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DDR in objects: 12 forgotten East German products

When communist rule in East Germany came to an end, many of the era's most loved (or maybe just only) consumer goods fell out of use. For the sake of 'ostalgia' - here are 12 forgotten DDR products.

Berlin’s DDR Museum (recently damaged by the Aquadom explosion) specialises in the forgotten, unique everyday objects of the era. Recently, the Museum’s publishing house put out the second volume of their book series DDR in Objekten: 1949-1990, which brings us back into the lost world and celebrates some of (often quite beautiful) consumer products from the era. So, join us in a little Ostalgie with twelve images from the book:

Putzi: Sugary toothpaste for little Ossis

The beloved cartoon character Sandman often featured in Putzi ads. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Produced by VEB Elbe Chemie, Putzi was the only children’s toothpaste available in the DDR – later it became a hit across the Soviet Union. The toothpaste was especially popular with kids in its early years, since it contained a lot of sugar. In the 1960s though, the sugar was replaced with banana, raspberry and chocolate flavours. Putzi is actually still available today, even if it’s not quite the same without the little Sandman on the branding.

ORWO: Film for the volk

If you wanted to take photos, you couldn’t avoid ORWO films. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

In the DDR, the photo laboratory Original Wolfen (also known by the acronym ORWO) was responsible for producing record cassettes, slides and other photo-materials. ORWO survived the fall of the Berlin Wall, albeit in a much smaller form.

Kombinat Sternradio: The chic (but also the only) stereo

Radios for an entire country were manufactured in Weißensee. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

The Kombinat Sternradio, based in Weißensee, produced all the radios sold in the DDR across their four state-owned factories. Particularly well known was their Type R 160 model with handy cassette deck set in a chic wooden frame and red leather case. It was produced from 1972, but after the fall of communism, Kombinat Sternradio shared the same fate of so many state-owned companies: it was liquidated and the employees dismissed.

No pain, no gain!

In the DDR, even the youngest children had to prove what they were made of. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

The Kinder- und Jugendspartakiaden was a nationwide fitness showcase that took place between 1966 and 1989, with the goal of motivating the DDR’s youth to exercise more. The parades were also an opportunity for officials to identify talented youngsters so that they could receive special support and training. Those who excelled in the showcase were awarded prizes – and received one of these snazzy medals.

Karo: #nofilter

Fags that have even been sung about in songs. Diamonds, only original without filter. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Karo was one of the cheapest cigarettes available. 1.60 Deutsche Marks (that’s about 80c in today’s Euros) for a pack of 20. Karos were made with pure tobacco and came filterless.

You can still pick yourself up a pack, as the product is now distributed by Tabak Brucker, Karo was ahead of its time contained only tobacco, without any additives – just the way the Berlin bohemians like it today. The cigarettes were popular. And so even Wolfgang Lippert sang casually: “I smoke a Karo and to be fit I need Mocca.” You can still purchase the classic filterless Karo cigarettes today… just with a couple more health warnings on the carton.

Zahlkästen: Everyone’s watching

One pull, please: A ticket vending machine from DDR production, in use in Berlin until the fall of the Wall. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

The Zahlkästen (or pay-boxes) were certainly the most appropriate pay system for a society based around surveillance. It worked like this: as you hopped on the tram, bus or U-bahn, you would insert your 20 pfennig coin and out would come your ticket. It was up to your fellow passengers to ensure you’d followed the rules.

Kunsthönig: Get your honey’s worth

Yummy, honey. Well, or something like that. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Foodies avert your eyes, it’s 90% artificial honey. Produced by VEB Kombinat Süßwaren Delitzsch, a jar would set you back about 1.10 Deutsche Marks (about 50c in today’s Euros). While it probably had quite an impressive shelf-life, hardly any jars of the artificial honey are left today.

Konsum: The original Späti

The first Spätis, which were called Konsum at the time, were built in the DDR. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

This fluorescent green K sign from 1985, produced by VEB Neontechnik Halle, guided citizens to their local Konsum – the DDR’s answer to Spätis. In fact, the basic concept of the Späti – with its late hours – was established in East Germany to accommodate late hour shifts for workers is a legacy of the DDR, the late-night shops were set up for workers with late hour shifts.

Wisent: Not quite Levis

Quite unpopular: jeans from DDR production. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Some things are just universal. As in much of the world, jeans were mega trendy in the DDR throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Some citizens were lucky enough to get their hands on a good pair of Levis – thanks to generous Western relatives. Others had to resort to East German alternatives, like Boxer, Shanty, Goldfuchs or Wisent. These ‘Made in the DDR’ jeans were by no means popular. They seldom fit right and the fabric quality just wasn’t quite up to scratch.

Komet: The electric mixer that could take a beating

Nothing could stop the comet. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Produced in the city of Suhl in beautiful Thuringia, the Komet RG28s was the shining orange star in every DDR kitchen. These things were indestructible. The sturdy kitchen appliance was essential when it came to making your classic East German Eierschecke (essentially Dresden’s answer to the cheesecake).

FKK: Going topless (and bottomless)

Naturism was simply popular in the DDR. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

FKK, or Frei-Körper-Kultur (aka nude swimming) was incredibly popular in DDR times. So popular, in fact, that the book Baden Ohne (Bathing Without) was a mass phenomenon when it was published in 1982. The book soon became a definitive guide to nude bathing spots all the way from Rügen to Saxony. Living with all those restrictions probably had to give in somewhere

Filou: A cracking good time

Lightning, thunder and a lot of fun, not only for kids: Filous. Photo: DDR Museum, Berlin 2020

Under the brand name Filou (the Russian word for firecracker) these little explosives were cheap, easy to use and (compared to our more recent New Years celebrations) comparatively quiet.

DDR in Objects

Do you want to get to know more objects from the DDR? You can buy the DDR in Objects books from the DDR Museum gift shop.