Whitney Schrader '05

Ostalgie: remembering youth and childhood in the GDR

leninShortly before coming to Bowdoin I was fortunate to experience a unique side of Germany while living abroad in Weigersdorf, a small town in the former East Germany where culture and identity were still strongly connected to the GDR. Hoping to build on this experience and to gain a more complete picture of Germany, I chose to study abroad during my junior year in Munich, a bustling metropolis and thriving center of western capitalism.  My honors project draws on both experiences as it addresses the cultural differences between the former East and West Germany that are still present 15 years after the Germany's reunification. My research interrogates Eastern and Western stereotypes, clichés, and prejudices to reveal Ostalgie as a search for identity.

sonnenOstalgie,  nostalgia for the East, is understandably felt by older generations because they spent a majority of their lives in the GDR. The GDR's youngest generation, however, is also expressing a strong connection to the GDR although they were only young children or teenagers when the Wall fell. Two recent films, Sonnenalle (1999) by Leander Haußmann and Good Bye Lenin! (2003) by Wolfgang Becker have become cult classics and the cornerstone for this generation's version of Ostalgie. Haußmann, an Easterner himself, compounds GDR cultural symbols with comedy to create an upbeat image of teenage life behind the Iron Curtain in the face of what westerners often have imagined as bleak or dull. Becker, a westerner, focuses on emotions such as abandonment felt by many during the collapse of the GDR's social and economic foundations. To compliment the two films, I also discuss Jana Hensel's autobiography, Zonenkinder (2002) in which she nostalgically describes her childhood, and like the two films, reproduces tangible GDR items such as toys and school yearbooks to reconnect with a time and place that is gone forever.

Each generation needs time and social structure to mature into its own identity, however many younger Eastern Germans lacked this during the abrupt disappearance of the GDR and the turmoil of reunification. My honors project on Ostalgie and childhood focuses on how young Eastern Germans, "the last generation of East German children," are becoming more "ostalgic" as they try to define their generation's identity and reconnect with their childhood.

Whit Schrader, a German-Neuroscience major at Bowdoin, won a Fulbright and is teaching English in Augsburg, Germany.