Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

I recently gave a seminar in the Gerhart Hauptmann House in Düsseldorf (on a subject totally unrelated to him). The whole place seemed to be a kind of shrine to the former German populations in Eastern Europe, who were unceremoniously yet understandably kicked out of Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations in the wake of World War II. This was the fate the befell Hauptmann (g), a German writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1912, himself. In fact the Hauptmann Haus in Düsseldorf is also the headquarters of the Bund der Vertriebenen for Northern Rhine – Westphalia (g). For those of you who don't know, this 'League of the Expelled' represents the interests of those millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from historical areas of German settlement (as well as areas conquered and brutally occupied by the Nazis) east of the Oder/Neisse river, which was roughly the Eastern border of East Germany.

Somewhere between 12 and 16 million Germans were expelled from the East immediately after the war:

Vertreibung

The expulsion was often brutal, accompanied by abuse and massacres, and most of the expellees were forced to leave their land and possessions behind. The human suffering was enormous, but, to put it bluntly, nobody cared much about German suffering in the immediate aftermath of World War II. After the collapse of Communism, the idea of compensation for the expropriated property was bruited in some German circles, but was met with incredulousness verging on hostility by Eastern European governments.

The survivors of the expellees are still well-organized today, and are a moderately powerful lobby in Germany. They're considered pretty right-wing, and their actions are often a thorn in the side of the German government. To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.

Here are a few photographs from the dusty displays in the Haus, featuring typical toys, pastries, and even bitters from the German Sudetenland:

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I had no idea that Becherovka was originally created by Germans. 

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Finally, a charming nativity scene. Well, except for the giant, flaccid penises pointing directly at the Christ Child. Oh wait, those are candles. Yet another embarrassing situation that could have been prevented by air-conditioning.

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4 thoughts on “Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

  1. “To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.”

    My father was expelled from where he lived (in Southern Bohemia) by Germans when they invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 and sent to work in coal mines for 4 years in Northern Moravia to supply the great German Reich with coal as were thousands of other Czechs.

    Would he be entitled to compensation too, or would this compensation be going only in one direction, starting from 1945?

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  2. There was no compensation by Eastern bloc goverments, as far as I know (of course not, most of them had suffered worse by Nazi Germany). For all I know the Expelled were compensated by the (West) German government (to some extent).
    As for people having suffered from forced labor in Nazi camps or factories, they were compensated by the German government, although often meagrely, after a long time (I think only around 2000) and with lots of bureaucracy involved.
    Cf. the wikpedia entry
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labour_under_German_rule_during_World_War_II

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  3. The so-called “Sudetenland” (as used in your blog post and by the lobby of displaced Germans today) does not signify the historical region but a concoction of German speaking nationalists in Bohemia and Moravia. It was applied as a tool to split up Czechoslovakia. To use the term in that way today means validating this nationalist and racist inter-war discourse that eventually led to the distruction of the only democracy in central Europe.

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  4. Well organized yes, but a thorn in the side of the government? I’ll have to look into that. In my experience, there isn’t much in terms of public awareness of this particular part of history, which is why it’s such a pain to keep explaining why my name is Polish, but my family and I are not in any capacity.

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