Community Police Officer Cap

Abschnittsbevollmächtigtermütze – cap worn by a Community Officer of the People’s Police

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.

"The People's Policeman is our friend!" - statue of Vopo with citizens found in Berlin Mitte (author's photo, 1999)

“The People’s Policeman is our friend!” – statue of Vopo with citizens found in Berlin Mitte (author’s photo, 1999)

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.

“MdI” stands for Ministry of the Interior; the cap is lined with a page from KFT (Kraftfahrzeugtechnik/Motor Vehicle Monthly), an East German monthly.

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4 comments
  1. Stephen Brooke said:

    Brilliant site – the coffee cup and the GDR lego are fabulous.

  2. Uli said:

    Dear John Paul,

    thank you for posting on this interesting item. I myself, when I was teaching in former Karl-Marx-Stadt, found out very quickly that the students had learned about the rarity of genuine GDR-memorabilia, and were trying to use this to their advantage. I found myself in numerous situations where students offered me gifts like ABV-caps, and after an initial amazement at the generosity of these students, I realized that Chinese manufacturers had jumped on the bandwagon and were churning out caps like this one and other sought-after ostalgia items. I had to learn to tell the wheat from the chaff and of course adjusted my grading policy accordingly. In the case of your ABV-cap, I am afraid to say that you have been taken advantage of by this student of yours. For the trained eye, it is obvious that the cap you display here has been made using a simple straight stitch, when an authentic ABV-cap should have been manufactured with a cross-stitch. I look forward to further postings.

    Uli

    • Ah, an Abschnittsbevollmächtigermütze authenticity skeptic! Rest assured, Uli, all the items on display have been audited for provenance by the East German ephemera experts at Preis Wasserhaus Schalck-Golodkowski.

      John Paul

  3. Dan said:

    If this is a copy, that is very interesting. The forger has gone to considerable lengths to replicate the cap. Much respect to the expert Uli for identifying the error. Consider also the hilarity of Chinese companies cashing in on Ostalgie for the eastern totalitarian system.

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