The promise: "Chemistry brings bread, wealth and beauty". Protocol of the "Chemiekonferenz" of 1958 in Leuna
Tableware made of melamine, manufacured by Isopress Rottenbach, 1960s
The "Centrum" mail-order catalogue promotes the plastic world of melamine, polystyrene und polyethylene as an expression of modern life-style.

All made of plastics. Promise and use in the GDR

May 20, 2012 - DEC 31, 2013

Exhibition catalogue

Things made of plastics, called “Plaste” in the GDR, belong to the basic equipment of our daily life. They are casual companions of daily routines that we do not care as long as they fulfill their purpose.

In the GDR plastics changed from a wartime “Ersatz” material to the stuff that dreams were made of. They promised modernity under socialist auspices. During the Conference on Chemistry (Chemiekonferenz) of 1958 the development of the chemical industry was proposed under the slogan “Chemistry will bring bread, wealth and beauty” (Chemie bringt Brot, Wohlstand, Schönheit). Plastics and artificial fibre production were to be developed, the chemical industry would change their necessary raw materials from lignite coal to oil which was to be imported from the Soviet Union through the newly erected “Friendship” pipeline.

This program of modernization was followed by an almost revolutionary change in household goods. Early materials like bakelite, hard fibre, celluloid and polyvenyl chloride (PVC) were replaced by modern and colorful plastomeres like polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene and pulyurethane as well as artificial fibres like nylon. Their everyday appearance provided numerous new articles and changing daily routines and its customization evoked enthusiasm as it caused disappointment about these uniform mass products. In the exhibition, all differents plastic materials available in the GDR are presented by their most prominent products.

Between 1958 and 1960 industrial designers from the Burg Giebichenstein art school (Hochschule für industrielle Formgestaltung) at Halle designed basic articles as part of an official plastics program especially for the household, for leisure and for canteens. In the exhibition, this overall “plastification” is shown in their respective habitat. Their life span from design and production to deletion or to preservation is presentend in an adherent room.

Plastic articles were produced in about 800 small production plants throughout the GDR, among them many private businesses. These plants were modernized as a result of the Chemiekonferenz but also new production sites were introduced. In the exhibition, 15 of these companies are presented in detail. In the nationalization campaign of 1972 the private businesses were socialized and later integrated into larger manufacuring combines. After 1990 some of them had been re-privatized.

After the opening of the Berlin wall in 1990 the GDR seemed fully plastified and the multitude of plastic articles presented in the exhibition seems to prove this impression.

The exhibition is debating the innovative potential of plastics in the post-war society, the fundamental change in the material world of the time and the spread of plastic objects in everyday life. It introduces the visitor to the producers and their role in the plan society of the GDR and not the least shows the distinct materiality of plastics in the consumer society.

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Portable radio "Spatz", anonymous design, VEB Elektroakustik Hartmannsdorf, 1958
Thermos jug, anonymous design, VEB Alfi Fischbach, 1957
Bucket, Polyethylene, designed by Martin Kelm, VEB Presswerk Tambach-Dietharz, um 1960
Vacuum cleaner "Omega" HS 1060, anonymous design with assistance of Hans Merz, 1950s, VEB Elektrowärme Altenburg
Slide projektor "Filius 4", designed by Manfred Claus 1961, VEB Pentacon Dresden, 1970s
Transistor radio "Sternchen", anonymous design, VEB Stern-Radio Berlin, 1960
Triangular patent key, designed by Ernst Fischer, 1960s, VVB EBM Karl-Marx-Stadt (all photos: A. Ludwig)

Everyday Things. Design in the GDR

May 2011 - May 2012 at the Documentation Centre


The title of the exhibition tells us what it is about: simple things of everyday life, general consumer goods as objects of a professional product design which according to the socialist living conditions have been part of the GDR’s official cultural policy from the 1950s. Everyday things subjected to an artistic form as much they were created and effective in a complex living environment.

The exhibition shows objects which found their place in design history. At the same time, the title “Everyday Things” refers to the dimension of how a society has been equipped with goods for everyday use. Most important in GDR were the product’s functionality and availability. To call this latter aspect, we could also use the modern term “comfort” according to the general aspect of a “European postwar modernity” during the 1950s. At the same time, it was and is still discussed what can be considered as “modern”, which forms are appropriate or which ones are simply decorative.

Design in the GDR began a few years after the end of the second World War. Facing the severe destructions and the millions of fugitives, the need for household equipment was urgent: crockery, pieces of furniture, sewing machines, small kitchens. The production of basic consumer goods marked the first phase of the GDR design. The improvement of the living conditions after the so called “New Course” after  June 17,1953 let raise the production of consumer goods and consequently encouraged the modernization of design. It also concerned things which indicated a normalization of the living conditions: entertainment electronics, leisure products, electric household appliances. This tendency carried on in the 1960s when the GDR after the SED’S fifth party conference in 1958 wanted to directly compete with West Germany. Modern consumer goods were to show the evidence of the socialist supremacy. During the New Economical System of the 1960s, design became of an economical importance. The economists focused their attention on work and environment’s configuration,  which at the beginning of the 1970 became an important field of the GDR’s design.

At the end, the GDR appeared grey to its observers and its products looked obsolete and unattractive. People’s attention to western consumer goods after the opening of borders intensified this view. As a matter of fact, a part of the at the time current consumers goods' production was designed at the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s. Twenty years later, the context was different: several irrelevant, strange objects emerged thanks to their successful and creative quality. Through a systematic research among the GDR’s products, it was evident that a radical modernization of long-lasting consumer goods and of simple household appliances occurred between the mid-50’s and the beginning of the 1970s.

Typewriters, radios, TV sets, crockery and cutlery, chairs and wardrobes are the results of an active design policy, whose appearance challenged the comparison with western consumer goods. Industrial design was part of the GDR’s economical strategy. In 1953, the Institute for Applied Art was founded, which should play an important role in the implementation of the modern product design. Here, the only magazine about design, “form+zweck” was published. National design policy implied an official propaganda which was lead by exhibitions, magazines, national awards for the quality of products such as the gold medal of the “Leipziger Messe” and the GDR design award. Professional schools in Wismar/Heiligendamm and in Schneeberg as well as high schools in Dresden, Weimar, Halle-Burg Giebichstein and in Berlin-Weissensee were founded to train designers. They had grown as an independent professional group and designers were gradually employed in the development divisions of industry.

Besides the national plan for production of well-designed consumer goods, a particular production philosophy focusing on the functionality and longevity of products was remarkable. It wasn’t only an economical need but a political program in concurrence with the Federal Republic. Design should help developing a socialist way of living. Was there a specific GDR design or did it orient towards international trends? The contradictions are evident and have to be still more analyzed.

Considering the official influence on industrial design, links between the GDR policy and the form of the objects should not surprise. In the mid 1950s, modern furniture followed “functionalism”. During the fifth German art exhibition in 1962, neutral-white, cylindrical vases were officially criticized since they were considered formless and harmful. In this way, everyday products got into public attention and became subject to inappropriate criticism.

The exhibition focuses on the background and the actors of this development as well as on the technological innovations which had changed the production and asks for esthetic solutions. The exhibition also asked about the role of the designed objects in everyday life. It is not organized according to style periods, but to particular activities such as sitting, cooking, eating, working, keeping, piling, lighting, writing and playing.

We don’t know if the exhibited objects were considered as “design objects”. Some of them required considerable efforts to be provided, other belonged to the base stock of the GDR’s offer. Most of them were used in everyday life and they had been delivered to the museum as consumer goods while others were identified as  superior pieces of culture. In general, all fulfilled their function, they worked well and  they pleased.

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Photo: Karl-Robert-Schütze
Photo: Karl-Robert-Schütze
Photo: R. Südhoff
Photo: R. Südhoff
Photo: R. Südhoff

Preserved things. The life of an East-Berlin secretary

Presented 2010/2011 in the Documentation Centre Everyday Life in the GDR, Eisenhüttenstadt, and in the Municipal Museum and Gallery, Falkensee

In 2004, Ms. P., a secretary in East Berlin, died. Her one-room appartment in the Karlshorst district was almost completely filled with boxes and suit-cases she had piled in shelfs. In there were her belongings, well organized and at the same time unmanageable. Now they became an exhibition.
Ms. P. was a diligent woman that kept her things in accurate order and catalogued, like her own life. Purchased things, private and professional records, short notes on things were found in her place.
The exhibition focusses on Ms. P.´s belongings and puts the question on why she achieved so many things and kept them for such a long time.

Most of the 4800 objects the Documentation Centre recieved from the allowance haven´t been used. Hats and caps, scarfs and shawls, shoes and jewellery, gloves and handkerchiefs as well as numerous bags, pouches and purses are the core of her personal accessories. Ms P. possessed of numerous table cloth, place mats, trivets, small bowls, tiny boxes and arts and craft objects of all kind that would have allowed her to fully equip a bourgeois home. In her allowance dozens of brief cases, letter paper, greeting cards, note pads, note books, stationary of all kind, and photo albums were found that hadn´t been used or filled in.

Ms P. since 1937 worked as a secretary and from 1950 she was employed in a state run export agency. From numerous documents one can detect her attitude towards work and her position at the work-place but also her private circumstances of life. From the many details recorded the close connection of her life with contemporary history becomes evident: in her professional career she was confronted with the special procedures of a work-place in East Germany which she also profitted from. In her private life she always was oriented towards the West where her sister lived, being cut off from her family after 1961. In the exhibition, many traces of this historical context can be detected.

The curators at first were at loss with the allowance of Ms P. The sole number of things she had achieved and assembled during her life-time for her pleasure seem to indicate obsession. These things belonged to her personality and her home. They represent herself. But are they also representing a "typical female" accumulation? Or did Ms. P. want to prepare herself for a bourgeois life-style and an adequate personal appearance in a big house? Did she intend to reward herself by purchasing things and carrying them home? There are more assumptions than explanations and for sure no simple interpretation of her life. This mixture of amazement and perplexity determines the exhibition. 

Exhibition catalogue

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supported by:

Sparkasse Oder-Spree
Stahlstiftung Eisenhüttenstadt
Leihgaben mit freundlicher Unterstützung
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Newspaper headline reporting on the fall of the Berlin all
Piece of the Berlin wall as souvenir
East-German city map of Berlin showing West-Berlin as an empty space
November 9, 1989, at the Allied Checkpoint Charlie (photo: A. Ludwig)

1989 – A Year of Change and Hope

Documentation Centre of Everyday Culture in the GDR, October 2009 – March 2010; Municipal Museum, Spandau Citadel, Berlin, March – May 2009


1989 and 1990 are time-lapse years for the historian as they were from the participants´ point of view.

During little more than one year´s time, from the local elections in the GDR in May 1989 until the monetary union between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany on July 1, 1990, the political and economic situation in East Germany had fundamentally changed from stagnation in the late 1980s to the prospect of German unification.

In public memory, this time is focussed on a number of key situations: the refugees in West Germany´s embassies in Prague and Budapest, the mass manifestations in Leipzig during October 1989, and the opening of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989. Most of our memory on these events is dominated by mass media because the collapse of the Eastern bloc was accompanied and enforced by television – scenes still repeated on German TV until today.

But private memory is far more complex. Today, we need to notice this complexity to reflect and understand the favours, chances, and difficulties of the German unification process. For this reason, the exhibition of the Documentation Centre is strongly focussed on individual memory. The presentation introduces the visitor to ten people from both East and West Germany who reflected the time of change and wrote down their memories. In the exhibition, these ten individual stories may be read or listened to.

Each story describes the circumstances of life in East or West-Berlin and in neighbouring Brandenburg. They tell about illegal pamphlets against the re-militarization in East-Germany being displayed in 1962, the dissolution of a work-place, a first visit to a formerly cut-off garden restaurant at the outskirts of Berlin, the changes in an old-age home after 1990, and the first punk music record bought in the West.

In the exhibition, the ten stories told are put in a wider context, first of individual records, and then of contemporary history through photographs by Christian Borchert, Jürgen Nagel, Udo Hesse, Nelly Rau-Häring and others which show the situation in East-Germany during the 1980s. They are accompanied by posters, pamphlets and newspapers as well as others sources of the civic revolution to round up historical information.

The stories presented originally had been reached in for a literary contest, the “Zeitzeugenpreis Berlin-Brandenburg” and we would like to thank the authors and the publisher for their permission to make an exhibition out of them. The project itself was developed with the “Zeitzeugenpreis” and the Municipal Museum of Berlin-Spandau. It was supported by the Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte (akg-images), the Archives of East German Television (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam-Babelsberg), the Archives of the Civic Revolution in East Germany (Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft, Berlin) and has been realised with the financial support of Kulturland Brandenburg 2009 “Freiheit, Gleichheit, Brandenburg” and the Brandenburg Agency for Civic Education (Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung).


The original stories of the literary contest are published in:

Johann-Friedrich Huffmann (ed.), Das Jahr, in dem die Mauer fiel. 20 Jahre Mauerfall – Zeitzeugen erinnern sich. Anthologie zum Zeitzeugenpreis 2009, Berlin: Frieling-Verlag 2009 (in German)

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For the support of this exhibition we would like to thank:

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Brochure of the official Berlin travelling agency, 1958
Cinema advertising slide, ca. 1950
Identity card for supervisors of holiday camps
Pulication on sea cruises. Holiday services of the FDGB Workers Union
Summer camp, ca. 1975

Taking a rest. Leisure and Vacation in the GDR

March - September 2009 at the Documentation Centre

Free time is a premise for leisure and vacation. Like in all industrialized societies after World War II time off work increased  during the fourty years of the existence of the GDR. This concerned the free time available after daily working hours, the week-end and finally the minimum of vacation days guaranteed. These are the topics of the exhibition “Taking a rest”.

How did the free time develop in detail and what were the factors diminishing or prolonging it? On the one hand, free time expanded when daily working hours were shortened, the five-day working week introduced and electric household appliances were available. On the other hand these gains of free time were reduced by cueing up when shopping, long distances of commuting, household chores and “societal activities” demanded by the state and the mass organizations.

The acutal free time was used in manifold ways: by hobbies, reading, sports, organized leisure activities or by simply doing nothing. Knocking-off time was occupied by the family, hobbies or television but also by the numerous leisure activities offererd by the GDR´s official mass organizations. The week-end, extended to two full days off work in the mid-1960s, were devoted to excursions, car repair or the garden spot. There were also many local recreation facilities developed.

Vacation was supposed a self-evident part of the “socialist society” which in social politics were explained as being part of the right to receation as early as the 1950s. Parallel to Western societies the “most beautiful weeks of the year” were subject to mass tourism. The citizens of the GDR spent their holidays with the heavily subsidized “vacation service” of the Workers Union or in vacation facilities the larger companies offered to their employees. The Travel Bureau of the GDR and the official Youth Organization´s “Youth Tourist” agency offerend journeys to Eastern countries and the children were sent to summer camps. Alternatives given were one´s own garden spot or the balcony. Individual travelling became more and more popular to escape mass tourism.

The organization of summer camps and the responsibility of the Workers Unions to provide vacation facilities were introduced as early as 1946/47. They prove the social-political intentions and the responsibility of the state to provide the necessary infrastructure. In the GDR, vacation was intended to be part of the social provisions to further the circumstances of life for the working class. Connected with these provisions was the intention to educate people to perform a reasonable, “socialist” way of life even in leisure time but this strategy failed since people favoured consumerism and mass tourism.

In this respect, the GDR was not much different from the West. But there are also specific developments to be noted: “social tourism” in the collective and indivdual vacation existed in parallel, “social tourism” was subsidized by the state and the state-run companies, and, finally, holiday destinations were limited to the GDR and the neighbouring countries of the Eastern bloc.

The state also intervened in leisure activities as they were interpreted as part of the “socialist society”. Individual garden spots were officially organized in branches that had to fulfill production quota of fruit, vegetables, and other, and that had to offer social and cultural programmes which at the same being common activities offered in the neighbourhood or for any kind of hobby or cultural activity.

The exhibition informs about the official and the individual ways of leisure and vacation by objects, documents, and photographs.


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„No concurrence in that sense...“ Advertising in the GDR

Exhibition presented in 2007/2008 at the Documentation Centre and Museum Crimmitschau


Advertising in the GDR means doing it in a plan economy. Does that makes sense at all?

The exhibition title “No concurrence in that sense…” is a citation from an interview made with an East German commercial artist. It means that advertising was placed to present oneself but not to outdo a concurring manufacturer. In the GDR, scarcity instead of plentifulness was typical. The nationalization of private businesses until 1972 and the formation of huge industrial combines effected that the variety of comsumer goods was even more limited and advertising became meaningless. Provision or consumption was the contradiction of East German consumer politics all over time.

Anyway, advertisement existed. In the post-war years there was nothing to offer but beginning with the “New Course” in 1953 consumer goods were produced and solicited in a modern way. This tendency became even stronger during the years of the “New Economic System” of the 1960s when the GDR thought consumerism as part of a socialist society in order to compete with West Germany. In the mid-1970s, advertisement came to an almost complete stop due to a fundamental change in politics under the Honecker regime. The exhibition show these developments in an “advertizing chronology”.

Advertisement for the domestic market was developed for consumer goos of all kind like cosmetics, garment, household appliances, and for the state and the cooperative trade chains. The GDR was never as nice and colorful as it was in the advertisements presented. Cueing for goods could not be covered but things available were publicly offered. In the exhibition, the different fields of commercial advertisement are outlined as well as the places where advertisement appeared like in magazines, television and on posters.

One can recognize a growing importance of public advertisement with an educational background. The officials by this way wanted to steer norms and goals especially during the 1970s and 1980s. Political posters in a more narrow sense were produced in great numbers as well.

Finally, the exhibition informs about the different advertising media and the designers who developed them.


The exhibition was financially supported by the Sparkasse Oder-Spree, the Stahlstiftung Eisenhüttenstadt and was prepared in cooperation with the Company Archives of Allianz Insurances and the East German Television and Radio Archives (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam-Babelsberg).

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In coopertion with
We would like to thank for financial support
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Sign of the consumer cooperatives unteil 1952
Sign of the consumer cooperatives from the late 1950s
Provisional wooden sales point
Supermarket in Hoyerswerda
Children menu in a co-op restaurant to be used as a bib

KONSUM. Consumer cooperatives in the GDR

2006/2007 at the Documentation Centre, Schloss Branitz, Cottbus, and the former KONSUM mail order organization site at Chemnitz


Consumer cooperatives in Germany after World War II were re-established on December 18, 1945 by order of the Soviet Military Administration. At this point, 33 cooperatives had already been rebuilt by local initiative after having been destroyed by Nazi legislation. Consumer cooperatives developed to be the second largest retail chain in GDR with 4,6 million members and more that 30.000 stores at the end of the 1980´s.

Consumer cooperatives, shortly called “Konsum” with an emphasis on the first syllable, were meant to build up an organisation for the distribution of everyday goods, food, and groceries. The Soviet military administration chose this non-profit organisation for the daily supply with rationed goods in order to reconstruct daily life. But from 1948 on the state-owned HO (“Handelsorganisation”, i.e. Trade Organisation) appeared to be a concurrence which was heavily favoured by the state when rations disappeared step by step and a uniform price system was established during the 1950´s. In 1952/53, consumer cooperatives were determined to supply the countryside and small towns, where retail stores were scarce, especially for consumer goods, hardware, clothing and other industrial products. Cooperative shops in almost every village helped to develop social life as much as the almost 6000 public houses that were taken over from private landlords during the 1950´s. Parallel to the development of the Agricultural Cooperatives who by 1960 had dispossessed all private farming, rural Konsum stores supplied the population with all basic necessities, food, and catering and helped deeply change country life within only a few decades.

All over the years the main task of consumer cooperatives was to provide reliable and continuous supply with basic articles of every day to the population. But at the same time retail trade underwent specific centralization and modernization. In 1956 the first food store with self-service in GDR was opened by the cooperatives and many more followed although packaging materials, register cashes, freezers and even shelves were scarce. During the 1960´s specialized shops and supermarkets (in East Germany called “Kaufhalle”) occurred in the cities. In 1961, consumer cooperatives opened a mail-order service which during it´s first years was specialized to supply the countryside with consumer goods. In the mid 1960´s it became part of the “konsument” enterprise which also included the larger department stores and the textile industries the cooperatives owned. But already in the mid 1970´s this modern appearance of an East German consumer society weakened. The Mail order service was shut down because of constant scarcity of goods to supply, and parts of the cooperative industries were nationalized.

The consumer cooperatives ran up to 1500 production sites, some of them founded as early as the beginning of the 20th century, others expropriated by the Soviet Military Government from private owners. Most of these industries were small bakeries or meat factories who were modernized over time, others produced beer and mineral water, sweets, groceries, noodles, and flour, as well as soap, matches, brushes, and other household goods.

The supply with rationed goods, terminated until 1958, dominated the activities of the consumer cooperatives. But scarcity of certain goods went on until the end of GDR and there occurred to be a contradiction between modern retail facilities and standing in cue for rare goods. Over all, trade and the production of consumer goods were standing behind the development of basic industries as steel, energy production, chemical industry, and later on micro-electronics. One therefore may ask whether consumer cooperatives were just an integral part of the GDR society or whether they showed differences. Cooperatives were not state-owned and more of 200.000 of their members voluntarily participated in the cooperatives´ self-administration. On the other hand, already in 1946 the SED claimed the cooperatives mainly as schools for the political education of woman. Contemporaries say that beginning with the end of the 1950´s there was no difference between consumer cooperatives and state-held HO stores anymore. Although cooperative members gained a repayment on every purchase, the offerings in every store throughout GDR were the same. State stores were favoured by wholesale delivery and so Konsum stores had to take more effort to offer the same range and amount of goods.

Still there are many more open questions about the consumer cooperatives in GDR. This exhibition provides first information based on photographs, objects, and additional information. The exhibition shows all aspects of trade from traditional small shops to department stores, from country inns to mass catering of harvest workers. The exhibitions displays the different industries the consumer cooperatives ran, from baking powder to furniture.

Exhibition catalogue:
Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR (ed.):
KONSUM. Konsumgenossenschaften in der DDR, Böhlau-Verlag 2006, 204 S., zahlr., teils farbige Abb., 19,90 Euro
ISBN 3-412-09406-4
(in German)

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For special support we would like to thank the consumer cooperatives organization Zentralkonsum eG, Berlin.

With the financial support of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the county Oder-Spree and by private sponsoring.
The exhibition in Cottbus was supported by Galeria Kaufhof.

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Traditional neighbourhood in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, 1980s
Pre-fab appartment blocks in Berlin-Mahrzahn, 1980s
Typical wall system „Leipzig 3-1“, 1970s
Plastic furniture „Variopur“, manufactured by the oil refinery Petrolchemisches Kombinat Schwedt
Prototype fo the pre-fab system "P 2", 1962
MDW furniture system, 1968, VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau

Functional living. Housing in the GDR in the 1970s and 1980s

Exhibition presented in the Documentation Centre in 2006/2007

The exhibition discusses the development in housing policy in the GDR during the 1970s and 1980s when the industrial construction of pre-fab housing blocks came to a peak with two million appartments built within less than 20 years. The majority of these blocks where planned to be erected in satellite cities at the edges of the major industrial centres of the country like Berlin-Marzahn. The new appartment blocks were meant to overcome the constant shortage in housing which had been typical for the situation in Germany ever since the 19th century and became dramatic after the demolitions in World War II. During the 1980s, many of the living quarters erected around 1900 were in decay due to the lack of repare during the past decades and meant to be torn down. This housing policy brought better standards to the inhabitants but at the same time uniformity, both being politically intended by the planners. The pre-fab housing block was the core of the “socialist way of life” which consisted of a secure job, overall provision of nurseries, kindergartens, schools, public transport and shopping facilities.

The exhibition sets this functional-political development in the context of the interiors designed since the late 1960s. Furniture was developed to fit into the two new types of pre-fab appartment houses, P 2 and WBS 70, like the famous MDW wall system which introduced self-installation in the GDR and later led to industrialized mass fabrication of furniture.

During the 1980s critique occurred concerning the uniformity of the new quarters and alternatives were debated. This led to a re-valuation of turn-of-the century nighbourhoods and a retro-style furniture fashion which was even publicly debated in journals like Kultur im Heim (Culture in the home).

The exhibition presents furniture and accessories, photographs and documents to understand the developments of housing during the last two decades of the GDR.


Accompanying the exhibition a documentation was prepared on GDR furniture production and supply which may be ordnered directly through the Documentation Centre (10 Euros plus postage):
Andreas Lauber: Wohnkultur in der DDR. Dokumentation ihrer materiellen Sachkultur (CD-ROM included), 2003 (in German).
For further information click here.

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Wie wohnen? Institut für angewandte Kunst, Berlin, 1961
Reform kitchen furniture, late 1950s
Modular furniture system Hellerau series 602, produced from 1956, VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau
Modular furniture system "Sybille", 1961

The growing appartment. Housing and living culture in the 1950s and 1960s

Exhibition presented in the Documentation Centre and the Prora Museum in 2005 and 2006


Was housing in the GDR in any way special? If one only looks at furniture there are doubts. Traditionial styles already popular in the 1930 dominated to early 1950s in East and West Germany and later the scandinavian style was adopted in both parts of the divided country followed by other up-to-date styles. But living styles required sufficient housing and here the development in the GDR was liable to a continous effort to overcome shortages by state planning.

Living “culture” was a expression of the time that wasn´t only used as the title of the only existing magazine for accomodation and furniture. It was also understood as the common effort to educate people to develop what was suggested good taste: modern, functional furniture and the abandonment of knickknackory were supposed to be a socialist way of living. This appropriate approach towards styles of living was displayed in magazines, brochures and exhibitions. They moved living from the private to the public. Personal tastes in the perspective of the Party and the state indicated what was called societal awareness.

The exhibition title “the growing appartment” refers to a furniture program developed in the early 1930s by Bruno Paul that constisted of pieces with matching measures that could be achieved part by part over a long time. People could then follow their personal “furnishing plan”. This program was still produced in the 1950s and followed by a modernized one that was in production until the mid 1980s. This famous Hellerau 602 series designed by Franz Ehrlich was the first modern style furniture in the GDR and an icon of the time. The exhibition also presents the different styles of the 1960s and shows the modernization of bathroom and kitchen. It informs about city planning and housing policy, architectural styles and the invention of pre-fab construction in the GDR.

In preparation of the exhibition a documentation was prepared that may be ordered directly from the Documentation Centre for 10 Euro plus postagge fee:
Andreas Lauber: Wohnkultur in der DDR. Dokumentation ihrer materiellen Sachkultur (CD-ROM included), 2003 (in German).
For further information click here


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Window to the world. The Volk & Welt publishing house and the censorship on international literature

Touring exhibition


Volk & Welt, founded in 1947, was the leading publisher of foreign literature in the GDR. More than 3000 volumes were published, among them the works of 43 nobel prize winners. For the readers in the GDR this provided a “window to the world” which otherwise could not be visited.

The exhibition informs about the making of books in the GDR and the sometimes difficult conflicts with censorship.

This short version of the “Europe in mind. The Volk & Welt publishing house in the GDR” was presented in Potsdam, Berlin, Münster, Duisburg, Leipzig and Erkner in 2005 and 2006.


Please see the exhibition here


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In cooperation with the Foundation Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur

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and in cooperation with the Sachsen-Anhalt Agency for Civic Education

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Financially supported by the Brandenburg Agency for Civic Education

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Advertising book carriage during the Leipzig Fair, 1958 Photo: Susanne König/Archiv Akademie der Künste Berlin
Fred Wander: Doppeltes Antlitz. Pariser Impressionen. Berlin 1966, book Cover: Lothar Reher.
Zimmer der Träume, book cover: Hans-Joachim Petzak, Photo: Ulrich Lindner,

Europe in mind. The Volk & Welt publishing house in the GDR

Exhibition presented 2003 – 2005 in Eisenhüttenstadt and Marienborn Memorial


For most citizens of the GDR Europe was the dream of the West which was dominated by mass media and reports of friends and relatives in the West. But also Eastern European countries couldn´t be visited without difficulty because immigration rules were complicated and restricted. Direct impressions by travelling to foreign countries were therefore seldomly made but the imagination was present, anyway. Over more than 40 years it was formed by books published by Volk & Welt, a publisher specialized in foreign literature.

The history of this publishing house in presented in the exhibition “Europe in mind” and it debates the cultural importance in its role for the reception of Europe within the GDR. The Volk & Welt publications programme was broad and up-to-date and it contained many well-known authors from Louis Aragon to Arnold Zweig.

A specialty of Volk & Welt were books that tried to give a precise impression of foreign countries by reports in text and by photographs. They show an open-minded self-image of the publishers but also the limitations made by censorship and in order to control what would be publicly presented to readers in the GDR.

Cover designers like Werner Klemke, Lothar Reher and Ulrich Lindner guaranteed many rewards for artistic excellence.

The exhibition discusses the self-interpretation of the GDR as being a “Leseland” (country of readers) in the context of the literary exploration of Europe. Many of the publications of Volk & Welt are being shown, a selection of countries of interest presented. The exhibition also reports of the history of the publishing house by documents, letters, photographs, posters and advertisement.

The exhibition was made possible by the donation of the Volk & Welt book archive which is now available at the Documentation Centre and for the first time presented to the public.


The exhibition is accompanied by a detailled publication by Simone Barck and Siegfried Lokatis, Fenster zur Welt. Eine Geschichte des DDR-Verlages Volk & Welt, Berlin: Ch. Links, 2nd edition 2003 (in German)


As a follow-up of the printed bibliography that covers the years 1947-1988 a bibliography of Volk &Welt publications from 1989 to 2002 can be inspected (click here).


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We wish to thank for support

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1953 – A Year in Politics and Everyday Life

Exhibition in the Documentation Centre in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the civic uprising in the GDR June 17, 1953, in 2003


In the context of the public remembrance of the uprising on June 17, 1953, the Documentation Centre has developed an exhibition exploring the background of this extraordinary event in German history. Economy, culture, social and sociatal developments within the framework of politics of the communist party SED are debated.

1953 was a year of general decisions that influenced the further development of the GDR on the long run. With the beaten down uprising of June 17, hopes of a human and just society in East Germany ended at a sudden and at the same time it became evident that the project of a socialist society could not be performed with plain dictatorial measures taken but needed to be developed in accordance with the majority of the population. The exhibition inspects the year of 1953 month by month, even day by day. It draws conclusions on the future development and compares the longue durée with the dramatic change that took place in the country in June 1953.

Photographs, documents, press clippings and consumer goods of the time are presented in the exhibition.

An accompanying publication gives a month-to-month insight view on the GDR during the years 1952 and 1953 (part I click here and for part II here).


The exhibition was financially supported by the Federal Foundation Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur and in cooperation with the Archives of East German Television and Radio (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv Potsdam-Babelsberg). The publication could be realized with the help of the Brandenburg Agency for Civic Education (Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung).



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Within the sight of the masses. Posters in the GDR

Exhibition presented in 2002 and 2003 in the Documentation Centre, the Cultural Centre Kunstgießerei in Schöneiche and the Brandenburg Parliament (Landtag Brandenburg)


Since the end of the 19th century posters were a common form of public advertisement that was mostly used to attract people to consumer goods and public events. In the GDR, posters to some extent were used for political and societal communication as well as the traditional priority of commercial advertisement vanished. Numerous poster for political campaigns were published, commercial advertisement changed into the communication for overall economic targets of the plan economy, advertisement for public events was developed to a high artistic quality, all starting from the 1950s. The contest of Best Poster of the Year proved the high standards of graphic design and they became even part of the collection strategy of museums. For political purposes the Socialist Unity Party founded their own publishing house that was specialized on official propaganda. On the other hand posters with motives of private pleasure were printed in great numbers and were popular in home decoration.

Posters in the GDR therefore are contradictory and the exhibition “Within the sight of the masses” wants to give a survey of 40 years of publishing posters and their everyday use.

A brochure has been publish that documents the exhibition for educational use which you may find here.



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ABC´s of the East. 26 object stories

Exhibition presented 2001 in the Documentation Centre and subsequently in the Westsächsisches Textilmuseum Crimmitschau, The Municipal Museum of Berlin-Kreuzberg, the Prora Museum, the Hoffmann-von-Fallersleben Museum in Wolfsburg-Fallersleben, the Municipal Museum of Prenzlau, the museum of Cottbus-Branitz, the Rheinisches Industriemuseum branches in Bergisch-Gladbach and Engelskirchen and the Municipal Museum in Reutlingen.

Objects contain multilayered stories about design, production, purchase and use until things finally are thrown away or will be preserved in museums.

With the exhibition “ABC´s of the East” the Documentation Centre focusses on 26 objects of everyday use that are suitable to understand society by its material culture. Each of the objects chosen are interpreted in detail and within the their cultural and economic context. Every letter of the alphabet represents one brand name that stands for a story behind the object. Put together, the 26 objects are kind of a cultural history of the everyday represented by things that were in common use.


The exhibition is documented in the publication:

abc des Ostens. 26 Objektgeschichten, Cottbus 2003

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The collective, that´s me. Utopia and the everyday in the GDR

Exhibtion presented 2000 and 2001 in the Documentation Centre and the Gallery of the Willy-Brandt-Haus, Berlin


The Millenium was subject to public debate about the future of society or the missing of utopian thinking or of the danger of collapsing computers. In contrary, the turn of the century in 1900 was utopia was part of public discourse about the possibilities of technology, of progress and of cultural missions to the world. Utopia proves to having changed over time.

The exhibition in the Documentation Centre wants to inspect utopian thinking in the GDR which were very concrete “forward dreams” (Ernst Bloch) and directly connected with the progress a socialist society would bring in the future. It does not follow official propaganda but individual dreams, interpretations and activities. Five biographies are presented that prove being utopian in different repects: the singer and theatre activist Gerhard Gundermann, the Eisbärendompteuse Ursula Böttcher, the hobby film maker Ernst Süß, the author Brigitte Reimann and the functionary Frank Donszinsky.


An exhibition catalogue was publish under the title:
Franziska Becker u.a. (ed.), Das Kollektiv bin ich. Utopie und Alltag in der DDR. Köln/Weimar/Wien: Böhlau 2000 (in German).


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Progress, norm and “Eigensinn”. Exploration of the everday in the GDR

Exhibtion presented 1999 and 2000 in the Documentation Centre


Can one find a core term to define what the GDR was? This was the question behind the exhibition presented after the re-opening of the Documentation Centre after reconstruction. Would everyday culture be just an addition of different areas of life or would it be possible to make the structures of society being understood by everyday routines and everday equipment?

The team of curators revised the material culture collected in the Documentation Centre and proposes three terms that would possibly provide a frame of understanding: “Progress” meaning the intentions to provide a better society in East Germany after World War II, “Norm” signifying the dictatorial aspects of political rule and everyday regime, and finally “Eigensinn” to indicate the individual strategies to manage life.

The exhibition presents the Cold War and its impact on concurring political systems in Germany, political power and the symbols used to display them publicly, education, the “Bummi” magazine for children as an educational transmitter, everyday experiences of young people in different generations represented by photographs, the changing importance of the two Youth Festivals organized in the GDR in 1951 and 1973. It deals with foreign contract workers, the brigade as the core of industrial production, the re-shaping of the East Brandenburg region by big industry, the garden spot and the community of inhabitants in apartment blocks, life-styles in housing, social politics, consumptions, the work-place and specific forms of reward.

The exhibition later was developed into the museum´s first permanent presentation which was shown until 2011.

Exhibition catalogue:
Fortschritt, Norm und Eigensinn. Erkundungen im Alltag der DDR. Berlin: Ch. Links 1999

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