Colleen Anderson

Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

2021 to 2022
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow

 Socialist Healthcare in Germany

This project reconstructs the East German healthcare system, especially with an eye toward the influences that the socialist healthcare system had within reunified Germany. Questions of health and wellness are foundational to the study of any state, but especially so in East Germany, where the state took responsibility for the health of its citizens. However, the country’s healthcare system has not been studied comprehensively, leaving open questions about how East Germans received medical care, what kinds of medical technologies East German scientists developed, how the state understood its medical obligations to its citizens, and what connections East German healthcare had to medicine around the world. In particular, my book uses healthcare as a focal point for examining the many paradoxes of life in East Germany. Some of these paradoxes were personal: some patients, for instance, had to balance physical wellness with political danger, as the secret police regularly blackmailed patients with particular diagnoses. Other concerns were political: the East German state prided itself on technological developments and yet regularly relied on imported medical devices to keep its population healthy. Indeed, some tensions illuminate the relationship between the party and society: the state ran the healthcare system but was also sometimes directly responsible for making East Germans unwell. Workers were injured in the dangerous working conditions demanded by the Five-Year Plan, athletes were harmed by mandatory doses of performance-enhancing drugs, and large portions of the population were exposed to dangerous chemicals through rampant pollution. Indeed, these promises and problems within the East German healthcare system did not entirely disappear after 1990, so the final chapters of the book trace the afterlives of the East German healthcare system into the twenty-first century.