It was comfortable in the living room. I wanted to lie down on the couch, snuggle into the cushions, and reach for a packet of biscuits. I could have fallen asleep.
But this was an installation, a recreation of a DDR-era living room by the artist Stefan Roloff. It wasn’t anyone’s home. It was a recreation, stuck together from fragments of people’s past lives.
During my past six weeks in Germany, I have seen many recreations of DDR living rooms. I have peered over ropes to look into them, or pawed the glass cases that separate them from the museum visitors. What is it about them that is so fascinating?
In Berlin, the DDR museum is completely dedicated to ostalgie. Naturally, this includes a recreation of a DDR apartment. You can sit on the sofa, open the drawers in the kitchen to discover everyday objects, and take endless photos of yourself posing anachronistically surrounded by brown and orange and mustard furnishings. When I visited this museum last year, I left feeling very uncomfortable. It was so obvious in its fetishisation. Perhaps it made me question my own interest in ostalgie, and made me admit that I too indulged in this fetishisation to some extent.
But (I protest to no one in particular) my feelings about it are complex, a tight bundle of thought, too dense to separate easily. Ostalgie keys into many of my key interests: memory, reconstruction, everyday life, nostalgia, the 1970s, domestic spaces… sometimes I feel that, if I think about it all hard enough, I will be able to unlock something crucial, some kind of key to the balance between memory and everyday life.
What happens to memories once they become fetishised and recreated? People look happy as they sit behind the wheel of the Trabant you can ‘drive’ through video images of streets lined with Plattenbauten. They laugh at the daggy jeans in the wardrobe and the bright 70s dresses. They are fabricating their own memories of a DDR they most probably did not experience. It makes me feel uncomfortable, but is there anything ‘wrong’ with this? People want to sit on the sofas, they want to put themselves inside the time capsule that will for ever be around the DDR. But, surround yourself with as many of the objects as you want, the sense of everyday life that we think we can almost feel is probably nothing like what we imagine.