“Mass and Class” – Advertising and Commercial Art in East Germany

Advertising in socialist East German – a contradiction in terms? Numerous examples and a new exhibition in Berlin show that you’d be wrong to think that. Although less ubiquitous and in-your-face than in the capitalist West, product advertising – on advertising columns or broadcast during radio and television programmes – was a common feature of everyday life under “actually existing socialism”. In spite of the restrictions imposed on them by economic scarcity and politically motivated censorship, clever copywriters and graphic designers managed to create innovative posters and attractive packaging. In fact, many of their designs were feted even in western countries. While western colleagues were faced with the challenge of having to outdo the competition by creating ever-more provocative and exotic designs to catch the attention of consumers, East German advertisers used a less strident approach aimed at educating buyers and helping shops to get rid of old stock and mitigate the effects of overproduction.

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Nationality Restaurants on Karl-Marx-Allee

There has been a plan in the back of my mind ever since I moved to Berlin: trying to taste all the cuisines of the world in my own city. I’m pretty sure it should be possible, but thus far I’ve noticed I’m always going back to my favourite (Vietnamese/burger/Sri Lankan/Spanish) restaurants. In GDR times, there was one place to go when you felt like tasting something ‘exotic’: Karl-Marx-Allee. Russian? Polish? Romanian? Hungarian? Look no further, KMA had it all.

Café Moskau, right before opening in January 1964.
Image courtesy of Eva Brüggmann, Bundesarchiv

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Prefab is All the Rage

The monument starts at Strausberger Platz. The Classicism-inspired buildings of Karl-Marx-Allee go on for miles, all the way to Frankfurter Tor. Apartment blocks made from prefab concrete panels, known as Plattenbauten in German, line the route from Alexanderplatz, the centre of Berlin, to Strausberger Platz, the poor relations of the grand buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee. Are they really all that poor, though?

Karl-Marx-Allee and Strausberger Platz surrounded by their “poor relations”.
Image courtesy of drsg98 – Fotolia.com

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Utopia in Central Berlin

The sun is shining down on green facades, casting its rays onto the multitude of solar panels from which residents are generating their own electricity. An elevated train glides silently along its route, taking its passengers from A to B. Pedestrians stroll the streets at ground level and enjoy the feeling of being in the middle of a beautiful green utopia, surrounded by futuristic architecture and lots of urban nature – and all of this in central Berlin.

If the Fraunhofer Institute’s project “Morgenstadt” becomes reality, Karl-Marx-Allee in the year 2035 could very well look like this:

The Project “Morgenstadt” at Karl-Marx-Allee
Image courtesy of Fraunhofer

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