By the mid 1950s the West German Wirtschaftswunder (‘economic miracle’) was a recognised phenomenon. The ruling clique in the GDR peered through their barbed wire, at the westerners flaunting their big American fridges and their rock ‘n roll music, and knew they couldn’t compete.

They tried anyway, pretending to the world, and to themselves, that they were the economic, cultural and technological equal of the West.

This Optima Elite 3 (made in 1961, the same year that the Berlin Wall went up) is one example of how hard they tried …

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It’s an attractive two-tone green …

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… as green as the green-eyed monster that (it’s likely) possessed more than a few East German border guards as they pointed their gun barrels towards the West …

ADN-ZB/Junge, 14.8.1961 Sicherung der Staatsgrenze der DDR zu Westberlin und zur DDR am 13.8.1961. Angehörige der Kampfgruppe auf der westlichen Seite des Brandenburger Tores am 14.8.1961

It was revealed years later that the hurriedly assembled guards, who brandished their firearms at the Brandenburg Gate on the 13th of April 1961, were not issued with ammunition.

It was a huge bluff. Just another lie from a system that was built on lies — such as the lie that the wall was being built, not to stop its citizens getting out, but to stop Western “fascist elements” getting in, and thereby undermining the socialist utopia.

ADN-ZB-Junge-14.8.1961-Berlin: Sicherung der Staatsgrenze am 13.8.1961. In sozialistischer Kampfgemeinschaft stehen die Genossen der Volksarmee, der Kampfgruppen und der Volkspolizei an den Grenzen Berlins auf Friedenswacht. Veröffentlichung nur mit Genehmigung der Pressestelle des MDI -

“Drop the typewriter sonny, I said, or it’ll be the end for you!”

A clear line of demarcation was drawn then, for the German people and their typewriters, with Olympia on one side of the divide, and Optima on the other.

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Typewriters were, of course, potentially subversive tools which the GDR could not just hand out to its citizens willy-nilly-brandt …

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So they were mostly manufactured for export and sold to the West as an example of what was achievable under communism.

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Not bad, but put an Elite 3 alongside a Triumph Perfekt, say …

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… or an Olympia SM9

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… and it becomes obvious that the Elite 3 lacks the refinement of its Western counterparts.

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But – and this is an important “but” — it’s what the Optima Elite 3 lacks that makes it greater than the sum of its parts.

That “lack of refinement” is what gives the Optima Elite 3 its austere Eastern Bloc charm.

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It’s a typewriter that occupied a special place and time in history – the product of a country and a discredited political system that no longer exists – and as such it possesses a heightened quality of obsoleteness that many collectors find irresistible.

That’s how I feel about it anyway.

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While it is a good typewriter to use, it’s not as good as the Western counterparts I’ve already mentioned – and is nowhere near as good as my Elite 1, which is undoubtedly one of the best typewriters in my collection …

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This later Elite has a “best of both worlds” 11 characters per inch typeface …

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It was formerly owned by a retired librarian in Witchcliffe, a small town in the South West region of Western Australia.

It’s odd to think that I picked up a Groma Kolibri in the same vicinity. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if an escape tunnel wasn’t dug from what was once the GDR, right through the earth and down to this part of the world.

It’s not, I’m glad to say, the Optima Elite 3 that is still listed (at the time of going to press) on Australian eBay …

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Capitalism is alive and well … not-so-well.

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At $60 AUD I succeeded, I think, in thwarting the capitalist system.

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A congratulatory kiss is in order …

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