Primary Sources

After the Wende: GDR Jokes D


George Orwell once wrote, "Every joke is a tiny revolution." In state-socialist societies that had (or have) totalitarian characteristics, individuals found clever ways to carve out areas of freedom for themselves. These may have been areas of social freedom (with family and close friends), physical freedom (at one's small garden cottage), or mental freedom (through humor). There were risks associated with telling and listening to jokes that ridiculed the party or politicians, or criticized the failures of state socialism. Thus, cautious individuals shared jokes only within small circles of trusted friends. The risk associated with jokes intensified the pleasure gained from hearing and sharing them. The 1989 Wende (the "turn" that led to the end of the GDR) freed East Germans from the constraints of dictatorship, however there was an ironic consequence which is articulated in the short quote below.

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Elizabeth A. Ten Dyke, Dresden: Paradoxes of Memory, (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Primary Source—Full Text

"We couldn't laugh out loud about the Stasi or say Honecker was an a --. We had to 'talk through the flowers.' It was a lot more powerful then. Now everyone can walk down the street and say Kohl is an a --. It doesn't mean the same anymore."

-- interview with a college-aged East German man.

How to Cite this Source

Anonymous, "After the Wende: GDR Jokes D," Making the History of 1989, Item #331, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).