As a curator, I would like to give you some insights into the bathroom of our museum’s Plattenbau apartment today. The bathroom used to be installed into the newly built apartment as a complete single unit and consisted of only a few square meters. The bathroom in our exhibition also manages to create this quite cramped atmosphere of the so-called “Nasszelle” (East-German phrase for wet room) – despite the fact that only its width (length of a bathtub) is authentic; the length of the room was adjusted to the high numbers of guests visiting our museum every day.
Today, such bathrooms have become a true rarity. After searching for quite a long time, the sanitary installations in our museum apartment were fortunately found in a vacant WBS70 Plattenbau building in Dessau. Just like the curators of the exhibition in 2016, the residents of such newly built apartments were really happy in the DDR; for having a bathtub and a toilet inside of the apartment in old buildings was not even the norm until the middle of the 1980s. We are therefore also offering information on the overall level of facilities within the entire housing stock which you can find inside the bathtub.
Of course, nothing is missing from the facilities: A sink with the typical swivel tap, a toilet as well as the useful mirror cabinet above the sink are completing the Nasszelle. Even the famous but hard to get by blue tiles are decorating the walls and the bathtub. The standard was, however, simply water-repellent wallpaper! The tiles were only available with the help of good connections, some skills or with a lot of patience and were then not enough to cover all of the walls of the bathroom.
There is also a washing machine which, once you open the lid, focuses on one of the major topics of this room: Health education. Several advertising films of the Deutsches Hygienemuseum (German Museum for Hygiene) from the 1970s are illustrating which health topics the state was concerned with.
Next to the washing machine, even the little ones can get the most important information on healthy nutrition and lifestyle. The hygiene game “Gesundheit will gelernt sein” (German for health needs to be learned) is based on an original electronic peg game from the DDR. A cabinet in the bathroom offers insights into the health care system of the DDR. Here you will learn about the polyclinic as a central ambulant institution with different physicians and also about its supply status. Long waiting hours and scarce medicine were part of the daily business. Along with a diet which was rich in fat but lacked fruits and vegetables combine with the high level of tobacco and alcohol abuse, the data concerning the life expectancy are not really surprising.
This, however, is only one part of the story; for free medical treatment, drugs and health cures were guaranteed in the DDR due to the public social insurance. This also included regular check-ups for the youngest. It was nonetheless better to stay healthy in the first place; at least this is what the motto of the health system of the DDR might have been.