This cap was worn by an Abschnitsbevollmächtigter (ABV) or Community Police Officer in the 1980s. ABVs were members of the People’s Police (Volkspolizei) and assigned responsibility for a particular area of a city or town. In addition to walking the beat, carrying out traffic controls and general law enforcement, ABVs were also expected to carry out more unpopular duties such as keeping an open ear for Western television or radio broadcasts and working with volunteer helpers to ensure that “House Books” were kept up to date. These books registered all overnight visitors to a residence and served as an effective means of keeping tabs on residents and those who visited them.
Given the ABV’s relative proximity to residents, he/she was often asked for input into decisions having great impact on people’s lives including applications for driver’s licenses and permission to travel to “Non-Socialist countries”. While some East Germans saw the ABV as an important partner in the effort to maintain order and quiet in their neighbourhood, the openly instrusive nature of the ABV’s job description, meant many others regarded them with suspicion or even scorn and mockery.
The ABV was introduced in the GDR in 1952 and based on a similar position found in Soviet police forces. In the German context, however, many saw in the ABVs a continuation of the Blockwart, a Nazi-introduced position which fulfilled many of the same neighborhood-based monitoring functions of the ABV.
I received this hat as a going-away gift from one of my classes of “long-term unemployed” students when living in Leipzig in 2000. Apparently, it belonged to one of the student’s uncle, however, this person refused to identify him- or herself to me or their classmates – a clear indication, even ten years after the fall of the Wall, of the negative way in which ABVs and their work were often regarded in broader East German society.