Travel back in time to East Germany in replica of a typical GDR flat

2 mins read
  • Cupboards, wallpaper, crockery: Down to the last detail, this is what a kitchen in a GDR flat often looked like. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa
  • Old beers, spirits and tinned vegetables are hidden by a curtain in a replica kitchen of an old East German flat. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa
  • In the children's room of the museum flat you'll find a remote-controlled model police car. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa
  • Furnishings in GDR living rooms were notoriosly bulky. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa
  • The taste in colour for bathroom furnishings has come a long way in Germany since the 1980s. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa

Those who grew up in the German Democratic Republic might wonder if they just travelled back in time after stepping over the threshold.

The table is set just like it might have been in many an Eastern German household, complete with a package of butter in the original wrapping. It’s the year 1983, according to the calendar on the cupboard door.

A museum in the German town of Auerbach, some 300 kilometres east of Frankfurt and located in what used to be the GDR until reunification in 1990, has replicated a typical East German flat down to the smallest details, allowing visitors to experience the flair, and frugality, of the time.

The lifestyle in the former GDR (DDR in German) differed greatly from that in what was then West Germany, due to the strict rules imposed by the communist regime which heavily regulated consumption.

With Western products mostly unavailable, and a limited product range of GDR brands on offer, many apartments were furnished in a very similar style.

In the replicated flat in the Auerbach museum, the original furniture is filled with authentic paraphernalia, from tableware to toys, and the shelves are decorated with figurines which many a visitor who experienced the time first-hand may fondly remember.

A look through the “windows” affords a view of huge square-shaped residential complexes known as Plattenbau in Germany, which were constructed on a large scale in the former GDR to provide affordable housing. They still shape the landscape of many eastern cities today, including parts of Berlin.

The exhibit has been made possible thanks to the collection by Roland Schmidt, former director of the Auerbach housing cooperative. “The objects are part of German cultural heritage,” Schmidt, who now enjoys retirement, says. “Younger people should see how we used to live back than,” he adds, explaining what motivated him to make his personal collection available to the museum.

He began accumulating it more than 30 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall – a time when many former GDR citizens wanted to get rid of things reminding them of the communist era and the hardships they endured under the regime.

Schmidt kept his finds in an empty flat of the housing cooperative. “Many people gifted me things, other stuff I got from the flea market,” he recalls.

The replicated flat in the museum covers a total area of 120 square metres. “Even the bathroom was rebuilt, with original light switches,” says Schmidt.

The exhibit brings back to life the 1980s of his youth, he says.

Across what used to be East Germany, there are now many museums dedicated to life in the GDR, for example Berlin’s DDR Museum. The commercially run museum, which is located on a quayside close to Berlin’s main state museums at the city centre, has lots of interactive displays showing how people experienced the Big Brother period, when they were not even allowed to travel abroad.

Away from the German capital, however, exhibits in smaller cities are struggling to keep things going, according to Conny Kaden, head of the DDR museum in Pirna, near Dresden.

east germany
Furnishings in GDR living rooms were notoriosly bulky. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa

The museum is the biggest of its kind in the eastern state of Saxony, but other extensive collections have been dissolved over the past years, Kaden explains, adding that this is often due to a lack of suitable spaces.

A lack of interest isn’t the issue, he says. “People like to remember the details. They often praise the little things they know from their former everyday life.”

In the privately-run museum in Pirna, some 2,00-squaremetres are dedicated to life in the former GDR, including a reconstructed maternity ward, a kindergarten and a school.

Kaden says he felt sorry when big piles of junk started appearing on the streets following reunification in the early 1990s, with discarded objects from a time gone by. “That’s when I started collecting.” © dpa

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