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DDR-Museum Opens in Berlin

1957 East German telephone, image by DDR-Museum BerlinLast month, I reviewed Wolfgang Becker's film Good Bye, Lenin! (DVD: Good Bye, Lenin!, June 23), about a son's attempt to recreate life in Communist East Germany for his mother, who had fallen into a coma before the Berlin Wall was torn down and was revived after German reunification. How can the rest of us go back in time to experience life in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik? Visit a new museum, that's how, as I learned in an article (New Berlin Museum Portrays Daily Life in Communist East Germany, July 14) by Catherine Hickley for Bloomberg News:

A museum portraying daily life in Communist East Germany opens in Berlin tomorrow, giving visitors a chance to sit in a Trabant car, poke around a standard-issue fitted kitchen and experience secret-police surveillance. The privately financed DDR Museum, the German acronym for the German Democratic Republic, aims to document a way of life that disappeared with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. [...]

The curators called on East Germans to comb through their cellars for relics for the museum's exhibition. They assembled about 10,000 objects, of which only a small percentage are on display. The hardest exhibits to find were photographs and personal documents, such as school reports, Rueckel said. "Furniture is the easiest," he said. "People don't throw it away. The easiest of all are typewriters: if you need an Erika typewriter, we have hundreds of them. Washing powder was also easy to find. People keep funny things. Even stewed apples in a jar -- cans of food that one wouldn't want to open."

The museum's founders say that it isn't intended as a shrine to the Communist way of life and that they also cover the negative aspects of East Germany in their exhibition. "This is not a nostalgia trip," Stefan Wolle, a historian who grew up in East Germany and is responsible for the content of the museum, told reporters in Berlin. "This is no idealization, no Disneyland GDR. There are plenty of things here to provoke thought, as well as things to make you smile."
The DDR-Museum Berlin opens today. (As it turns out, there was already a DDR-Museum in Amsterdam.) It's a shame that Germany could not have preserved and restored the Palast der Republik in East Berlin to house this sort of museum to the Communist past, along with the modern art collective that had taken up residence there. Not to glorify that past but to keep some part of it alive for cultural memory.

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