To understand life in East Germany, all you need is this board game

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Marco Werman: Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. Actually, for this next story, don’t collect 200 marks. As if you’d collect 200 marks anywhere in the former East Germany. Definitely not in a game called Bürokratopoly. In Germany, it’s as well known as Monopoly is here. That’s because Bürokratopoly was dreamt up by dissidents in Communist East Germany years ago. Even though Communist Germany feels as dated as buying property on Park Place, Bürokratopoly is getting some new life breathed into it. Michael Geithner is at the GDR Museum in Berlin. That’s a tough game name to pronounce, Bürokratopoly. Michael Geithner: Well, when you would pronounce it correctly, you would say Bürokratopoly, but also for Germans, it’s not so easy to pronounce it. But that’s the name of the game when it was invented back then in the 1980’s and we didn’t change it, of course. It’s not a board game that we invented that’s as okay at GDR like this and like this and like that. But it was made in GDR and gives you a very authentic inside look on the state from somebody who had to deal with it. Also, the Stasi got aware of the game and put a whole copy into their files. Werman: This was some real subterfuge going on during the Cold War. Geithner: Yes. You know the man who made the game, Martin Boettger, he was in the political opposition and he had to struggle with a lot of serious things. He wanted to make a game that lets him deal with all of those issues in a playful and also somehow entertaining way together with all his friends from the opposition back then. Of course, the Stasi became aware of that but he never found out that it was put into his files until 1989. Werman: So Michael, we know how Monopoly works - you get a token, you trot around the board and you a property and try and get really rich. How do you play Bürokratopoly? Geithner: Well, Bürokratopoly is a totally different game. It has nothing to do with Monopoly anymore because money is absolutely nothing to play with this in this game. Today, when you want to buy a car, you gain the money and you go buy the car. But in GDR, when you had the money, you couldn’t get the car. You had to wait for years and years and years because there weren’t so many cars available. So what was really important was power and to gain power. When you had power, you had political power, it was much more easy to get, for example, a car. So, Bürokratopoly is all about gaining power. You start as a simple worker, you have several game pieces. Let me explain the game board itself. The board looks like a pyramid from the top. So, in the center, there is the most powerful man of the state, the General Secretary. On the outside, the lowest level, there are the simple workers. You put your pieces there and as the game goes on, you gain power. You become head of department or later maybe you become a general in the army or get into the Politburo. When you finally gain the position of the General Secretary, you win the game. Werman: Right, first you get the power, then you get the money, then you can buy a car. It’s kind of like the opposite of “Scarface,” where you get the money first and then you get the power. Any sign that school teachers are interested in using the game in their classrooms and pulling some of those lessons out? Geithner: Yesterday, we officially released the game. This morning, I opened my mailbox and I got orders for about 300 board games, so people really, really want to play the game. I’m totally overwhelmed by how many there are who want to play it. Werman: So, apparently a lot of interest in learning about the past of the German Democratic Republic. I guess no chance to purchase railroads or utilities with Bürokratopoly. Do you at least get a chance to remove Stasi wiretaps from any property you live in? Geithner: Well, not really. But what you can do is you can take the career of a Stasi officer and, by that, gain power and influence in the board game. It’s about changing the roles and switching the roles. You play a game or you get inside of a role that maybe you don’t really want to be, you have to play a little bit unfair. But you have to do it in order to win the game. Werman: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Michael Geithner at the GDR Museum in Berlin. Thanks very much for speaking with us. Geithner: Thank you very much.