As witnessed by the recent fascination with films about Hitler, refugee flights from East Prussia, the bombing of Dresden, the Berlin Airlift, the Woman from Checkpoint Charlie and, most recently, the Baader-Meinhof RAF terror era, German filmmakers are obsessed with addressing historical subjects from the recent past for an audience that clearly can’t get enough. In fact it almost seems at times as if these traumatic historical events are the only things that German movie goers seem interested in watching at all, not counting the latest Hollywood blockbuster, of course.   

But when it comes to another type of nostalgia, the one many Germans strangely still feel for old communist East Germany (if you combine the German words for nostalgia and East it results in the pun “Ostalgia”), not only has the German film industry been active, a veritable industry in the more traditional sense has grown up out of the ruins, as well, at least the ones left by the communists in Berlin. Whether it be the hotel intended to exude “the charm” of East German living, Trabi car safaris or the small armies of mimes and street vendors around the Brandenburg Gate selling their “original Soviet” souvenirs, romanticising about what was in reality a brutal totalitarian regime has become big business here.

This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, albeit a bit bizarre, but many a German is beginning to wonder how such “a deliberate exclusion of the real historical context” behind these various money-making schemes could become so, well, mainstream. The answer is quite easy really. Disturbingly, a recent study meant to assess the level of knowledge about East and West German history indicated that the pupils in the East know practically nothing about the more negative aspects of the oppressive state in which their parents lived. Fewer than half were even aware of who built the Berlin Wall.

Not only are certain matters kept under the table at home it seems, pupils have indicated that that the subject of East Germany is often omitted in lessons altogether. In tried and true German fashion, dealing with the German past for many parents and teachers “also means dealing with their own biographies.”

But things are beginning to change here and there. In true self-help group fashion, some Germans have in fact had so much of the Ostalgie craze of recent years that an online anti-Ostaglie campaign was recently founded, the final straw behind this apparently being a series of hit East German-themed TV shows in which celebrities raved about how much fun it was to drive the Trabi, for instance, although no one cared to mention that they had to wait years to get the car in the first place.

Let’s hope that this road to recovery will be a fast one, Trabi or not. Relatively speaking, I mean. After all, it’s almost been twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the therapy has just begun.

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