East German life ‘in focus’ at photographic exhibition.

Posted on 22nd October 2018

Cars produced behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War period will be centre stage during a photographic exhibition revealing life in East Germany, which takes place in Chester next month.

•	A selection of East German cars on display: photo credit: The Wartburg Trabant IFA Club in the UK.
• A selection of East German cars on display: photo credit: The Wartburg Trabant IFA Club in the UK.

The University of Chester’s Department of Modern Languages and Department of Art and Design are staging an historical photographic exhibition entitled ‘Totally East: Life in East Germany’.

The exhibition runs from Tuesday, November 13 until Thursday, November 22 (excluding Sunday) at the University’s Kingsway Campus in Newton.

On Saturday, November 17, visitors to the exhibition will get an extra insight into East German life thanks to the Wartburg Trabant IFA Club UK, whose members will be bringing a display of Trabants, Wartburgs and Barkas vans. These vehicles were common sights on the roads of the former DDR (German Democratic Republic).

Created by the German Government’s historical foundation: the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in East Germany, and OSTKREUZ Photographers’ Agency, the photographic exhibition takes you on a journey back to a time of division, when the Cold War was still very much being waged and the Berlin Wall divided a city and the lives of its inhabitants.

It presents a glimpse into life in East Germany through 100 photographs arranged according to themes such as Youth, Community, Loneliness, Cheerfulness and Rebellion. All photographs in the exhibition are the work of photographer Harald Hauswald. Born in East Germany, Hauswald lived and worked in East Berlin in the 1970s and 1980s, recording the unspectacular but very often intriguing world of everyday life. The photographs in the exhibition are accompanied by texts providing historical detail written by renowned German historian Stefan Wolle who, like Hauswald, also grew up in East Germany.

Dr Richard Millington, Programme Leader for German at the University of Chester, said: “I think it is fair to say that when most people think of East Germany, they probably think of the political oppression, for example, the Berlin Wall and the Stasi. But that is not the whole story. Just as so many people do here, East Germans lived, loved and laughed, too; they went to school, they painted their houses, they fell asleep on the train during the morning commute. Yes, they did so in the shadow of the Wall, but there were many other aspects of East German life that few people give much thought to. The photographs in this exhibition reveal, to varying extents, the ordinariness - as well as the extraordinariness - of life in East Germany.”

Senior Lecturer in Photography Tim Daly added: “The exhibition provides our students with a rare chance to see a kind of photography that is nowadays much less prevalent – known as social documentary. Hauswald’s approach is humanitarian in tone but always with a keen eye for visual humour. It’s a great opportunity to see a slice of life that existed alongside our own more familiar social history.”

Alex Goffe from the Wartburg Trabant IFA Club said: “The Wartburg Trabant IFA Club UK is delighted to be supporting the University of Chester and its exhibition ‘Totally East: Life in East Germany’.

"Many amazing and interesting vehicles came out of the Cold War, an austere period for the East Germans. Hampered by lack of materials, East Germans developed the Trabant using recycled waste. The cars were ahead of their time in the late 1950s and early 1960s but got left behind technologically.

"The Trabant was once ridiculed and laughed at in the West but today is seen as an iconic car which represents freedom. The West witnessed thousands of Trabants crossing the border when the Berlin wall came down. In East Germany there was a 10 to 13 year waiting list for a Trabant, and as Henry Ford said you can have any colour as long as it was black. It was almost true in the DDR where you got what colour was available.”

He added: "These cars and motorcycles embody the spirit of the times in the Eastern Bloc and have become iconic for different reasons. It is hoped that having the vehicles supporting the exhibition and allowing people to see them up close and ask our members questions will add an exciting dimension to the exhibition."

The photographic exhibition ‘Totally East: Life in East Germany’ takes place Tuesday November 13 until Thursday November 22 (excluding Sunday) in the Foyer Gallery of the Kingsway Campus, Chester, CH2 2LB. It is open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays and from 10am to 4pm on Saturday November 17.

The selection of East German cars will be on display on Saturday November 17 only.