Furniture for new men (and women) – ideal homes for GDR citizens

The “new man” was a guiding theme in the German Democratic Republic. New men (and women) were supposed to be efficient, equal, well-educated and healthy. How to create furniture and interiors that reflected these ideals? The answer is simple: form had to follow function, practical aspects took centre stage, with no scrollwork or other gratuitous frills to distract from the piece of furniture itself. Following this premise, a simple but elegant style was created. This was the credo of furniture makers in the GDR, and many designers across the globe still adhere to the same principles.

Interieur 50er
image courtesy of katz23 –

Muted colours and simple designs  

It’s often been said that the GDR was a colourless and grey country. However, it’s exactly these subtle shades – greys, browns and whites – that create stylish interiors. Today we know that colour is frequently overrated and should be used sparingly to emphasize the features of a room if at all. The muted colours used by East German furniture makers create an impression of spaciousness and never vie for the viewer’s attention. Pieces made in the workshops in the Hellerau district of Dresden, for example, are impressive not only for their natural materials and colour schemes, but also for their minimalist design.

DDR - Wohnzimmer
image courtesy of StefanKunze –

Most of us have seen a specimen of the Hellerau-made model “52693” armchair, whether we were aware of it or not. Made from light wood and upholstered in warm colours, it is at once delicate and robust. If you are really lucky, you might still snap one up at a flea market, although they now tend to change hands for a lot of money. But even worn-out and battered pieces can be restored to reveal the unique charm of GDR furniture. All it takes to bring out form and function is a little labour of love – after all, these pieces were built to last forever. The Central Berlin Gallery features many fine examples of East German furniture design for visitors to inspect, admire or even buy if they want to take a piece of the GDR home with them. 

Alte Kche
image courtesy of optmedia –

Untouched GDR nostalgia 

Many people continue to be gripped by “Ostalgie”, nostalgia for life in former East Germany: they buy typical East German products such as lotions, butter and beverages, as well as furniture. “Museum apartments” are very popular too – in the Hellersdorf district of Berlin, for example, the “Stadt und Land” housing association has left one of its apartments unchanged in the style of the 1980’s, allowing visitors to travel back in time behind the Iron Curtain. In 2009, the owner of a building in Leipzig even discovered an untouched authentic East German apartment. He opened the door of the apartment that had stood vacant for some time and got a whiff of the unmistakable GDR smell.

Central Berlin Gallery, image courtesy of  Jarek Raczek

Central Berlin Gallery, image courtesy of Jarek Raczek

The best way to incorporate timeless pieces of East German furniture into your interiors is by mixing styles to achieve a neutral overall effect – too much “Ostalgie” just looks old-fashioned. For inspiration and advice on how to create a contemporary GDR-themed apartment, visit our Central Berlin Showroom Apartment at Strausberger Platz. If you can’t come to Berlin, our Central Berlin – DDR limited photobook contains a wealth of ideas. The “Design” chapter documents the elegance of various East German interior design classics: furniture, lamps and audio furniture, including prototypes that were never mass-produced. The book will even bring that unmistakable GDR smell into your home – recreated and applied to the pages by the artist and scent expert Sissel Tolaas.

Central Berlin Showroom Apartment, image courtesy of Ringo Paulusch

Central Berlin Showroom Apartment, image courtesy of Ringo Paulusch