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(Extra)ordinary Life: The Rhetoric of Representing the Socialist Everyday After Unification

Sara Jones

Keywords: EVERYDAY LIFE; GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC (GDR ); HOHENSCHÖNHAUSEN; MEMORIALS; MUSEUMS; NORMANNENSTRAßE; POLITICS OF MEMORY; TRÄNENPALAST

This article investigates the politics of representing everyday life (Alltag) in the German Democratic Republic in state-mandated museums and memorials in the contemporary Federal Republic. Through an analysis of advertising material, exhibits, and visitor surveys, it considers how managers of “auratic” sites have responded to the challenge posed by interpretations of the East German state that resist the focus on repression, as well as the impact of this response on different visitor groups. The discussion focuses on two established sites—Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen and Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannenstraße—as well as the exhibition in the Tränenpalast in Berlin, opened in September 2011. It argues that state-supported sites frequently seek to contain memories of Alltag by reinterpreting the term to mean the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people. Nonetheless, overly didactic interpretations that leave little space for individual meaning-making risk disinheriting those whose memories are based on social and economic security, rather than state violence. The article argues that there is a tension in these museums and memorials between a desire to present a singular view of the East German state as the second German dictatorship and the recognition that the “active visitor” brings his or her own experiences, interests and memories to public history sites.

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