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Tag Archives: Erich Honecker

Wed, February 10, 1999

“Do you have time?”, she asks ambiguously, the friendly but pleading tone perfectly complementing her difficult situation. I am on the way back to my apartment in my new hometown of Leipzig when I happen upon her: an elderly woman balancing precariously on her cane, afraid to go further upon the icy, uneven path. Stranded and in need of a way out, preferably not at the price of her dignity.

Her question catches me off guard as I move to pass her. I stop and am momentarily confused, thinking that she wants to know what time it is. As she waits for an answer, I realize that she really wants my help. “Time for what?”, I ask.

"The Socialist Family", a sculpture in front of Frau Karich's apartment (photo: author).

“The Socialist Family”, a sculpture in front of Frau Karich’s apartment (photo: author).

“A short walk perhaps?”, she suggests, her steady tone betrayed by the onset of panic in her pale blue eyes. When I nod in agreement, her body visibly lightens as she straightens and slides her arm through mine. We have walked a few meters in silence when, with the disarming directness that appears to be one of the few privileges old age bestows, she asks, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

“A man,” I answer. She smiles, only momentarily embarrassed by her uncertainty.

“Of course. A man.”

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Happy Wall Fall everyone! On this day 24 years ago, the Berlin Wall was breached after East German authorities buckled to the pressure caused by a wave of emigration and let their citizens travel West upon demand. Anyone old enough to have been aware of the event seems to have a story about where they were when the Wall fell and here is mine . . .

The Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse in summer 1990 (photo: author).

The Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse in summer 1990; in the distance the lighting masts of Friedrich Jahn Sportpark, homeground of the Dynamo Berlin Football Club (photo: author).

Soup, Sandwich with Some History on the Side

On November 9th, 1989, I was a twenty-one year old record store employee pursuing German language studies part-time at the University of Saskatchewan. That same year I’d spent three months in Germany immersing myself in a language course in West Berlin and then travelling around the Federal Republic for a few weeks. As the situation in the GDR came to a head that fall, I followed events through reports on PBS’ McNeil Lehrer Newshour which typically featured clandestinely shot footage of street protests, demonstrations and/or arrests being carried out by People’s Police officers. These grainy videos were all bathed in the distinctive orange and yellow glow cast by the East German street lights, an effect that has imposed itself on most of my memories of that tumultuous time.

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Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc didn’t satisfy itself with aiming for the complete transformation of the societies under its control, but rather sought to create a new type of person as well. In the U.S.S.R., he/she was referred to as the “New Soviet Man” (or more pejoratively, Homo Sovieticus). In the GDR, the bar wasn’t raised quite so high and here the Party sought “only” to mold their citizens into so-called “socialist personalities.” One important part of this process was the Jugendweihe (literally “Youth Conscrecration”), a ritual marking the transition to responsible, socialist adulthood for 14-15 year old East Germans and the first time they were required to explicitly pledge their loyalty to the GDR  and its values.

Jugendweihe ceremony in the Hall of Culture of the Rheinsberg Nuclear Power Station, 1969 (photo: Bundesarchiv).

Jugendweihe ceremony in the Hall of Culture of the Rheinsberg Nuclear Power Station, March 1967 (photo: Bundesarchiv) – The stage backdrop reads: “Recognize the laws the world and its laws, Always side with the cause of Socialism, Live life sensibly and happily”.

The Jugendweihe had its roots in 19th c. German society and was conceived of by so-called “freethinkers” as an alternative to religious confirmation ceremonies. Participants completed a program of “morality-focused” instruction which was intended to introduce young adults to both the responsibilities of adulthood and the wonders of the world. The program culminated with a ceremony featuring a speech, pledge and the presentation of a book. During the Weimar Republic era, a number of left-oriented political organizations including the Social Democratic and Communist Parties began offering this instruction to its members. However, even, during this “golden age”, more than 95% of German youth continued to attend church-led confirmation courses. Read More

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