Before and After the Fall of Communism

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Here’s a striking photo series of sites around East Germany, before and after the fall of communism.

(Via Walter Olson’s Twitter feed.)

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30 Responses to “Before and After the Fall of Communism”

  1. #1 |  picachu | 

    You should do a reverse of that-a building in America (say, Detroit) back before we became as authoritarian as East Germany used to be, and the same building today.

  2. #2 |  OGRE | 

    Those are great. Thanks for sharing.

  3. #3 |  Chris N | 

    You should rename the post “During and After Communism.” Otherwise, Communism has cleaned up the neighborhood.

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    These are my favorite kinds of posts.

  5. #5 |  Jesse | 

    But that’s just gentrification, and the destruction of the supply of affordable housing!!!

  6. #6 |  Bob | 

    Wow, that building cleans up real nice!

    Does everyone in Germany park their cars that perfectly?

  7. #7 |  crazybob | 

    I have a sense that this is bogus (not that life in communist east germany was pretty) but lets find the dates on the original photo. Berlin was devastated by a massive war not that long ago- and it took decades to clean up.

  8. #8 |  Radley Balko | 

    I have a sense that this is bogus

    Of course you do. Click through and read the article. The “before” photos were taken in 1990.

    I’m sure some of the photos are leftover war ruins. That also says something about communism. After 45 years, they still hadn’t rebuilt those sites.

    Opening up to a market economy saw them rebuilt in less than 10.

  9. #9 |  Radley Balko | 

    Good point. Changing head.

  10. #10 |  crazybob | 

    BTW, two photos of my house over the last decade would show a similar (but less dramatic) transformation, even though we have become more authoritarian. Go figure.

    True or not this post is an example of the “snapshot” view of the world that libertarians tend to live in. The only thing real is what they see through a small window that is looking at that which most dramatically reinforces their vision.

    Facts are that between the inauguration of FDR and the inauguration of Reagan government expanded immensely in this country – coincident with the greatest expansion of wealth and prosperity in the history of the world. Since Reagan the size of government has been largely stagnant, as has the growth of prosperity.

  11. #11 |  crazybob | 

    BTW, East Germany was never really “Communist” it was a dictatorship of an external (soviet) oligarchy (sort of like the way the US is heading). That extracted a lot of wealth from EG.

    Not that I’m defending communism, it has never worked at the state level because it has a flawed view of human psychology and behaviour.

  12. #12 |  Endless Mike | 

    Stagnation of prosperity
    combined with shrinking of government

  13. #13 |  edmund dantes | 

    You could do the same thing with the South Bronx or any number of Ghetto areas in the New York City area (late 80’s early 90’s), and they got better as NYC followed the authoritarian inclinations of Giuliani et al. Correlation does not mean causation.

    Those pictures don’t paint the picture you think they paint.

  14. #14 |  Brandon | 

    Wow, crazybob will really go through any mental gymnastics necessary to hold on to a failed ideology, won’t he?

  15. #15 |  tariqata | 

    I have to agree with crazybob at 10 – these snapshots tell a true story about postsocialist Germany, but it’s also an incomplete one. I spent several weeks this summer on a graduate course in East Germany that explored how reunification has impacted urban form and governance. I saw a lot of beautiful, renovated buildings and vibrant city centres in Leipzig, Halle and Berlin, but I also saw block after block of crumbling apartments (both pre-WWII buildings in central Leipzig, and buildings dating from the 70s through to the 80s in places like Grunau and Halle-Neustadt), some which had been bought up by foreign investors in the first phases of privatization and then left to fall to pieces. The state and federal governments have been subsidizing the demolition of buildings, leaving weedy overgrown holes, because cities like Leipzig have been unable to cope with the cost of maintaining the infrastructure, especially given the huge numbers of people who left over the past two decades because they were unable to find jobs.

    Our German instructors and informants absolutely did not want to go back to a repressive socialist government – but they were also pretty firm on the point that the benefits of the market economy have been uneven. The photographer who did this series left out the very visible evidence of that unevenness.

  16. #16 |  Brandon | 

    Endless, did you actually read the stuff you linked to? Neither of them show anything like shrinking of government.

  17. #17 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Wow, some false dichotomies being thrown around here… First of all, when I studied in Germany in 1999, the difference between the West and the East was quite stark. I’m not sure what you could attribute it to other than communism. And yes, the transition for the East was not an easy one, but suggesting that’s evidence of the market’s imperfection is akin to folks who point to our pre-Obamacare health insurance industry as evidence of the market’s imperfection: there was never a true market in place to begin with. Indeed, it’s been difficult for Germany to heal the scars caused by division and communism, but the fact remains that those scars wouldn’t even be there were it not for communism. That social democrat Germany hasn’t been able to fully recover in just over twenty years hardly speaks to the shortcomings of capitalism.

  18. #18 |  Miko | 

    Now if only we can get some pictures showing what a random street somewhere looked like before and after, say, Obamacare was passed. Because if it changed from before to after, then Obamacare logically must have been the reason, right?

  19. #19 |  StrangeOne | 

    Remarkable how the apologies flow when the word communism is thrown out. I wonder if half these complaints would exist if the article had been titled “Before and After Tyrannical Repression”. I guess we are just supposed to ignore the pattern of tyrannical repression following communism, because all those people who called themselves communists for nearly a century weren’t true communists, as defined by all the peoples who didn’t live in those countries.

  20. #20 |  EH | 

    Survey: Are Agitator comments going to be ruined like this from now on? I’m just trying to figure out whether I should even bother anymore. I can get stupid, unfounded opinions anywhere.

  21. #21 |  AlgerHiss | 

    This satellite photo of North and South Korea at night is quite powerful as well:

  22. #22 |  Byaka | 

    #7 Crazybob – I can only give anecdotal information but I was stationed in W. Berlin from 1987-89 and these photos ring true to me. We were not allowed to go to any towns in East Germany but while passing through East Germany on the Soviet controlled highway that led out to West Germany, one could see small towns from the road. I remember that the first time I went out I was shocked to see buildings that were still pockmarked with the marks of a war that had been over for >40 years.

    I never saw such a thing in any of the West German towns I visited. Even in the smallest small towns I visited in WGer, stucco on the buildings was fresh and clean and the towns were tidy and well cared for. There was a felling of decay and abandon in those small towns in EGer that was apparent (and so aberrant that I immediately took note of it), even from the passing of a car on a highway.

    Radley, thanks for this post. I really enjoyed the photos and my fellow Berlin vets, whom I pointed towards the photo gallery, have enjoyed them as well.

  23. #23 |  EBL | 

    picachu makes a good point at #1.

    I was in the USSR just before the coup. Leningrad (large parts of it) looked a lot like that photo above. A beautiful city, with wide boulevards. But very few automobiles (some may like that but that is a different issue…) and the ground floors of buildings mostly abandoned and boarded up (because there was no retail purpose for them). The Russians had spent some time rebuilding the old buildings destroyed by the war (to their credit) but beyond that there did not seem to be a lot of maintenance and there were lots of broken and boarded windows. The “new” architecture was hideous. Reinforced concrete monstrosities by half wit architects.

    St. Petersburg is a completely transformed city economically now. Mostly in a good way (although I suppose there is always a danger of new development taking out some of the old historic buildings). Communism tended to save the past due to the lack of any dynamic economic growth. And that is true across the whole former Communist block.

    It is similar in Asia. Singapore is a dynamic city, but the old colonial city is left only in remnants. Old Shanghai and Bangkok are also in many ways no more. You can get a hint of what they may have looked like by going to Saigon or Hanoi. But growth there is changing those cities, in good and bad ways. It is interesting to watch it happen.

  24. #24 |  Boyd Durkin | 


    BTW, two photos of my house over the last decade would show a similar (but less dramatic) transformation

    “Van” isn’t spelled “house”.

    Let me go talk to my liberated East German relatives OH WAIT I CAN’T because they were killed.

  25. #25 |  crazybob | 

    North Korea is not a “communist state” except in name only. It is a dictatorship by the oligarchy that calls itself communist as a ruse. Same is true of E. Germany. Dictatorships are always bad for everyone. Which is why america’s current slide toward a billionaires oligarchy is going to be the end of this nation.

  26. #26 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    The track record of Communism is that it is nearly ALWAYS a dictatorship. Give the State unlimited authority, and you make it that much more worthwhile for psychos and thugs to take it over. “True Communism” has “never been tried” because “Communism” was the fig-leaf of choice for 20th century monsters like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. All three claimed to be Communists, and all three were given appalling latitude by large numbers of people who should have known better.

  27. #27 |  greenback | 

    The pictures here were taken in Dresden. What the DDR did in Dresden is almost as embarrassing as what the Allies did, and the Commies (German or Russian) almost seemed to have left the city in its 1945 state out of spite.

  28. #28 |  contrarian | 

    You could probably find 1,000 buildings in Washington, DC that went through a comparable change between 1985 and 2012. When I moved here in the early 1990’s there were whole blocks that stood pretty much as they had been left when they were burned in the 1968 riots. If you ever saw the Jack Nicholson movie “Mars Attacks,” those scenes of a devastated Washington with the Capitol in the background were filmed on location with minimal modification. Since then large sections of the downtown have been rebuilt.

    While it would be tempting to make this an allegory about the Reagan and Obama administrations, I won’t go there because it’s not fair. DC had a long-running real estate boom. When real estate soars, buildings that had been not worth repairing become valuable.

    I won’t say that the East German government wasn’t evil, or trivialize the change that the former East Germany has seen in the two decades since reunification by calling it merely a real estate boom. But some pictures of fixed up buildings doesn’t make much of a case.

  29. #29 |  el coronado | 

    Actually, Contrarian, if you’ve ever lived among Germans, it makes a *devastating* case. I grew up in an army town – an army base that frequently hosted German Military for missile schools, etc. So, lotsa Germans around. You could drive down any street in the 2 sections of town the Germans tended to live, and instantly spot the ‘German’ houses: They were the ones with, usually, fencing, and – always – an **immaculate** lawn, perfectly-tended flowerbeds, spotlessly clean yards & driveways, and equally spotless, fanatically-maintained cars in front.

    After awhile, you learn that tidying things up and making everything squared away is just in the German DNA, and must have been there for hundreds of years. What’s their beloved catchphrase? ” Alles in Ordnung”?

    Then you see how communism broke that in East Germany in fewer than 5 years. Money wasn’t the issue: the Germans would have been itching to haul away the rubble and patch the bullet holes, and repaint……and then – for what can only be 1 reason – they just didn’t do it. Any political system that can turn *Germans* into passive, lazy ne’er-do-wells is by definition a toxic system. So I’d say those pictures of fixed-up buildings make a fine case, wrapped neatly into a tidy little package. They sat there untouched and unrepaired for 45 years…and then something changed, and they suddenly got fixed up. Seems only fair to ask, “what changed?”

  30. #30 |  Luke | 

    Wow, crazybob will really go through any mental gymnastics necessary to hold on to a failed ideology, won’t he?

    I love the smell of burning paradigms in the morning…