For the first in an occasional series profiling staff, volunteers, and friends of the Wende, we spent some time with Special Collections Curator John Ahouse.
Perhaps unbeknownst to his colleagues, who revere his deep knowledge of Cold War history, John made his mark with a study of American writer and social reformer Upton Sinclair, assembling a significant collection of some 400 books and related archives and publishing a bibliography. In a major gift to a teaching institution, John has just donated his collection to California State University Dominguez Hills, where it is currently on display.
How did an Upton Sinclair scholar become our resident expert in East German history? John’s relationship to the subject of “die Wende” long predates his association with the Wende Museum. He first traveled to Berlin on a post-graduate fellowship in 1958, three years before the construction of the Berlin Wall. John’s service with the Army Security Agency brought him back to West Berlin as the Cold War intensified in the early 1960s. He worked on audio surveillance of the GDR from Tempelhof Airport, which a dozen years earlier had served as the landing strip for the renowned Berlin Airlift. Civilian work as a translator kept John in Berlin for several more years, after which he returned to the States and earned master’s degrees in linguistics and library science.
With his thirty-year career as a librarian behind him, including stints at Cal State University Long Beach and most recently in rare books and archives at USC, John revisited his early interest in German language and culture when he joined the Wende Museum in 2006. Shortly thereafter, he accompanied museum director Justin Jampol to Berlin, where they conducted historical witness interviews with four people whose lives had been profoundly affected by the Wall. You can view these interviews online wendemuseum.org or at the interactive display monitor in the Wende’s Facing the Wall exhibition. John’s vital participation in this project helped launch the Wende’s growing collection of historical witness interviews, which most recently documented the stories of Soviet Jewish immigrants to Los Angeles.
John has contributed scholarly research on our materials and aspects of East German cultural life for the forthcoming book on the Wende’s East German collection from TASCHEN Books, as well as assembling a reference volume on state-sponsored painting in East Germany, a subject often neglected in art historical scholarship. John also interacts closely with scholars, interns, and foreign students who come to work with the Wende’s collection. We are in the process of establishing an endowment fund in John’s name to support student internships at The Wende Museum.
If you haven’t had a chance to meet John, we urge you to join the fascinating tours he leads on Fridays at 11:30am and 2pm. Tours are free and open to the public.
You can read his biography of Upton Sinclair at the Wende’s library, or purchase it yourself at Amazon.com.
– Kate Dollenmayer, Audiovisual Archivist