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de Keghel, Isabelle:

Western in style, socialist in content? Visual representations of GDR consumer culture in the “Neue Berliner Illustrierte” (1953-64)

Consumer culture played a key role in the contest between capitalism and socialism during the Cold War, and the socialist countries made considerable efforts in order to catch up with their Western counterparts in that field. Especially in the GDR, which was relatively open to communication with the capitalist world, Western consumer culture and its visual representations were a constant threat to the legitimacy of socialism. Until the construction of the Berlin wall, people and goods could easily cross the border. Even afterwards, there was a constant flow of information between West and East Germany. Thus, the consumer culture of the GDR was subject to constant, fierce competition. How was, in this context, the East German consumer culture represented in the press of the GDR? Which strategies of visualisation were implemented, and what was banned from visual representation?
The presentation deals with this question by analysing the popular magazine “Neue Berliner Illustrierte” (NBI) and argues that it oscillated between rejecting and emulating Western models. On the one hand, NBI emphasized the supremacy of GDR consumer culture. It staged the GDR as a society of abundance, from which the whole population could benefit, and propagated the ideals of “refinement” and of “rational consumption”. Additionally, articles from Western media concerning the GDR were unmasked as “lies”. Consumption in Western societies was characterised as the privilege of a tiny minority, and several products were criticised for not meeting the needs of the consumers. While rejecting Western consumer culture, NBI emulated the style of Western magazines. In numerous articles dealing with GDR consumer culture, Western influence can be detected, e.g. in the imitation of Western advertising strategies (price reductions are staged like a sale) or in the adoption of Western iconography (bundles of bank notes symbolise prosperity).

Thursday 29 Oct 16.15-18.15 SESSION 3
Panel: The Transfer of Knowledge and Changing Values