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Germans embrace communist past

CNN's Donna Werbner

Berlin Wall
A boy peers over one of the last remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, few would have thought it would be replaced by a 47-kilometer (29-mile) plastic screen.

But that is what arts promoter Christof Blaesius proposes to build for 2006 to coincide with Germany hosting the World Cup.

The screen, which will follow the route of the original concrete boundary dividing east and west, is the latest development in the nostalgic craze for the culture of former communist East Germany (GDR).

Nicknamed "Ostalgie" in Germany, the trend has grown on the back of the movie "Goodbye Lenin" this summer.

The film tells the story of an East German woman who wakes from a coma to find herself in an alien Western world. It grossed about $30 million worldwide, the second most successful German film of the decade.

Ostalgie peaked this month when "The German Democratic Republic Show" aired on German television, hosted by former East German Olympic skater Katarina Witt.

East German products like Spreewald Gurken pickles and Perlodont toothpaste have acquired cult status and specialist Ostalgie shops are springing up across Germany to cope with the demand.

Revelers now wear Jungpioneer passes to "Ostlagie" parties. In the GDR, these cards would denote membership of the communistic youth organization, "The Young Pioneers."

It was as common a feature of everyday life as the Trabant car, with its gearstick on the dashboard, 50km per hour (30 miles per hour) maximum speed and 15-year waiting list.

Now perceived as a classic, the Trabant has been revamped and sells for $20,000.

Ostalgie: 'Camp and kitsch'

The harking for nostalgia coincides with a falling out of favor for west Germany.

Once seen as a chance for economic parity, the illusion is turning sour as the standard of living fails to improve.

More than one million East Germans moved west following reunification. Fourteen years on, economic inequality remains.

September figures show unemployment in the former East Germany is 18.5 percent compared with 8.4 percent in the west.

Jonathan Bach, of Columbia University, says there is a strong desire among the older generation to show that not everything was bad in East Germany.

"Ostalgie is not about a desire to return to the harsh conditions of the time as much as a desire to return to a period when one could still have hopes and dreams of a world existing beyond the border, a world that is now irrevocably tinged with disillusion.

"Along with older easterners, young westerners are the biggest fans.

"For them, Ostalgie is a form of distancing through camp and kitsch. Many are attracted to the retro design of East German aesthetics."

Joachim Scholz of the German National Tourist Board, added: "Ostalgie is very popular with young people. Those who were only 10-years-old when the wall fell now want to look back at what was going on."

Meanwhile, tourist agencies conduct Ostalgie tours of the East and the New National Gallery held its biggest exhibition of GDR art.

The gallery's curator, Bettina Schaschke, said it was the right time to be retrospective, adding: "One can look back now and be objective."

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