Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, Leipzig

I had very little time this morning in this museum of the DDR years, which is short-changing it as it really needs a few hours and a German dictionary. Things I did notice in the permanent exhibition were the fact that the banners flying at the peaceful demonstrations in Autumn 1989 were hand-made with neatly painted slogans. It was in contrast to many of today’s various demonstrations, where placards are often mass produced by the organising committee, and seemed to emphasise a free-spirited approach to resistance. (You still see hand-made banners at football matches, though – white sheets with emulsion-brushed declarations of loyalty.)

I also noticed a poster by an Arbeiterbewegung calling for a May Day demonstration in 1946 in support of German unification – a reminder that, even with the support of the USSR, the grip of the SPD wasn’t secure until some years after the war.

The facts and artefacts surrounding the population movements after the war were desperate. Something like 12 million Germans were expelled from the east. There was a heart-breaking little cinema “advert” of children who had lost their parents during their flight looking for new homes. One can understand the German feeling today for historic parallels.

Upstairs was an exhibition of photographs by Gundula Schulze Eldowy (Zuhause ist ein fernes Land) from the DDR. Interesting – some ironic (small boy in military-style uniform in front of a tank), some slightly grotesque (but I reminded myself that humanity links us all) and some quite chilling. I was particularly struck by her photo of the people at the 1989 Leipzig protests: such serious and slightly fearful faces. They didn’t know the outcome at that time; they really were risking their freedom by attending, and I think it shows.

There was also a 1989 street scene of Leipzig, and my first thought was that it couldn’t have looked much different immediately after the war. Very different from today’s hip city – although the train ride in from the south yesterday revealed a fair number of derelict factories and buildings. However, in the light of my constant harping on about dereliction, I should add that the working infrastructure works very well indeed. All three trains yesterday were clean and punctual.

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