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Geheimtipp Berlin

Everyday Life in the GDR

My friend Dirk is travelling to Berlin next month and he has, like myself, an interest in the history of East Germany. Of course he will visit the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Stasi Museum, but what to do when it comes to everyday life in the German Democratic Republic? There is of course the popular, well-advertised DDR Museum close to the Museum Island, but thanks to its central location in Berlin’s tourist epicentre it can get rather crowded, and — it’s a commercial enterprise — family tickets are quite expensive. I found the Museum in the Kulturbrauerei at the Prenzlauer Berg district therefore the better place to see ‘the better Germany’. The permanent exhibition on everyday life in the GDR is excellent, the accompanying audio guide is available in five languages, and admission is free.

The exhibition on everyday life in the GDR at the Museum in the Kulturbrauerei
The exhibition on everyday life in the GDR at the Kulturbrauerei

For me, the defining object here at the museum to represent the communist era is a propaganda poster designed by Klaus Lemke in 1979 on the occasion of the 30th birthday of the GDR. It shows a satisfied-looking worker photographed by Volker Hedemann and just one line of text: ‘Die DDR mein Staat’ — ‘The GDR, my state’. (Personally, I never think of the Netherlands in terms of ‘my kingdom’.) This is how a dictatorship works: it wants the state and its ideology to play a central role in the personal lives and the hearts & minds of its citizens. At the Kulturbrauerei you can see how the communist regime in East Germany tried to achieve this during the 1970s and 1980s.

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For those interested in East German history, there are two more places in Berlin that could be considered worth a visit: the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, which served as the Stasi’s remand prison, and the Palace of Tears, the former border checkpoint at Friedrichstraße Station.