Socialist Realism and Great Buildings of Magdeburg

Almost 30 years have passed since the moment when the Berlin Wall was destroyed, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany ceased to exist, and one great Germany reunited its lands. Were three decades enough for the Germans to heal historical wounds, and for the country – to fully cement their two halves?

It happens that it is difficult for two native people to get together after a long separation, even divorce, what to say about the giant living mechanisms that the communities are. Life on different sides of the Berlin Wall affected both the economic and, to a certain extent, the social development of the two Germanys. Today, from time to time, raise the problem of low wages in the East of the country in comparison to the West, note the unevenness of the unemployment curve on the state map etc.. Even waves of migrants fill Germany unevenly: 4% in Saxony-Anhalt, against 40% in Frankfurt am Main alone – refugees seek to get to rich lands, in hope for social and financial assistance and jobs.

I conduct my observations, being in Magdeburg, that is, from the place of the former German Democratic Republic. The real German types are sight for sore eyes here: light-headed, tall boys and girls, strong adult men and restrainedly friendly Fraus show up in the transport. The physiognomic similarity between Germans and Slavs is very impressive. And indeed, years ago the Slavic tribes settled these regions.

Sometimes absolutely strangers begin to address you as an old acquaintance: one day a gentleman turned to us in a tram, suddenly informing us that he has been living here since 1989, and he himself is from Marseilles, has a Frau and two sons, who speak German perfectly. He came out as unexpectedly as he spoke to us. Another time, an elderly gentleman came to the stop, trying to embrace our humble company, which waited for his colleague, and since the company was international, the elderly gentleman reacted to the Russian language: he started laughing and demonstrated his basic knowledge. Once we witnessed a man crossing the street against the light with an uncertain gait. He, waving a bottle in his hand, began to explain to people why he violated traffic rules in the morning. The sole basis for this manner is our origin. They make Ukrainian Odesa one of German Magdeburg. However, the official twin-city is Zaporizhzhya.

However, the main consequences of the GDR are long-term buildings and socialist realism in architecture.

The myth of German punctuality passes a test of strength in the very center of Magdeburg: from 2016, almost the second year, there are… road repairs. The center is dug up, even some trams and buses have changed routes to bypass the railway station. The opposition accuses the city authorities of abuse and financial untidiness connected to this long-term construction, people suffer discomfort, the city landscape suffers. Does not it look familiar?

Another scourge, which Magdeburg residents can’t get rid of, is the habit of building in a simplified, after the war, economically justified style of socialist realism. The historical appearance of the city was almost destroyed during the World War II. The best preserved street is Hegel Street (by the way, there are also the streets of Maxim Gorky, and Alexander Pushkin, the toponymy of the city – a separate topic), which currently makes up the architectural island of the old Magdeburg.

Now, next to the ancient Dom (Dom is the “cathedral” in German) there are ugly boxes of houses. How is this neighborhood possible? Why for thirty years there was no possibility to reconstruct at least the historical center of the city? These questions are asked by tourists, and also by the Germans themselves. But the paradox is that the tradition of building “Soviet” housing continues: often new buildings resemble familiar architectural designs of Ukrainian residential dwellings.

However, Magdeburg is attractive in its eclecticism, like the face of an old man, who survived the war and intends to live happily ever after – the scars of the ages make him unique. He drowns in greenery and flowers. Arriving at the beginning of the summer, we caught the blooming of linden trees, planted here. “Can you imagine this city has the same long history as our Kyiv?”. I can imagine. A proud city, the first announced its will. However, you know what “Magdeburg law” is without me.

Text: Tetyana Monakhova

Photo: Illya Girnyk

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