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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Museum of the Everyday life in the GDR: The society of lack?

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

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

The Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR is located in a beautifully restored complex. Its high quality makes it well worth a visit.

The GDR Museum of Everyday Life is a highlight.

At the time of the German division, East Berlin was both the administrative and cultural centre of the German Democratic Republic. The city was the showcase of a socialism that was intended to be modern and triumphant. In any case, it was to show the superiority of the collectivised and planned economy over the capitalist model.

After the Second World War, the city was a vast field of architectural experimentation. The new complexes followed the codes of realism and then favoured prefabricated buildings, which were cheaper, quicker to build and, above all, of much better quality. Functionalism was put on a pedestal, generally to the detriment of formal beauty. However, they offered the working population an unprecedented level of living comfort. The only condition was that access to these dwellings was based on the merit and docility of the candidates.

Those who were resistant to the regime and those considered unreliable were housed in the last dilapidated districts of the city. It was in these dilapidated areas that the opposition circles organised themselves. In Prenzlauer-Berg, a parallel society emerged with different dress, cultural and social codes than those glorified by the ruling party. After the reunification, it was one of the first districts to benefit from sanitation work. In 2013, the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR was opened.

An intelligent path

In the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR, a permanent exhibition is spread over several floors of a relatively large space. Each room is full of objects, photographs and posters from the period. In addition, there is a lot of audio and television material. The result is a colourful and dynamic museography.

The themes addressed do not go off the beaten track. They reproduce the narrative patterns already tried and tested in this type of exhibition. The SED regime in East Germany is presented as illegitimate, subservient to the Soviet Union, working against the will of the people and demonstrating notorious incompetence.

Although necessary, the historical reminder takes up a disproportionate amount of space and above all guides the perception of the rest of the exhibition. The themes of community life (culture, education, housing, consumption) are less about individuals than about the omnipresence of the SED regime in everyday life. For example, intimate relationships are perceived primarily as spaces of freedom created or regained.

In the end, the excess of politics in the exhibition creates a certain heaviness. This painful feeling contrasts with the dynamism of the exhibition. Everyday life in the GDR was indeed oriented and suffocated by a regime that wanted to control everything.

A museum of German history

Everyday life in a closed society can be depicted in colour, without the seriousness of the subject being watered down. In this respect, the museography is excellent, as it invites us to rethink the GDR from a very interesting angle.

The East German question is brought up to date and placed in a more global perspective: the affirmation of a common national identity. The museum is a contribution to the work of national reconciliation. The aim is to harmonise the past and make present relations more unifying.

Beyond the political reflections, the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR remains a place of discovery and an essential addition to any visit to the memorials on East Germany. It is also an excellent alternative to the GDR Museum, which is more entertaining but less informative. In the end, one can only regret that the exhibition seems so small in comparison with its enormous ambitions.

Reasons to go

  • Free admission and free audio guide

  • A visually rich exhibition

  • A beautifully gentrified district with weekend activities

  • Understanding the issues surrounding German identity

Reasons to avoid

  • The usual political narrative, necessary but repetitive

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