In building and outfitting the Palace of the Republic, the Socialist Unity Party (SED) spared little expense. Intended to showcase the GDR and its version of “real existing socialism”, the Palace’s interior design can be seen as a kind of “wish fulfillment” of the version of socialism which SED bosses wished to show the world. The materials used were of high quality, for example, white Swedish marble was used for the floors throughout the main public areas and the hundreds of custom light fixtures used in the main foyer gave an impression of opulence to be found nowhere else in the GDR.
In addition, the Palace received a complete branding treatment and attention was paid to ensure that each of the component institutions housed in the building adhered to an aesthetic master plan. In practice this meant that a specially-designed Palace logo was found throughout the building, something that was especially true in the Palace’s 13 cafés and restaurants. In these the cutlery, glassware and place settings were all custom-made and featured the distinctive PdR logo (see below).
After the Palace’s closure in the early 1990s, most of the building’s fixtures along with all the items used in the operations of its facilities were sold or put to auction. Many items ended up in the hands of antique dealers and could be found for sale at flea markets throughout Berlin and region. I picked up my fruit knife from a dealer at the Tiergarten flea market in 1999. This fellow had a huge selection of PdR porcelain and glassware, but, frugal as I am, I went for the knife (see below).
All the Palace’s stainless steel cutlery was produced by VEB Auer Besteck- und und Silberwarenwerke – Edelstahlgeschirr Werke (People’s Own Cutlery and Silverware Works in Aue, Ore Mountains), the country’s primary producer of cutlery. The ABS logo found on the blade face of my knife reveals that it is no exception.
The idea of an East German fruit knife somehow amused me given the relative dearth of fresh fruit in the GDR. By far the most prevalent fruit in the country was Golden Delicious apples, a crop suitable to the East German climate but a fruit for which a special knife seems somehow inflationary. Citrus fruits were rare with oranges (typically of Cuban provenance) making their way into shops only on special occasions (around Christmas and May Day), but at the Palace, who knows? Was this knife well-acquainted with the exotic tang of an orange or was its application limited to the pitting of a prosaic plum? I’m afraid I can’t say and this piece of cutlery is keeping its secrets for itself.
This is where you can come in, dear readers: Did you visit the Palace of the Republic between the years 1976 and 1990? If so, while there did you eat fresh fruit with the help of a fruit knife? If you answer ‘yes’ to all these questions, we’d love to hear about your experience in a comment below!