Ostalgie

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

In German culture, Ostalgie (German: [ˌʔɔstalˈɡiː]) is nostalgia for aspects of life in Communist East Germany. It is a portmanteau of the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia). Its anglicised equivalent, ostalgia (rhyming with "nostalgia"), is also sometimes used.

The term was coined by the East German standup comic Uwe Steimle [de] in 1992.[1] Social scientist Thomas Ahbe argues that the term ‘ostalgia’ is often misunderstood as a lack of willingness to integrate, an uproar to reverse German reunification and reinstate the GDR.[2] However, Ostalgia is rather an integration strategy used by East Germans who wanted to retain their own original experiences, memories and values incompatible with those of the West German majority.

As with other cases of Communist nostalgia, there are various motivations, whether ideology, nationalism, wistfulness for a lost sense of social status or stability, or even aesthetics or irony.

History[edit]

Ostalgie is a complex term that should not be described as a simple emotion of nostalgia. As Ostalgie relates back to the history of the Cold War, it is better to examine this term in the context of history and current influence in Western society; in doing so, the meaning of this term becomes clearer.

The division of Germany into East and West for over 35 years engendered the formation of distinct identities between the two regions. Despite their shared language and history, the capitalist FRG and socialist GDR differed in many obvious political, economic and cultural respects; thus, their respective societies cultivated cultural identities distinct to each region. These pre-existing differences were then exposed during and after the reunification process.[3]

Impact[edit]

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the following German reunification a year later, many of the symbols of the German Democratic Republic were swept away. The process of unification gave rise to feelings of resentment and nostalgia amongst former GDR citizens. They felt short-changed by a unification process which they equated to a colonial take over.[4] One particular focus of Ostalgie centred around unemployment. Officially, unemployment had not existed in the GDR, but this employment security disappeared with reunification and unemployment became endemic at around 20% of the workforce.[5] The social security provided by the work place in the GDR was a great focus of Ostalgia. Kolinsky presents reunification as characterised by Easterner’s disaffection.[6] The mass experience of unemployment emerged as a key tenet of a re-forged East German identity based on the collective experience of employment-loss and the perceived economic destruction of their region. Subsequently, many constructed a retrospective image of the GDR as a stable and caring environment. Unification was felt to have been to their disadvantage and to have isolated them as second-class citizens.

Reunification presented a particular challenge to women. This was particularly true for working women who had enjoyed organised healthcare and equal pay as a gift from the state in the GDR and who faced the greatest unemployment post-Wende. Approximately 70% of East German women lost their job after 1990. Women were laid off faster than men, as well as suffering the consequences of the collapse of state-run childcare facilities and traditional ideals of female domesticity and consumerism were reinvoked, having been challenged by the state in the GDR.[7]

Ostalgie was also felt for commodities of the GDR. Almost all GDR brands (DDR in German) of products disappeared from the stores and were replaced by Western products. However, after some time many Eastern Germans began to miss certain aspects of their former lives (like culture or the known brand marks). Ostalgie particularly refers to the nostalgia for aspects of regular daily life and culture in the former GDR, which disappeared after reunification.[8]

An Ost-Ampelmännchen crosswalk light
Old Trabants still can be found on streets (2014 in Hungary)

Commercialisation[edit]

Ostalgie is expressed in present day Germany through commodities and products reminiscent of the East-German era.[9]

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. Available again are brands of East German food, old state television programmes on video tape and DVD, and the once widespread Wartburg and Trabant cars.

Another example of commercially memorialising East Germany would be the musealization of Halle-Neustadt. Halle-Neustadt, a city constructed by the East German Government, is now a kind of living museum for East German memory. But more than the meaning of living museum, tourism in Halle-Neustadt is evidence of commercialisation of Ostalgie. In this case, musealization of Ostalgie is somehow connected with a consumerist attitude. Ostalgie in this sense is not a realistic or pragmatic term. It is the artifacts, rather than the social life of East Germany that plays the main role in this commercialization. If the social life of East Germany is more complex than artifacts and symbols, it would be fair to say that musealization of Ostalgie in Halle-Neustadt creates a stereotype of East German life. That is to say, reflection of Ostalgie in Halle-Neustadt should not be considered as an accurate representation of East Germany.[10]

Popular culture[edit]

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)[11] in crosswalk lights.[12] 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.

Life in the GDR has also 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).

Arguments[edit]

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 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".[13]

However, there are also arguments for the actual meaning of this term. The question is if Ostalgie is the expression of nostalgia of former residents of East Germany, or a fantasy created by West Germans? Some might argue that popularity of East German brands and products is a phenomenon resulting from former East German's yearning for getting lost things back. In this discourse, former East Germans are thought be kidding themselves by believing a sort of Utopia in the past.[14] And on the other hand from Boyer's perspective, Ostalgie is more like a fantasy created by West Germans; a Westalgie. He argues against the common accepted idea of Ostalgie through analysis of multiple dimensions of public culture and discussion of German history.

Ostalgie as "West-algie"[edit]

According to Dominic Boyer, the concept of nostalgia has been described for several centuries. Nostalgia is connected with nationalism; longing for the former homeland generates love for everything associated with it. This evokes negative feelings toward "foreign" products, customs or cultural influences. Boyer says that ostalgie is more than East German nostalgia, examining nostalgia in the context of the Second World War and Vergangenheitsbelastung ("the burden of the past"). The division of East and West Germany was not punishment for Germany's war crimes. Nazi Germany has made the German postwar generation shameful and anxious about its past. West and East Germany claimed that the other side was more "German", and more responsible for war crimes; this created a symbiotic relationship, which was eliminated by German reunification.

According to Boyer, West German opinion dominates the discourse about the West-East relationship and refuses to take the opinions of former East German members seriously. Although former East Germans fantasize about aspects of the GDR, but none would want to return to the actual GDR. Boyer writes that ostalgie has created a "no-place" East Germany, which is only "realistic" from a West German perspective. The East German perspective (despite its individual history, policy, structure, way of life, and outlook) is invalid, and unable to challenge the "Western" image of East Germany.[15] Enns Anthony wrote that understanding ostalgie should go "beyond the simple question of whose representation of the GDR is more valid or authentic"; what matters is the actual situation of former residents of the GDR.[16]

See also[edit]

Books and games[edit]

  • Banchelli, Eva: Taste the East: Linguaggi e forme dell'Ostalgie, Sestante Edizioni, Bergamo 2006, ISBN 88-87445-92-3.
  • Banchelli, Eva: Ostalgie: eine vorläufige Bilanz, in Fabrizio Cambi (Hg.): Gedächtnis und Identitat. Die deutsche Literatur der Wiedervereinigung, Würzburg, Koenigshausen & Neumann, 2008, pp. 57–68.
  • Berdahl, Daphne: On the Social Life of Postsocialism: Memory, Consumption, Germany (2009)
  • Rota, Andrea: Testi pubblicitari ostalgici: una breve analisi semiotica, In Linguistica e filologia 24/2007, pp. 137–152, ISSN|1594–6517.
  • Pence, Katherine and Paul Betts. Socialist Modern: East German Everyday Culture and Politics, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008
  • "Ostalgie" (2018) - the video-game, where the playground is East Germany during the late Perestroika and the dissolution of Warsaw Pact.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ostalgiker Uwe Steimle bezeichnet sich als Kleinbürger". Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). 12 October 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  2. ^ Thomas Ahbe, Ostalgie: Zum Umgang mit der DDER-Vergangenheit in den 1990er Jahren. Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen, Erfurt 2005 (P.66)
  3. ^ Mary Fulbrook, Ossis and Wessis: the creation of two German societies, German History since 1800 (p.411-431), John Breuilly, Arnold, London
  4. ^ L. Montada and A. Dieter, ‘Gewinn- und Verlusterfahrungen in den neuen Bundesländern: Nicht die Kaufkraft der Einkommen, sondern politische Bewertungen sind entscheidend’, in Schmitt and Montada (eds.), Gerechtigkeitserleben, pp.19–44.
  5. ^ Eva Kolinsky (2001) Party Governance, Political Culture and the Transformation of Germany since 1990, German Politics, 10:2, p.176
  6. ^ Eva Kolinsky (2001) Party Governance, Political Culture and the Transformation of Germany since 1990, German Politics, 10:2, p.169-183
  7. ^ Mary Fulbrook, The People's State p.172
  8. ^ Berdahl, Daphne (1999), Ostalgie for the Present: Memory, Longing and East German Things, in Ethnos (pdf)
  9. ^ Anonymous, More than "Ostalgie"-East German-era Goods Also a Hit in the West, German Business Review, Transatlantic Euro-American Multimedia LLC, Aug 2007, Portsmouth
  10. ^ Gwyneth Cliver, Ostalgie Revisited: The Musealization of Halle-Neustadt, German Studies Review (p.615-636), The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, All rights of this source reserved to German Studies Review
  11. ^ "East Germany's iconic traffic man turns 50". The Local. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism", by Julia Bonstein, Spiegel Online, July 3, 2009 (retrieved June 26, 2019)
  14. ^ The Economist, Business: Ostalgie; East German products, The Economist, The Economist Intelligence Unit N.A., Incorporated, Sep 13 2003, London
  15. ^ Dominic Boyer, Ostalgie and the Politics of the Future in Eastern Germany, (pp. 361-381) Duke University Press, NC&IL, 2006.
  16. ^ Enns Anthony, The politics of Ostalgie: post-socialist nostalgia in recent German film (pp. 475-491). Oxford University Press, 2007.
  17. ^ Wiebrecht V., Skuppin, R. (2005) in Tagesspiegel. Aus der Mode, aus dem Sinn Das Einkaufsnetz (in German). (Accessed: 4 December 2016)
  18. ^ Keseling, Uta (2010). Der Stoff, aus dem die DDR war, kehrt zurück in Berliner Morgenpost (in German).(Accessed: 4 December 2016)

External links[edit]