08 February 2011

DDR Design

I can't go a week without having a post on something German.  It's fate, deal with it.
QL, a fan (spiegel.de)

Today's post is on East German design, which I have found fascinating.  The design aesthetic of the GDR (which I usually write as DDR, the German abbreviation) was rather modern.  Of course, the Communist consumer products were pretty dismal at first, but as soon as Stalin bit the dust, the New Course went underway.   This meant that the standard of living improved because the economy was no longer dominated by heavy industry and now served its working populace.  A big part of the new consumer products was the introduction of plastic.  It was viewed as top quality instead of an imitation because of its novelty to DDR citizens.  The overall effect was an incredible jump in lifestyle.  Many East Germans adopted a very middle class lifestyle with Trabants (if they could get one), plastic egg cups shaped like chickens, and very mod looking furniture.

Jenaer Glass (spiegel.de)
Der Spiegel has a fantastic slide show of the various products available in the DDR and I honestly think some of the products are incredibly stylish.  There is a very particular aesthetic to DDR products and the only way I can describe it is "muted mod modern".  Alliteration was a nice byproduct.  There is an accompanying article for the slide show, which is also worth a look.  I would recommend a viewing of Sonnenallee, a video depicting the DDR days, but YouTube doesn't have anything other than short clips and if you don't know German, you're toast.  However, Good Bye, Lenin! does a good job depicting the aesthetic of the time and it is on YouTube in full.  If you need English subs, click on the CC button.
Sonnenallee (monsterandcritics.de)
When I was in the Historical Museum in Berlin, there was a book, "DDR Design", in the museum gift store, which I sadly did not buy.  This website has a good collection of images and an accompanying articles touching on the same points as this post.

This video on Spiegel Magazin TV is a fantastic example of how DDR design continues today (sorry, it's in German).  However, I can give you the gist: Michael Woizik ended up buying an entire warehouse filled with leftover DDR products.  At the time of the Wende (Berlin Wall falling), East Germans abandoned the products of their homeland and treated them like the plague.  It was not the newest or coolest, and why would they want to buy what they were forced to buy for decades?  They finally had the freedom of choice and they didn't want their old crap.  When the dust settled and East Germans began to feel inferior to their Western brothers, they developed an Eastern consciousness that led to them consuming their old DDR wares to proudly assert their own identity.  Suddenly what was "junk" years before became a hot commodity and Woizik has been cashing in on the nostalgia and need for equal identity.  Suddenly rappers like Joe Rilla proudly assert their identity (sorry, also in German!) and that includes the Trabi, with its plastic resin wall and two stroke engine.  It was very much like the Yugo––crappy––but that's not the point.  It came from a time and place that is belittled by the victors of capitalism and it shows pride in their past.  DDR design is still a part of contemporary Germany society, so check out the links to get a taste of muted mod modern.

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