This footage, shot by Ingeborg Euler, gives a somewhat spooky glimpse of the Berlin borough of Kreuzberg in 1979, and was originally broadcast on 3sat. Kreuzberg — then part of West Berlin — was surrounded on three sides by East Berlin, and the film gives a sense of the enclave-like nature of Kreuzberg life at the time, including shots of the river and the Oberbaumbrücke — at that time part of the Berlin Wall. The music is by Brian Eno, from Ambient 4.
Of all the people in the world who were directly ‘haunted’ by the existence and the aftermath of twentieth-century soviet communism, perhaps nobody was as personally affected as Lana Peters, who has died this week at the age of 85 in Wisconsin, USA. Born Svetlana Alliluyeva in 1926, she was Stalin’s only daughter.
Both the BBC and the New York Times have well-researched and detailed obituaries, and both make the point that Lana apparently found it impossible to come to terms with the hand that fate dealt her, spending her life moving from country to country, defecting from the USSR, re-defecting back, re-re-defecting away again, living in a bewildering array of places, marrying and divorcing numerous times, adhering to various religions and philosophies, apparently spending her whole life trying to run away from her own demons.
It is probably somewhat inevitable that most of the coverage of her death has been accompanied by the two famous photos of her as a child: the first showing Svetlana in her father’s arms, and the second showing her in the arms of the sadistic NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria. The images — famous for their implicit ironic juxtaposition between the savagery of these men and the innocence of the child they hold — represent exactly what Svetlana spent her life attempting to escape.
Given this lifelong effort, it seems appropriate not to show those images here. Instead, perhaps it’s better to let Lana hold the stage in her own right. Here she is in 1967, talking to the press after her initial defection from the USSR to the USA.
Monty Python featured numerous surrealistic references to communist history throughout their career as a comedy group, both within sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and in their films and videos. One of the most well-known is from their 1982 video, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Well done, Karl — one final question, and then that beautiful non-materialistic lounge suite will be yours…”
One of the stranger manifestations of Soviet messaging in the 1950s and 1960s was the use of silviculture propaganda: giant signs created in fields and forests by carefully-planted plots of trees. Back in the mid-20th century, these were presumably thought of as tokens to be seen by future generations from communist spaceships above the earth.
The content of the messages were fairly simple, but they are still visible today. And through Google Maps, anyone can now see them, even decades after their aspirational creation.
Click the images to view them larger, or click the titles to view on Google Maps (smaller embedded maps are below each image — zoom in to get more detail).
The BBC’s documentary series from 2009, The Lost World of Communism, examined the legacy of communism twenty years after the fall of the Stalinist regimes of the Eastern Bloc, focusing on personal memories and descriptions of daily life. The three programmes of the series were each about a different country — East Germany, Czechoslovkia and Romania. Part 1, about East Germany, is below.
Some slightly surreal Ostalgie from the mid-1960s. ORWO was the East German state camera film production monopoly, and their advertising of the era apparently focused on all the fun things to take photos of in the Eastern Bloc.