An everyday life museum about East Germany

Berlin has opened a DDR Museum: a museum of East Germany. It’s right next to the Palastruine, the ruins of the Palast der Republik. A perfect location, and easier to get to than the Documentation Center of GDR Everyday Culture (Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR) on the Polish border.

The New York Times gives a favorable review, saying it focuses on items of everyday life but also the negative things that surrounded them. For example, there is a replica of a DDR apartment that is also bugged. (Visitors can hear the conversations thanks to the sensitive microphones placed).

I’m happy to hear the museum is taking the approach of displaying the everyday. This includes exhibitions on things like East Germany’s love for naked sunbathing, but also product and object biographies. Says the Times:

The museum’s display — 600 objects will be on view at any given time — maintains a balance between the political and the everyday. It portrays the Trabant, for example, the little car that was the epitome of East German consumerism, with a sort of wry affection. It was no Mercedes or BMW, surely, but the unpretentious and serviceable Trabant got people around in East Germany, and they appreciated it.

The red telephone sitting on a table in the living room comes with a recording: “You won’t believe it, but I have a telephone!” a man says, reflecting the fact that it often took a couple of years or longer for East Germans to get one.

The telephone example demonstrates the museum’s approach. When I was writing about Ostalgie (nostalgia for things East German), which was my thesis topic till this spring, it seemed the only fair way to stop fetishizing the GDR was to focus on the everyday, to explore the biographies of the objects without being judgmental, to do so in the voices of GDR residents.

I wish I were going to be in Berlin again soon. I spent six months researching GDR objects and design culture. It’s nice to see them in an open forum.