The world appears to have forgotten about these treasures from socialist East Germany: an estimated 80,000 design objects and items of everyday use hidden in warehouses located in an industrial zone in Spandau, on the outskirts of Berlin, that serve as an unlikely home to this archive of unique East German designs and objects.
I remember the first time I saw one: it was in Leipzig, behind a restaurant that also owned a GDR airplane. The airplane was now an event location, but somewhere behind the buildings, covered knee-high in grass, was a forgotten piece of GDR history: a Barkas, the VW Transporter van of East-Germany. I instantly fell in love with it, but soon enough it became clear that this van was no longer drivable. Ever since, I’ve been dreaming about owning a Barkas van – because they might be even more charming than the Trabant.
Almost independently of each other, distinct design languages emerged in both parts of Germany. While the Federal Republic produced superstars such as Dieter Rams, the East German style was driven by anonymous collectives that developed original ideas as well as imitations. For those who have never heard of Dieter Rams: he was a pioneer of the functionalist “less is more” approach to industrial design. From 1961 to 1995, he worked as Chief Design officer at Braun, once literally a household name in consumer electronics that has since disappeared off our radar.