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April 26, 2009

There Once Was a Wall of Shame

Edward Rothstein:

But the museum also reminds us that East Germany claimed to be engaged in a social experiment based on a utopian vision. A survey of mandated salaries demonstrates that ideological preferences were rewarded over rarefied achievement and training. A picture from a day care center shows children lined up on a "potty bench," where "everyone remained seated until the last one was done." This was more than toilet training, the museum tells us: "It also was the first step to social education."

You can also see the effects of that social education, as its moralism was mixed with tyranny, individuality suppressed in favor of legislated social virtue. Such imposed uniformity could not have been alien to a culture that had nurtured enforced compliance earlier in the century under another regime; here its darkest side can be seen in displays of equipment and eavesdropping devices of the Stasi, the feared secret police. But you can also see evidence of rebellion against such constraints: the persistent interest in Western rock music and fashion and even an East German nudist movement.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at April 26, 2009 6:44 AM
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