Renaming the past in post-Nazi Germany: Insights into the politics of street naming in Mannheim and Potsdam

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The critical turn in the study of toponymy has drawn attention to the politics of place-naming practices and to how place names are embedded into systems of meaning and partake in social and ideological discourses. A measure of historical revision, the commemorative renaming of streets in the context of regime change is a common strategy employed to signify the break with the past. This article juxtaposes patterns of renaming the past in two German cities from 1945 through 1950 as an aspect of the democratic reconstruction of post-Nazi Germany. The moderate pattern applied in Mannheim represented a restorative approach and signified continuity with the pre 1933 Weimar Republic. The radical pattern applied in communist-controlled Potsdam represented the future-oriented approach of socialist transformation. At one level, the investigation explores patterns of commemorative renaming of streets in two German provincial cities after the collapse of Nazi Germany. At another, the juxtaposition of two patterns of renaming the past in post-Nazi Germany offers insights into large-scale renaming of streets as a ritual of revolution that, involving different interests and priorities introduces major political shifts and the ideological reorientation of society they entail into urban namescapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-400
Number of pages14
JournalCultural Geographies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945 and managed by the Allies, the resurgence of public life in occupied Germany was based on the rejection of the Nazi regime and a commitment to building a new, democratic Germany. However, the Soviet zone of occupation on the one hand and three western zones of occupation – the American, British and French – on the other offered divergent models of the democratic reconstruction of post-Nazi Germany. Supported by the Soviet military administration, the communists secured political control in the Soviet zone of occupation. Rising tensions between the Soviet Union and the western powers and divergent political developments in the respective zones of occupation culminated in the division of Germany in 1949 into two German states: a communist state, the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republic, DDR) in the Soviet zone of occupation, and a western-oriented state, the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), in the three western zones.

Funding Information:
The research for this paper was funded under the AHRC Landscape and Environment programme.


  • Commemoration
  • Critical toponymy
  • Germany
  • Renaming the past
  • Street names

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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