The East German schools where ‘children were educated to lie’

He found his teacher in tears and half his classmates gone, having fled with their families to the West.

Everything Töpfer and his fellow pupils had been taught to believe had collapsed overnight.

This week marks 30 years since the wall fell, paving the way for German reunification in 1990. Amid the momentous redrawing of the nation, the school system of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was also overhauled.

In the months that followed, the syllabus was scrapped. Teachers underwent retraining. And joining the country’s official youth organization — known as the “Pioneers” — with its distinctive neckties and caps was no longer a rite of passage for every pupil.

The children who grew up under the former communist regime are all grown up now. But their years of education there left a lasting impression.

A political education

In some ways, Töpfer never really left an East German classroom. Today he is director of the School Museum in Leipzig, a city around two hours drive from Berlin, that was also home to the peaceful revolution that helped bring down the wall.
Stepping inside the museum is like tiptoeing into a time machine. A recreated East German classroom features rows of rickety desks and chairs pointed towards a blackboard. Hanging nearby is a portrait of Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany until 1989.

The classroom walls are adorned with paintings of communist utopias — workers in flowery fields and scientists diligently tapping…

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