Germany (5)

After taking the train to Alexanderplatz, we walked past the Fernsehturm (apparently one of the most famous structures in Berlin, along with the Brandenburger Tur). The Fernsehturm (TV Tower) is probably the tallest building in Berlin; we pointed it out to each other whenever we spotted it, which was often.

We walked around the area of Alexanderplatz and came across a statue of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx:

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You can see the Fernsehturm there as well, to the right behind Engels and some trees.

It was a little hard to figure out exactly where to go, because they use meters, and I don’t really know what 500 or 1000 of those look like. Eventually we wandered to Museumsinsel (museum island), figuring the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or east Germany) museum must be there. The island is a small patch of land almost shaped like a sock, and it’s between the Spree and the Spreekanal.

A part of me regrets not having visited the other museums on the island. I don’t think I took any pictures of the museums on the island either, but here’s the Berliner Dom:

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Finally, while walking along the Spree, we realized that the DDR museum wasn’t a big building like these others, but rather it was built under a bridge, well hid. Emily got us tickets and we walked in. The first thing that you come across is a car. Not just any car, but the Trabant, which was the car produced in the DDR for its citizens.

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Often people waited for years to get the Trabant that they ordered. You may recall the scene in Goodbye Lenin, where Alex and his sister are trying to get their hands on their mother’s money to exchange all their East German Marks for Deutsche Marks, and they tell her their car is ready to be picked up.

After that, the museum showed things from everyday life in the DDR, from going to the grocery store, to vacation, sports, school, and at the end there was a replica of an apartment (2 bedroom) as well. I had always assumed that conditions in the DDR were very bad, that most people were unhappy, living poorly, etc; however, was not the impression I got from the museum.

In the school room, what looked like a kindergarten classroom, there were toys all over the floor. At the register meant to represent a grocery stores checkout point, you could see that some things were hidden behind it, and a placard read that cashiers would hold items for their friends and family, and if you weren’t in the know you wouldn’t be given things like ketchup, toilet paper, pickles, etc. Above about fifteen or twenty pictures of people playing various sports, “Every person plays a sport” or something along those lines was written.

After going through all the exhibits about everyday life, right before getting to the apartment display, there were some government-centered displays. There was a replica prison cell and interrogation room. In the interrogation room a placard said to sit down at the table and put your hands over your ears and listen. I must not have done it right, because I didn’t hear anything.

Videos on screens showed the officials speaking in public and traveling to and from the state department offices. In another room there was the office of a spy, a member of the secret police, the Stasi. Though I haven’t seen this movie, you may recall The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), and what their work entailed. Basically, they were responsible for tapping phones and listening to conversations of people suspected of trying to either flee or incite rebellion.

I felt like a certain level of östalgie (a word combining the words öst [east] and nostalgie [nostalgia]) was present, given that much of the focus was on the positives and fairly little emphasized the negative aspects of the DDR. But I should also point out that I am not entirely familiar with what life was like in the DDR, seeing as I was born right before the wall fell and had never been to Germany before 2017, nearly 30 years after the Reunification of Germany (celebrations of Tag der Deutschen Einheit is generally agreed to take place on the anniversary of October 3, 1990).

Nonetheless, I can’t help but to think of a scene from the movie Sonnenallee as an indication that fear and intimidation were tools used by the east German government, neither of which weren’t focused on very much in the museum.

A friend of the protagonist’s family comes over and during dinner asks:

“Why do you have a flag for the republic?”

“Because my neighbor is a member of the party,” the father tells him.

“Why doesn’t he have a flag?”

“Because he’s a member of the party.”


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