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“I’m already helping you” – Feelings of performance in elderly care during the transition from socialist matter-of-course to post-socialist service

Referentin: Dr. Maren Hachmeister
26/09/2022 - 14:00
Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (KWI), Goethestraße 31, 45128 Essen

Description of the event

Dr. Maren Hachmeister will give the talk “’I’m already helping you’ – Feelings of performance in elderly care during the transition from socialist matter-of-course to post-socialist service” as part of the workshop “Leistungsgefühle. Historische Perspektiven transnational".


With the year 1989, framework conditions for volunteer care in East Germany and its Central Eastern European neighbouring countries fundamentally changed. Previously, the Communist Parties had virtually called upon each and every individual to do “necessary social work” without payment to tackle social problems as a “task for the whole of society”. Organisations like the East German Volkssolidarität (People’s Solidarity, VS), the Polnische Komitee für Soziale Hilfe (Polish Committee for Social Help, PKPS) or the Tschechoslowakische Rote Kreuz (Czechoslovakian Red Cross, ČSČK) mobilised thousands of volunteers in their countries who cared for solitary elderly persons in their neighbourhood who were in need. All three organisations, as well as many of the helpers, continued their engagement after the year of upheaval in 1989. A pronounced sense of obligation, empathy, as well as a sense for solidarity and community learned at an early age motivated them to do this. This contribution discusses their experiences since 1989 with the loss of non-material and material appreciation, new incentives from the West, but also with pride and perseverance. Especially important are performance comparisons in which contemporary witnesses contrasted voluntary care and professional care services, located themselves in the hierarchy of institutional care and reflected their personal motivation and attitude for their often long-time volunteer work. To investigate concepts of personal performance and the feelings connected to it can contribute to re-contextualising memories, interpretations and motivations of contemporary witnesses. In the process it also becomes clear which significance the voluntary engagement had in the individual private and professional lifestyle and which relationships developed between caregivers and those in need of care in the post-socialist transformation.

Run-down storefront of a Volkssolidarität meeting place for the elderly

SLUB Dresden /Deutsche Fotothek / Borchert, Christian