Art-mageddon: Artistic impulses in post-war Munich

I am in Munich teaching a three week travel-course with some of my German majors. In preparation for this course, I have been digging through a number of items to use as examples of how the people of Munich dealt with the post war period from 1945-1949. I am particulary interested in the role that art played in the aftermath of war. One image I use is a small hand colored comic I acquired a few years back entitled "American Boys in Bavaria" by W.D. Zehetmair. It depicts a Jeep full of GIs driving through Munich. One of the GIs tosses a cigarette and four men appear to dive on it. It is reminiscent of the scene in Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun (7:09) when Germans pounce upon a cigarette butt thrown by a soldier highlighting the value that cigarettes had as currency in post war Germany.

Another form of currency in the Zero Hour was art. In many cases it was black-market, family owned, stolen, or 'procured' art sold to soldiers for cigarettes, food or in exchange for services. Occasionally, this art was created in this time and sold to soldiers as if they were tourists as Zehetmair did in 1945. This cartoon was drawn on dingy, fragile paper in contrast to the reddish frame. It would be interesting to see if this person created other art pieces during this time. The only reference I can find to the artist is to an illustrated children's book from 1910. As with this simple cartoon, post-war art has a way of traveling and ending up in the oddest places. Now the cartoon lives in Pittsburgh.

Similarly, the appropriately entitled collection of hand colored etchings depicts a time gone by: "So was Munich" by Karl Winkel. It was meant to give the occupying American soldiers glimpse of Munich's architectural gems that they can only see as rubble. About 50% of the entire city was destroyed with a higher percent in the old part of town. Of all the German cities destroyed in WWII, perhaps none has been restored so painstakingly as Munich.

Source: Wikipedia: by F_McGady

For the bibliophiles of the world, it shouldn't be surprising that book printing came back fairly quickly. One of my favorite zero-hour publications is the poetry anthology De Profundis: Deutsche Lyrik in dieser Zeit (De Profundis, German Poetry in this Time) published under license of the Office of Military Government of Bavaria by Kurt Desch in 1946. It is any early look at guilt and responsibility of the Nazi era with poems from camp survivors and others who wrote in the twelve years since the Nazis took power.


The book reflected the quality of materials available immediately following the war. The paper is already crumbling after 60 years and one can see that the binding was made from recycled materials; in my copy a physics text was used to bind this volume of poetry.

These seemingly insignificant objects have always struck me as incredibly telling artifacts of history. Each has its own story and when I am able to unlock a bit of it, I am happy to use it to teach my students about a time that is thankfully hard for me to imagine.


  1. As historical trivia to the first painting cited above. Depending on which city the occupying forces were in, the Germans (and in Vienna, Austrians) had very funny, punny, dark nicknames for the patrols of American (French, English or sometimes, joint powers) that drove around. It could be translated as The Creeps in the Jeeps, or the Elephants in the Jeep. I’m sure there are many more that I’ve not discovered.

  2. The problem is that the process of paper production at that time produced paper that was acidic, which leads to the paper falling apart after a few decades. Thus it is very difficult to conserve, as the pH level of the paper has to be shifted for long time conservation.

  3. If you’re in Munich, Dr. Shaughnessy, where can we meet you? It would be quite a treat for me, even if I get into a “so… what do we do now?” fugue state.

    Oh, and my favorite part of Munich? The state art museums only charge one euro entrance on Sundays. At least last year it was so, but last Sunday the Kunstbau wanted the full € 8.50.

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