After dealing with the commemoration of the darker side of the communist regime in East Germany, I turn now to deal with the phenomenon of Ostalgie, also mentioned here before, in relation to the current situation of the German Unification.
Ostalgie is like it sounds – the German word for nostalgia for life in the former German Democratic Republic (Ost is east in German). Everybody knows, most of all people who actually lived there, that the tearing down of the Wall was not a spontaneous whimsical act that happened with no reason. So I think it’s pretty obvious that Ostalgie does not mean wanting to live again under a totalitarian dictatorship and the unbound reign of the secret police.
But it is quite understandable that people miss the simple, little positive things that filled their everyday life, which gave them a sense of identity, especially in the first stages of its formation, even more so when taking into consideration the current situation, the obvious failures of the Unification.
And it is also true that there is always a delicate balance between the need for freedom and the need for personal security (including economic security). When one of those basic needs is seriously compromised, whatever seems or promises to guarantee it looks suddenly very appealing.
Anyway, the phenomenon of Ostalgie I’m talking about here is mostly a cultural and commercial phenomenon, not really political. It is best known to non-Germans through films. I will dedicate special attention to two of them – “Goodbye, Lenin!” and the Oscar winning “Lives of Others” – later on.
But you can also find it in booths selling GDR memorabilia found in various tourist attractions; in certain restaurants, hotels and museums trying to create an “authentic” East German feeling; in the restoration and commercialization of certain brands, such as the GDR itself, or the iconic East German traffic-light man (my personal favorite, this Ampelman); in “Trabant Safari tours” and more.
We have a similar phenomenon here in Israel, btw. A certain longing to the little things of “Good Old Israel”, the first years of our existence, when everything seemed less complicated, clearer, and most of all, more optimistic. And that is although everybody knows the situation then was really crappy, with all the wars and austerity (unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything in English about this, but if you happen to read Hebrew, you can enjoy this site).