It’s back to the future in Berlin

12_It_s back to the future in Berlin

Billy Freeman
(Australian Associated Press)

Everybody loves nostalgia, but a country with such a complicated recent past as Germany could be excused for trying to keep a lid on it.

On the contrary, Germany – or at least Berlin – has embraced it, opening several tourist attractions to show visitors what it was like in the old communist east.

Chief among these is the DDR Museum, dedicated to showing what everyday life was like for the 17 million people who lived under Socialist rule in the German (or Deutsch) Democratic Republic.

Of course there are exhibitions to do with that most famous of East German landmarks – the Berlin Wall – but the ones I found more interesting were the ones that helped you glimpse into more mundane matters.

One exhibition is a mock-up of a typical East German family living room, where you can switch around the channels on the TV to the (illegal) feed from West Germany.

Another details how hard it was to get simple pleasures such as coffee, with East German authorities substituting for real coffee – which was unavailable due to economic sanctions by Western powers – with a coffee powder called Im Nu (literally translated to `in a fix’).

The political situation gets a mention too. Visitors can `vote’ in an East German election, where a screen allows you to mark the ballot paper for the Communist party leaders, who always get around 98 per cent of the vote – imagine that!

Or, you can be daring and not mark your ballot paper at all before putting it in the box. Be careful though, choosing this option will lead to a black mark on your file with the infamous East German secret police, the Stasi.

One positive aspect of life for East Germans was when they finally reached the top of the waiting list for the Trabi, the small, inefficient car produced by East Germany.

It has its own exhibition in the DDR Museum, but it is also the focus of the Trabi Tour, an especially unique way to see Berlin.

You drive a Trabi around the city while following a guide, who tells you all about famous landmarks of and important events within East Germany.

There are three different tours, but the most interesting, and popular, is the one centered around the Berlin Wall, where the guide gives you the stories of several harrowing escape attempts to the West.

Chief among them is the tale of Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier guarding the Wall who escaped on only the third day of its construction in 1961.

He jumped over the barbed wire, dropped his gun and made a beeline for a waiting police car. His successful escape was famously photographed by West German Peter Liebing, and became one of the most iconic photos of the entire Cold War.

IF YOU GO:

PLAYING THERE: Set aside a few hours to visit the DDR Museum. It has all kinds of interactive features and provides an interesting look into the human side of a totalitarian regime, something that is far more interesting than reading dry copy in textbooks. Details: ddr-museum.de/en

– Take a sense of humour with you to the Trabi Tour. The cars are ancient and tiny (that is kind of the point, after all) and can be hard to drive but that is part of the fun. And you can always book a tour with a guide to drive it for you. Details: trabi-safari.de

– If you are not that much interested in Cold War-era Berlin, the Trabi Tour has other tours that take in different routes and attractions, such as the city’s shopping district Ku-Damm (Kurfurstendamm) and Karl Marx Allee in the former eastern part of the city.

* The writer travelled as a guest of Etihad Airways and Visit Berlin.

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