Martin Luther in Primetime. Television Fiction and Cultural Memory Construction in Cold War Germany

Stewart Anderson


In 1983, both East and West Germany celebrated Martin Luther’s 500th birthday with great fanfare.  Nowhere was this competition more provocative and visually arresting, however, than in two multi-part television plays which depicted Luther’s life: the West German Martin Luther, broadcast by the public station ZDF in April, and the East German title of the same name, aired in October.  In this essay, I argue that the East German version constituted an appropriative strategy of memory formation – one which depicted Luther’s positive qualities and grafted them into the Marxist canon of heroes.  In contrast, the ZDF Martin Luther, which featured a highly rational Luther, projected what Jan Assmann has termed a normative strategy of harnessing Luther’s memory, focusing on Luther’s intellectual arguments and anti-radicalism.


Martin Luther; ZDF; DFF; Cold War; Collective Memory

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