October 14, 2003


Germans nostalgic for communist life (Daily Times, 10/15/2003)

A third of people in eastern Germany regret that so much of daily life under their former communist regime has all but disappeared since the country was reunified, according to a survey. The poll found that a wave of nostalgia for the old days, highlighted by a series of recent films and television shows, is based on some reality.

The summer’s cinema hit Goodbye, Lenin, which poignantly recalls life in the German Democratic Republic - has been followed up by a string of TV programmes celebrating the fashions, food and everyday hassles that characterised life in the eastern part of the country, which was a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1989.

The latest, fronted by GDR golden girl Katarina Witt - a former Olympic ice skating champion, was watched on Wednesday night by some 6.5 million people.

Conservatives--lovers of freedom--make a terrible mistake when they underestimate the genuine attraction that security holds for people. Given their druthers, many, maybe even most, people would gladly trade their freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 14, 2003 7:29 PM

This is more due to nostalgia than anything else. Even in the US it's Eighties mania with young adults with new comics and toys coming out based on GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, and others.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 14, 2003 8:28 PM


You see no difference?

Posted by: oj at October 14, 2003 8:40 PM

There is a difference between buying the Optimus Prime figure you couldn't get when you were eight and being nostalgic for life under totalitarianism.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 15, 2003 4:31 AM

It would be interesting to see how the folks in religious Poland next door are feeling about this these days.

If one is a strict secularist who believes political truth is entirely a matter of personal choice, it is hard to see how freedom vs. totalitarianism is, in the end, any more than a matter of personal taste. The matter is much clearer to those who believe we are here for a reason not of our making.

Posted by: Peter B at October 15, 2003 5:53 AM

This does not have to do with any nostalgia for totalitarianism. There is a disassociation between items uniquely found in the old East Germany and the political system it was under.

After reunification, the east adopted everything whoelsale from the west - the form of government, marketed products, music, and other pop culture. Later, when the west Germans started appearing more condescending towards the Ossis, a backlash started.

Sometimes you'll see slogans like "Bringt die Mauer zuruck" which means "Bring Back the Wall." That does not mean east Germans wanted the Berlin Wall back or preferred life under communism. What it reflects is a dissatisfaction with the way westerners have treated easterners.

This ostalgia craze is simply a way of rebuking the west Germans by asserting their own identity - and they do that by bringing back the names and icons of their youth. So it is no different than wanting Optimus Prime at your desk at home.

You may not find such nostalgia in Poland, Hungary, or elsewhere, but that's because there weren't any western Poles or western Hungarians who took over the rest of the country. There's no element of social backlash so there's no nostalgia, and besides they still have the names of the companies, cookies, shampoos, etc of their home grown companies still on their market shelves. The presence of those on the shelves now doesn't mean Poland and Hungary want to go back to communism, and neither does the desire of east Germans to see similar products on their shelves.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 15, 2003 1:47 PM

Like I said, the particular blindness of conservatives is an inability to comprehend the attractiveness of security and the fear of freedom of a significant proportion of the populace.

Posted by: OJ at October 15, 2003 2:33 PM

You seem to be trying to have it both ways.

On the one hand, nowhere are you more likely to be dragged from your bed and shot in the back of the neck; and on the other, you cherish the security.

Since they're Germans, I'd be inclined to say they miss the uniforms and regimentation and let it go at that.

Move over to Iraq, and maybe the liberty-security conundrum has more force.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 15, 2003 6:14 PM

OJ, I don't think you understand my point, so I'll make it clearer. This ostalgia has nothing to do with a desire for "security." It is an issue of style, marketing, that affirms the identity of former east Germans - identities that was marked by their experience under communism, but not in favor of communism.

For example, let's say there was a breakfast cereal called Karl Marx Pops in the former East Germany. Everyone who lived there remembers having to eat it for breakfast. Then the wall came down and West Germany took over. No more Karl Marx Pops. Now years later, these former east Germans say to one another, "Hey, remember when we used to eat Karl Marx Pops?"

That's the equivalent to saying, "Wow, remember when we were eight and played Transformers?"

We don't read political statements in the 80's Retro wave here in the states, and there's no reason to do it for the Ossies.

All this nostalgia is simply saying, "Let's remember who we were, we weren't west Germans, we had a different childhood."

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 15, 2003 7:16 PM

Plus, in a world of wide communication, you can be nostalgic (enough to spend money) for things you never experienced.

Like the Nazi-wear that was being peddled in Hong Kong last month. There was an outcry, and the stuff was taken down.

No link, but I hear it's back up, but now with Stars of David added. Go figure.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 15, 2003 9:55 PM

In Russia they have a saying: Things were better when they were worse.

The nostalgia is not just for accoutrements, but for the certainty of life.

Posted by: oj at October 16, 2003 12:27 AM

My point exactly. The whole frisson about Stalinism was the uncertainty, because you never knew when they would come for you.

If Beria wasn't secure, who was? If nobody was, how can you contrast the comfort of security to the discomfort of liberty?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 16, 2003 4:05 PM

If you kept your mouth shut and did what you were told (pretend to work, pretend you're being paid) stand in line without complaining while watching your sons get shipped off to the military, you were perfectly secure. The life expectancy for the Stalinist nomenklatura was probably fairly short, but the benefits were great.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 18, 2003 7:00 PM