The East Unplugged
Come with us on an expedition into the country that disappeared and find out how it really was.
East Germany was a country with very contrasting faces. Most people who experienced it say there was better social cohesion with colleagues or in the neighborhood. At the same time, a network of spies covered the whole country, at work, in clubs and sometimes even in families.
In the former East Germany (GDR), those who wore the symbols and fashions of the “American class enemy” soon drew the attention of state officials.
Blue jeans were damned by GDR propaganda. Jeans brought over by relatives from the West soon got cult status. In the end, East Germany built its own jeans production line, which buckled in 1978. To keep up with demand, the state imported one million Levis from the USA for Christmas, despite a shortage of foreign exchange.
It’s often said that the East was unproductive, yet they managed to provide every second Berlin household with state housing, for which tenants only had to pay a symbolic rent.
Many of the larger socialist memorials were demolished after Reunification, even the massive statue of Lenin once reaching 30 metres high. But one of them is still standing – Bulky old Ernst Thälmann, who was Chairperson of the Communist Party during the Weimar Republic, has survived in the park that still bears his name – they just switched off the floodlight that used to light him up at night.
The night sky and beyond. East Berlin’s Planetarium was opened in 1987. Its silver dome, with a width of 23 metres, is fitted with optical equipment from the Zeiss factories in the German city of Jena. 9,000 stars and countless cosmic phenomena can be projected onto this artificial sky.
Who doesn’t remember the Olympic medal count and the successful East German athletes? The Sport Forum in Hohenschönhausen was an elite academy for young sporting talent. Many great athletes were given all kinds of steroids, often without their knowledge, and are still suffering health complications as a result.
One square kilometer of Stasi Central Headquarters. The GDR State Security Services employed a total of 80,000 full-time staff. They also employed around 170,000 so-called “inofficial employees” who gathered information about their fellow citizens around the country.
The GDR’s Stasi prisons show the same cruel face as its state borders. People who were against the regime were held here and interrogated, kept in dark or permanently light cells, and psychologically worn down.
Culture and youth projects were highly valued in the GDR. Despite the limited resources available, theatre and opera houses kept large permanent companies. There was a Children’s Institute with a kid’s café and a great many youth clubs. Many of them are now considered financially unviable.
Almost everything consumed in East Germany had to be produced within the country of 17 million people. Since much of the necessary machinery wasn’t available, many products were made using old machines and a lot of improvisational talent.
There were great plans in the beginning. Palaces were to be built for the workers and indeed many apartment blocks on “Stalinallee” were built in decorative Soviet style and actually housed regular workers. Karl-Marx-Allee was the last of the grand boulevards of its kind to be built in Europe.
It soon became clear that this kind of building wouldn’t satisfy the great need for housing in the GDR. In the 60s high-rise apartments became popular. The idea and building technique came from France. Prefab concrete blocks were just put together on the building site.
This little virtual tour is not comparable to bike tour participation.