Jump to main area
All State Museums in Schleswig-HolsteinAll State Museums in SH

Traces of the Cold War

in Schleswig-Holstein

30.03.2021 - 30.11.2022

In the "balance of terror" - the almost five decades of the Cold War can hardly be summed up better. Communism and capitalism, East and West were irreconcilably opposed during this period. They are competing in a race in which everything is at stake, even in the smallest details. Lurking in the background are gigantic stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could wipe out life on earth several times over. Yet for long stretches, the nuclear threat is little more than a background noise in everyday life. Meanwhile, in Schleswig-Holstein, as in the entire Federal Republic, the state is planning for an emergency, which fortunately does not happen in the end. Today the Cold War is history. The special exhibition "Auf den Spuren des Kalten Krieges” therefore focuses on two central questions: What has remained of this era? And how do we want to remember it?

The divided world

Korean War, Hot Wire, Pershing II: What has stuck with us from the great events of world history? How did the Cold War make itself felt in the everyday lives of Schleswig-Holsteiners? And how did it feel when NATO units ploughed through the fields on manoeuvres or low-flying aircraft thundered loudly across the Schleswig-Holstein sky. The show begins with numbers, dates and formative events of the time.

The sound of the Cold War - it is located somewhere between the test alarms of the air-raid sirens and "99 Red Balloons" by Nena. Even back then, the media carried the appropriate images into living rooms: the "Tagesschau" reported on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the NATO Double-Track Decision, the "Spiegel" on the boycott of the Olympic Games and "Reagan's neutron shock". At a film station in the exhibition, we can review the decades of reporting.

While at that time young people were discussing the pros and cons of compulsory military service vs. alternative service with their parents in the kitchen - you can replay this - simultaneously in the children's room the Cold War became the content of the game: sinking ships, tank battles and later also first-person shooters caused conflicts across the generations and political camps. Conflicts that, by the way, also cut right across society and caused large peace demonstrations on the streets of the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s.

Pop culture takes up these motifs. Heroes, villains and spies, saving the world at the last second - the Cold War is ideally suited for dramatic portrayals or even re-enactments. While in American feature films the USSR practically always has to serve as the villain, pop and rock songs are often more sceptical and break with the rigid scheme of good and evil. This exhibition also presents a small selection to listen to and watch, from "Eve of Destruction" to "Wind of Change". 

The unease becomes even clearer when one approaches the German-German border in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, which at that time separated the city of Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein and the district of Duchy of Lauenburg from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: for anyone living not far from the border, for anyone wanting to visit relatives in the GDR or for anyone wanting to travel to West Berlin via the transit route, the "Iron Curtain" becomes downright tangible. Even today, exhibits such as a barrier from the Gudow border crossing, warning signs or a Russian anti-personnel mine from the "death strip" are as impressive as they are evocative.

Protection from nuclear attack

They are located in cellars, World War II bunkers, underground garages and tunnels, distributed throughout West Germany: large public shelters, known as "atomic bunkers" for short. Around 2000 such facilities were built from the 1960s onwards and maintained until the end of the Cold War. The bunker under Kiel's Schlossplatz could also shelter 2000 people for up to 14 days in the event of a military attack. Still used today as an underground car park, its temporary "double life" as a bunker is little known.

In 2007, the federal government decided that this protection concept was no longer up to date. Since then, the bunkers have been gradually cleared out, converted, closed or deconstructed. In this way, a chapter in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany is gradually fading away. In the special exhibition, however, part of it comes back to life: In the second part of the exhibition, original exhibits from the bunker under Kiel Castle and from other shelters in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg illustrate how the authorities planned for all eventualities: bunk beds, seats, dishes, toilet brushes and communication equipment show very directly and vividly what was stored in the bunkers for decades "just in case".

Everything else remained considerations and plans: What would it have been like to have to stay in the Kiel bunker for a fortnight in an emergency? Who would have organised this forced cohabitation of 2000 people? Where would they have slept, what would they have eaten? How would they have been supplied with water, air and electricity? But above all: when would the trapped people have been able to return to the earth's surface? And what would they have found there? We play out these scenarios for you in the exhibition at five listening stations. Meanwhile, you can sit down on the hard original benches of the bunker and marvel at impressive photographs from inside it.

Searching for traces in Schleswig-Holstein

Most of them are massive structures made of steel and concrete, hundreds of which can still be found throughout Schleswig-Holstein today. The third part of the special exhibition is about buildings of the Cold War. For decades, they were built and maintained as conscientiously as they were discreetly by the authorities and the military. They were meant to protect people, but not to worry them, and so even then they tended to lie in the shadows of public attention. Secrecy and barbed wire shielded some of them, others were publicly visible and accessible, but hardly anyone knew of their function.

It is therefore easy for people today to forget these remnants of the Cold War. The preservation and documentation of the bulky objects is mainly taken care of by private individuals, thus preserving the memory of a wartime without war. Four of them, who deal with the subject for very different reasons, get a chance to speak in the exhibition. They talk about scenarios of the Cold War, but also about very personal - beautiful as well as scary - memories of childhood and youth.

Sponsored by...

Our media partners

Schleswig-Holstein State Museums
Scroll up