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The East German Grocery Store: Today’s Remains of the Cold War


Recently I have read a book whose plot was set during the Cold War. In there, I read a joke that went something like this: How do you determine the wind direction if you live  in the GDR? You put a banana on the Berlin Wall. The side on which you see the bite is the East.

I chose this as an introduction because the joke demonstrates the desire to consume the things that were not avaliable back then. Contemporary witnesses have told me that one of the reasons why people wanted to leave the East to get to West Germany, was because of all the things they hoped to be able to have over there. Cars, bananas, Snickers chocolate, ketchup, quality coffeee etc.

So after I heard this, I thought that now that the wall is gone and people may buy and consume as many oranges and bananas as they wish all year long, nobody would find it neccessary to have East German products avaliable again, since most people didn’t like them in first place anyway.

My assumption was wrong.

There is indeed such a thing as an East German grocery store here in Berlin, not too far away from the famous Alexanderplatz. In the Ostpaket, people can buy a lot of the things  of the exact same trademarks, that were sold in the market halls back in the 80’s.

In there one can find things like wooden toys, cookies, detergent, coffee, dishes and even fake certificates for being an active comrade in the party. And for the ultimate East German shopping experience, songs of the “Free German Youth” (FDJ), sung by young pioneers, sounded loud and clear out of the speakers on the ceiling.

While walking through the aisles, I thought of a scene from the movie Goodbye Lenin, where the main character is desperately searching for Spreewald gherkins in the grocery stores, just as the West products replaced the Eastern ones. Well, here they were in 2013! Somewhat not too far away from cheese and corn flakes. I would not have been surprised to find Mocca Fix Gold coffee in one of the shelves. Maybe I have just overseen it…

This store has been around here for more that five years in my memory, which means that people actually buy the stuff that is sold. I can imagine that this is also some sort of tourist attraction for history fans.

I find this idea quite amusing though. I had the impression of being in a museum where you can buy the exhibits and come back for new ones once you have eaten your supplies.



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