‘Voting’ in the GDR

You can learn a lot about East Germany with just a few hours of walking around Leipzig. At the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, I learned from my tour (there aren’t many displays in English) that voters would ‘vote’ by folding one of the pre-printed ballots (no choice in candidates) and placing it into the collection box. There was also a comparison of sheets showing the national anthem in its original form and then a copy from several years later after the government deleted the lyrics because a line about ‘one Germany’ could have been subversive. Also in Leipzig is the Stasi’s former district office where, among the drab hallways (kept as they had been in 1989), I learned about how agents would engineer misfortune (job problems, failed relationships) in the lives of people who seemed even remotely likely to express discontent.

It was a shame that I couldn’t see the German friends I had in Berlin (I met them during my only other trip abroad in Colombia) but fortunately there are lots of great things to do. Somehow, my itinerary continued the theme of the aftermath of World War II in East Germany. Treptower Park contains a massive cemetery for the thousands of Soviet soldiers who died in Germany in World War II (it was strange to me seeing the dates written as 1941-1945 considering how the Soviets interacted with their neighbors…). You can walk on the runway at Tempelhof Airport and imagine the bustle of the Berlin Airlift. A hallway full of identical interrogation rooms at the Stasi’s secret Hohenschönhausen Prison gives the impression that the interrogators were very busy people. The museum at the Topography of Terror is incredibly frank about Nazi rise to power and is next to a portion of the Berlin Wall. However, the section of the Berlin Wall by Nordbahnhof was more interesting to me since excavations revealed the modifications of the defenses made by the GDR over the years.

All of this somewhat dark history meant that I appreciated every moment I had to relax. Leipzig has a beautiful old town with the occasional shop offering lerchen, a dessert that reminded me of a muffin made with sugar cookie dough. The Computerspielemuseum was a well researched collection of video game equipment that also offered the chance to play all sorts of arcade games (Donkey Kong, Asteroids,…) in their original cabinets. As for the Deutches Technikmuseum, go early since there are almost too many things, from an old brewery to computer hardware that runs the Internet, to see.


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