My only face to face experience with Communists was during multiple, multiple trips to East Berlin, a few trips to “Hier Grenze” along the East German border near Fulda (shhh, I wasn’t allowed within 1 kilometer of the border but I wasn’t driving), and a vacation trip to Yugoslavia. I don’t count my multiple trips to China and once legally and once not legally to North Korea. That’s a story for another time… let’s just say I had very big cajones because I wanted a picture.
During most of my trips to East Berlin, we went shopping at the numerous stores in Alexanderplatz. They were well stocked with high-end goods, all to attract Western tourist money (all in East Deutschmarks). I bought Zeiss binoculars for $20 at the black market rate (or so I heard) of West to East Deutschmarks. We also bought one giant stuffed bear which the guards kept checking out to see if we were smuggling out an East German. I even sang “Born in the USA” at the top of my lungs going through Checkpoint Charlie, returning to West Berlin. It must have been obvious to the East German and Russian guards that everybody in the West was just better off.
One trip I broke from the crowd and took my wife and her parents to a restaurant way deep in East Berlin. I broke free from my wife and her parents and went on a quick trip to the Soviet War Museum. I was the only person there, but there were brochures in Russian and a bunch of other languages. Nothing in either German or English. I had a neat personalized tour, but my Soviet 20-year-old-or-so escort couldn’t speak a word of German, French, Spanish, Italian, or English, and of course I couldn’t speak a word of Russian (except for the phrase “hands up”), so we communicated in caveman grunts. Of course, I knew “da”. Mmm. Ach, gut. Ah, Kalishnikov. Sukhoi. Dragunov. Zhukov. Stalin. Vlasov. Grunt. Mmm. I didn’t dare try Swahili, Farsi, or Arabic. It was fascinating seeing all the Soviet weapons I had read about through the years, seeing a whole new perspective to the war. It truly was an education. I traded him some dollars for a Soviet sports pin (I think) on my way out. I passed by the brochure table on the way out. Miraculously the brochures were all now in English and German.
I stopped and picked up the wife and her parents and we looked at the store next door. The shelves were mostly empty and the tins looked dusty.
Before I forget, we paid the equivalent of about $3 to the restaurant proprietor and gave her a tip (oh, so Western, I know). I believe we tipped $5. She couldn’t curtsey enough. I really got the feeling we had just tipped her more than she saw in an entire month.
The difference between that story and the others we saw, with those in the West, was striking. My first weekend living in West Germany we went to a department store in our home of Gelnhausen, West Germany (FRG). I swear the old ladies sharpened their elbows pushing us aside to get at the goods on the tables, they were not to be stopped or slowed down. All the shelves were full, everything was new, and nothing stayed on the shelf long enough to even see a speck of dust. In East Berlin stores away from Alexanderplatz, things looked they had been made in the 1960s, were dingy, and always had dust on them. Everything just looked and felt dark and lifeless.
I can see why the game is popular in Poland…
WRITTEN BY Hanna Kozlowska
March 24, 2016
The fraught relationship between Russia and Poland is playing out in an unexpected way: in a conflict over a board game. Russian authorities have decided that a popular Polish game that has been dubbed “Communist Monopoly” disseminates anti-Soviet content, and thus should not be sold in Russia’s stores.
The Russian version of the “Queue,” which simulates the experience of shopping in the empty stores of communist-era Poland, was released in Russia in November 2015. Several months later, the country’s consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor informed the game’s Polish producer TREFL that if it does not change the historical content of the game, it would have to take all of its products that are on the Russian market out of circulation, according to IPN, the Polish historical institute behind the game. IPN says that Russians have been allegedly filing complaints to authorities, outraged by a negative description of the communist system, and by the information that the Soviet Union had forcibly installed a communist regime in another country. For Poles, who lived under a Soviet-backed communist regime for nearly five decades, the historical irony is palpable.
IPN refuses to make the changes, and so “Queue” is no longer available in stores in Russia. The head of IPN’s education department, Andrzej Zawistowski, said that the charges were “absurd” and a result of Russia’s so-called “politics of memory.”
“When Russia takes the Soviet Union’s history as its own, it leads to some Russians thinking that criticizing the Soviet Union as a totalitarian regime is the same as attacking contemporary Russia,” Zawistowski told IAR, a Polish radio agency.
“Queue” was released in Poland in 2011, with translations into five languages. It aims to show a younger generation of Poles the exasperation of everyday life in communist-era Poland. Players have to buy all the products on their shopping lists in the five stores in the neighborhood–or on the black market. They have to wait for the products to be re-stocked, and in order to advance in the line, they can use cards such as “mother with child.” The game quickly became a hit, drawing long lines to get one, ironically.