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New Left Review I/237, September-October 1999

Charity Scribner

From the Collective to the Collection: Curating Post-Communist Germany

Who still has souvenirs of Autumn 1989 stored away in the cupboard? To mark the tenth year of post-communism, curator Bernd Roder of the Prenzlauer Berg Museum in Berlin recently put out such a call for donations. His planned exhibition, The Time Is High, sets out to punctuate the timeline of recent German history with the memories of those who lived and worked in the local community at the time when ‘real existing socialism’ was pronounced dead and the five states of the German Democratic Republic (gdr) were swiftly annexed by the larger German federation. In the first decade of post-communism, German museum directors have entered a race to curate the wreckage of socialism as if there were no tomorrow, organizing some two dozen exhibitions of ephemera and objects manufactured by the now defunct factories of the People’s Own Industries, or Volks Eigene Betriebe. Roder specifies the sort of objects he requires to document the process of unification—a factory logbook which suddenly breaks off, or perhaps a withdrawal slip someone might have saved from the last day that banks recognized the Eastern mark. Artists, too, have taken up the shards of communism and incorporated them into their works as ‘found objects’. While some critics dismiss this focus on the vanishing material culture of the gdr as overly sentimental, attributing it to a dysfunctional vanguard which has languished in its leftist delusion far beyond the point of decency, others seek to rescue from opprobrium the right to wax nostalgic, arguing for the importance of cultural memory at this time of transition.

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Charity Scribner, ‘From the Collective to the Collection: Curating Post-Communist Germany’, NLR I/237: £3

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