Berlin Hotel Recreates East Germany
Wednesday, June 20, 2007; 6:54 AM
BERLIN -- The four clocks behind the reception desk of Berlin's new budget hotel Ostel show the hour in Moscow, Berlin, Havana, and Beijing. Time, however, appears to have stopped here sometime before 1989, when communism was still entrenched in all four capitals.
The Ostel offers a renewed whiff of life in the former German Democratic Republic, welcoming travelers with portraits of communist leaders adorning the walls.
Furnishings _ except for mattresses, bed linens, sink and toilets _ are the real thing, dug up by founders Daniel Helbig and Guido Sand from flea markets, friends, family and eBay.
But Helbig made clear it was not about pining for a return to the police-state.
"We had the idea of preserving a bit of GDR culture ... (but) we are not crying for the East German regime," said Helbig, who grew up in East Berlin and experienced its restrictions on freedom of expression and movement first hand.
Germany was divided into two after World War II, the capitalist West and communist East, and nowhere was the split more acutely felt than Berlin, where communist authorities built a wall through the city to prevent its citizens from leaving. The wall fell in 1989, and Germany was officially reunified in 1990.
The Ostel, which opened on May Day _ the traditional worker's holiday under communism _ represents a broader phenomenon known as Ostalgie, or fascination with life in the former East Germany. Ostalgie, like Ostel, is a play on the German word for east _ ost.
Ostalgie primarily focused on communist-era pop culture, including TV shows such as "Sandman" that several generations of children grew up with, and the Trabant automobile, an East German clunker that families waited for years to be able to own under communism.
The Ostel, located in an old Communist-era building just steps from the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, takes pains to be as authentic as possible.
Hotel guests can have an experience right out of the 2003 hit film "Goodbye Lenin!" in which a young man tries to spare his mother the shock of learning of the Berlin Wall's fall after she awakes from a coma by supplying her with the sparse comforts of life in the GDR.
There are rooms that replicate bedrooms from typical East German apartments, from about $50. At the other end of the scale, $12-per-bed Pioneer Camp dorm rooms feature two bunk beds and spartan living conditions evocative of the summer camps of the Free German Youth, the party youth organization.
Socialist Unity Party functionaries such as party General Secretary Erich Honecker and Prime Minister Horst Sindermann peer down from portraits in most rooms, giving the impression that one is under constant surveillance.
Helbig and Sand plan on expanding their East German hotel project with a series of eight East German-style vacation apartments near the Ostel.
Ostel employee Liliana Lehmann, 25, whose early childhood was spent under communism in East Berlin, said the hotel was a break from the bustle of today's capitalist capital.
"We try to create a community feeling," she said. "It's a contrast to today's dog-eat-dog world."
The nostalgia vibe appealed to one traveler from the east German city of Rostock, who wrote in the guestbook: "Great place and many memories from back then!"
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