28 June 2021

Sons and Daughters of GDR’s Abstract Politics

28 June 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

In her documentary work, Alina Simmelbauer combines archive images from the German Democratic Republic with portraits and memorabilia of the children of former guest workers of the State, interlacing the complexity of modern German identity with the personal search of her father.

East Germany, the communist country is officially known as the German Democratic Republic, fell in 1989. In 1963 the GDR signed its first guest worker contract with Poland. The program developed, enticing people from the Eastern Bloc and also from Vietnam, Mozambique and Cuba. Around 190,000 migrant workers studied or worked from 1962 to 1990 in the GDR, the socialist sister state. Under the control of state power, it was ensured that the contracts were implemented and, above all, observed. When their work contract expired after 4 years, they were sent back to their home countries. This separated friendships, relationships and families. For many, there is something besides their work history that connects them today with Germany: their children. Alina Simmelbauer is herself a daughter of a former contract worker who had stayed in the GDR in the early 1980s. However, she first met him only in 2011 in Cuba. Since then she has been searching for people whose family histories resemble hers. In this search, she met many children who grew up behind a veil of secrecy; without fathers or knowledge about their remaining.

In the photographic work 'García's daughter', Alina Simmelbauer follows her search for her father through the process of artistic exploration.

In addition to the images of her search in a foreign country, she combines portraits of today's adult children with personal memorabilia and picks up images from company and city archives to illustrate how abstract political decisions of the former GDR have had a lasting impact on the fates of thousands of young people and their families to the present day. In 'García's Daughter' perspectives, emotions and memories overlap to reflect the complexity of modern German identity.

Words and Pictures by Alina Simmelbauer.


Alina Simmelbauer grew up in Thuringia, Germany. She lives and works as a photographer in Berlin, focusing her personal work on the confrontation with identity and family. She has been shortlisted at the Kassel Dummy Award and the MACK First Book Award, as well as being one of the finalists of the Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards. Find him on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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