The Banality of Communism


Most people recognize the chilling iconography of lived communism: the gulag, the tank, the machine gun, the wall. The genius of Berlin's six-year-old DDR Museum lies in focusing instead on the more mundane details of everyday life in the former police state known as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

Here we see East Germans' plastic toilets and beloved (if comically underpowered) Trabant cars, watch their deadening newsreel propaganda, and witness serial attempts to express the tiniest amounts of individualism under the suffocation of enforced solidarity. From regime-unapproved garden gnomes to mass vacation nudity, communism's captives never stopped trying to make the best of a bad system. As a caption to the nudism section memorably phrases it, "It was almost, but not quite, an adventure."

Tucked in a bunker-like space in East Berlin, the DDR is notable for one other achievement: Unlike most museums in town, it is privately owned. —Matt Welch