gdr Archive

Fall of the Berlin Wall – 20th Anniversary – links for 23 Oct 2009

Here are links for 23 October 2009 concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 20th anniversary of that momentous event is coming up on 09 November 2009.

If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing links regarding the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. And don’t forget our special page dedicated wholly to Fall of the Berlin Wall Resources.

And now to today’s links:

  • Today, the 23rd of October 2009, is itself an anniversary of some significance.  In 1989, the 23rd of October fell on a Monday, which means the special and now famous Monday prayer service was taking place at the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’s Church) in Leipzig.  As had already become tradition, a peaceful protest followed the prayer services. The Wall Street Journal Online reminds us that over 300,000 took part in those Leipzig demonstrations on 23 October 1989.
  • At, Will Buckley remembers the DDR-Oberliga, the top football (soccer) league in communist East Germany.  His tagline: “When the Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago this month, it took with it one of the world’s weirder football leagues.”  He describes the four types of teams in the league, starting with the first:

    The Dynamos: Connected to the secret police. Every club with the Dynamo prefix (eg Berlin, Dresden) was directly answerable to the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, who had little difficulty jumping the “fit and proper person” hurdle.

    It’s a fine article to remind us how utterly bizarre dictatorships sometimes are.

Today’s video is a bit humorous.  It’s a segment from Intrepid Berkeley Explorer’s “Septemberfest” series.  Watch those tourists hammer away at The Wall!

That’s it for this week.  Come back next week for more links concerning the Fall of the Berlin Wall

In the Hausarchiv: Penpal in East Germany

In the Hausarchiv: Penpal in East Germany

Amateur history nerd that I am, I’m quite pleased to have married into a family which has retained all sorts of books, newspapers and magazines dating from about 1920 onwards. The “In the Hausarchiv” series gives an occasional look at the things I’ve come across in our own “house archive”.

Since I’m in the middle of commemorating the Fall of the Berlin Wall here at German History Blog, I was desperately searching our “archives” for anything pertaining to East Germany or the actual events of November 1989 so that I could write an “In the Hausarchiv” post that would fit this ongoing theme.  Well, the usual stacks of archives contained nothing relevant.  So I turned to the head archivist, Mrs. Dawson (my wife), and asked her if she was aware of any East Germany-related material hidden away somewhere.

Intro of a letter from an East German penpal to my wife.  1986.

Intro of a letter from an East German penpal to my wife. 1986.

Bingo!  She recalled that as a teenager she had a few penpal correspondents behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.  She gave me their letters and I perused them for something “significant” that I could post about.

I’ve not finished perusing them (honestly, I’ve opened only one so far), but I’ve found something that is — to me anyway! — interesting.  A young man had written to her about one of his teachers complaining that he (the boy) had a copy of West Germany’s “Bravo” teen magazine:

According to my Stabülehrer [a type of teacher, explained below], “‘Bravo’ is a profit-seeking magazine full of anti-communist overtones; as a ‘socialist [school?] figure’ I particularly disdain it.” [The teacher’s] hatred goes so deep that I get myself a copy of “Bravo” and write to a female class-enemy [Klassenfeind].

(The construction of that final sentence confused both me and my wife — a native German speaker — but we assume he is saying that the teacher told him that he — the teacher — particularly hates that the boy has gotten a copy of “Bravo”, found a penpal advertisement in it [from my wife] and written to her, a “class-enemy”.) (Hey buddy, don’t call my wife a Klassenfeind, even 22 years ago! :) )


The East German penpal describes his teacher's very negative reaction to the boy having a copy of the West German "Bravo" magazine.

So what is a “Stabülehrer“?  Even Dani — being from Austria and not the GDR — was not certain. It’s some kind of teacher (Lehrer), that’s clear. “Stabü“, Dani thought, could be the abbreviation for “Staatsbürger“, or citizen; so she thought “Stabülehrer” could be short for “Staatsbürgerlehrer“, i.e., some kind of teacher who teaches you to be a model citizen. Dani was quite close with this guess.

To be sure, I turned to the man of the hour, Wolfgang Welsch, whom I know personally.  I sent him an e-mail asking him about Stabülehrer and he clarified everything for me. “Stabü” is actually short for “Staatsbürgerkunde“.  Indeed, a Google search for “Staatsbürgerkunde DDR” returns loads of results, including a Wikipedia page describing it in German. Staatsbürgerkunde was in fact a required subject of study for East German students.  It focused on class consciousness and marxist-leninist ideology.

So this teacher whom the boy refers to in his letter to my wife taught this subject. One can indeed imagine what he thought of “Bravo”! If you look at the Bravo website, you’ll get the idea.

The boy went on to complain about this reaction from his teacher.  “I don’t understand these teachers, how they can say such crap! (wie sie so eine Scheiße erzählen können …)”

I found that this frustration over indoctrination made for interesting reading and show-and-tell here in the Hausarchiv series.  My wife and this penpal did not remain in contact for long (not because anything bad happened to him!)  It would be interesting to know if his opinions ever got him into trouble.  I was, in fact, able to find him in Google — he appears to own his own business now in the same town where he was growing up.  I wonder how he feels now about the GDR.

21 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are links for 21 October 2009 concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall.

If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing Berlin Wall / GDR links. And don’t forget the Berlin Wall Resources page.

  • Advertising Age magazine has caught on to the marketing successes of Ostalgie. Snippet:
    When the wall came down, East Germans flocked to buy the famous brand names they had been denied for so long. Consumer preferences changed overnight, but 20 years later many of its former citizens once again crave the comfort of the goods they grew up with, and are proud of the quality and value they represent. As a result, there’s a renewed interest in Communist-era products from sneakers to coffee to face cream.

    (Ostalgie is a term that has come about since the Fall of the Wall; it’s a play on the German words for “east” (“Ost“) and “nostalgia” (“Nostalgie“), so: nostalgia for the way things were in the East.)

  • At, a German online forum concerning law and legal issues, appears a notice that a German historian is researching kidnappings carried out by the Stasi (Ministry for State Security of the GDR). Snippet:
    A faked telegram from a sick relative, knockout drops in a glass of beer or simply brute force – the methods used by the East German secret police, the “Stasi”, were varied and imaginative when it came to kidnapping opponents and critics of the East German regime in West Germany and putting them on trial in the GDR. Historian Susanne Muhle (29) has found over 400 cases in the files of the Birthler Agency (named after Marianne Birthler, who heads the agency that oversees the archives holding millions of files collected by Stasi) as well as in those held by other authorities.

Today’s video is, I assume, a home-made product, and a good one at that. It features the Scorpions’ hit song “Wind of Change”. (Check out the link for that song if you’re not familiar with its history.)

So turn up the volume, sit back and enjoy:

20 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are today’s selected links concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall.

If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing Berlin Wall / GDR links. And don’t forget the Berlin Wall Resources page, which I’ve updated just today.

Today’s video comes from the France24 international news channel and reminds us of the sometimes uncomfortable (or politically inconvenient) fact that some Germans miss the GDR. That not all East Germans — and perhaps not even a majority — have negative feelings towards their former country is a theme I will be returning to next week with my Book of the Week.

19 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are today’s selected links concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing Berlin Wall / GDR links. And don’t forget the Berlin Wall Resources page, which I’ve updated just today.

Now on to today’s links:

  • With the teaser “Barack is too busy”, Der Spiegel (in English) announces that the U.S. President will not attend Berlin’s celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Rick Richman, at his Commentary blog, wishes it were otherwise.
  • The Telegraph meets up with Egon Krenz, who congratulates himself on avoiding blood shed in October and November 1989.
  • At, Joshua Hammer celebrates the Berlin that has emerged in the last 20 years since the Wall fell. He calls the German capital “the most dynamic city in Europe.” And he reminds us that it wasn’t always so:
    For until the mid-19th century, Berlin was a backwater. Goethe called it “crude.” Voltaire said it had “astoundingly many bayonets and very few books.” Stendhal wondered, “What could have possessed people to found a city in the middle of all this sand,” referring to the marshy plain upon which the city is built.

Today’s video cannot be embedded here on the page, I’m afraid. But it’s a good one, and it’s only the first in a planned series of five at the Guardian. So I recommend you go have a look. Part One is called ‘The Berlin Wall was a monster'”, quoting one of the persons interviewed for the video.

16 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Welcome back to my continuing series of links commemorating the 20th anniversary of a very important moment in German History: the opening of the checkpoints along the Berlin Wall on 09 November 1989.

For today’s links I decided to select articles from “major media”, namely the New York Times and Time Magazine.

  • From the New York Times comes the 1988 article “Protests Mark Berlin Wall’s 27th Anniversary”. I found it really fascinating to read an account of protests going on just one year before the Wall’s fall. One excerpt:
    Dozens of West Germans demonstrated in front of the Brandenburg Gate. They carried life-size portraits of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and called on him to press East Germany to tear down the wall.

    Remember those heady days with Gorbachev? Or are you too young?

  • And from Time Magazine’s archives comes this article, “Refugees Freedom Train”, dated 16 October 1989, about one month before the Wall fell. The article describes the continued emigration of East German citizens via other bloc countries, and the very awkward 40th anniversary of the East German regime which had just been celebrated in Berlin with a less-than-enthusiastic Mikhail Gorbachev visiting. Excerpt:
    Few expect things to get better under Honecker. And though in failing health, he shows no signs of turning power over to the next generation. While their neighbors in Poland and Hungary rush to embrace the reforms of perestroika and glasnost, East Germany’s aged chieftains have stoutly withstood all blandishments, even from Gorbachev, to abandon the strict orthodoxies of conventional Communism. The result: a country so calcified that its citizens find a hopeful future only in flight.

Today’s video is a U.S. propaganda film from 1962 entitled “The Wall”. Below is the YouTube clip; more information is available at the Internet Archive’s entry for “The Wall”. The film lasts nine minutes and, as far as I could tell in my quick viewing of it, seems to be factually accurate. At one point in the video (7:57) you will quickly see a small memorial to Ida Siekmann, to whom I dedicated a short blog post sometime back: “Remember Ida Siekmann”.

15 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Some links for today in my ongoing series commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:

  • Did East Germans originate from apes? Well to find the answer to that question (which is, of course, a joke) you will need to see today’s article at titled “West German spies collected jokes from behind the Berlin Wall”.
  • “Germany: East is East” is the title of an article by Wolfgang Kerler appearing at the site. The article highlights some of the major differences — for example in income and optimism — between western and eastern parts of Germany even today, 20 years later. One example: unemployment is 12% in the “new states” (the states that were once part of the GDR), whereas only 7% of the west german working population is jobless.
  • At the Wall Street Journal’s, see a slideshow of the wall being erected right now in Berlin — a wall that will be toppled quite soon.

Today’s video comes from the site, which I had never seen before and which looks very interesting. It is a video about the Berlin Wall produced by Sybille Spinola and hosted by the very charming Dörthe Eickelberg, who speaks perfect English throughout the video.

14 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

I have a few links today. Warning: the first two could be construed as political, particularly the second. I generally avoid politics like the plague in this blog. But I think these two balance each other a bit:

The next two items are resources, one of them audio, the other a very impressive map-based online tour of the area of the Wall and the artifacts along the perimeter.

  • has an eight minute forty-four second audio clip all about the Berlin Wall, available for $0.99 at I have not purchased it or heard it. But I just think it’s cool that someone is selling bite size pieces of educational audio like that.
  • The Brandenburg Technical University has put up a fantastic virtual tour of the perimeter of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately the text is all in German, so you may not understand the captions attached to each market spot along the perimeter. But I still think it would be fun to click around on the map and popup some photos. You’ll get the idea when you get there… click on the map on the right side of the page, then just play around with the larger map that appears.

Finally, here is another video available at YouTube. It’s from ABC News (U.S.), narrated by Peter Jennings. It’s a nice look at the Wall’s fall and the subsequent collapse of other European communist regimes:

13 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Just one link today. It’s a video, and it’s a dandy, but unfortunately in German.

Never fear, your translator is here.

Please, at least watch the first nine minutes of this 40+ minute documentary that appeared on ZDF, Germany’s “second” public station. The name of the show is Flucht in die Freiheit“, “Escape to Freedom”. (Note: it will ask you to select the speed of your connection so as to gauge the quality of the video it sends to you. I think it’s clear what the three Brandbreite (bandwidth) options are: they go from slowest to fastest. Select one and choose the link at the bottom-right labeled “Übernehmen”.)

“Escape to Freedom” tells the stories of many who escaped (or attempted to escape) East Berlin using techniques such as tunnel-digging, crossing with false passports, and … well, one guy found a pretty straightforward way to get out. And that’s the story of the first nine minutes of this show.

It concerns Wolfgang Engels, who is 19 years old and a civilian working with the National People’s Army in 1963. Here’s your guide to his story, the first nine minutes of “Escape to Freedom”…

00:00 — Introduction to the documentary, a hint of the kinds of escape attempts you will see in the show.

01:50 — Wolfgang Engels (19 years old) works for the National People’s Army (NVA). He arrives at a base in his nice car.

02:30 — Engels greets the soldiers who drive the armored vehicle. One of those drivers is interviewed for the documentary: “He drove a beautiful car — we were jealous of him.” They talk about the armored vehicles — “a discussion among men”.

03:00 — Engels interviewed today: “They were interested in my car, and I was interested in their armored vehicle. They were proud to show it to me. They even showed me the inside and let me climb in.”

03:15 — The soldier interviewed today: “He didn’t ask too intensively. He made it sound casual.”

03:30 — Engels asks them a lot of questions. How does it work? How does start it up? How does one get it in to gear?

03:55 — One of those soldiers interviewed today: “No, no, [we had] no suspicions.”

04:00 — 17 April 1963: His chance comes as the soldiers go to the mess hall. “I climbed in and drove away.”

04:30 — A sentry signals for him to stop. He breaks easily through the chain at the gate.

04:45 — One of those soldiers interviewed today: “Now it was clear to us that he wanted to flee the country. It couldn’t have been anything else.”

05:05 — Travel time to the Wall is 20 minutes. No one follows him. It was nothing unusual to have a military vehicle on the streets of East Berlin.

05:20 — The only traffic light on his route happened to be red as he approached it. But the policeman stationed there turned it to green for him, following normal procedure.

05:45 — He reaches the place where he wants to break through. There is no turning back now.

06:18 — There he goes, into the Wall!

06:34 — “Part of the hood of the vehicle was in West Berlin, but the doors were still in East Berlin.”

06:43 — East German border police open fire. Engels: “I felt the shot like a kick in my side. Then it just felt hot. But I was still able to get back into the vehicle, then climb up to the front and up on to the wall where the barbed wire was.”

07:15 — “I laid there and the border police continued to fire at me.”

07:25 — Covered by West Berlin policemen who fired back, civilians are able to pull Wolfgang Engels down from the wall into West Berlin. He is critically wounded. They take him to a tavern.

07:42 — “From the floor where I was laying — just in front of the bar — I could see the several brands of liquor that we East Berliners only knew about from advertisements. And then I knew: ‘You made it.'”

08:05 — The story hits the western newspapers. The escape of 19 year-old Wolfgang Engels is a sensation. He leaves the hospital weeks later.

Great story!

12 October 2009: Berlin Wall / End of the GDR links for today

Here are a few links I came across today, and another video.

  • I thought this was cool: students at the Communication and Culture graduate program at Indiana University are going to be partying like it’s 1989 to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wall’s fall.
  • The AP (linked via ABC News (U.S.) has a look at the tunnels secretly built below Berlin (and the Wall) to help those wanting to escape the East. I definitely want to go back to Berlin to tour the “underbelly of the German capital.”

Today’s video is from the folks at (the German mission to the United States). It’s a very short one video whose only purpose is to advertise the slogan “Freedom Without Walls”, which they are using for their commemorations within the United States. But I liked the use of multiple U.S. Presidents in it.