Point Alpha Research Institute (PARI) is located in Geisa, Thuringia, at the former Inner German border that both divided East Germany and West Germany and manifested the systemic confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, separating the Soviet and Western blocs.
Activities also take place at the universities of Fulda and Erfurt, which are cooperation partners of PARI.
PARI’s name originates from its historical location at the Observation Post Alpha (Point Alpha), which was strategically important during the Cold War. Because of the area’s specific geography and topographic characteristics as lowlands, it would have allowed Soviet tanks to invade the territory of West Germany. Therefore, the U.S. Army closely monitored the ‘Fulda Gap’, also considered as “the hottest point of the Cold War”, from this observation post. Since the end of the Cold War, Point Alpha was converted into a memorial site and a museum operated by the Point Alpha Foundation.
Linked to its location, historical significance, and international scope, three research threads intersect and intertwine at Point Alpha, illustrating the relevance for further research and multifaceted research dimensions. Therefore, PARI strives to facilitate dialogue, promote research, and contribute to ongoing public debates in three core fields across disciplinary boundaries:
Situated at the threshold between the Western and Eastern Blocs, PARI was in part founded to remember and to research the history of the Cold War. Recent events have made this task even more important. Following the Russian war against Ukraine, the Cold War has experienced something of a revival – if not in actual politics, as some observers claim, then certainly as a historical reference point.
PARI studies the history of the Cold War both as a local and as a global conflict that divided not only Germany but also Europe and the world. It is interested in its political and military history – international relations, treaties, alliances, strategic planning – and their social and cultural repercussions as well as manifestations.
As an epochal projection, the Cold War serves as a canvas to pinpoint current crises and conflict areas that emphasize continuity and discontinuity during the transformations and co-transformations since the 1990s and beyond. Based on these premises, PARI aims to examine the ideological and geopolitical tensions during and beyond the Cold War. Yet, PARI intends to not merely study the Cold War along East-West binarities, but seeks to analyze it at a global scale taking its repercussions and today’s implications into account as well.
Against this backdrop, PARI works on questions such as these:
To what extent does the Cold War´s legacy structurally and culturally continue affect today’s world? To what extent has the global order transformed at the end of the Cold War and after? What were future expectations at the end of the Cold War? How did the Cold War play out on the ground and affected everyday lives? How were ideological and geopolitical tensions perceived beyond? How were global and local conflicts entangled with one another? How do they continue to inform politics and lives in the region, in Germany and Europe today? How has the perception of the Cold War changed since it ended? What were and still are spheres of influence? What constitutes a post-Cold War order and what can be considered as Cold War aftermath in our current world order? How can researchers frame the transformation processes that evolved since the end of the Cold War? And how can academic research take account of these changes and contribute to current debates?
PARI’s location also determines its research into the functions and effects of borders. Borders, such as the one between West and East Germany, impede and restrict mobility. At the same time, no border is impermeable. In fact, the very existence of a separating wall could be seen as an injunction to break through it or to tear it down. Borders can rip communities apart, but they can also bring them together—or lead to the emergence of new ones.
When East Germany erected the border to the West, this meant the loss of homes and income for many farmers in the region. It was felt as a gaping wound in the middle of Europe not only by people in Germany but worldwide. Today, the border is history for over three decades, and yet some argue it continues to exist in many minds.
If the 1990s saw a short-lived belief at the end of borders generally, the opposite seems to have occurred. What people living at the Inner German border experienced in the aftermath of the Second World War, countless people are experiencing today across the globe. While many nation-states are fortifying their external borders, divisions between classes and creeds are also going up within countries and cities.
Therefore, borders—as a research field—unveil a multitude of interpretive perspectives and approaches on local and international levels, such as a focal point of demarcation and distinction; as a mapping tool; with its symbolic meaning and attributions; in a mutual understanding creating a sense of belonging; in its artificial nature as a state border as well as in its strategic, geopolitical meaning; in the realm of (social) space and spatial order; and eventually as cultural, religious, and linguistic boundaries.
So, what does it mean to live close to a border connected to a global or regional conflict? How did border regimes manifest themselves? And how did the people living here navigate them? How are borders perceived on the two sides they divide? What remains of a border after it has lost its function? Do mental borders remain when physical ones vanish or do they persist? How is the border and its history remembered in the region but also elsewhere? And, since the Iron Curtain has crumbled down, what can we learn from this history for our world today? These and similar questions PARI hopes to address in exchange with colleagues in other parts of the world.
After the end of the Cold War, many saw the liberal model of Western democracy as triumphant. At first, the waves of democratization in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the Arab Spring in the 2010s seemed to bear out such judgments. However, problems, setbacks, and crackdowns soon ensued. Moreover, new challenges, such as the rise of right-wing populism, have engendered questions about the stability of established democracies.
The concept has recently been tested to the core; touches of democratic triumphalism have abated. Rather, intellectuals are thinking more about the various dangers that democracies are faced with and what can be done to safeguard democracies against such dangers.
Again, Germany is a case in point with the rise of movements undermining democracy in the name of democracy. A recent report has revealed that only 39 percent of East Germans and 59 percent of West Germans are satisfied with the state of democracy. At the same time, many seem to view democracy as something provided for them rather than something one needs to engage in.
So, what does democracy mean in different parts of Germany and the world? And how have its meanings changed and shifted over time? What effects do the European project and digitalization have on it? How do we research democracy? And can and should this research contribute to sustain democracy? These questions are at the core of this research field.
Point Alpha Research Institute e. V.