German Word of the Week: Affentheater

It all started with a documentary about East German housing policy.  No, really, it did. 

East Germany made a promise to all its citizens that they would have a place to live provided by the State.  That promise was fulfilled with the help of the now-infamous Plattenbau — literally, "plate-buildings."  These were prefabricated 5-or-6 story apartment houses that sprang up all over the East in socialist times.

You can instantly recognize Plattenbau, because it all looks the same — buildings composed of interlocking brown pebble-concrete construction units.  It was cheap, it was easy to build, it provided living spaces for humans.  And it was ugly and uniform.  [But before you capitalists begin chuckling about how those poor communists had to live with so much ugly uniformity, remind yourself that a most new structures in the United States are built on the same principles — a new McDonald’s, for instance, arrives prefabricated at the installation site, and takes an average of less than 24 hours to erect.]

The documentary director interviewed one East German city planner, who reported that the government commissioned a report which found that the Plattenbau policy had, perhaps, been too successful.  People were leaving the decaying inner cities to go live in Plattenbau suburbs, which offered more green spaces and often more room.  In fact, more people were leaving the inner cities than the government could build new suburban housing blocks for.  This could lead to housing problems in the socialist paradise, which would be problematic from many perspectives — social, ideological, etc.

The response to this report, the architect observed with a chuckle, was ein richtiges Affentheater — "a real monkey-theater."  The closest dict.leo.org online can get to the English meaning is lame substitutes like "complete farce" or "ridiculous business."  But really, does any English phrase convey the glorious image of monkeys dressed in formal costumes jumping about the stage, screeching, howling, and scratching their genitals? 

4 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Affentheater

  1. Seems that there are some few animals that are “beloved” in german language. “Affen” is one :”Affentheater”, ” Affenhitze”, “Affengeil” etc..

    What about the female pig: “Sau”? many words too…

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  2. The US military has a useful expression: “cluster-fuck”. But I like Affentheater better.

    There are worse things than prefab. The US equivalent of the Plattenbau is probably the trailer-park, which is equally grim. But go slightly upscale and you see the double-wide and triple-wide – houses constructed in a factory and moved out to the building site in two or three pieces by large trucks.

    These can be cheap, although a decent lot of land frequently costs as much again. And these are no architectural tour de forces when viewed from outside. But they are comfortable, spacious (sometimes), inexpensive, and can be quite sturdy when one invests in a decent foundation. I saw triple-wides (actually about 2.5) when in Atlanta which used the third ‘half-unit’ for an large kitchen which looked very nice. We’re not talking luxury here, but nice. and the house listed at $65,000 without land, well, etc.

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