Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, almost all symbols of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR in German) have been removed. Regardless of the fact that former inhabitants of the DDR now live in a predominantly free-market economy, many still prefer to purchase household items that remind them of life in the old republic.

This socio-economic and sociocultural phenomenon is known in Germany as Ostalgie; it is a portmanteau that describes nostalgia for East Germany combining the German words Nostalgie meaning ‘nostalgia’ and Ost meaning ‘east’.

‘Now some people are longing for the old hermit’s cell like a childhood treehouse. That’s harmless; West Germans find it horrifying, East Germans find it touching.’ – Christoph Dieckmann (10 December 1993) “Der Schnee von gestern”, Die Zeit

‘The archival practices of collection and display can have a similar, if unintended, implication. Imagine what it must be like for many eastern Germans to walk into a museum and be surrounded by the things in their own living rooms. The effect of such historicizations of the present is uncanny (in the sense of a ‘strangeness of that which is most familiar’ [Ivy 1995:23]); The past is connected to the present by distancing it in space and time. […]

‘Ostalgic’ practices reveal a highly complicated relationship between personal histories, disadvantage, dispossession, the betrayal of promises, and the social worlds of production and consumption. These practices thus not only reflect and constitute important identity transformations in a period of intense social discord, but also reveal the politics, ambiguities, and paradoxes of memory, nostalgia, and resistance, all of which are linked to the paths, diversions, and multiple meanings of East German things.’

– Berdahl, Daphne (1999) ‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things, Ethnos, 64: 2, 192—211

Bureaucracy and Suicide in the DDR

‘The statistics office on Hans Beimler Street counts everything, knows everything. How many shoes I buy a year: 2,3. How many books I read a year: 3,2. And how many pupils graduate with straight A’s every year: 6347. But there is one thing they don’t count, maybe because even bureaucrats find it painful, and that’s suicides[1]. If you call Beimler Street to ask how many people between the Elbe and the Oder, between the Baltic Sea and the Ore Mountains have been driven to their death by despair, our numbers oracle is silent. But it may just note your name for State Security… Those grey men who ensure safety in our land… and happiness.

In 1977, our country stopped counting suicides[2]. They called them ‘self-murderers’. But it has nothing to do with murder. It knows no bloodlust, no heated passion, it knows only death, the death of all hope. When we stopped counting, only one country in Europe drove more people to their death: Hungary. We came next, the land of Real Existing Socialism.’

– Translated from Wiedemann. M. et al. (Producer), Henckel von Donnersmarck. F. (Director). (2006). Das Leben Der Anderen [Motion Picture]. Germany: Buena Vista International

[1] Freitoden, from the singular Freitod, a euphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “free death”.

[2] Selbstmorden, from the singular Selbstmord, a dysphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “self murder”.