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A Trabant P601, the most popular model of the vehicle (photo: D. Currie).

A Trabant P601, the most popular model of the vehicle (photo: D. Currie).

One of the icons of the GDR is undoubtedly the Trabant, a four-seat car with a two-stroke engine that was the country’s own “Volkswagen” and with which East Germans had a strange love/hate relationship. Over 3.7 million of these vehicles were produced in the Saxon city of Zwickau between the mid-1950s and 1991 and most of these found a home with a GDR family. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, images of long lines of Trabis waiting at border crossings helped make this strange looking automobile famous the world over.

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One of the interesting things about East German consumer culture is that it tended to produce a GDR pendant to most popular West German or Western items. For instance, a hamburger, could not, for obvious reasons, be referred to as such, so the East German version was christened Grilleta. The hot dog, or if one wishes to be provocative, frankfurter, was known as a Kettwurst (‘chain sausage’ in reference to it being produced in links). Jeans became ‘rivet pants’ (Niethosen).

In the world of children’s toys, the GDR responded to the popularlty of Lego™ building blocks by commissioning the People’s Own Plastics Manufacturing plant in Gotha to develop a similar product in the late 1960s. The East German version of this toy was given the name Formo Building Blocks and went on to be produced through to the end of the GDR in the 1990.

Interestingly, Formo produced packages of building blocks in various shapes and sizes and did not typically sell blocks as part of a set. The one exception to this practice was its set of the Palace of the Republic (PdR) which was available for purchase only at the Palace itself as a souvenir.

Formo building set for Palace of the Republic as sold there (note the state emblem over the entrance visible in enlarged version)

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