From the museum

The kitchen in the DDR Museum

The DDR Museum’s fully furnished WBS-70 flat includes a reconstruction of a typical GDR kitchen. Here you can not only (re)discover many original objects and get some cooking inspiration for your meals back at home, but also learn about other topics on GDR history, conveyed in a playful and engaging way. (6 Sep 2016)

When you enter our reconstructed kitchen, you may end up asking yourself if it is true to size, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Because of the high number of visitors who come to the DDR Museum, the rooms of the WBS 70 apartment are sometimes a bit larger than they were in actual prefabricated buildings from the GDR, even if they are furnished true to the original. As is the case in many households, a kitchen is about so much more than just cooking. There are many more topics on GDR history to discover here that you might not initially expect.

Rustic kitsch in the 80s

Even as you step into the kitchen, its wallpaper and decorative elements reveal a lot about everyday life in the GDR. The standardised design of prefabricated buildings and the limited choice of furniture left little room for maneuver when it came to interior design. Nevertheless, in order to individualise their own four walls and give their rooms a homey atmosphere, rustic kitsch became the new vogue for GDR citizens in the 1980s. Old clay jugs, brass pans, colourful tea towels and pot holders adorned the kitchen, and the wallpaper looked very rustic too. Interesting to note is that tile-like wallpaper was widespread in the GDR. Tiles were a typical scarce commodity and it was often very difficult to get hold of enough tiles to complete a kitchen or bathroom. Wallpaper, on the other hand, made this possible.

Many more drawers and cupboards in our reconstructed kitchen contain original tableware and household items from the GDR, which visitors are invited to touch and interact with.

Pass-through from the living room to the kitchen in the replica WBS 70 apartment in the DDR Museum

Nutrition and shopping in the GDR

Culinary habits in the GDR were based primarily on the availability of food in shops. Many things that were readily available in the Federal Republic were usually only available in small quantities in East Germany. Examples include tropical fruits, some vegetables and coffee. Basic foodstuffs such as bread or milk, on the other hand, were always available in sufficient quantities and were very cheap due to high state subsidies. 

Stockpiling was very important for the GDR’s economy of scarcity. To make sure their diets were varied, people stocked up on canned goods or cooked the fruits and vegetables they bought themselves to have ready in the cupboard when needed. In our reconstructed kitchen, for example, you will find cans of the GDR brand »OGEMA« (abbreviation for »fruit, vegetable, jam« in German). At that time, everything that could be grown and harvested agriculturally in the GDR was canned. The selection on display in the DDR Museum ranges from French beans in jars to apples, red cabbage or gooseberries. Neighbouring socialist countries were more responsible for culinary extravagances in the area of preserves; Soviet sprat pâté or marinated tomato peppers from Albania’s capital Tirana are also on display in the kitchen. In addition to fruit and vegetables, all kinds of other foods were preserved using vacuum cans. Even whole bread could be bought canned in the GDR.

But it’s fairly unlikely that you would see lots of fruits and vegetables on menus, as the diet of the GDR population was often extremely high in fat and heavy in meat. Hearty food - from Jägerschnitzel to Soljanka - was popular. In the »refrigerator« of our recreated kitchen, information can be found on some of the dietary peculiarities of the GDR. Using our touchscreen, visitors can select one of nine original exhibits in the refrigerator and receive the corresponding statistical data, such as an East-West comparison of per capita meat consumption over the years.

Father and son in the replica kitchen in the DDR Museum

Scarce goods and cult brands in the GDR

Other food and luxury items, such as coffee, can also be discovered in our kitchen. The small 250g package of the coffee brand »Sinfonie« was sold in the Delikat stores and those of the Trading Organisation (HO). However, coffee was exorbitantly expensive in the GDR: a kilo of the »rondo« brand, which is also on display, cost a hefty 70 GDR marks in the 1980s. This was due to the chronic shortage of foreign currency needed to purchase coffee as a raw material. The purchase price of the coffee beans, which was very expensive for the GDR, was simply passed on to the population. Since coffee was considered an important but not essential food item, there was corresponding leeway in the prices at the time. In some cases, people even tried to stretch their coffee supply with additives. »Erich Krönung«, a mixture of coffee beans, barley, sugar beet pulp and other cereals, remains inglorious in memory. The exact composition and a sample of the stretched coffee can be found at the beginning of the permanent exhibition of the DDR Museum.

We couldn't forget about the »classics« either, some of which are available in stores today, such as the crispbread »Burger Knäcke« from the city of Burg. In GDR times, the package came with an unusual filling weight of 257 grams and cost 55 pfennigs. The large crispbread factory in Burg has been at this location since 1931. The company was a monopolist in the field of crispbread production in the GDR and enjoyed great popularity. Tempolinsen or Wurzener KuKo rice are also hidden on the shelves along with many other foodstuffs.

The role of women and equality in the GDR

The role of women is a central aspect of GDR history, illuminated somewhat provocatively in the kitchen and on the stove. Individual examples are used to explain the extent to which women in the GDR actually had equal rights and were able to live out this new understanding of their role, which has been enshrined in the constitution since 1949. This information is supplemented in the »Equal Rights Game«, in which players are confronted with one of nine different assertions on the subject of equal rights in the GDR and must decide whether these statements are true or false. In this way, visitors are able to learn more about the propagated claims and lived reality of emancipation. For example, women were subjected to the triple burden of raising children, running a household and having a career. Statistics show that the average GDR man did not take on the same number of household tasks, and top management positions were mostly occupied by men. For example, there was not a single woman in the Politburo, and women could mostly be found in low-paying jobs in the service sector. It was only on one day of the year, International Women’s Day on 8 March, that the world went backwards and women could be honoured by their company and pampered by their families. After that, it was business as usual.

Woman in front of open kitchen cabinet in the exhibition of the DDR Museum

»Wir kochen gut« - we cook well

True to the title of this GDR cookbook, visitors at the DDR Museum can take home East German and East European recipe ideas thanks to our recipe printer. Using a touch screen, visitors can select their favourite recipes from 61 different cookbooks, print them out and recreate them at home. Visitors can also search specifically for drinks, pastries, snacks or entire meals, with pictures from GDR cooking magazines making it easier to choose. Among them are Broiler Milano, Borstsch, Fruchtschale, Sibirskie Pelemeni, Schtschi or Ragout Fin.

We have collected many well-known, as well as not-so-well-known, recipes from GDR cookbooks and magazines on our blog.

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