Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

19th June 2012

DDR you having a laugh?
Posted by at 10.49pm | No responses | Out and About

DDR Museum EntranceAs mentioned previously, Andrew and I had a couple of hours to kill between buying our Fernsehturm ticket and actually being admitted to the tower.

Luckily, just around the corner is another attraction, the DDR Museum, dedicated to all things East German and packed with artefacts from the 51 year history of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. We dutifully rolled up at the entrance and paid our €6 entry fee.

Life in East Germany wasn’t exactly a bowl of Kirschen. Democracy was non-existent, the state infringed onto most aspects of people’s lives, the press was dominated by Government propaganda and the Stasi would round up anyone whose political attitudes were “incorrect”. Nevertheless, there is a certain level of rose-tinted “Ostalgia” for the old days. The DDR museum caters to that, although it doesn’t gloss over the less savoury aspects either.

DDR Museum InteriorThe museum was really busy. So busy, in fact, that it was difficult to get pictures – not only did the people crowding round the exhibits make it difficult to get a shot, I also started to feel a bit self-conscious pointing my camera and getting total strangers in the frame.

You’ll just have to take my word for it that there’s a Trabant car on display. This hopeless vehicle – produced for over 30 years without the design ever being refined into something approaching worthwhile – came to symbolise all that was wrong with the East German regime. While ordinary citizens struggled with these primitive machines, East German government officials were often ferried around in luxury western cars (an example of which is on display elsewhere in the museum). The phrase “some are more equal than others” seems appropriate.

DDR Museum Prison RecreationVisitors can feast their eyes on a replica East German prison cell. Next door, a Stasi interrogation chamber has also been accurately reconstructed. I didn’t get a photo, but a stream of tourists were queueing up to sit in the chair and pretend to be interrogated, while their grinning friends snapped away. It’s like the Disneyland version of a Communist dictatorship; to me it seemed a bit distasteful, but maybe I’m being too sensitive.

Other displays concentrated on daily life in the DDR; little details that add up to make a picture of life in the former country. For example, all East German men were required to do military service. Conscientious objection was possible but would make life difficult – anyone doing so would lose the chance to go to university and would be severely restricted in choice of careers.

I did like the reconstruction of a typical East German living room. The idea of a “typical” living room is somewhat daft, but in a Communist country with centralised planning and standardised designs, I imagine a lot of living rooms would look somewhat similar. The man on the TV screen reminded me of Granada Television’s in-vision continuity announcements of the late 1980s, for some reason.

DDR Museum Living Room Jeans in the DDR Museum

A pair of East German jeans was on display. Who would have thought that fashionable trousers would be a key front in the Cold War? Apparently, Levi 501s were a sought-after commodity in East Germany and there was a thriving black market. The East German authorities attempted to nip the problem in the bud by producing their own knock-off version. I felt the material: I can imagine it would have been like wearing a tea towel.

And sadly I can’t add any more to that, as we got our SMS alert from the Fernsehturm, informing us that our entry was due in the next 30 minutes. We had to make a hasty exit lest we miss our slot.

I feel like there is unfinished business at the DDR Museum. I think I’ll have to make a return visit there very soon! 🙂

Map of East Germany DDR Museum Gas Mask

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