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GDR T-shirts, for sale in Berlin in 2004
GDR Memorabilia for sale in Berlin in 2006

Ostalgie is a German term referring to nostalgia for aspects of life in East Germany. It is derived from the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).

The term Ostalgie (along with the phrase Soviet chic) is also occasionally used to refer to nostalgia for life under the socialist system in other former communist countries of Eastern Europe, most notably Poland and the Soviet Union.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German reunification that followed a year later, many of the symbols of the German Democratic Republic were swept away. Almost all GDR brands (DDR in German) of products disappeared from the stores and were replaced by Western products. However, with the passing of time some East Germans began to feel nostalgia for certain aspects of their lives in East Germany. Ostalgie particularly refers to the nostalgia for aspects of regular daily life and culture in the former GDR, which disappeared after reunification.[1]

Next to nostalgia for everyday aspects of life, 'Ostalgie' was also inspired by the absence of unemployment and poverty in the GDR. Indeed, ostalgie could be inspired by the longing of the Ossis (German for "Easterners", a term for former GDR citizens) for the social system and the sense of community of the GDR. When the renowned West-German magazine Der Spiegel asked former GDR-inhabitants whether the GDR "had more good sides than bad sides", 57% of them answered yes. To the statement of the interviewing journalist that "GDR inhabitants did not have the freedom to travel wherever they wanted", Germans replied that "present-day low-wage workers do not have that freedom either".[2]

The term was coined by the East German cabaret artist Uwe Steimle (de) in 1992.[citation needed]


An Ost-Ampelmännchen crosswalk light

Many businesses in Germany cater to those who feel Ostalgie and have begun providing them with artifacts that remind them of life under the GDR; artifacts that imitate the old ones. Now available are formerly defunct brands of East German foodstuffs, old state television programmes on video tape and DVD, and the previously widespread Wartburg and Trabant cars. In addition, life in the GDR has been the subject of several films, including Leander Haußmann's Sonnenallee (1999), Wolfgang Becker's internationally successful Good Bye Lenin! (2003), Carsten Fiebeler's Kleinruppin forever (2004).

Those seeking the preservation of East German culture banded together to save the "Eastern Crosswalk Man" (Ost-Ampelmännchen), an illuminated depiction of a man wearing a "perky", "cheerful" and potentially "petit bourgeois" hat (inspired by a summer photo of Erich Honecker in a straw hat)[3] in crosswalk lights.[4] Many German cities in and near the former East German border, including Berlin, Lübeck and Erfurt, still retain the use of the Ampelmännchen at all or some pedestrian crossings due to its cultural relevance, and many souvenirs sold in East Germany and in Berlin make use of the icon.

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  1. ^ See, for instance Daphne Berdahl, "Ostalgie for the Present: Memory, Longing and East German Things" Ethnos, 1999
  2. ^ Julia Bonstein, "Homesick for a Dictatorship", in: Der Spiegel, 27/2009
  3. ^ "East Germany's iconic traffic man turns 50". The Local. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Williams, Carol J. (April 28, 1999), "Quaint Crosswalk Symbol Starts a German Movement", Los Angeles Times, He's dorky and thought a bit sexist, but 'Ossie' endures as a sign that not all things East should go kaput. 

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