Underneath all of the interesting GDR artifacts the Wende Museum houses – from flags to busts of socialist leaders, from Schalmei instruments to commemorative plates – it can be easy to overlook the archival materials tucked away neatly in their storage boxes. The diaries kept by work groups (Brigaden), however, are of equal importance to the understanding of the everyday life (Alltag) of people who lived in former East Germany and the socialist system as a whole. These diaries offer glimpses into not only their working world, but also into their contributions to the cause of socialism by recording their year’s productivity. These scrapbooks also tell the stories of the smallest unit of the socialist society, work groups, that together formed the framework of the GDR’s political system.
Most brigades consisted of collectives of 10-20 employees and were organized as part of the industrial sector, made up of train station attendants, factory workers and engineers for example. Others consisted of employees cleaning parks in a certain area, such as part of East Berlin. The support to form Brigades came from government agencies such as the Free German Trade Union Federation (Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund – FDGB) which also encouraged each Brigade to enter into competitions for various criteria such as being the most productive in a particular year or the most work-related accident free and ultimately to win the title “Collective of Socialist Work.” The worker with the best handwriting was made the Kulturobmann, who had the responsibility of making entries into the Brigadetagebuch.
The FDGB journal Gewerkschaftsleben provided tips for writing and keeping the Brigade diary. According to its suggestions, the contents should consist of the collective’s work assignments and goals, daily problems, as well as the collaborative spirit (Zusammenleben) of the group at work and in the private sphere (GL 7/1988). Entries should also take note of anniversaries important to the socialist cause, such as the 8th of March (International Women’s Day) and the 170th birthday of Karl Marx, as well as birthdays of the members of the Brigade. By recording the unique happenings of the group, such as hiking trips and visits to the local pub, alongside significant dates in the history of socialism, Brigadetagebücher were meant to bridge the gap between the social and private sphere.
It should be mentioned that the work of a former intern at the Wende Museum, Sherry Spencer, contributed significantly to the study of collectives in the GDR, in particular the Brigade culture, in her honors thesis entitled “Socializing and Camaraderie, Communist Style – Brigade Culture in the German Democratic Culture.” For more general information, see: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigadetagebuch (in german).