A new photo book illuminates the visual culture behind the German Democratic Republic.
It’s been more than 25 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but the specter of communism still lingers as a conflicting memory. Over the intervening decades, the legacy of the USSR has been oversimplified into irrelevance—either the loser in an epic battle of ideologies or a totalitarian regime that was destined to fail. In Beyond the Wall: Art and Artifacts From the G.D.R. (TASCHEN, 2014), a 900-page picture-filled tome cataloguing the massive collection of German Democratic Republic ephemera housed in the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, a new vision of the supposed black and white Cold War emerges. The book showcases a society that, much like our own, was both vibrant and complex, propagandized but human, and casts doubt on the “us versus them” narrative of the history books. Inside, a fuller picture of life in the vilified G.D.R. emerges in all its sad, beautiful, and occasionally humorous glory: spy-pen recording devices sit with neon busts of Lenin; ultra-modernist cooking utensils alongside homemade discotheque advertisements. The book paints an extensive portrait of life inside the repressive regime, revealing both the banality of authoritarianism and a nuanced view of life in the failed state.