the Federal Republic

Sixty years of the Federal Republic of Germany – a retrospective of everyday life

Käfer, Farbfernsehen und Waschmaschinen: Wie sich der Alltag in der BRD veränderte  Copyright: iStockphoto - Stefan KleinBeetle, colour TV and washing wachine:  how the everday life has changed in Germany  Copyright: iStockphoto - Stefan KleinAfter World War II, people in Germany had neither pens to write with nor machines to wash their clothes. Towels, not Pampers, were used as diapers. Fast food – not even a known phrase yet. No, at the time, things like “The Miracle in Bern” and “Sissy” were what moved the hearts of Germans.

It used to be that the man was the breadwinner while the woman took care of the household and the children – a full-time job for both, to be sure. The first fully automatic washing machine in Germany came out in 1951, but for most people it was still unaffordable. The same was true for the microwave, which came out in 1952, and the dishwasher that followed a few years later. Dough for bread or cake was churned with a hand mixer or a whisk, and coffee was prepared in a vacuum device. The Wigomat, from 1954, is considered the first instant filter coffee machine.

One of the first fully automatic washing machines: the Lavamat  Copyright: ElectroluxNowadays there are not only househusbands who take care of the domestic chores while their wives are at work, but there is even paternity leave for fathers. Just about every modern German household has electric refrigerators, a washing machine, electric ovens and ranges, coffee machines, toasters and a plethora of other gadgets to simplify domestic life.

A guarantee of mobility

In addition to the typical devices available for the household, about 40 million cars are owned by German families and about one-fifth of those households own a second vehicle. Of course, there were cars after the war, but they were far too costly for the average consumer. The Goggomobil, a mass-produced automobile that hit the market in 1955, was the first model to bring the average family’s dream of having its own car closer to becoming a reality. Its small motor made it possible to drive with a motorcycle license. The cost for this basic but functional vehicle: DM 3,500. Production was finally shut down in 1969 after roughly 280,000 Goggos had rolled off the line, but other mini-cars had followed suit such as the Borgward, which came out in 1955.

Symbol of the German economic miracle:  the Beetle  Copyright: iStockphoto - Paul MortonThe big breakthrough for the automobile, however, came with the “KdF car” – today known as the VW Käfer, or Beetle. This wildly popular little vehicle, originally promoted as part of the National Socialists’ Strength through Joy program, was intended to be affordable for every German at a price of 999 Reichsmarks – a true car of the people, or Volkswagen. The name “Beetle”, it turns out, was actually coined by an American in the New York Times in 1938: “…thousands and thousands of shiny little beetles that will soon populate the Autobahns.” Despite production having begun in 1938, the Beetle wasn’t available to private citizens until 1946, at a cost 5,000 Reichsmarks. Today it remains a symbol of the post-war German Wirtschaftswunder (Economic Miracle), not least because it was an incredibly successful export product for the country: by 2002, more than 21.5 million Beetles had been sold worldwide, the most successfully sold automobile in history.

Sexual liberation

The pill was officially marketed as a remedy for irregular menstruation  Copyright:  iStockphoto - Alex Bramwell1961 marked the year of the first birth control pill on the German market, but the contraceptive device didn’t quite suit the moral sensibilities of post-war Germany. As a result, the “pill” was officially marketed as a remedy for irregular menstruation. The sexual liberation that this type of birth control brought with it, however, was wholeheartedly endorsed by the more liberal student movements of the 1960s. The sexual repression that defined the 1950s was suddenly deemed out of touch, a fact that was expressed immediately in contemporary fashion. In 1962, Mary Quant designed the first miniskirt. The risqué article was met with indignation by some, but welcomed by many others as an expression of feminine confidence. The bikini, a piece of apparel that had actually existed since antiquity, also broke onto the scene again, this time for good.

Fascinating technology

Moved the hearts:  the Sissi-Movies  Copyright: Kinowelt Home EntertainmentChristmas Day 1952 marked the beginning of the daily TV show. At the time, though, televisions were a luxury most people simply couldn’t afford. In 1953, only about 4,000 of them had been sold in West Germany. Watching TV was not just a pastime either. It was an event for which the few households that had one would invite friends over to watch programs in black-and-white. That is, until August 25, 1967, when Willi Brandt introduced the color TV for the first time at the IFA exhibition in Berlin. The heyday of TV had begun: in 1969 they transmitted live from the moon; in 1972 ARD and ZDF carried the Olympic Summer Games; in 1984, Germany’s first private stations, RTL and Sat1, broadcast their inaugural programs. Today there are countless specialty stations for every hobby or interest.

There are even TVs that record programs so you can watch them later. If we miss a show we can typically find it on the Internet. For a long time, however, the Internet – a concept developed by the United States Department of Defense in 1969 - was the realm of scientists and experts. By the mid-1990s it had been opened to the public and now 70 percent of Germans above the age of 10 uses it. An astonishing 99 percent of Germany is connected to the mobile telephone network – at this point, the mobile phone has replaced the landline in every tenth house.

Constanze Fiebach
is a literature scholar at the University of Düsseldorf and a freelance journalist. She lives in Essen.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
August 2009

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