One nursing home in Dresden, Germany, takes its residents back in time. Brown and yellow designs line the walls, as the scent of Spee and Fewa laundry detergent spreads throughout the room. Yellow magazines that haven’t been read in decades find a new home, joined by the plastic salt-and-pepper shakers that were owned throughout the former East Germany, which included Dresden. And an ”Intershop” sign hovers above a string of walkers and paraphernalia of the past, a constant reminder of the Communist era of yesteryear.
Alexa Seniors’ Residence has created “memory rooms,” that recreate the ambience of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), right down to the era’s meals, décor, and music. No detail was spared in the building of the rooms, from vintage wallpaper featured in German homes of the 1960s to the ditties spinning on record players. The goal is to encourage brain stimulation and reanimate memories of the past for the nursing home’s residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and general memory loss.
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The idea for the “memory room” first arose during a movie night dedicated to films from the GDR, when the nursing home’s director, Gunter Wolfram, decided to add another element to the viewing. He brought in a “Troll” motor scooter from that era that he found on eBay.
Just seeing the scooter encouraged the residents to reminisce about everything from scooter functionality to first dates. Inspired by the reaction, Wolfram scavenged the internet and flea markets, and in January 2016 introduced a room dedicated to Cold War-era memorabilia. He accented their Ostalgie – nostalgia for culture in East Germany – with a framed photograph of Erich Honecker, East Germany’s longtime head of state.
Wolfram’s hypothesis was that being around familiar objects would reinvigorate the minds of those who believed their best years were behind them. Indeed, staff have since noticed “dramatic results,” Wolfram told the Local. “We noticed that people emerge from lethargy, are suddenly able to butter their own bread rolls, eat and drink more, go to the bathroom on their own and are friendlier and more interested in their environment.”
The GDR was originally established in 1949 as Germany was divided between the east and the west after World War II. West Germany was controlled by the United States, Great Britain and France, while East Germany was governed by the Soviet Union. Communism took a front seat in East Germany, full of citizens and workers who were left with fewer resources than their counterpart.
As the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, or SED, ruled a dwindling economy in East Germany, some Germans who tried to leave were shot and killed as they attempted to escape to West Germany. Even with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to separate the neighboring territories, the population in East Germany decreased, with millions of citizens – including younger people with specialized skills – fleeing to West Germany through Berlin. The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, and the GDR was officially dissolved the following year.
“We are all happy the GDR is gone,” Wolfram said, according to the article in The Local. “What we have revived instead is a feeling from a certain time in the patients’ lives that was marked by objects with which they have a positive association. Part of that is the social cohesion you had in a society where things were scarce.”
Other experts tend to agree with the analysis. Therapist Alicia Schöppe told MDR television that as a result of the memory rooms, numerous residents of the home can “eat again on their own” and that even those restricted to their beds have “bounced back.”
With the success of the “memory rooms,” registrations have only increased and the residents are in higher spirits.