Collecting Communism: Private Museums of Everyday Life under Socialism in Former East Germany

in German Politics and Society
Author:
Jonathan Bach The New School bachj@newschool.edu

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Across former East Germany today there are more than two dozen private museums devoted to representing everyday life under socialism. Some are haphazard collections in cramped spaces, others marketable mainstays of their local tourist economy. Historians have criticized them as at best amateurish and, at worst, a trivialization of the GDR's repressive practices. Yet, this article argues how, as a social phenomenon, these museums form an important early phase in postunification efforts by public cultural institutions to incorporate the GDR everyday into working through the past. The article examines the museum's modes of representation and shows how the museums lay claim to authenticity through a tactile, interactive, and informal approach. Despite valid criticisms, the article argues that the museums can be seen as helping overcome, rather than reinforce, the binary of totalitarianism and everyday life as antagonistic frameworks for understanding the socialist past.

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