The City of Königsberg is part of history now, its fate largely forgotten if not outright ignored. Yet today, and every year since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, many German expellees originally from that ill-fated city and surrounding area undertake a trek back to their former homeland to look for that which was forever taken from them: their place of birth and the communities they grew up in. These are the things by which most of us are able to define ourselves, ., "where are you from?". Often referred to as “homesickness-tourism”, it finds now mostly aging people or their descendants looking for their cultural and ancestral roots so cruelly ripped out from underneath them after hundreds of years of settlement in East Prussia. Here, the worst kind nostalgia reigns: to find yourself in a present with little or no continuity with the past to latch on to, and putting into question the very memories you have of it and yourself being nurtured by it.
“Two years after the Wende , or the ‘turning point’ in 1989, these East Germans started to feel a bit of disillusionment with the effects of reunification,” explains historian and German consumer culture expert Prof. Katherine Pence. “They had had secure jobs under the socialist regime and now they had to struggle in a very competitive marketplace.”
A scholar at Baruch College at the City University of New York, Pence sat down with Art Beat to discuss the particularities of East German design and culture, and how the products of the past continue to play a role in contemporary Germany.
The building of the Wall rendered Peglau’s dissertation useless. He had developed a braking system for the Berlin suburban railway circuit, but this was made redundant by the Wall. Karl Peglau’s life was closely interlinked with history. He spent 30 years working as an executive traffic psychologist for the medical service of the East German transportation system. In this position, amongst other things, he developed analytical procedures for ascertaining roadworthiness, as well as several guidance symbols for regulating traffic flows and for increasing traffic safety.