Between Pleasure and Immorality

Western Allies’ Soldiers’ Clubs in Germany as Sites of Encounters between Occupiers and the Occupied in the 1940s and 1950s

Lena Rudeck (completed PhD Project, 2022)

After the end of the Second World War, the Allies quickly constructed clubs for their soldiers and officers, creating new spaces of pleasure in the middle of a postwar German society that was facing hardship and ruin. The clubs were gradually opened to Germans, if initially only under certain conditions. This turned them into spaces where differing systems of values and morality encountered each other.
Taking the Western Allies' soldiers' clubs as an example, this project seeks to analyze the occupation as a dynamic social process between occupiers and occupied. In doing so, it will compare the various roles played by the three military governments and their officers and soldiers. Apart from this, it will research the ways in which the German population negotiated new values and norms within a new socio-political setting.
The members of the Allied forces interacted off-duty with Germans in soldiers' clubs, while at the same time, these spaces gave the occupied population the opportunity to take part in a new lifestyle: Germans could listen to jazz music, which had been forbidden under the National Socialists, and could explore different styles of clothing, dancing and behavior. Thus, a new repertoire of emotional practices arose which led to heated controversies in postwar Germany. Contemporaneous perceptions and views on the clubs and their guests as well as the interactions in the clubs themselves illustrate the clash between different norms and values.
The soldiers' clubs thus serve as a lens through which the various moral economies circulating in the immediate postwar period can be studied, contextualized, and explained. What sort of influence did the lost war, the occupation, and the nationalities of the occupying forces have on shifting values? Nationality, age, religion, class, gender, and race will serve as points of reference for analyzing differing moral economies.

The dissertation will study the extreme of social collapse in the years following defeat and the occupation up through the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the stabilization of the 1950s. By focusing on soldiers’ clubs, the project analyzes the factors that contributed to shifts in dominant conceptions of morality.

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