The Icon CurtainThe Cold War's Quiet Border

The Icon CurtainThe Cold War's Quiet Border

Yuliya Komska

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226154190

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The Iron Curtain did not exist. Instead, it comprised multiple regional segments, many in the grip of divergent historical and cultural forces for decades, if not centuries. The first cultural studies account of the border’s landscape, The Icon Curtain straddles the woods between Czechoslovakia and West Germany to uncover a far-reaching genealogy of one such section and debunk the stereotype of the unprecedented mid-twentieth-century partition. The book transports the reader to the western edge of the lore-filled Bohemian Forest—one of Europe’s oldest borderlands. There, between the 1950s and 1980s, West German locals and Sudeten German expellee newcomers shaped a civilian rampart, the “prayer wall.” The book outlines the stages in the emergence of this unexplored sequence of new and repurposed pilgrimage chapels, lookout towers, and monuments. It examines how the “prayer wall” could bundle two long-standing German obsessions—forest and border—and bring this conjunction to bear on perceptions of the changing Cold War landscape. In this setting, the book demonstrates the barrier’s telltale symbols, barbed wire, and watchtowers, gave way to a whole other set of icons. Vandalized religious statues from the Eastern bloc, dislocated tourist landmarks, snapshots of travellers peering into the distance, and poems entitled simply “At the Border” helped civilians assimilate rupture and situate themselves vis-à-vis the conflict’s exigencies. The pivot of their efforts, the Icon Curtain, hinged not on real events but on widely diffused realist representations.