Since we will spend a bit of time over the next year or two in East Berlin, I decided to make the most of the former capital of the DDR. Of course the western part of Germany has done its level best to obliterate traces of the east in the last two decades – what euphemistically goes by the name of ‘reunification’ – but for some reason, it simply refuses to disappear. They try all sorts of things, even down to sending the grungily trendy shock troops of the middle class to areas such as Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg.
So have begun a list – very much incomplete – of pilgrimage sites:
1. Dietz Verlag, on Franz-Mehring Platz. With a venerable history that includes a stint as an offocial publisher of the DDR (GDR), Dietz is still going strong – as you will see on the site. The ever popular Marx-Engels Werke is one of their best products. The press is part of the Forum für Linke Literatur.
2. Nudist sites, since they are myriad. The East Germans were and remain much more enthusiastic about FKK (Freikoerperkultur). Stemming from the natualist movement in the 19th century, the communists were much more advanced on this score and fostered the tradition – as they are about bodies and sexuality more generally. Probably the best area still, outside Berlin, is the Mecklenberg Lake District, particularly the beautiful Müritz National Park. The thing to do here is nude camping – I am looking forward to riding my bicycle from Berlin to Müritz, completely starkers. Will save on stuff I have to cart with me. The trick, of course, as I found on a previous experiment back in Australia (in the mountains outside Melbourne) is not to stand up in the pedals too often, especially when people are behind you.
Or I could join some nude hikers:
3. Ampelmännchen, the little traffic light man. The West tried to abolish this one too, but the innovative design from Karl Peglau, the traffic psychologist, has become more popular than ever. Introduced in 1961, they became extremely popular in education, children’s stories, television and so on. After a failed effort by the West to remove the Ampelmännchen and enforce their own images, the Ampelmännchen had the last laugh, since now they even adorn western parts of the city. As Peglau put it: ‘It is presumably their special, almost indescribable aura of human snugness and warmth, when humans are comfortably touched by this traffic symbol figure and find a piece of honest historical identification’.
Further pilgrimage suggestions welcome!