Until the late 1980s, Europe was split into two parts by the Berlin Wall. The wall separated Eastern Europe from Western Europe politically as well as economically. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western Europe experienced an influx of art, architecture, and culture from the formerly secluded half of Europe. That influx of creativity included many different kinds of furniture. The Berlin Wall was erected after World War II and kept the continent apart for almost fifty years. That means fifty years of desks were produced that did not spread beyond their national borders.
As one of the most common types of antique pine desks, secretaires were incredibly popular in Eastern Europe. The East German style was slightly different from the style of work being done elsewhere. Manufacturers in many countries were competingn to create the most decorative and elaborate structures they could; meanwhile, East German manufacturers were focusing on simple, clean, and reliable construction. That’s why so many of the antique East German desks are still around. They were created to last, and they have definitely succeeded.
Oftentimes, you can recognise East German construction simply by analysing the embroidery and scrollwork. Typically, the embellishments will be minimal and the angles very sharp. Restoring one of these desks is definitely a labour of love, but it is very do-able. Since they are designed to be elegant but straightforward, sanding them isn’t a huge undertaking. You simply need to go slowly to take off the finish and the paint without removing too much of the wood.
Because they’re constructed from pine instead of some other material, they are easily sanded and easily adapted to paints and finishes. With a little bit of care and patience, you can apply just about any stain or varnish to a piece of pine to produce a great-looking desk.