The heritagization of the communist past: German museums on the GDR



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With Germany on the eve of its 30-year anniversary of reunification between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a renewed look at the country’s remembrance landscape of the GDR through its museums is both commemorative and necessary. Remembering the GDR past through museums has been a challenge for the country ever since reunification; the consequences of unemployment and stagnating production in the former East, as well as inadequacies in socially integrating East and West have led to points of contention on how to accurately display the GDR in museums. Today, the GDR museum landscape has diversified greatly, yet new literature on newer and updated exhibitions remains scarce. This thesis will explore how German museums focused on the GDR are turning the GDR past into heritage for the public through a content analysis of the museums themselves. Therefore, it will draw upon the fields of heritage and memory studies in constructing its theoretical framework. Most importantly, this study will utilize the intertwining concepts of cultural memory and heritage. These will be used in examining which fragments of the past are chosen by the respective museum to include in their exhibitions, as well as how these chosen pasts are disseminated into the objects, displays, texts, and signs the museum chooses to include and mediate with the public. Moreover, particular attention will be given to new media and technology used in the newer exhibitions, such as touchscreens, electronic games and 3D-rendered films and images. In this study, two museums will be examined: the DDR Museum in Berlin and the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum in Leipzig. Both museums have long been an established part of the German museum landscape, since 2006 and 1999 respectively. The DDR Museum has additionally been the focus of scholarly and public criticism since its opening, with many originally regarding the private institution as a site playing upon nostalgia and trivializing the GDR regime. However, much less academic work has been carried out on the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, and as of November 2018 it has reopened following renovations and changes to the main exhibition. Thus, these two museums will provide a relevant comparative study on two different institutions’ approach towards retelling the GDR past and creating GDR heritage.