Ostalgie — Germany’s Unique Nostalgia Returns Again

Throughout October and culminating November 9th, Germany is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg Gate will serve as the site of the final celebratory concert and symbolic destruction of a 2 million domino wall.

However, while the German Democratic Republic may now be part of one Germany, Ostalgie is raising it from the dead.

Ostalgie is a German phrase that refers to the love of all things East German. It’s a very focused kind of nostalgia. Products, people, and habits that characterized East German life are the main beneficiaries.

For example, take the Trabant. The car was a symbol of East German life, and now it is being revived, thanks in part to Ostalgie. The Ampelmännchen, a traffic crossing man in East German, has been reborn as a lollipop.

Then there is the food . . . Spreewaldgurken, a kind of pickled cucumber that was a staple of East German cuisine, sells quite well. It has a kind of cult status, rather than a true deliciousness (in my opinion!).

And then there are the people . . . thanks to Ostalgie, many East German sports stars, celebrities, and entertainers have seen their careers reborn as commentators and guest stars. This only increased after 2003, when the movie Good Bye, Lenin! brought Ostalgie much more into the mainstream mind.

However, not everyone is amused by Ostalgie. Some Germans are still very emotional about the divided period, ambivalent about reunification, or hesitant to address it at all. It’s certainly something to be aware of as you watch and discuss the 20th anniversary celebrations.

To play more with the world of Ostalgie, seriously or in jest, you will find many links on the web.

You can find sites selling German border crossing signs, greeting cards with East German icons, and even sites that collect East German jokes. One of the largest English based sites is Grenzschild, which also publishes a guide to additional sites in English, German, and Russian to explore.

—Marcus

 

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