The Wende Museum in Culver City, California states its mission is to “preserve the cultural artifacts and personal histories of Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to inform and inspire a broad understanding of the period and its enduring legacy. ” It is “simultaneously an archive of material culture and educational institution, fusing interdisciplinary scholarship with its programs.”
The Wende Museum (“Wende,” a German word meaning “turning point,” refers to the collapse of communist East Germany in 1989 and the creation of a reunified German state a year later) collects the cultural, political artifacts and documentary materials “that are at-risk or are critical to scholarly investigation, and personal artifacts and histories that capture the lived experience beneath the ideological battles and geopolitical struggles of the Cold War.” The entire collection of more than 60,000 items is available to scholars, students, artists, educators, journalists and others from around the world.
Examining the history of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union can be fraught with political and personal bias, and the complex, often contradictory stories that underlie the Museum’s artifacts may provoke uncomfortable questions. The Museum’s location in Los Angeles provides independence and critical distance from current political debates in Europe, and also facilitates the questioning of preconceived ideas about our past and present. Moreover, the Museum’s physical remoteness from Central and Eastern Europe has enabled it to attract significant artifacts and collections that might otherwise have been destroyed as a result of emotional and political reactions.
Pieces in the collection range from the official art of the Soviet states to no-crossing signs to electronics and furniture to toys (like the miniature store below), souvenirs and other ephemeral items that tell the everyday story of how citizens attempted to lead normal lives.