While recently observing the orgy of consumerism that are the Boxing Day (December 26th) sales here in Canada, I got to thinking and realized that, in a way, everyday was Boxing Day in the GDR. Admittedly, no 72-inch flat screen televisions were involved, but think about it: this was a place where consumers constantly had to line up for access to scarce goods. And if you were shopping for food staples, there were some amazing bargains to be had thanks to some very rigid price controls. (For everything else, however, supply was always an issue so it was kind of like the Boxing Day flyer which reads “Only four per store”. Maybe the GDR state motto should have been “Quantities are Limited”. Indeed, maybe the socialist planned economy inadvertently pioneered the “loss leader concept”: “Come for dirt cheap potatoes, then stay for the endlessly bright Communist future!”)
Shortly after arriving in Leipzig in January of 1999, I came across an intriguing article in a free local monthly. Entitled “The Good Person of Stötteritz”, it wasn’t so much the Brecht reference that caught my eye as it was the accompanying picture of a fellow showing off an apron with the logos of teams from East German soccer’s Oberliga (First Division) .
I read on and learned that the fellow, Martin Bayer, was a local social activist who aimed to redirect the cast offs of consumer society to people who might be able to use them. Originally from the West, he’d moved East after unification and though registered as a Psychology student at the university, he spent most of his time on self-directed, social improvement projects.