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  • Published: 4 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141999340
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $26.99

Beyond the Wall

East Germany, 1949-1990

The definitive new history of East Germany by a highly acclaimed historian

In 1990, a country disappeared. When the iron curtain fell, East Germany simply ceased to be. For over forty years, from the ruin of the Second World War to the cusp of a new millennium, the GDR presented a radically different German identity to anything that had come before, and anything that exists today. Socialist solidarity, secret police, central planning, barbed wire: this was a Germany forged on the fault lines of ideology and geopolitics.

In Beyond the Wall, acclaimed historian Katja Hoyer offers a kaleidoscopic new vision of this vanished country. Beginning with the bitter experience of German Marxists exiled by Hitler, she traces the arc of the state they would go on to create, first under the watchful eye of Stalin, and then in an increasingly distinctive German fashion. From the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, to the relative prosperity of the 1970s, and on to the creaking foundations of socialism in the mid-1980s, Hoyer argues that amid oppression and frequent hardship, East Germany was yet home to a rich political, social and cultural landscape, a place far more dynamic than the Cold War caricature often painted in the West.

Powerfully told, and drawing on a vast array of never-before-seen interviews, letters and records, this is the definitive history of the other Germany, the one beyond the Wall.

  • Published: 4 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141999340
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $26.99

Praise for Beyond the Wall

Superb, totally fascinating and compelling, Katja Hoyer's first full history of East Germany's rise and fall is a work of revelatory original research - and a gripping read with a brilliant cast of characters. Essential reading

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Utterly brilliant. This gripping account of East Germany sheds new light on what for many of us remains an opaque chapter of history. Authoritative, lively and profoundly human, it is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand post-WW2 Europe

Julia Boyd

With Beyond the Wall, Katja Hoyer confirms her place as one of the best young historians writing in English today. On the heels of her superb Blood and Iron, about the rise and fall of the Second Reich, comes another masterpiece, this one about the aftermath of the Third Reich in the East. Well-researched, well-written and profoundly insightful, it explodes many of the lazy Western cliches about East Germany

Andrew Roberts

A beyond-brilliant new picture of the rise and fall of the East German state. Katja Hoyer gives us not only pin-sharp historical analysis, but an up-close and personal view of both key characters and ordinary citizens whose lives charted some of the darkest hours of the Cold War. If you thought you knew the history of East Germany, think again. An utterly riveting read

Julie Etchingham

The joke has it that the duty of the last East German to escape from the country was to turn off the lights. In Beyond the Wall Katja Hoyer turns the light back on and gives us the best kind of history: frank, vivid, nuanced and filled with interesting people

Ivan Krastev

A refreshing and eye-opening book on a country that is routinely reduced to cartoonish cliché. Beyond the Wall is a tribute to the ordinary East Germans who built themselves a society that - for a time - worked for them, a society carved out of a state founded in the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism

Owen Hatherley

A colourful and often revelatory re-appraisal of one of modern history's most fascinating political curiosities. Katja Hoyer skilfully weaves diverse political and private lives together, from the communist elite to ordinary East Germans

Frederick Taylor

Katja Hoyer is becoming the authoritative voice in the English speaking world for all things German. Thanks to her, German history has the prominence in the Anglosphere it certainly deserves.

Dan Snow

Katja Hoyer brilliantly shows that the history of East Germany was a significant chapter of German history, not just a footnote to it or a copy of the Soviet Union. To understand Germany today we have to grapple with the history and legacy of its all but dismissed East

Serhii Plokhy

A gripping and nuanced history of the GDR from its beginnings as a separate German socialist state against the wishes of Stalin to its final rapprochement with its Western other against those of Gorbachev. Beyond the Wall is a unique fresco of everyday reality in East Germany. Elegantly moving between diplomatic history, political economy and cultural analysis, this is an essential read to understand not only the life and death of the GDR but also the parts of it that still survive in the emotions of its former citizens.

Lea Ypi

A fantastic, sparkling book, filled with insights not only about East Germany but about the Cold War, Europe and the forging of the 20th and 21st centuries

Peter Frankopan

Katja Hoyer's return to discover what happened to her homeland - the old East Germany - is an excellent counterpoint to Stasiland by Anna Funder

Iain Macgregor

Myth-busting, artfully constructed history. . . Katja Hoyer displays a special understanding and wants to present a corrective to previous reductive assessments of the GDR that depict it as a field-grey Stasiland. . . Her command of detail, broad historical brush strokes and evident sympathy for her interview partners make for a fascinating read

Roger Boyes, The Times

Brilliant. . . Hoyer is a historian of immense ability. . . Exhaustively researched, cleverly constructed and beautifully written, this much needed history of the GDR should be required reading across her homeland. Five stars

Saul David, Daily Telegraph

Forget everything you thought you knew about life in the GDR. This terrifically colourful, surprising and enjoyable history of the socialist state is full of surprises

Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times

Enthralling, fascinating and very readable. An extraordinary book. Five stars

Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

What makes this meticulous book essential reading is not so much its sense of what East Germans lost, as what we never had. A history of the GDR that adds stability, contentment and women's rights to the familiar picture of authoritarianism

Stuart Jeffries, Guardian

A fast-paced, vivid and engaging book. Beyond the Wall does much to combat amnesia and Cold War prejudice, and to normalize the GDR and the people who lived there


A bold, deft history of the forty-one years of the German Democratic Republic. Hoyer is a historian with skin in the game

John Kampfner, Literary Review

Tremendous. Until the publication of Beyond the Wall, there hadn't been an English language history of the GDR with which to colour in that vanished country's past

Peter Hoskins, Prospect

Having begun her life behind the wall, Hoyer tells the story of the GDR with emotional intensity; but also with the detachment and balance of a professional historian who is determined to portray both the good and bad. And a very interesting stroy it is, too

Oliver Letwin, The Tablet

A rich, counterintuitive history of a country all too often dismissed as a freak or accident of the cold war


Humane, deeply historically informed and compelling

Country Life

Absolutely fascinating

Andrew Marr, LBC

Now a historian and commentator, Hoyer tells the country's human story with a compelling eye for detail in a book that deftly unpicks the complexities and contradictions of the so-called People's State

Jeremy Cliffe, New Statesman

Katja Hoyer's monumentally successful history of the GDR is a call to restore the history of East Germany to the mainstream of German modern history ... a feast of vignettes and anecdotes, it is a genuine pleasure to read

Roger Moorhouse, Aspects of History

Through interviews and personal experience, Katja Hoyer brings a new understanding to a country that has now vanished ... A fresh look at what life was like for average people in East Germany ... intriguing and surprising

ABC, Radio National

Beyond the Wall breaks away from Cold War stereotypes to depict 'normal life' in the German Democratic Republic ... a bestseller against the odds ... unexpectedly resonant

Thomas Wieder, Le Monde

There's been a swell of books about the former German Democratic Republic this year, but this chunky tome might be the best. Historian Hoyer blends large-scale political insights with engaging personal stories

Independent, Summer Books

Offers a set of fresh and often brave perspectives on East Germany during the Cold War and after

Peter Frankopan, Spectator, Books of the Year

Beyond the Wall recreates vividly what it was like to live under communist rule behind the Iron Curtain. Fascinating and wholly original

Richard Hopton, Country and Town House

A from-start-to-finish account of the East Germany where Hoyer was born, which means not just the Stasi but also day jobs, picnics and rock albums. The result is a complete reconstruction of a country that stopped existing 23 years ago’

Prospect Magazine, Books of the Year 2023