#12: Polylux

To mark 30 years of German reunification, we're taking you on a linguistic journey through 30 key German words and phrases that charted Germany's Cold War division, reunification and what happened next. Today: Polylux.

Polylux at work in an East German classroom in 1978.
Polylux at work in an East German classroom in 1978.Bundesarchiv Bild/ CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Berlin-It’s a staple of every school classroom – or it was for those of us above a certain age anyway. We’re talking about the overhead projector – and when there were two Germanies, it had two different names. In East Germany, a projector was commonly referred to as a Polylux, while in the West, a device serving the same function was typically called the more anglicised Overheadprojektor.

The Polylux was actually the only such device in official production in the GDR – so the brand name became used as a catch-all term for projection devices of any kind. It was an universal feature of East German classrooms, and the fall of the Wall didn’t stop their use, which continued into the 90s.

According to DWDS, the Digital Dictionary of the German Language, Polylux is still used in the parts of today’s Germany that made up the GDR just as much as Overheadprojektor or the other alternative of Tageslichtprojektor - although its use has fallen since the turn of the millennium. 

The ubiquitousness of the Polylux lent it a cult status that lived on after the end of the GDR. It lent its name to a popular TV programme on local Berlin-Brandenburg TV that featured reports seeking to "illuminate" current affairs topics to a younger audience. The show ran between 1997 and 2008, outlasting the actual Polylux projectors, of which the last were produced in 2006.

Examples of the two Poly-prototypes, Polylux 1 and Polylux 2, are preserved in the archives of Berlin’s DDR museum.

< #11: Sandmännchen #13: Urst >