The GDR was not a society necessarily known for its humour and certainly not for its irony, at least not in the Party-controlled media. That said, “real existing socialism” was rife with contradictions and situations which provided ample fodder for the country’s humorists both professional and amateur. The country’s best known cartoonists were Louis Rauwolf and Klaus Lettke a pair who achieved considerable public profile and popularity for the carefully crafted barbs of everyday East German life, many of which appeared in Eulenspiegel, the GDR’s satirical magazine. It’s interesting to try and glean the limits to what was acceptable. While problems of everyday life and reflected here with relative accuracy, fault for these shortcomings are typically found with individuals themselves, certainly not the Party or decision makers. The cartoons found here are from Ein Stein, Ein Kalk, Ein Kran, a collection of cartoons which dealt with the theme of housing and appeared in 1987.
Out With The Old?
Housing was a major problem in the GDR with the vast majority of the country’s housing stock built in the pre-war era, often at the turn of the century. The consequence of this was that, up to the late 1960s, the vast majority of East German city and town dwellers lived in close quarters and in less than comfortable conditions. This reality found its way into some of Rauwolf and Lettke’s work.
In With The New
While many GDR citizens of the 1970s dreamed of securing a flat in one of the new prefab blocks which were sprouting up all over the country as part of the GDR’s massive housing program, many soon discovered that life there was not without its drawbacks. Indeed, in understandable haste to build as many new apartments for as many people as possible led to the cutting of corners both inside and outside of the new blocks. For example, infrastructure and amenities were often neglected with the result that many went years without proper sidewalks, playgrounds, green spaces / parks and shops or recreational facilities. The reality of everyday life on the GDR’s new estates found itself reflected in a number of Rauwolf and Lettke’s cartoons.
One attraction of the new blocks was their central heating systems, technology which did away with the need for coal ovens, the messy and time consuming way heat had been provided in older buildings. While the new system made life easier, the heat couldn’t be regulated in individual flats and overheating was a common problem for many.
Living In A Socialist Way?
While the GDR’s leaders sought to create a society in which its members would, as the maxim had it, “Work, Live and Learn in a Socialist Way”, reality often fell far short of these lofty aims. This chasm between expectations and everyday life were often taken up by Rauwolf and Lettke in their work.