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UBC Theses and Dissertations

East German material culture : building a collective memory Ysselstein, Geraldine Marion


One way of remembering life as it was lived in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is through everyday objects. This thesis looks at the Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life) to understand the interaction between the East German state and society through material culture. Museums have collected East German material objects and popular culture with the help of the internet and television has assisted to both preserve and re-imagine the memories of the past. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the cultural and economic significance of material culture of the German Democratic Republic both before and after 1989. It seeks to understand, how and why ex-GDR consumer objects have emerged as new historical markers of the socialist experience and collective memory. Additionally, the thesis explores whether East Germany, a socialist country that was despised for its poor quality and quantity of consumer goods can be remembered after the fall of the Berlin Wall as a genuine consumer society. While the GDR no longer exists, its legacy is still very much alive in the renewal and revival of a number of significant material objects. It has even manifested itself into what is called Ostalgie, nostalgia for all things from the former GDR, including such items as the Trabant (an East German car), the Ampelmannchen (traffic light figure) and Florena body lotion.

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