The Null Device

The Leipzig Classroom Experiment

Faced with a wave of ostalgie, misty-eyed nostalgia for the fallen East German Communist regime, Germany's educational authorities have created a mockup of an East German classroom, in which school students would be subjected to the Communist experience. There they would be threatened with disciplinary action for wearing Western clothes, ordered to sing Communist marching songs and told of field trips to border guard regiments, by a "teacher" attired in authentic East German synthetic fabrics. One student would also volunteer in advance to play the child of dissidents, who would then be alternately criticised and ignored by the teachers. What the organisers hadn't planned on was that the whole thing would turn into a small-scale reenactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with dissident "Steffen"'s erstwhile classmates turning on him and joining in persecuting him like good cogs in the totalitarian machine:
The other pupils began to ostracise "Steffen" themselves and accused him of disrupting the class. Although they were encouraged to stand up against the system before the session, none of the pupils rallied to Steffen's support when he was told he could not visit the border-guard unit, or at any other time.
During these sessions Elke Urban models herself on Margot Honecker, the leader's wife who was also a hardline education minister. She said that only one group had dared to stand up and defend the dissident pupil during her classes. "I deliberately create a totalitarian atmosphere and I am still always shocked how quickly and easily people are conditioned by it," she said. "East Germany may have left a pile of Stasi files behind rather than a pile of corpses, but the similarities with the Nazi regime are there."

There are 1 comments on "The Leipzig Classroom Experiment":

Posted by: ianw Sat Oct 25 00:08:03 2008

it may be that such processes (ie herd behaviour upholding the status quo at the expense of a scapegoat, who may or may not have been identified by an authority figure.. may even have identified themselves in a way) are ongoing, in and out of the classroom, regardless of the political climate?

this is a little off-topic perhaps, but the phrase 'misty-eyed nostaligia' reminds me: it is not easy to get East Germans to discuss the pros & cons of reunification (perhaps because I, as an English-speaking visitor, am part of the problem) but the cons could be much-summarised as follows: it was and is marketed as a meeting in the middle, but the day-to-day experience is that the West won, the East is surely happy to be free etc., and there is no room for dialogue about what aspects of the former-East life might be worth holding onto, including (for example) reasonably-priced 'organic' produce ("everything was organic, locally grown") and a feeling sexual freedom, or more to the point, contentment with one's body..