On March 17, IES and an audience of 20 welcomed Timothy Scott Brown, Professor of History at Northeastern University and currently Senior Fellow at IES, for a lecture on the rise of green politics and ecologism in West and East Germany during the Cold War. To begin, Brown introduced the precursors to the ecologist movement in both Cold War Germanies, namely the Kommune I (K1) of the West and the Umweltbibliothek of the East. The two groups were similar, in that they both influenced the public sphere through publications that circulated in secret in order to avoid the administrative censorship rampant in both German governments. Though, Brown emphasized, the external appearance of the movement seemed ecologist, the essence was highly political, as ecologists in both Germanies actively protested state power, fought against ideologically biased media, and pursued freedom for the public space.

In the 1970s, the ecologist movement gained momentum, expanding to include a new interest in feminist platforms while becoming increasingly supportive of initiatives advocating for the betterment of the general human condition. As Brown pointed out, environmentalists claimed to be neither left- nor right-winged but, rather, a neutral political force whose major goal was to uphold and fight for human rights. Therefore, they formed their own political party – the Green Party. Their slogan, “neither left nor right, but forward,” quickly earned the party popular support and enabled them to achieve breakthrough success in Bundestag elections. In the final section of his lecture, Brown provided an analytical perspective on the environmental philosophy of the German ecologist movement. Environmentalists regarded humans and the earth as an insoluble whole; thus, they actively stood against the use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Eventually, with its advocacy for pacifism and human rights, this new progressive ideology helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. 

After Brown concluded his lecture, the audience actively partook in a Q&A, with one attendee kicking it off with a question regarding the differences between the women’s movements of West and East Germany. Brown responded that, while there was a strong women’s movement in the East, it, in comparison with its Western counterpart, took much longer to gain influence and following. Another prominent topic was that which related to how green awareness compared between the two Germanies. To respond, Brown emphasized how green awareness was, and still is, much stronger in the West, likely due to the fact that related social movements have proven more attractive to followers in the West than to followers in the East.