On this episode of Radio GDR East Germany podcast, Steve Minegar explores the lives of East Germans who, in the name of international solidarity and cooperation with fellow socialist countries, worked on behalf of the GDR in Mozambique in the 1980’s. He has the distinct pleasure of being joined by Dr. Katrin Bahr, Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Born in East Berlin, Katrin and her family spent time in Beira, Mozambique in the early 1980s where her father was assigned to a railroad company. Over the last few years she has curated photo-exhibitions in the USA, Mozambique, and Germany about everyday life experiences of East Germans in Mozambique. Katrin is the co-founder of the Third Generation Ost network in the United States, which aims to open up new perspectives and approaches on research topics focused on the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Her personal life story and the missing narratives of East Germans in the discourse around the history of the GDR motivated her to pursue a PhD in German Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research topics cover post-colonial Mozambique, East German material, and visual culture, and East German memory studies.
Steven’s Portuguese language abilities made him curious about the connections between Mozambique and the GDR and led him to discover Katrin’s amazing exhibition. After a ten year civil war spurred on by communist and anti-colonial ideologies, Mozambique achieved independence from Portugal in 1975 under the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). Many Portuguese returned home, leaving a skills shortage that fellow socialist countries like the GDR decided to fill. Between 1979 and 1990, thousands of East German teachers, engineers, doctors, consultants, and others moved to Mozambique with their families as part of the Friendship Treaty with the GDR that was signed on February 24, 1979. They worked alongside Mozambicans to train and educate Mozambicans. The East Germans stayed in Mozambique between two to three years, and many of them also traveled through the country on work assignments. They brought not only their technical expertise to the country, but also their cameras.
The pictures from Katrin’s exhibition offer insights into the lives of those East Germans and the development aid work they did while they were there. These images serve as a counter-narrative to official images published by the East German government, which mostly portrayed the successful labor of the experts. The current photo series aims to portray all aspects of everyday life and they provide insight into ongoing colonial structures that were further supported by the concept of solidarity.
The collection portrays work and family life, excursions and leisure activities, and interactions with native Mozambicans. The images, taken by amateur photographers, were given to Katrin Bahr as slides. She then scanned, enlarged and printed them for this exhibition. Below are samples of Katrin’s exhibition, which can be found here in its entirety: