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East German Commercials
May 6, 2007 8:05 AM   Subscribe

East Germany suffers from a posthumous image problem. People think that life in the former GDR was a dreary round of dodging the secret police and mandatory attendance at Boy-Loves-Tractor films. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life in the GDR was fun. You could take pictures with ORWO Film (mildly NSFW. Five seconds of toplessness at 1:15). You could zip through the countryside in your MZ. You could fit every soccer ball in the neighborhood in your Wartburg. And for the ultimate in class-conscious, revolutionary mackitude, there was the Trabant. If these little clips aren’t enough, if you want a whole bunch of East German commercials, here’s a long video called Flotter Osten (Again, mildly NSFW: Same topless shot for about five seconds at 8:07).
posted by jason's_planet (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
More East German stuff at WFMU’s Beware Of The Blog.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:05 AM on May 6, 2007


I've been tracking a couple of Trabants for bid over at E-Bay.
Anyone got $2000 they can lend me?
They're so ugly they're gorgeous.
Nice post, jason!
posted by Dizzy at 8:13 AM on May 6, 2007


I know your being facetious, but the truth is that there was a sense of ostalgie about East Germany. Hopefully, the excellent film The Lives of Others proves some counterperspective.
posted by Falconetti at 8:15 AM on May 6, 2007


your = you're
posted by Falconetti at 8:15 AM on May 6, 2007


Dizzy, what do you plan to do with 20,000 trabants?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:32 AM on May 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Dizzy, do yourself a favor and spend the money you've saved up on hard drugs. You'll have more to show for it afterwards than if you bought a Trabant. There's a reason they were all abandoned after reunification. It's like if you went into a furniture store's office display, pointed at one of the dummy cardboard computers and said, "I want to buy one of those! How many hundreds of dollars are they?"
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:34 AM on May 6, 2007


Very cool. From the commercials you'd never be able to tell the difference between early 60s life in the US and early 60s life in the GDR. LOVED that huge hourglass shaped thing in the one video. I was greatly reminded of The Prisoner by that and a lot of the rest of the surrounding colors and design.

The Trabant's design wasn't stolen from another car was it? ;)
posted by smallerdemon at 8:39 AM on May 6, 2007


I know, I know, I know.
But they're so darn spiffy lookin'.
And i heard they're 100% biodegradable.
Especially after it rains.
posted by Dizzy at 8:42 AM on May 6, 2007


Why would a communist state have car commercials?
posted by DU at 8:43 AM on May 6, 2007


I did a few gigs back in the old East Germany, in the 80's. I have a few related stories, so here's one:

We (Elliott Sharp, Ned Rothenberg and I) were playing a show in Leipzig. We arrived in the town in the morning, and were met by the promoter, who paid us our fee, in full, right upon arrival. This is an unusual practice: 99% of the time we'd get our guarantee after playing. Why were we paid up front and so soon? Well, it was something of a standard practice in "the east", because the money (East Marks) was worthless outside of the GDR, so we'd need to spend it, and as soon as possible (we were leaving the GDR early the next morning). So, me and my bandmates merrily set out to put a major dent in our fat wads of funny little bills (they were quite small, like play money). The thing is... THERE WAS NOTHING TO BUY! Empty store shelves were the norm, not to mention a general sort of abscence of stores altogether. It was bleak as hell. After a full day's attempt to SPEND THE GODDAMN MONEY, I was the proud owner of about 20 pairs of crappy polyester socks, a set of harmonicas (decent, but nothing great), some totally weird little goggles that came from some x-ray medical supplies store, a cap (also mostly polyester, as I recall) and some other worthless junk. And I still had about 70% of my concert fee. I had been UNABLE TO SPEND IT!

Well, we played that night to a raucous and appreciative house of about 700 souls, (the PA was crap, but, hey...) and after the show I gave the rest of my fee back to the promoter, suggesting he use it to help bring some other lucky soul to perform for the Western-culture-hungry inhabitants of the Worker's Paradise.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:48 AM on May 6, 2007 [11 favorites]


For your Trabant fetishism needs: Black Cat, White Cat uses a pig eating a Trabant to mark time.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:49 AM on May 6, 2007


flapjax, that reads earily like the Mekons' experience which they sort of got through in Memphis, Egypt.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2007


woah, I haveil no idea where "earily" came from. I started with eerily and went back to change it to remarkably, but didn't quite commit to it I guess.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2007


That's cool, I like "earily". Has a music connection, after all. Do I sense a veiled accusation of plagiarism, here, though? Or am I taking you the wrong way? Well, I'd like to read whatever you did of the Mekons' similar experience. Any link?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:12 AM on May 6, 2007


The Commercials of Others
posted by Afroblanco at 9:33 AM on May 6, 2007


The Trabant video is great, too bad the 1960 model was the same as the 1990 model.
posted by furtive at 10:17 AM on May 6, 2007


i dig that jazzy score, it's hip!
posted by cazoo at 10:25 AM on May 6, 2007


A lovely piece of Trebant political art coming at ya straight out of the Berlin wall!
posted by furtive at 10:29 AM on May 6, 2007


Wow! I just got back from a Sunday drive to Boizenburg and other nearby villages in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. There I saw a Trabbie and an MZ. Although the Wende was almost 17 years ago, there is still a strange feeling that things are still somehow very different.

We went to a flea market where we saw old DDR uniforms and medals, signs, furniture and appliances. I live only a half hour away from the former East Germany, but it felt like I was in a very different place. I don't don't really get that feeling in Berlin or Magdeburg, but I do in the small villages.

We also met some knuckle head selling old Nazi stuff ("Why, I just sold a copy of Mein Kampf this morning"), who told us that the neo-nazis just wanted to be left alone in peace like everyone else. They don't mean no harm.

Uh, yeah right.

We got really creeped out and left.
posted by chillmost at 10:30 AM on May 6, 2007


Thanks!
posted by Dizzy at 10:55 AM on May 6, 2007


flapjax: the money (East Marks) was worthless outside of the GDR, so we'd need to spend it, and as soon as possible

We had the same experience in East Berlin in summer 1989. We were required to change a certain amount of Deutschmarks at the border, but weren't allowed to bring back any East German currency or goods. In other words, we had to eat the entire sum of money. We spent it on goulash, beer, and ice cream. Terrible goulash, OK beer, pretty good ice cream (at a place called Pinguin, which doesn't seem to exist anymore.)

Also, this seems a good time to second the recommendation of the excellent The Lives of Others.
posted by escabeche at 11:52 AM on May 6, 2007


DU: Why would a communist state have car commercials?

I was thinking the exact same thing. It's not like companies were competing with each other, or were they?

Also, the MZ is kinda cool.
posted by sour cream at 11:56 AM on May 6, 2007


It's ORWO, not OROW, and they're still making film. I dig the 60s East German cameras; yay, Praktica!
posted by scruss at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2007


Trabants still drive by here fairly often. You hear them before you see them -- they sound like someone has put a riding lawn mower into high gear.

Why would a communist state have car commercials?

You could have bought a Wartburg instead, thereby helping the Wartburg people make their production quota instead of helping the Trabant people make theirs.
posted by pracowity at 12:23 PM on May 6, 2007


I'm going to agree with smallerdemon here and say that this is pretty much what camera-commercials would look like inside The Village.

Good Morning! Cameras are now being provided for your enjoyment. Remember to take pictures of No. 2 for posterity!

And then MacGoohan-spends-the-rest-of-the-episode-trying-not-to-be-photographed-but-then-finds-the-secret-file-with-pictures-of-No. 2-and-they're-all-him-and NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOIAMNOTANUMBER!!!!!!1111!!!1
posted by Avenger at 12:28 PM on May 6, 2007


The Wartburg 1000 - was a car with that much lean on curves really state of the art in the 1960s?
Another question: was that Mrs. mathowie getting new glasses in the 1960s before she was born?
posted by Cranberry at 1:08 PM on May 6, 2007


Nice post, jason!

Thank you, Dizzy!

Why would a communist state have car commercials?

Good question. What I didn't understand is why an ostensibly Communist state would use "glamor" imagery to promote a product -- here I am referring to the ORWO commercial. It didn't seem . . . PC. Or something like that.

A lovely piece of Trebant political art coming at ya straight out of the Berlin wall!


ACK! MY EYES! MY EYES!

It's ORWO, not OROW, and they're still making film.

Yeah. I fucked that up. Sorry for the typo.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:16 PM on May 6, 2007


You know, I was just thinking -- could Trabants and Wartburgs be made street-legal in the USA?

I live in New York and it's been thirteen years since I owned a car. So I'm not up to speed on car culture.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2007


There's a reason they were all abandoned after reunification.

They still seem to be relatively common in the former Yugoslavia and Hungary, as well as East Germany.

Though, admittedly, you do mostly see them at the side of the road blowing noxious smoke while the driver peers at the engine, muttering curses. (I spotted a rare one in good nick last time I was in Budapest, though.)
posted by jack_mo at 1:53 PM on May 6, 2007


I once visited East Berlin for a day trip before the wall came down. I met a guy who befriended me and showed me around a bit. A solid working class guy, very helpful and spoke pretty good English. Anyway, near the end of the day, he showed me some pictures from his wallet. Shots of himself and family on vacation and such, and then he brought out a small black and white picture of what he told me was "his woman" (direct translation from German, in which spouses are called "mein mann" or "mein frau"). Anyway, the picture was of her from the waist up, in profile, with no top on. A beautiful shot, not "pornographic" at all. I looked at him and there was no indication of ribaldry or anything but him calmly showing me a picture of his wife. My thoughts return to that day whenever I hear of how sexually uptight communist countries were.
posted by telstar at 2:10 PM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


A fellow walks into an auto parts store, and says "I'd like a rear-view mirror for my Trabant." The store owner thinks it over, and says "That sounds like a fair trade."
posted by fings at 2:23 PM on May 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


You know, I was just thinking -- could Trabants and Wartburgs be made street-legal in the USA?

Probably not for less than you'd spend buying a decent used car that already is legal. Definitely not without a huge amount of hassle.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:28 PM on May 6, 2007


Einfach toll! Vielen dank, jason's_planet!
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:33 PM on May 6, 2007


"I once visited East Berlin for a day trip before the wall came down. I met a guy who befriended me and showed me around a bit. A solid working class guy, very helpful and spoke pretty good English"

that was NOT a 'solid working class guy'.
posted by darkpony at 5:34 PM on May 6, 2007


The youth were free. And the DDR version of Sandmännchen was better.
posted by tellurian at 6:06 PM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Einfach toll! Vielen dank, jason's_planet!

You're welcome! Glad you liked it!

I'll share a couple of other clips that didn't quite fit the theme of the post.

Here is an IKA Electrica commercial.

Ladies and Gentlemen of MetaFilter, please allow me to introduce Dean Reed, the American Communist who settled in the DDR and became a party-line rock star, performing in an East German cowboy flick and wearing the most dorktastic cowboy hat I have ever seen.

posted by jason's_planet at 6:21 PM on May 6, 2007


Dang! I coulda totally rooled over there.
posted by Dizzy at 7:33 PM on May 6, 2007


You know, I was just thinking -- could Trabants and Wartburgs be made street-legal in the USA?

Trabants pre-1967 are legal because the laws that would make them illegal (e.g. requiring safety glass) were not passed until then; and people in East Germany took VERY good care of their cars. Some time in the late 90s I got to see a Trabant belonging to a guy in Grand Rapids which was pre-67.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:06 PM on May 6, 2007


A fellow walks into an auto parts store, and says "I'd like a rear-view mirror for my Trabant." The store owner thinks it over, and says "That sounds like a fair trade."

Wow, do I ever know a different version of that joke.
posted by dreamsign at 12:05 AM on May 7, 2007


...




waitin' to hear it, dreamsign!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:13 AM on May 7, 2007


Dang! I coulda totally rooled over there.

Yeah. But you would have had to wear that ridiculous hat.
(And live in a police state, etc. etc.)

Trabants pre-1967 are legal because the laws that would make them illegal (e.g. requiring safety glass) were not passed until then

OK. Thanks. It seems like more of a collector's purchase than something you would use on a daily basis.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2007


good thing ridiculous hats aren't required in the U S of A.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:51 PM on May 7, 2007


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