Communist-era store windows

David Hlynsky's striking collection of store windows from Communist Europe is a peek into a weird, bleak, and sometimes comical view of consumer culture in a non-consumer society:

Between 1986 and 1990, I made approximately 8,000 color, Hasselblad images on the streets of Communist Europe. I purposely avoided dramatic moments and newsworthy events. In a cityscape without commercial seduction, banality seemed to signify everything. At first I was interested in simple pedestrian traffic. Later I doggedly documented store windows. These seemed to signify the real difference between East and West. Without the garish ad campaigns of the West, these streets felt more neutral... devoid of trumped up and pumped up urgency.
David Hlynsky Communist store windows (Thanks, Zoran!)


  1. Bah, that’s just Eastern block. IF you go there now, it looks just about the same. Except with a few more Coke signs.

    1. And when’s the last time you were there, Trent? When I was over that side of the Berlin wall earlier this month I can tell you it most definitely did not look like that. You’re right about the coke signs though.

  2. I think this one ran before, but I don’t mind seeing it again.

    One of the toy store images shows a little guy with a propellor on his butt. I have a story-book record set, produced in the USSR, which has him on the cover. Apparently it is a Astrid Lindgren character, Karlson, who was a big hit in Russia.

  3. Trent are u referring to a specific country and what was the last time u’ve been to “Eastern Block”?
    Just because u call it eastern block, makes me think it haven’t been in couple decades. Most cities in Eastern Europe are plastered with advertisement.

  4. The couple of people I know or have known who grew up under communism hated the life there, mostly for economic reasons, accented by the fashion consciousness of youth. I’m under the impression that even now, a huge number of people in the still-largely-crappy former Soviet Union would love the opportunity to emigrate to America or Israel (not necessarily just real Jews) or Britain or even Germany. I wonder what is Cory’s Trotskyist parents’ view of this? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really do.

    Also, for those of us that like this type of stuff, is a great site, although the people who actively comment there tend to be complete morons, drowning out any serious discussion.

    1. @Machineintheghost
      The stock Trotskyist explanation is that Stalin was responsible for everything that went wrong in European Communism. Of course the facts are that Lenin and Trotsky weren’t that different from Stalin, but Trotskyism is as much a religion as Christianity or Judaism and the facts don’t count for much in religion.

      1. @JohnathanBadger That is not the stock Trotskyist explanation. If the facts matter to you read a book.

        1. @jossaha
          It *is*. Blaming Uncle Joe is the whole point of the holy writ of Trotskyism: Trotsky’s “The Revolution Betrayed”.

  5. Looks like Buffalo. There’s only one clothing window display I know of downtown here. It’s for a shop that exclusively sells scrubs. It’s amusing because we get a fair number international tourists (proximity to Niagara Falls) wandering around getting an interesting impression of our country.

  6. @Stefan Jones: That would be Karlsson på taket, or Karlsson-on-the-Roof.

    As you say, he was popular in the old USSR. Also, ironically, several of the books about him were banned in the US for inciting disobedient behavior.

  7. Spent a few weeks traveling through Czechoslovakia, Poland and the DDR in 1980. The bread is no doubt plastic, and the store may or may not actually have bread inside. Fake fruit was another popular theme. We maintained calorie intake by buying chocolate at the western-cash-only stores, which were also chock full of washing machines and toilet paper. But no fruit or bread.

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