GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
Report from Berlin’s DDR Past in Summer 2012
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
TWO MUSEUMS OF BERLIN’S POST WAR YEARS AS A DIVIDED CITY *
THE STASI MUSEUM: SURVEILLANCE OF ALMOST EVERYONE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC! *
THE DDR MUSEUM: DAILY LIFE IN THE SO CALLED GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC *
The Unfortunate East Germans passed from One Police State rapidly into Another Police State—with only Bomb Rubble in between…
The Single Plus was that, although Nazi Germany had been Anti Semitic, the new German Democratic Republic was only Anti Capitalist!
While West Germans were busily learning English, Russian was the Second Choice in the DDR.
Dr. Angela Merkel, Federal Germany’s Current Chancellor, grew up in the DDR, in Dresden, where she could have polished her Russian—had he had time to help—with the Resident KGB Officer, Vlad Putin!
For West Germans—those who lived on the Other Side of the Infamous Berlin Wall—learning more about how East Germans lived Post War, until the Fall of the Wall in November 1989, must now be a Revelation!
For some Former East Germans—now called derogatorially "Ossies" by those in the West—seeing once again all those Beloved Household Products & Patriotic Banners of the DDR, or Deutsche Demokratische Republik, must be an Exercise in Nostaliga.
For many others, however, this may be like opening a Chamber of Horrors, especially visiting the dreaded Stasi Headquarters, from which few of the Apprehended Suspects ever returned.
For Your Roving Arts Reporter who well remembers that the German Democratic Republic—essentially constructed by the Post 1945 Soviet Russian Occupiers—was neither Democratic nor a Republic.
More than most West Europeans—not to mention American Journalists—from 1956 until the Destruction of the Berlin Wall, I was frequently able to visit not only East Berlin but also to make forays into the Communist Heartland, visiting Dresden, Weimar, Dessau, Naumburg, Leipzig, Görlitz, Bautzen, Gera, Cottbus, & Frankfurt am Oder.
This was because I was reporting as a Cultural Observer for such publications as The Christian Science Monitor, Opera News, & even Theatre Arts Magazine.
So, intently studying the varied Objects & their Text Explanations was a bit like Old Times, although I never forgot that I was on a Visa & could return to the West any time I chose.
Unlike almost all East Germans, whose West German Relatives could not even visit them…
When the Berlin Wall was finally Torn Down—in a frenzy of Concrete Bashing—in November 1989, it signaled the End of Soviet Domination in Eastern Europe, as well as the sudden crumbling of the Soviets.
Oddly, this came as a Great Surprise to Our Overpaid Intelligence Experts, who were totally unprepared for a World without the Red Menace.
Without the Ongoing Threat of the Cold War turning Hot again, how would we be able to Fund the Pentagon in the manner to which it had become accustomed?
As a Roving Arts Reporter—frequently behind the Iron Curtain in the late 1950s up to 1989—I could see the Socialist Collapse coming, as Living Conditions worsened year by year.
Despite all those ridiculously optimistic Five Year Plans…
My Last Big Foray into the Heart of East German Communism was made in 1987, when I acquired a Journalist Visa to visit the Dresden Music Festival & other DDR Cultural Landmarks.
Although I did not need a Dolmetscher, or Translator, I was assigned a Betreuer, or Watcher/Guardian: to make sure I didn’t photograph Military Targets like Bridges or Rail Stations, among other Photo No No’s.
During the Three Weeks we were together, roaming around, visiting every Town & City where Johann Sebastian Bach had ever played the Church Organ, I bonded with my now Best Friend in Berlin: Victor Homola.
So, while both West & East Berliners were still pounding away at the Remnants of the Wall, I called Victor to ask him to show me around the Remains of East Berlin, as the Russki’s were packing up to leave what was now a Re unified Germany.
Our First Visit was to the dread Stasi HQ, where the State Security Police had constructed a City within the City.
This was an immense Walled Complex, complete with Schools, Pools, Homes for Staff, & all the Offices, Archives, & Torture Chambers needed to Maintain Order in a Socialist Workers’ Republic.
Everything was in disarray as the Previous Tenants had suddenly melted into the Nacht und Nebel—or Night & Fog, a favored Nazi Euphemism for The Disappeared…
Victor was now the Office Manager—not the New York Appointed Bureau Chief—of the New York Times in Berlin, which he’d been asked to set up by the Times’ Managing Editor, knowing the Government would soon leave Bonn for Berlin.
Thus, we had Easy Access to the Stasi HQ, from which Un Credentialed Curiosity Seekers were banned.
Among other Amenities for the Spying & Torture Chiefs, we marveled at the Comfortable Couch on which Erich Mielke, the Just Following Orders [Which I Made up Myself!] Head of Operations used for Afternoon Naps…
We also wandered around the Complex, noting how ingeniously it had been made into a Self Contained Universe: in a sense, the SS as a Way of Life.
Then there were those Endless Rooms with Racks & Racks of Stasi Files on both those Persons of Interest & the Cowardly Rats who had Informed Against Them.
When these were first opened, it was alarming to discover that Wives had Informed against their own Husbands. Among other Epic Betrayals…
These Extensive Files are not now open for Visitors to Leaf Through in the new Stasi Museum.
They have been called the Gauk Horde, as Victor Gauk was assigned to Oversee their Preservation & Use.
Any German, East or West, or any Foreigner who has reason to believe his or her Name is in these Files can have a Search Made.
But it is Not Cheap. If Nothing turns up, you do not get your Money back…
There ought to be a Glenn Loney File there somewhere, as I so often came across from West Berlin to East Berlin to see Productions & conduct Arts Interviews at the Staatsoper, Walter Felsenstein’s Komische Oper, & Bert Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, as well as at the Volkstheater, the Deutsches Theater, & the Maxim Gorki Theater.
Not to mention those various trips to other East German Landmarks & Culture Centers…
How about a Side Trip to Naumburger Dom, to photograph the Magnificent Medieval Statue of Queen Ute, for whom the American Actress, Uta Hagen, was named, by my Art History Professor, Oskar Hagen?
There has been a small Stasi Info Center near Check Point Charlie, but this is the first time the actual Stasi HQ have been Open to the Public.
Thus, there was No Sign near the U Bahn Station to indicate where the Stasi City actually was.
Nor—when Arts Archive Webmaster Scott Bennett & I finally identified the Stasi Block, was there any Sign outside or inside to indicate where the Functional Museum was located among these Masses of Buildings.
There’s a Reason for that, as they are still installing Text & Photo Exhibits in some of the many rooms on view.
Some of the Chambers are elaborately furnished: more like Executive Suites for the Fortune Four Hundred than an Operations Center for State Sponsored Terror…
The Stasi Debt to Heinrich Himmler’s infamous SS is clear in a number of Ways, not least in the Uniforms & Insignia!
Most interesting & perhaps most appalling are the Ways in which Cameras were employed to Spy on DDR Citizens.
The Nazis already had Tiny Cameras concealed in Belt Buckles & Neckties.
But would they have bothered to conceal Cameras in the Bottoms of Jerry Cans?
Inside Womens’ Shopping Bags?
How about a Mini Camera hidden in a Fountain Pen? Just sign your Death Warrant on the Dotted Line, Please…
Spying was a Seven Days a Week Job.
No Sundays Off…
Germans have always liked—on Sundays, after Church—to go to the Cemetery, to lay Fresh Flowers on the Graves of the Dear Departed & to tend to the living Flowers & Plants with which they have covered their Family Plots.
Ready to catch out any Enemies of Socialism, the Stasi even had Cameras concealed in Cemetery Watering Cans!
Talk about State Organized Paranoia!
While the Stasi Museum has apparently Acres of Space for Exhibitions & Disclosures, the DDR Museum is starved for Space, tucked into the Spree Side Undercroft what was once the DDR’s Showpiece Hotel for Foreigners, the Palast Hotel.
[Now a Radisson, or something like that…]
I stayed there, at the close of my Three Week Tour of East Germany in 1987.
The DDR Chiefs had so arranged matters that there was only One Hotel in each Major City for Overnights for Foreigners with Visas.
You could only visit those Cities in which a Hotel Reservation had been made for you by the Authorities.
In Weimar, the Designated Hotel was the Elefant. With not so many rooms…
When in Dresden—if you did not also have a Visa for Meissen—you were not supposed to take the short Train Ride up the River Elbe.
Forget about visiting the Meissen Porcelain Factory…
Actually, it may be because of my Peasant Face, but I was never Challenged by Police or anyone in all my Travels in East Germany, over the years.
As I spoke a kind of Hoch Deutsch, mixed with Bavarian & learned at UC/Berkeley & by watching Romy Schneider Movies, more often People asked me for Directions!
So, when I entered the Crowded Space of the DDR Museum, where Exhibition Banks create a Maze of alternately Amusing & Depressing Evocations of Daily Life under the likes of Walther Ulbricht & Erich Honneker, much seemed Familiar.
It was a One Size Fits All Economy.
Overcoats came in Three Sizes: Small, Medium, & Large.
For Colors, one year you had the Choice of Gray, Gray, & Gray.
Two Years Later, this might have changed to Brown, Brown, & Brown!
Shoes did not always fit very well & not all seemed to be made of Leather.
If you had Money enough, you could wait up to Ten Years to Own a Wartburg, a Minor Auto which seemed to run on Two Cylinders.
But it was definitely Fuel Economical, if you could find an Open Gas Station.
Especially one that actually had Petrol!
Shortly after Victor Homola & I visited Stasi HQ, Victor drove me out to the Weekend Homes of Erich Honneker & the other DDR Bonzes.
Although they were Absolute in Power, they lived no better than Middle Class Long Islanders, with Bar B Q’s on Rollers on their Tiny Terraces…
Rather than describe in detail the varied Products, Furnishings, Cameras, Clothes, Patriotic Banners & Medals on view in Berlin, why not check out the DDR Museum Website? Try www.ddr museum.de
But, long before Berlin had its own Museum for Remembrance of Things Past, there was already a much more detailed & Object Crammed Exhibition in Eisenhüttenstadt!
The Problem with visiting this Museum is that it is located nearer to Poland than to Berlin.
Toward the Twilight—or Götterdämmerung—of the DDR, its Honchos had constructed an immense State of the Art Steel Mill in Eisenhüttenstadt, which was, in fact, created for the Mill Workers.
As with so many Factories in the DDR, they were artificially subsidized by the State, but could not compete with Factories & Products in the West.
No One needed or even wanted East German Steel…
Nonetheless, the State Created City of Eisenhüttenstadt was filled with Out of Work Workers in what was No Longer a Workers’ Democratic Republic.
So Someone had the Bright Idea of installing a Major DDR Daily Life Museum in one of the Abandoned Apartment Buildings.
It was & is Infinitely Depressing…
What is more Depressing is the Fact that you cannot—especially for those who were already Seniors when the Berlin Wall came down—give back to them the Lives they might have Lived, had they had the Good Fortune to be in the West, rather than in the Warsaw Pact Areas!
Perhaps they’ll have Better Luck in their Next Lives?
KAISER WILHELM GEDÄCHTNIS KIRCHE—WEST BERLIN SYMBOL—NOW UNDER WRAPS!
Berlin, being the Nazi Capital, was pummeled by Allied Bombings in World War II.
Much of Historic Importance was Shattered Rubble, with some Noble Churches only Windowless Walls.
The Victorious Allies divided the City into Four Sectors: One for the Brits, One for the Free French, One for the Americans, & One for the Soviets, who soon transformed it into East Berlin, the new Capital of the new German Democratic Republic.
West Berlin became a Tri Partite Entity, an Island of Freedom & Democracy in the Vast Sea of Soviet Dominated East Germany.
To enter West Berlin by Train, there was only One Route from West Germany.
No Stops along the way. No Photos of Magdeburg allowed, even from the Train Windows…
If you preferred to Drive, you had to request Permission in Advance, only driving through East Germany at an Allotted Time.
The only Port of Auto Entry was Helmsted Marienborn, where a surly Vopo—Volks Polizei, or People’s Police—would check your Papers & stress that you had exactly so many Hours & Minutes to complete your Journey.
If you arrived too soon at the East German Border into West Berlin, that meant you had been Speeding!
Vopos would demand you pay a Penalty, preferably in American Dollars. They didn’t want any West German Marks, nor French Francs…
No Stopping along the way. The almost empty Autobahn was constantly patrolled, to prevent any attempts at Photographing the Wheat Harvest.
Once you were safely into West Berlin, there were Inexpensive Pensions, offering Bed & Breakfast for only a Couple of Dollars at first.
There were many things to see: the Head of Nefertiti in the Dahlem Museum; the Zoo, at Bahnhof Zoo!
But, most important for Remembering the Past: the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche, its badly shattered Steeple the only Reminder of what Once Had Been. Before the Bombings…
Taking a Day Off from wandering around the former East Berlin, Scott Bennett & I de trained at Bahnhof Zoo to find the Gedächtnis Kirche.
It was Nowhere to be seen. Instead, huge Painted Board Walls had gone up for the construction of what seems to be envisioned as Bikini Berlin!
Then I bumped into a Towering White Clad Structure that, in fact, turned out to be the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche, covered for Restoration!
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
Copyright © Glenn Loney 20012. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney Arts Rambles." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.