1964. The Cold War is at its peak, the Cuban Missile Crisis has seen a narrow resolution just three years ago, and the Berlin Wall dividing West Germany from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the East is not yet four years old. A foreign policy called Hallstein Doctrine requires the larger and more powerful West Germany, an ally of the United States, to cut diplomatic relations with any state that dares to recognize the Soviet-supported GDR. This doctrine makes it difficult for the relatively small and economically much less important GDR to find partners outside of the Soviet Bloc.

Then, a bloody revolution in the African island of Zanzibar at the beginning of the same year, shortly after the withdrawal of the British colonial administration, opens up a new opportunity for the East Germans: they offer massive assistance to the young revolutionary regime in return for diplomatic recognition. The Zanzibari president Karume willingly accepts; what he has in mind is to radically reconstruct the capital of the island, Zanzibar City. He wants modern housing blocks and wide boulevards as the ones he has seen when travelling the cities of Eastern Europe. The new partners from East Berlin are to help realize this vision – in addition to the support their secret service provides in the creation of a state security apparatus.

The GDR has since ceased to exist, but the blocks constructed with its assistance continue to shape the aesthetics of Zanzibar City. They dominate the city scape and provide still today a sharp architectural contrast to the quaint old palaces in the old town, which have been declared UNESCO word heritage. Despite their questionable aesthetics and desperate need of repair, the socialist-style apartment blocks are loved by many of their Zanzibari inhabitants.