REVIEW: Exhibition of GDR artifacts in Rostock’s Cultural History Museum

Do I need this type of “Eastalgica”?

One would think that 28 years after the reunion of the two German states in October 1990 the sense of loss would weaken more and more. The artifacts of this particular time of the East German states could be put in a museum for today’s school classes who would view them as ancient history. But this is not what seems to happen.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I visited the Cultural History Museum of Rostock for the special exhibition: “From ATA to Central Committee – the everyday life of the GDR in objects”. This A to Z collection is located in the three-room section of the museum reserved for all temporary exhibitions, which tend to change about every five months.

The whole museum is free of charge for everyone, so you can imagine that this place is – especially on weekends – a popular spot. So I was walking around these room with parents with children trying to explain what is what, elderly people strolling down memory lane and just people who are generally interested and like the museum as a whole – like me.

Looking back at other exhibition in this museum I must say that I was quite confused at the start. When you walk up the stairs, you are welcomed by a huge poster covering almost the entire length of the right wall. Behind it the museum tries to incorporate new technology with an enormous touchscreen containing an encyclopedia of artifacts and terms of GDR life plus an interactive map of the GDR itself. There is no clue about where to begin or how the exhibition is organized, so I figured I would start clockwise and see if that made sense – which it didn’t in most cases. For example, the explanation of the exhibition and its purpose are placed to your far left going up the stairs towards the first glass showcases. I wonder why this is not where I start – but wait, maybe that is the start and nobody told me.

What I always love in museums are listening stations. Here they were set up (rather randomly) mostly with songs that refer to topic around them, and not all of them worked unfortunately. But the first one did work and I got transported back to my early childhood listening to songs of the cute little goblin “Pittiplatsch” and “Mr. Fox and Mrs. Magpie”. That is where the exhibition started – at least for me.

The first room deals with childhood, school, family and living conditions in the GDR. For me, it is always confusing to imagine that our old prefabricated buildings of Lütten Klein, Schmarl, or Dierkow were the apartments people wanted to live in if they had the choice. Nowadays it is extremely popular to have an apartment in old buildings constructed at the beginning of the 20th century with their high ceilings and lofty feel. But back then such houses where run-down and shabby. Why? Because the GDR regime didn’t think them worth restoring, in addition to the fact that the money and appliance shortage almost everywhere hindered the work. The second and third room went from sports, work and holidays over to household appliances and finally the “Stasi” – the secret police of that so-called democratic republic. In household section, I was shocked to see that a normal unspectacular fridge cost 1400 GDR Mark. Nowadays that would amount to approximately 358€ – that doesn’t sound too bad but imagine that a couple working full time had together about 350€ every month, this fridge cost a fortune – hence my shock. The second shock was the little room reserved for the “Stasi,” who had such an impact on everyday live which can hardly be imagined today. They received one half of the showcase, with a text and a red telephone – that is it.

I can’t say that I found a highlight this time. With other exhibitions in the Cultural History Museum it felt different – more loving, more detailed and not rushed. I was missing English subtitles in the showcases, there was nothing to tryout or feel since all objects are kept behind glass; I am still confused that for a wheelchair or a stroller it is difficult to get into the museum itself and into the exhibition rooms.

 

What is left is a weird feeling of “Eastalgica,” which I would have expected from older people, and disappointment about how the exhibition is put together. I can’t say that I am missing anything or that is has too much of something, but it all doesn’t seem quite right and applicable. It would have been nice to try out some of the objects or to have a more intimate view on the topics, but I guess that is exactly what the majority of Ex-GDR habitants feel: confusion, a lack of something that they can’t quite put into words and as a result a nostalgic feeling that is also not quite appropriate.

Nonetheless I love the building of the Holy Cross Cistercian convent, where the museum has been located since 2011. From every window you look into the beautiful courtyard and it has a feel of tranquility for me that only a few places in Rostock still have.

So maybe you are not so interested in this particular exhibition, which is on show till the 5th of March this year, but take a look once in a while for there maybe something more interesting for you. In any case I highly recommend the museum, for it contains Rostocks and Mecklenburg-Western Pomeranian culture and history in wonderful objects – in the permanent collection you will even find English subtitles.

Overall this your review is quite compelling. I liked how you constructed yourself as a reviewer. Please look through the minor corrections I made. They may help you eliminate other such errors in the future.

  • A.H.

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