It was surprising to understand that the grounds we were standing on, were so closely linked to the utopian history of the East Germany - The German Democratic Republic (GDR) which existed from 1949 to 1990. These barracks, garrisons and other military buildings were abandoned so recently, like was the idea for socialist East-Germany. The sites we visited had history surpassing this infamous era all the way to the German Imperial army. Still, the reason for their current state is because of the end of this era. The landscape was like in Estonia and Latvia, former soviet countries which had won their freedom - empty buildings filled with cold, mould-odored hallways. Rooms after rooms stripped of their past, and here and there clues of the naive ideas which had occupied the minds of the people in charge.
We visited three separate military garrisons which were used by the National People’s Army during the years. Many of the buildings were not constructed by either socialism, or national socialism, but were utilized by both them because of their geographical location. The existing infrastructure provided a good ground where to erect the statues of their worshipped leaders (Lenin) and icons (the Swastika).
Our first visit was to the former home of the 32nd Guards Tank Division of the former Soviet Army, located southwest of Berlin. Our nickname for the place was “CCCP Flight School”, which also tells another story of the place. The area had, and still has, a small airport and was used to train the Soviet Air Force pilots (hence the name). We had seen many pictures from this place and we knew what we were especially looking for - a mural of a soviet soldier (see Picture). After seeing the mural live, I started to wonder about the murals which we’d seen before during our previous trips.
These types of art are apparent in many soviet-era abandoned buildings or in the close vicinity of them and it turned out that they are a part of Socialist realism, a style that was developed in the Soviet Union and imposed as the official style of the country between 1932 and 1988. It is said that in the late Soviet period, any new public building automatically had an earmarked budget for “artistic elements”.
Besides murals, Soviet-era abandoned buildings have mosaics, reliefs, sgraffitoes and stained glass installations which are characterized by the glorified depiction of communist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat, and the glorification of heroism of the soldiers, scientists and cosmonauts of the Union.
Socialist realism was not indigenous product of eastern Germany, but a post-war importation from Russia, also visible in other countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. We have come across such murals in Latvia and in Estonia, and now here in Germany. The murals are visible reminders of the sphere of influence by the Soviet Union, or what is used to be.
K.P / 28.10.2018
Frey, John R. Socialist Realism in East Germany. The German Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Nov., 1953), pp. 272-278.