Sunday, 28 December 2014


 Carrying case, book and the sixty page pensioner's holiday scrapbook.

The eight chapters are finger-tabbed.

Some spreads in the book showing the pensioner's holiday scrapbook.

A quite remarkable book using 2500 images to reveal daily life in East Germany.  The collection is from the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, established in 2002 to study visual and material culture in the country (what is in these pages is about one percent of the museum's collection).  You might think how can a book sum up something as complex as a modern Nation.  Fortunately the east part of the divided Germany only existed from 1949 to 1990 and I thought the book gave a very credible look back to these years. The eight chapters cover it all: Eat, drink and smoke; Home; Design and fashion; Entertainment and recreation; Travel and transportation; Labor and education; Political life (with 269 pages the longest section) Iconoclasm and counterculture. 

Because the East was right next door to the West it developed a lifestyle for its citizens far better than other socialist bloc countries and certainly better than the USSR.  The countries leaders convinced themselves that their Germany would eventually overtake the western part and just looking at the range of consumer products in the first four chapters it's easy to see how they fooled themselves.  The chapters on Labor and Political life reveal why it all came unstuck: the inflexible central planning; a non-convertible currency; regular shortages; the ever present and pervasive state security departments (brilliantly summed up in the 2006 movie The lives of others).

Taschen have done their usual excellent job with this look behind the wall.  A big heavy book, which comes in a carrying case, first class design, paper and printing.  There is an additional sixty page book (9.5 by 8 inches) included, a pensioner's scrapbook from 1966 showing their travels around the resorts of East Germany (worth checking that it's included if you buy a non-new copy of the book).   I found this big book a wonderful visual survey of a gone country.

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