Das War die DDR

This television series from Germany is a fascinating insight into the world of East Germany.  I watched a version with an English translation of the commentary as my German is not good enough to follow completely in the original language.

The series was made up of seven films each covering an aspect of daily life in the DDR. The sub-title, ‘A History of the Other Germany’, suggests that West Germany was better known to us in the west and life behind the Iron Curtain was, for me, something of a mystery.

The films were made in 1993 when the people most affected by the regime were able to talk.  What struck me was the mixture of the historic and the mundane.  Daily life is daily life wherever you live, regardless of political regime.  Some complaints were about the restrictions of living in the country but others were about the loss of things since the unification of Germany.  Of most importance, though, were the voices of people who felt the full force of the state.  Some actively sought to be provocative but there were also the people who did not understand why they had fallen out of favour.

As the series progressed, I got the sense that any country which is so scared of its own people that it had to suppress any dissent does not deserve to survive.  This point was most clear in the episode which explored artistic expression in the DDR.  I also gained a clear idea that the country was not as independent as it pretended; the power from the Soviet Union acted as big brother on the playground. When fortunes changed there, the writing was on the wall for East Germany.

History is told by the victors but this series is worth seeing because it does not take a simplistic approach to the subject; many voices are heard and no easy answers are given. The final moments of the last episode prove these points.  Figures, famous and not, provide a one sentence answer to the question of what the DDR meant to them.  It was a powerful ending to a fascinating series.



One thought on “Das War die DDR

  1. As you say, the DDR was afraid of its own people. Files which have been released for public scrutiny have demonstrated that people spied on each other.
    The totalitarian state sought to enlist the aid of many citizens in order to keep a watch on its own dissidents. Imagine colleagues and neighbours watching your every move, eavesdropping on private conversation.
    This way lies the corruption of community life.
    I haven’t seen this documentary series but I shall look out for it.
    Off topic, but my local Fopp branch has an excellent documentary section where I picked up several copies of a compelling DVD on Noam Chomsky entitled ‘Manufacturing Consent’. I give away copies to young people with an interest in politics.
    Regarding German history and the Cold War, I can recommend a film called ‘The Farewell – Brecht’s Last Summer’ directed by Jan Schutte.
    Brecht elected to return to live in East German while Stalin was still alive.
    It is one of those perplexing and provocative chapters in his biography.
    The writer is played convincingly by Josef Bierbichler.
    The film turns on certain incidents in the last year of Brecht’s life when he sought to create pressure for reform inside the DDR.
    Brecht seemed convinced he would succeed and that communism with a human face might become a welcome new chapter in European history.
    He misread the communist ruling class, of course – one of history’s sneaky little tricks, to borrow a phrase from James Aldridge’s novel ‘My Brother Tom’.
    ‘The Farewell’ was released on DVD in 2000 by Artificlal Eye. I have watched it several times in the last few years.
    Incidentally do read ‘In Defence of History’ by Richard J Evans (Granta 1997) which examines the influence of German historiography on British and American historians, and the rise and fall of Sir Lewis Namier’s influence on the writing of history.
    John Haggerty

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