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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR: Into a Closed Society

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Le musée de la Kulturbrauerei rappelle également les objets de la vie quotidienne en RDA.

The Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR, located within a beautifully restored complex, is a must-visit due to its exceptional quality.

A Visit is a Highlight

During the German division era, East Berlin was the administrative and cultural hub of the German Democratic Republic. The city stood as a testament to modern and triumphant socialism, aiming to showcase the superiority of a collectivized, planned economy over the capitalist model.

Post World War II, the city turned into a massive field of architectural experimentation. New complexes adhered to realism codes, eventually favoring prefabricated buildings that were cost-effective, faster to construct, and above all, superior in quality. Functionalism was praised, often at the expense of formal beauty. However, these living quarters offered the working population an unprecedented level of comfort. Access to these residences was merit-based, assessing the docility of the candidates.

The regime's resistors and those considered unreliable were assigned to the city's deteriorated districts. These areas became the breeding ground for opposition circles. In Prenzlauer-Berg, a parallel society emerged, with distinct dressing, cultural, and social codes, as opposed to those glorified by the ruling party. Following reunification, this district was among the first to undergo sanitation work. The Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR opened its doors here in 2013.

The Intelligent Path: Navigating Through the Museum

The Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR hosts a permanent exhibition spread across several floors within a relatively large space. Each room houses an array of objects, photographs, and posters from the period. Additionally, a rich collection of audio and television material adds a dynamic touch to the vibrant museography.

The themes addressed follow the tried and tested narrative patterns in such exhibitions. East Germany's SED regime is portrayed as illegitimate, subservient to the Soviet Union, working against the will of the people, and demonstrating notorious incompetence.

While a historical reminder is necessary, it dominates the exhibition and guides the perception of the remaining sections. Themes like community life (culture, education, housing, consumption) appear less about individuals and more about the SED regime's omnipresence in everyday life. For instance, intimate relationships are primarily perceived as reclaimed spaces of freedom.

In conclusion, the exhibition's political saturation adds a certain heaviness, contrasting the dynamism of the exhibit. Everyday life in the GDR was indeed oriented and suffocated by a regime striving for absolute control.

A Museum of German History

Everyday life in a closed society can be depicted vibrantly without diluting the subject's seriousness. In this regard, the museum's museography is commendable as it encourages a fresh perspective of the GDR.

The East German question is revived and placed within a more global perspective, reaffirming a common national identity. The museum contributes to national reconciliation efforts, harmonizing the past and fostering more unifying present relations.

Beyond political contemplations, the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR remains a discovery hub and a crucial addition to any East Germany memorial visit. It's an excellent alternative to the more entertaining yet less informative GDR Museum. The only regret is that the exhibition appears minuscule compared to its colossal ambitions.

Reasons to Visit

  • Free admission and complimentary audio guide

  • A visually rich exhibition

  • A beautifully gentrified district with weekend activities

  • Understanding the issues surrounding German identity

Reasons to Skip

  • The usual political narrative, necessary but repetitive

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