My first time in Berlin dates from May 2015. Until September 2021 it was my only time. I know it’s odd. The capital of Germany is a centre of history, culture, clubbing, gay culture. It should have been a standard annual getaway. Berlin is a modern, quirky city with a reputation for being hip and trendy. I took time to look back on this first visit – with Frank – in 2015.
After World War II came the Stunde Null or Zero Hour, followed by the Cold War. Then came 9 November 1989, the Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag or Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Enter Ostalgie or ostalgia. In German culture, Ostalgie (German: [ˌʔɔstalˈɡiː]) is nostalgia for aspects of life in communist East Germany. It is a portmanteau of the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).
The term was coined by the East German standup comic Uwe Steimle as early as 1992.
Social scientist Thomas Ahbe argues that the term ostalgia is often misunderstood as a lack of willingness to integrate, an uproar to reverse German reunification and reinstate the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
However, Ostalgie is rather an integration strategy used by East Germans who wanted to retain their own original experiences, memories and values incompatible with those of the West German majority.
As with other cases of communist nostalgia, there are various motivations, whether ideology, nationalism, wistfulness for a lost sense of social status or stability, or even aesthetics or irony. So it can be both ideological or playful. As with nostalgia, ostalgia tends to forget negative aspects of the past such as all the restrictions, censorship and terror.
In the city
So next to vendors selling genuine and fake memorabilia you’ll see Ampelmännchen or traffic light figures in former East Berlin. There’s the DDR Museum and the Stasi Museum (Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannenstraße). But Frank and I didn’t visit those. It will be for another time.
But we did see parts of the Wall, obviously. Checkpoint Charlie, statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and of Lenin. We passed the Soviet War Memorial (Sowjetisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten) and we also visited the Tränenpalast.
Palace of Tears
The Tränenpalast or Palace of Tears is officially called the Ausreisehalle der Grenzübergangsstelle Bahnhof Friedrichstraße.
It’s a is a former border crossing point between East and West Berlin, at Berlin Friedrichstraße Station, which was in operation between 1962 and 1989. It is now a museum with exhibitions about Berlin during the Cold War period and about the process of German reunification.
It was the border crossing for travellers on the S-bahn, U-bahn and trains going between East and West Germany. It was used only for westbound border crossings. It had separate checkpoints for West Berliners, West Germans, foreigners, diplomats, transit travellers and East Germans.
The term Tränenpalast is derived from the tearful partings that took place in front of the building between western visitors and East German residents who were not permitted to travel to West Berlin.
Since 2011 it’s a museum run by the Haus der Geschichte. Entrance is free.