The 40th anniversary of the GDR in 1989
When everything was already in dissolution, the GDR celebrated its 40th anniversary. An intimate account of the decline of the old and hope for new things.
The 40th anniversary of the GDR was just around the corner. Grumpy, the ironmonger next door had hoisted the GDR flag. His shop was a treasure trove – canning jars, screws, pots. Customers came from all over the city. Once I saw Gewandhaus Kapellmeister Kurt Masur, an institution in Leipzig, go to the store.
I lived since summer 1988 in Leipzig-Lindenau. Every morning at half past six the postman put it New Germany, short ND, through the door slot. A soft sound that woke me up. Since I was living on the ground floor, it fell to me ND in front of your feet. With the move to my first own apartment, I subscribed to the “SED central organ”. I came from a village near Magdeburg, had worked for five years in an LPG and was a student of Protestant theology at a small church seminary since 1987. I wanted to know first-hand what messages the SED had ready.
Now, just before October 7, 1989, the newspaper overflowed. Honored citizens and collectives were honored, honor banners presented, awarded medals. The SED Politburo invited resistance fighters, activists and veterans to the celebration. Erich Honecker promoted generals of the NVA and the state security. The GDR – for Honecker, it was a “good fortune for the peoples of Europe” and a “solid block” against all attempts to revise the post-war order. The list of state guests that would arrive was getting longer and longer.
The Chinese delegation landed on the 2nd of October. It was striking how much the SED emphasized the relationship with the People's Republic of China, which also celebrated its 40th anniversary. At the beginning of June, the CP in Beijing used tanks against tens of thousands of demonstrating students. There were hundreds dead, maybe several thousand. Now the comrades met to exchange experiences.
According to Politburo member Egon Krenz praised the prudence of comrades in Beijing. Not a dead man was to be seen in the photos, only tales of the west, he was upset. Then it was quiet. In the summer a paralysis broke over the land. The GDR people ran away and Erich Honecker had disappeared. He was ill, it said in the Western media. The ND was silent.
The summer in Leipzig was bearable. When the wind blew from the south, the air had a sweetish, not unpleasant, smell. He came from the chimneys of the lignite-processing plant Espenhain. In August I wrote a work on gothic cathedrals. At the Deutsche Bücherei, I plunged into a world I would never see. At least not before I retire. The most divine cathedrals were in Paris, Reims, Chartres. I was 25. It was absurd.
With my friend Mike, a theology student like myself, I set off one evening with a ladder. In Leipzig there were still street signs made of enamel. For inexplicable reasons, the omnipresent decay has not affected these signs. “Uhlandstr.” Stood in white fracture on a deep blue ground above us. We wanted this one. As a souvenir of something that will perish. No GDR relic, just something nice. I went up. But as much as I tried, nothing turned. The screws were rusted. After a few tries, we left.
On September 7, Erich Honecker spoke up. The ND printed an interview that the SED Secretary General with the Polish weekly Polityka Had led. She had become a government-critical newspaper in the 80s and sympathized with the union Solidarność. On 24th August the Polish Parliament elected Tadeusz Mazowiecki Prime Minister. Thus Poland, unprecedented in the Eastern bloc, had a head of government who was not a member of the communist nomenklatura.
For Honecker, the interview was probably an impertinence. It was about the possibility of a German unification, violence of skinheads and the slow border clearance to Poland. Honecker praised the “solid fighting community” between Poland and the GDR, extolling “socialism in the colors of the GDR” and asserted that the FRG and the GDR were as unified as “fire and water”.
At the beginning of the semester at the beginning of October, our seminar group met in my apartment. All were there. No one had fled via Hungary to the West, no one had climbed over the fence of the Prague embassy and was now sitting in one of the trains that went via Dresden to the West. But everyone had friends who were “over there”. Everything sounded like end time. Our Loyalty Lecturer, he taught philosophy and church history, enriched the evening with gloom. As a young man he had experienced the popular uprising of 17 June 1953 and its bloody suppression. Why, he asked, should the SED react differently today? He did not want to intimidate us. He was afraid for us.
That evening, doubt arose in me as to whether it was right to categorically rule out the idea that I, too, would go to the West one day. On October 2, that had ND The “deportation” of the Prague embassy refugees reported and flogged that these people betrayed their homeland, “trampled on moral values” and marginalized themselves. “One should not cry them a tear therefore.” Two days later, the border closed to the CSSR, the only country in which one could travel spontaneously. The land was dense.
After the semester, I put all the underground magazines, pamphlets, papers, anything that could incriminate me into a bag, got into the basement and hid the pack under the coals. That was completely silly. If the Stasi searched my apartment, they would soon be snooping in the basement. But I wanted to do something. Just sit around, did not leave.
Many were braver
I did not consider myself particularly exposed. Many friends were braver, risked more and were under constant pressure from the Stasi. Rainer, for example. I had just moved to Leipzig when he took me to the Nikolaikirche in the autumn of 1987 for a Monday prayer for peace. In a side chapel, some twenty or thirty activists from various peace, human rights and environmental groups met for worship and exchanged information, papers and invitations. For nights Rainer was on the road, always conspiratorial, always tired, always full of news. In 1988 he exmatriculated with two other students. The charge: they would no longer provide the academic achievement. Previously, they had already received references. Everyone sensed that it was the SED that must have exerted massive pressure.
On October 7, 1989, the GDR once again celebrates its founding. taz editor Thomas Gerlach tells in the taz on the weekend of 5./6.10.2019 how he experienced the last birthday party and the beginning demonstrations as a theology student in Leipzig. Also: The big test: Which apple suits me. And: Wolfgang Joop in conversation. From Saturday at the kiosk, in the eKiosk, in the practical weekend subscription and on Facebook and Twitter,
The three were regarded as ringleaders, but the prayers for peace had been moved from the chapel to the nave of the Nikolaikirche, which was always filled to the last seat. In the meantime, more and more emigration applicants came. The three left the seminary, officially at their own request. After a year, so the vague promise, they should be allowed to study again. They were outlawed from now on. Since they had no more employment, they could always be condemned as “work-shy”. In January 1989, Rainer was in jail with several other opposition members for almost a week. They had leaflets distributed.
I was “fed” on May 7, 1989 for the first time. These were the arrests where you did not know if they would take hours, days or even weeks. It was the day of the local elections when I was arrested from the tram at the main station. Not with handcuffs. I was simply taken in the middle. On Sunday evening a demonstration of non-voters took place in the marketplace. I was thought of as an accomplice, but I knew nothing. I pointed out to the interrogator that I wanted to go to the opera. “With the sweater?” He asked dumbfounded. After 24 hours I was free again.
The Lada in front of the house
Since that day, a Stasi “Lada” waited in the side street, especially on the weekends, where actions were planned. From then on I let that paper blind down and cut a small hole in it. For demonstration on World Environment Day, June 4, 1989, they also waited. Days before they had pushed me a subpoena “To clarify a fact” through the letter slot. I did not go, but stole away from backyards, but was then loaded with dozens of others in Leipzig-Connewitz on police trucks. At midnight we were released again. The ND The next morning read like a prophecy: “China's People's Liberation Army struck counter-revolutionary turmoil”. I cut out the headline and stuck it to my kitchen door, where many headlines were already sticking. None announced hope.
As long as the celebrations for the 40th anniversary were not over, the SED would hold back. But after that? On October 9, the weekly prayer for peace was on. On the two Mondays before there were demonstrations, as they had not yet seen Leipzig. Thousands of people crossed the ring on October 2, shouting “Gorbi!”, Sang “Peoples, hear the signals, to the last battle, the International won human rights!”, Chanted “We stay here!” And “We are the people ! “The ring was like a resonance chamber. It was an incredible feeling. The traffic stopped. We were many. Many many.
We almost came to the “tin can”, the department store with the striking metal facade. Hundreds of people policemen had been under attack there. I did not experience what happened then. More and more demonstrators and demonstrators grabbed the caps and threw them up. The caps seemed to dance in the air. And the police? They were undercut and had to watch as their authority landed in the discounts.
It was the 6th of October Leipziger Volkszeitung, which further tightened the tone. “No longer tolerate public hostility” stood above the letter of the Kampfgruppenhundertschaft “Hans Geiffert”, which the newspaper printed. Their commander scolded “unscrupulous elements” who “carry out anti-state provocations.” One is ready to finally stop the “counterrevolutionary actions”. “If need be, with the gun in your hand!”
On the same day I drove with fellow students to Magdeburg. The train was overcrowded. One of us had a radio with us. We did not want to miss what Mikhail Gorbachev, who had arrived in East Berlin, says. We always only heard Honecker. Disappointed, we imitated his chant: “Forward always! Never backwards! “
I belonged to the “Solidarity Church Working Group” (AKSK), an opposition network within the Protestant church with about 300 members organized in regional groups throughout the GDR. Twice a year we met for the assembly. For the first time, it took place in Magdeburg. The community center in the north of Magdeburg was offside. From the “Republic Birthday” was felt nothing.
Our persistent themes were the criticism of the power structures of the church, we campaigned for the ordination of gay pastors and that divorced pastors had to fear any disciplinary action. And it was about the democratization of the GDR. This time, we adopted a statement on the 40th anniversary. I can not remember the content. The events dictated a different agenda. News crashed. Batons in Dresden, in Berlin, in Leipzig, also in the center of Magdeburg. How many such “holidays” would there be?
A guest was already beyond this question. Anyway, as far as his country was concerned. Adam Krzeminski had traveled from Warsaw, reporting on the change of power initiated in Poland and the role of the Catholic Church – and his interview with Erich Honecker. Krzeminski was editor of Polityka and had the conversation. But what did conversation mean? Krzeminski told how he gave his questions in the GDR embassy and days later he received the answers.
There was also hopeful news. The new citizen movements introduced themselves. The New Forum had a tremendous amount of fans. In Schwante near Berlin was just the Social Democratic Party of the GDR, the SDP, in a rectory and with the participation of several pastors. And a pastor came with a call from East Berlin. The new groups and movements should compete for the next election in a common alliance – the later “Alliance 90”.
Among the members of the AKSK, which later became active in the federal state, was Marianne Birthler. In 1990 she became minister of education in Brandenburg, later she was head of the Stasi authority for eleven years. Less well known was Eddie Stapel, who founded the gay association in 1990 and is considered the “father of gay marriage”. And then there was Katrin Goering-Eckardt. She was a member of the Thuringian group. She was not present in Magdeburg.
The 9th of October was cloudy. Mike and I went to the city center by bike. The center was like a fortress. No matter where we looked, rows of police trucks lined the streets. On the roofs of the main station, figures moved. They had a good view of the ring from there. You are not armed? As hard as we tried, we could not see any details.
Churches as places of opposition
Enormous numbers of people were on their feet, all downtown churches were open. But what does openly mean? The Nikolaikirche was overcrowded, the St. Thomas Church too, the Reformed Church too. In the Michaeliskirche, outside the ring, we came under. At the entrance everyone got a wheat grain. Workers in the Blaumann crowded in as well. Somewhat undecided they stood there. Probably they were not in a church for a long time.
In a side street we saw trucks. Policemen stood around. “Guys, go home,” Mike calls like a prophet. “Everything changes now. Also your life “
In the midst of the devotion – I do not remember the songs and prayers – the Saxon State Bishop came in and read out a statement signed by six Leipzigers – cabaret artist Bernd Lutz Lange, conductor Kurt Masur, a theology professor from the university and three SEDs secretaries. “Citizens! … We are affected by the development in our city and are looking for a solution. We all need a free exchange of views on the continuation of socialism in our country. That's why those … promise to use all their power and authority to ensure that this dialogue … is conducted. We urge you to be considerate. “The bishop hurried to the nearest church. Actually, it was not meaningful what he had read. But that Kurt Masur, without doubt the greatest authority, put his name under it, gave weight to the words. But which one?
We poured out of the church. One immediately stood out. The police columns were swallowed up from the ground. Instead, the ring, yes, the whole city center, was black with people. Some beamed, the others looked in disbelief. The state power, which demonstrated its omnipotence until the last minute, had withdrawn. It had something unreal, solemn. The street belonged to us. And not just the street, the whole city. The country. The trams, completely innocent, jutted out of the ocean like stranded ships. It should have been 70,000. Maybe 100,000 or more. Who could measure that? And above all lay the deliberate voice of Kurt Masur. The city radio – hundreds of speakers spread out across the ring – broadcast the call in an endless loop. We let ourselves drift.
“Everything changes now”
At some point we went back to the wheels. Mike's wife should not be left in the dark. The two had a son. We bought a backpack of beer and drove home. In a side street we saw trucks. Policemen stood around. “Guys, go home,” Mike calls like a prophet. “Everything changes now. Also your life. “They had no idea what had happened. What had happened? October 9 was the day the GDR began to disappear. This small fenced land, which we thought was our destiny, dissolved like a fog. A week later Honecker resigned. One month later, the wall fell. That did not touch me nearly as much as this Monday from Leipzig.
A little later Mike was one of the founders of the Leipzig SDP. On one of the Monday demonstrations he delivered a blazing speech. He quickly left the party. Today he lives in his Saxon hometown and last year founded a civic association close to the AfD. Rainer got from the estate of the Stasi a “Lada” as a company car. Rainer lives in Leipzig, works on a voluntary basis in many committees, operates district history, appears as a witness in schools and makes guided tours to places of the peaceful revolution. And he archives everything he can find on this topic.
And me? I pulled up the paper roller blind again, announced mine ND-Abo and stood in the summer of 1990 in front of the Cathedral of Chartres. She was the most beautiful.
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