Germany on an Eastalgia Trip
April 2003

13 years after the Wall came down typical East German products and symbols are experiencing a boom. The former German Democratic Republic is thus also being drawn into the short-lived retro-trips appreciated by both nostalgic romantics and bold businessmen.
Retro has been in for years now. What has changed is the speed with which individual retro-revivals sweep across the country. Within just a short time-span trends in fashion, music, and design from the twenties to the eighties have rushed past once again. The periods between initial development of fashions and their revival are getting ever shorter. So the first GDR trip didn’t keep us waiting for long. 13 years after the Wall came down the demand for typical East German products and symbols is again astonishingly great.
Cinematic Resurrection of the GDR
The highpoint for the time being of this Eastalgia trip is the spectacular success of „Good Bye, Lenin“. In this film 21 year-old Alex resurrects the defunct GDR for his mother so as to spare this convinced socialist – who missed the fall of the Wall because she was in a coma – too much agitation and thus a second heart attack. The mother’s bedroom is once again filled with old GDR furniture, the wallpaper from the past returns to the prefabricated building, such former Eastern products as Mokka Fix Gold (a filter coffee) and Spreewald gherkins reappear, schoolboys are paid to slip into the role of Young Pioneers bellowing socialist songs, and so on.
This film obviously meets a contemporary need. But it would be mistaken to think that this Eastalgia trip is limited to former citizens of the GDR, pleased to recollect a life that was perhaps wiped out too quickly by reunification. The East is also a cult in the West.
A Run on Products from the East
The market in products from the East didn’t only start flourishing with „Good Bye, Lenin“. Halberstadt sausages, Soljanka, Agenta Chocolate Flakes, and Zetti Crunchy Flakes: the orders reaching , an internet supplier based in Saxony-Anhalt, are constantly mounting with 85 % from the former Federal Republic and around one customer in three a West German. By now Ossi shops in Stuttgart and Munich are also satisfying increasing demand for cult products.
The travelling exhibition „ABC of the East — Stories about 26 Objects“, organized by the Eisenhüttenstadt-based Documentation Centre for GDR Everyday Culture, very much accords with this trend. This presentation tells stories about everyday objects — from A for Alfi aluminium by way of Neue Juwel cigarettes to Zekiwa prams – reflecting various aspects of social and cultural history during the German Democratic Republic. These stories are often very similar to what observers themselves associate with the objects.
GDR Games
In the meantime a wide range of playful responses to the former GDR is also available. Everyone can test their knowledge of the Workers and Farmers State in the Ossi Quiz. Around 700 questions await enthusiastic visitors to the website. Anyone who gets three answers wrong is ejected from the game by a maliciously grinning Erich Honecker.
Nostalgia fanatics are well provided for in the already legendary „Berlin Prefabricated Concrete Buildings“ card game and the cut-out kits created by Celle architect Cord Woywodt. His cardboard models of GDR buildings are traded as „Faltplatte“. From January this year fans have also been able to deploy scissors and glue in building the Palast der Republik – alongside the WBS 70/11 domestic housing and the WHH GT 18/21 high-rise flats.
Just Like in the GDR?
Many business ideas have accumulated around the Eastalgia trip. In the federal capital there is a Trabant Safari every day, declared to be „Germany’s wittiest city tour“, and in the Oberschöneweide district Massine Productions GmbH are planning a GDR theme park. Unfriendly frontier officials, compulsory currency exchange, supermarkets with furniture, clothing, and food from the East, trips in a Trabant, and an allotment are meant to create a real mini-GDR. The people behind this venture – West Germans by the way – emphasize that they don’t want to create a GDR Disneyland. They’re looking for a genuine sense of East Germany. They may well be miscalculating …. Dagmar Giersberg