Accepted paper:

A socialist Utopia in Rostock? Scrapbooks and their stories


Mary Beth Stein (George Washington University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines representations of state-sponsored “Join In” campaigns in East Germany, their utopian demands as well as utilitarian purposes, and how they were perceived, enacted and represented by individuals and local communities.

Paper long abstract:

Toward the conclusion of a multi-hour life history interview conducted in Rostock in 2012, the 81-year old former East German Communist and Stasi officer who had spoken rather reluctantly about his life and work in East Germany, pulled out a Hauschronik (scrapbook) and began to reminisce nostalgically about good times under socialism. He spoke with more detail and delight, his reflections illustrated by the scrapbook documenting the communal activities, parties and major life events of ten families in an apartment building in Rostock from 1969 to 2000. Does this scrapbook suggest that a socialist utopia was realizable? As the creator of the scrapbook, he had been the driving force behind the realization of a tight-knit socialist community and the keeper of its collective memory. This paper examines how material objects, such as scrapbooks, from the socialist past and the narratives it evokes in a post-socialist context function to negotiate the discrepancy between utopian demands of the state and "real existing socialism" (socialism as it existed in reality) in East Germany. In particular I focus on visual and verbal representations of communal activities undertaken under the guise of state-sponsored "Mach Mit" ("Join In") campaigns that had both an ideological and utilitarian purpose of creating a socialist consciousness/habitus while also beautifying the neighborhood, and how such utopian demands were perceived, enacted and represented by individuals and local communities.

panel SPS003
Remembering and forgetting the communist past in post-communist Europe: politics, social practices and everyday life