The DDR Museum. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The DDR Museum. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Foot Notes: A taste of ‘ostalgie’

Tourists went in search of retro Soviet bloc experiences, and ostalgiea portmanteau of the words nostalgie (nostalgia) and ost (east)became an industry

We all know that the German Democratic Republic (GDR) wasn’t the socialist paradise it claimed to be. The cityscape was dystopian and polluted, poverty was rife and the spectre of the Stasi’s constant and elaborate surveillance was fertile ground for paranoia. After 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, GDR products and symbols went off shelves. People started missing what they had once despised. Tourists went in search of retro Soviet bloc experiences, and ostalgie—a portmanteau of the words nostalgie (nostalgia) and ost (east)—became an industry. Of the wide range of experiences on offer in Berlin, here are a few.

Ostel

Located in the district of Friedrichshain in Berlin, this GDR-themed hostel is a very grey Plattenbau building—concrete-block architecture in Soviet style. With chunky wooden blocks, garish wallpapers from the 1970s and lurid furniture, it perfectly evokes the GDR-era queasiness. Clocks show four time zones: Moscow, Berlin, Havana and Peking (Beijing). “Ostalgic" fanatics can ask for the Lebensmittelmarke (food-ration coupon) for breakfast.

DDR Museum

This privately run, interactive exhibition is a bit like visiting your Communist grandmother’s flat in a Stasi-socialist Disneyland. Rooms are fitted with 1980s’ knick-knacks, chip-board cupboards, Soviet vacuum-cleaners and Colorett TV sets. The experience is complete with covert listening surveillance devices in every room. You can learn to dance the Lipsi—the Communist Party’s ill-fated alternative to Western rock ‘n’ roll.

Osseria

The GDR-style restaurant in the Weißensee district of Berlin serves an authentic socialist supper. The interior is full of GDR relics, and the menu oozes ostalgie, packed with infamous Communist classics such as ketwurst and grillettas (hotdogs and hamburgers, foods that were required to change names in the East). There is also the krusta (pizza) and soljanka (working man’s stew) and socialist schnapps (the one thing that was never scarce in ration-controlled life in the GDR) or mineral water with red/green syrup.

Trabi World

For more kitsch and theme-park-like indulgence, the Trabi World Museum offers you a chance to test your driving skills with Trabant, a car that symbolizes life (and oppression) in East Germany. Back in the day, there could be a waiting list of up to 15 years before GDR citizens could get their hands on one. Not only was the car energy-inefficient and prone to frequent breakdowns, it was disreputably flimsy, for it was made of Duroplast plastic—the GDR had import restrictions on iron and steel.

Intershop2000

The original Intershop was a chain of state-owned retail stores. Today, it sells popular ostalgie products from the tin-smuggling, ration-couponing era. There are bottles of Rotkäppchen (East German sparkling wine), ImNu malted coffee and Vita-Cola (GDR’s answer to Coca-Cola). Try the Schlager-Süßtafel chocolate bar, which tastes nothing like chocolate even though the current version has 32% cocoa (it used to be 7% in the GDR).

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