Behind the Iron Curtain: Vintage designs from communist East Germany

Published 10th January 2018
Credit: Courtesy Taschen
Behind the Iron Curtain: Vintage designs from communist East Germany
Written by CNN Staff
Stepping into the Wende Museum in Los Angeles is like traveling through time, right back to the Cold War era.
Its name means "transformation," referring to the period of change that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Founded in 2002, the museum hosts more than 100,000 items that illustrate the culture of the former Eastern Bloc -- the largest collection of such objects outside Europe.
The East German Hanbook (Taschen).
The East German Hanbook (Taschen). Credit: Taschen
The collection has one of its strengths in the materials originating from East Germany -- officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) -- which offer a travel guide to a country that only existed between 1949 and 1990. About 2,000 of these items, spanning propaganda poster to cosmetics, have been collected in "The East German Handbook," a more compact version of another Taschen publication, "Beyond the Wall," that first cataloged East Germany's visual culture.
The book offers a comprehensive view of life in the country, showing both the mundane (toys, radios, hairspray) and the frightening (gas masks, straitjackets, training kits for detecting land mines), with a few delightful excursions into the kitschy.
"The objects presented in this book are luxurious and plebeian, ugly and beautiful, handmade and mass-produced, personal and official, and shades in between," writes Justinian Jampol, founder of the Wende Museum, in the foreword.
"Taken altogether, they suggest that life in the GDR was represented by more than dissidence and repression, and included everyday concerns, habits, and activities. Even the symbols of the socialist dream -- badges, posters, flags, artworks, and monuments -- had become part of East Germans' everyday lives, and did not necessarily mean support for the ruling regime."
"The East German Handbook," published by Taschen, is out now.