East German museums of everyday history as depots for the nostalgic object

  • Maria BrockEmail author
Original Article


This article centres on two East German museums exclusively dedicated to the storage and display of everyday items produced in the German Democratic Republic between 1949 and 1989, locating both in the context of similar ‘memory museums’ of East German history, as well as history museums more generally. Examining these sites, the text investigates the types of relationships established with these artefacts of the past, analysing their function as mediators between the inner and outer world, and between memory and history. Taking nostalgia theory and specifically Ostalgie as a starting point for the analysis, it reflects on how the museums serve as containers for a multitude of objects both fantasmatic and material. The aim is to inject nostalgia theory, especially in its focus on materiality, with more distinctly psychosocial ideas and concepts. In order to understand whether there is a finality to the psychic and political transitions that took place after 1989, nostalgia’s link to a utopian politics of the future, rather than to a contested past, is addressed throughout.


nostalgia museums East Germany Ostalgie post-socialism 



The author wishes to thank Prof. Robyn Autry, Prof. Christine Evans, Prof. Johan Fornäs and Ingrid Forsler, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their extremely helpful comments on previous versions of the text.


  1. Ahbe, T. (2001) ‘Ostalgie’ als Laienpraxis in Ostdeutschland. Ursachen, psychische und politische Dimensionen. In: H. Timmermann (ed.) Die DDR in Deutschland. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, pp. 781–802.Google Scholar
  2. Arnold-de Simine, S. (2013) Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma Empathy, Nostalgia. Basingstoke, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bach, J. (2017) What Remains. New York, Chichester: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bartoletti, R. (2010) ‘Memory tourism’ and commodification of nostalgia. In: P. Burns, C. Palmer and J. Lester (eds.) Tourism and Visual Culture, Vol. 1: Theories and Concepts. Wallingford, Oxon.: CABI.Google Scholar
  5. Bederke, J. (2014) Museum für DDR-Alltagskultur droht das Aus. Berliner Morgenpost, 27 January., accessed 20 March 2019.
  6. Benjamin, W. (2002) The Arcades Project. Translated by H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin. Cambridge, Mass./London: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  7. Berdahl, D. (2010) On the Social Life of Postsocialism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Betts, P. (2000) Twilight of the idols: East German memory and material culture. Journal of Modern History 72(3): 731–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bollas, C. (2000) Architecture and the unconscious. International Forum of Psychoanalysis 9(12): 28–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boyer, D. (2010) From algos to autonomos. Nostalgic Eastern Europe as postimperial mania. In: M. Todorova and Z. Gille (eds.) Post-Communist Nostalgia. New York: Berghahn Books. pp. 17–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boym, S. (2001) The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  12. Brock, M. (2018) Cultural diversity in the former Eastern bloc—the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Los Angeles. Baltic Worlds 10(1): 77–79.Google Scholar
  13. Brock, M. and Truscott, R. (2012) What’s the difference between a melancholic apartheid moustache and a nostalgic GDR telephone? Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 18(3): 318–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cooke, P. (2005) Representing East Germany Since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  15. Eco, U. (1986) Travels in Hyperreality. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  16. Figlio, K. (2003) Getting to the beginning: identification and concrete thinking in historical consciousness. In: K. Hodgkin and S. Radstone (eds.) Regimes of Memory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Freud, S. (1917/1957) Mourning and melancholia. Standard Edition 14. London, UK: Hogarth Press, pp. 243–258.Google Scholar
  18. Freud, S. (1919/1955) The ‘uncanny’. Standard Edition 17. London, UK: Hogarth Press, pp. 217–256.Google Scholar
  19. Froggett, L. and Trustram, M. (2014) Object relations in the museum: A psychosocial perspective. Museum Management and Curatorship (29)5: 482–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gigerenzer, T. (2013) Gedächtnislabore. Wie Heimatmuseen in Ostdeutschland an die DDR erinnern. Berlin: Verlag be.bra Wissenschaft.Google Scholar
  21. Girardet, R. (1986) Mythes et mythologies politiques. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  22. Kotte, W. Einige Gedanken und Inhalte zur Ausstellung Zeitreise., accessed 9 June 2016. (This website is now defunct and the link redirects users to an unrelated website).
  23. Kranzlin, A. (2003) Wie baut man sich seine DDR? [How do you build your own GDR?]. Der Tagesspiegel Online, 21 August., accessed 20 March 2019.
  24. Kuhn, A. (ed.) (2013) Little Madnesses: Winnicott, Transitional Phenomena and Cultural Experience. London: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  25. Landsberg, A. (2004) Prosthetic Memory. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Long, C. (2011) Transitioning racialized spaces. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 16(1): 49–70.Google Scholar
  27. Ludwig, A. (1994) Alltagskultur der DDR in Eisenhüttenstadt. Überlegungen zu einem Museumskonzept. Bauwelt 85(21): 1152–1155.Google Scholar
  28. Macdonald, S. (2013) Memorylands: Heritage and Identity in Europe Today. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Miller, D. (1998) Material culture: The social life of external objects, British Journal of Psychotherapy 14(4): 483–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mitscherlich, A. and Mitscherlich, M. (1975) The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour. New York: Grove Press Inc.Google Scholar
  31. Nadkarni, M. (2010) ‘But it’s ours’: Nostalgia and the politics of authenticity in post-socialist Hungary. In: M. Todorova and Z. Gille (eds.) Post-Communist Nostalgia. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  32. Nadkarni, M. and Shevchenko, O. (2004) The politics of nostalgia: A case for comparative analysis of post-socialist practices. Ab Imperio 2: 487–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nikelly, A. (2004) The anatomy of nostalgia: From pathology to normality. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 1(2):182–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nora, P. (1989) Between memory and history: Les lieux de mémoire. Representations 26. Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory: 7–24.Google Scholar
  35. Oushakine, S. (2000) In the state of post-Soviet aphasia: Symbolic development in contemporary Russia. Europe-Asia Studies 52(6): 991–1016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Oushakine, S. (2007) ‘We’re nostalgic but we’re not crazy’: Retrofitting the past in Russia. The Russian Review 66(3): 451–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Radstone, S. (2007) The Sexual Politics of Time: Confession, Nostalgia, Memory. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Routledge, C., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Juhl, J. and Arndt, J. (2012) The power of the past: nostalgia as a meaning-making resource. Memory 20(5): 452–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schröder, R. (2009) War die DDR ein Unrechtsstaat? [Was the GDR a state ruled by injustice?]. Der Tagesspiegel Online, 5 February. ein-unrechtsstaat/1519946.html, accessed 20 March 2019.
  40. Scribner, C. (2003) Requiem for Communism. Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sedikides, C. and Wildschut, R. (2018) Finding meaning in nostalgia. Review of General Psychology 22(1): 48–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stewart, S. (1993) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham, N.C./London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Tannock, S. (1995) Nostalgia critique. Cultural Studies 9(3): 453–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Thompson, P. (2011) Worin noch niemand war: the GDR as retrospectively imagined community. In: N. Hodgin and C. Pearce (eds.) The GDR Remembered: Representations of the East German State since 1989. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, pp. 250–265.Google Scholar
  45. Truscott, R. (2011) National melancholia and Afrikaner self-parody in post-apartheid South Africa. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 16(1): 90–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Winkler, A. (2014) ‘Kept things’: Heterotopic provocations in the museal representation of East German everyday life. Laboratorium. Жypнaл coциaльныx иccлeдoвaний 6(2):101–122.Google Scholar
  47. Winnicott, D.W. (1971/2005) Playing and Reality. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Worby, E. and Ally, S. (2013) The disappointment of nostalgia: Conceptualising cultures of memory in contemporary South Africa. Social Dynamics 39(3): 457–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T. and Ding-Guo, G. (2008) Counteracting loneliness: on the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychological Science 19(10): 1023–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Žižek, S., Butler, R. and Stephens, S. (2006) The Universal Exception. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  51. Žižek, S. (2008) In Defense of Lost Causes. London: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Baltic and East European StudiesSödertörn UniversityHuddingeSweden
  2. 2.School of Journalism, Media and CultureCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

Personalised recommendations