GDR Plastics in Design.

A Research Project on Material, Technology and Conservation
Klaus Kunis, watering cans, VEB Glasbijouterie Zittau, 1960.
Photo: Die Neue Sammlung

The conservation department of Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum is a co-operation partner in the international research project GDR Plastics in Design.

A children’s hairdresser’s play set, a watering can from the 1960s, an electric pedicure set in space-age design and an egg-shaped garden chair: These and many other everyday plastic objects from the former GDR are at the center of the research project ‘GDR Plastics in Design’.

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles, Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum in Munich, the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Los Angeles and the Cologne University of Applied Sciences are investigating questions relating to the manufacture, design and preservation of plastic products from the GDR era in this project.


From the 1950s onwards, the GDR developed into one of the leading plastics-producing nations, exporting its products to almost every country in the Eastern Bloc and even to the West via covert channels. Ideal terrain for a research project of this kind: a time-limited period of just under 40 years, which is regionally limited and perfectly documented.
The present research project deals specifically with the identification of production processes and technologies of plastics used in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) between 1949 and 1990 for the production of industrial design, their degradation mechanisms and possible preventive and active treatments.


Until now, conservation science has mainly focused on the influence of the chemical structure of a plastic on its ageing behaviour. The influence of manufacturing conditions has been largely neglected. Although the engineering sciences collect relevant data in the context of quality assurance, there are few or no interfaces between the two disciplines (conservation sciences / engineering sciences). This project aims to close this gap and to clarify this relationship by systematically investigating and evaluating a temporally and geographically closed production area, identifying and characterising materials and generating treatment recommendations from the data collected.

This research project examines, documents and compares two of the most important and extensive collections in this field. The Wende Museum in Los Angeles and Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum in Munich have several thousand GDR plastic objects from the field of everyday culture in their collections. A systematic examination and evaluation of these objects is taking place in parallel at both locations and promises to provide new insights into the history of production as well as material use and ageing. The Getty Conservation Institute is providing systematic and analytical support for these investigations and, with its expertise in the field of plastics conservation and identification, is providing essential assistance. The fourth cooperation partner is the Institute of Conservation Sciences at the TH Köln, which researched and documented the socio-historical background to plastics production in the GDR as part of a research project on GDR plastics from 2009 to 2011.

The project will be accompanied by a meeting of experts and a concluding symposium. The research results will be published internationally (Getty Conservation Institute publication series) and finally presented in an exhibition (Wende Museum, Los Angeles / Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; working title: “House of Plastics”).


Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)
Tom Learner (Head of Science)
Anna Laganà (Senior Research Specialist)
Joy Mazurek (Associate Scientist)

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) works internationally to advance conservation practice in the visual arts-in the broadest sense of the word, to include objects, collections, architecture, and sites. The Institute serves the conservation community through scientific research, education and training, field projects and the dissemination of information. In all its endeavours, the GCI creates and delivers knowledge that contributes to the preservation of the world’s cultural heritage.

Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences
Friederike Waentig (Professor Conservation)
Ester Ferreira (Professor Conservation Science)

TH Köln is one of the most innovative universities of applied sciences. It offers students and academics from Germany and abroad an inspiring learning, working and research environment in the social, cultural, societal, engineering and natural sciences. Around 27,000 students are currently enrolled on around 100 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes. TH Köln shapes social innovation – with this claim we meet the challenges of society. Our interdisciplinary thinking and actions, our regional, national and international activities make us a valued co-operation partner and pioneer in many areas.

Wende Museum
Joes Segal (Chief Curator)
Christine Rank (Head of Collections)

The Wende Museum is an art museum, a historical archive of the Cold War and a centre for creative social engagement that explores and inspires change.Founded in 2002, the Wende Museum houses a unique collection of art and artefacts from the Eastern Bloc.It promotes the multi-layered exploration and discussion of this period.Named after the German word ‘Wende’, which describes the era before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the museum serves as the foundation for a dynamic programme that illuminates the political and cultural changes of the past and inspires personal and social change for the future.

Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum
Tim Bechthold (Head of Conservation)
Josef Straßer (Chief Curator)

Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum is considered to be the first design museum in the world. Founded in 1907 according to the ideals of the Deutscher Werkbund, it was inaugurated as an official state museum in 1925. From the very beginning, it differed from the arts and crafts museums of the time in that it was decidedly dedicated to modernism and thus to contemporary design. The programme of the Neue Sammlung still pursues these original aims today.
With over 150,000 catalogued objects, Die Neue Sammlung is one of the largest and most beautiful design collections in the world.
Its Conservation Department is considered one of the most important international centers for the conservation of modern design objects. It has gained international recognition through the initiation of the FUTURE TALKS conference series and postprints.