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Worst of East Germany too easily forgotten
http://www.abc.net.au ^ | November 9, 2009 | Jennifer Macey

Posted on 11/09/2009 4:24:01 AM PST by myknowledge

The Berlin Wall anniversary is a reminder that people smugglers were once regarded not as the scum of the earth but as heroes.

Hartmut Richter was one. He fled East Berlin five years after the wall was built by swimming across one of the canals that separated the city.

He then helped another 33 people escape by smuggling them across the border in his car.

Twenty years on, he worries about what is called Ostalgie - nostalgia for the old East Germany.

The former German Democratic Republic has largely been romanticised in film, fashion and design. But Mr Richter warns that the worst crimes of the former East Germany have been too easily forgotten.

Deep in the Berlin suburb of Hohenschoenhausen lies the empty shell of a secret jail. It belonged to the Stasi, the feared East German secret police.

Mr Richter, a former prisoner, gives tourists guided tours. He says many officials of the Stasi have escaped punishment.

"Over here on your left, that's not a hallway, that's a torture cell where the ceiling's so low you can't stand up," he said.

He spent a year being interrogated in an isolation cell in the jail before he was moved to another prison in Potsdam.

He was charged with people smuggling and being an enemy of the state. But like so many other East Germans, his story begins in August 1961.

"Coincidentally or not, I was visiting my favourite cousin on August 13, 1961, in West Berlin," he said.

"As a 13-year-old, I watched as the wall went up, how people jumped out of windows.

"I returned to my parents after two days. At school the teachers told us about the anti-fascist protection wall that was built.

"I had to walk out of the classroom. I already pictured this so-called protection border more as a prison."

Five years later, Mr Richter made his first escape attempt. He was caught but released with a warning.

A few months later he got away.

"The first one who comes over helps the others to escape," he said.

Underestimated

Starting in the 1970s, the period of detente, East Germany opened its borders a little. They let West Germans visit relatives and friends in the East under the so-called transit agreement.

"When you drive across the border a few times, you realise 'wow, they aren't checking anymore'," Mr Richter said.

"Well what would happen if you hid a mate in the boot of the car and drive him out of the east?"

Mr Richter helped 33 East Germans escape but he says he underestimated the Stasi.

"They cross-referenced the transit lists with the number of defectors and eventually they realised every time I drove from east to west someone went missing. I only know all this from reading my Stasi file," he said.

"On the night of the 3rd or 4th of March 1975, I was driving back to the west with my own sister in the boot and at the border they yelled, 'Exit to the right, drive to the right'.

"And I said 'hang on a minute, I'm a transit visitor and you should let me pass'. And he said 'drive into the garage'.

"There were 10 border guards with weapons but were friendly, but then came the less-friendly sniffer dog into the garage.

"As the dog jumped onto the boot of the car, I was pushed against the wall with 10 machine guns pointing in my face and in the boot of the car was my own sister."

Mr Richter spent five years in jail. He endured lengthy interrogation and sleep deprivation. Eventually the West German government bought his release under a prisoner exchange scheme.

But back in the west, with the Cold War thawing, he felt disillusioned with what he saw as the apathy about the communist east.

So he staged protests to draw attention to the wall. He threw leaflets over into the East and even managed to steal a bed of nails from the death strip.

"I was surprised to read in my Stasi files that there were plans drawn up to kill me, wipe me out. That was shortly after I stole the bed of nails," he said.

"They planned to shoot me. They wanted me to make a second protest and then they would be prepared because the first action took them by surprise.

"So they tried to convince another former prisoner, who was working as a spy for the East, to convince me to steal another bed of nails and they would wait with snipers."

Disgust at nostalgia

Now Mr Richter helps former political prisoners apply for compensation. But he is angry that many former Stasi employees escaped punishment and now enjoy a healthy state-sponsored pension.

"It's unbelievable that former officers of the secret police receive a pension as high as officers of the German army," he said.

"It may be legally defendable but it can't be defended on ethical or moral grounds."

Twenty years on from the fall of the wall, he fears that a new generation is growing up that does not understand how oppressive it was to live under communism.

It was a country where everyone felt spied on, and most of them had reason to fear it. For Mr Richter, there is nothing to be nostalgic about.

"I think it's disgusting how East Germany is sometimes portrayed. Can you imagine if the history of Nazi Germany was glossed over like that? It would be an outrage," he said.

"It's a disproportionate response the way that the history is trivialised and romanticised. You can understand why people like me see this very critically."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; Germany; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: berlinwall; eastgermany; germany; hartmutrichter; nostalgia; stasi

Ex-inmate Hartmut Richter and his once-secret cell.

"I think it's disgusting how East Germany is sometimes portrayed. Can you imagine if the history of Nazi Germany was glossed over like that? It would be an outrage," he said.

Hartmut Richter was right. Why should a former communist country like the GDR be glorified while Nazi Germany gets all the scorn when communism and fascism are both inherently evil?

1 posted on 11/09/2009 4:24:03 AM PST by myknowledge
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To: myknowledge
Twenty years on from the fall of the wall, he fears that a new generation is growing up that does not understand how oppressive it was to live under communism. It was a country where everyone felt spied on, and most of them had reason to fear it.

PELOSI: Buy a $15,000 Policy or Go to Jail

2 posted on 11/09/2009 4:32:01 AM PST by Talisker (When you find a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be damn sure it didn't get there on it's own.)
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To: myknowledge

We need more guys like him.


3 posted on 11/09/2009 4:34:46 AM PST by Rummenigge (there are people willing to blow out the light because it casts a shadow)
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To: Talisker
Twenty years on, he worries about what is called Ostalgie - nostalgia for the old East Germany.

It was a country where everyone felt spied on, and most of them had reason to fear it. For Mr Richter, there is nothing to be nostalgic about.

Unfortunately, anyone suffering from ostalgie may soon feel right at home here in the US. If obama and Pelosi got their ways... The obama administration already flirted with an enemies list -- I'm not convinced it didn't simply go underground. We already had/have "report your family/friends/neighbors"... Pelosi wants to jail anyone who dares look for a little liberty in the form of managing their own healthcare.

Slowly but surely, the socialists/fascists are winning in this Country. But not for long. The massive government expansion masquerading as the healthcare debacle has been a wake up call. A lot of 'rats are going to be out of a job after the next election cycle. Pelosi doesn't seem to care, she's throwing lots of her own under the bus. Who ever is pulling obama's strings is throwing him under the bus too - he'll never get elected to a second term.

4 posted on 11/09/2009 4:48:20 AM PST by ThunderSleeps (obama out now! I'll keep my money, my guns, and my freedom - you can keep the change.)
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To: myknowledge
Nostalgia for "Che"....nostalgia for East Germmany...it all makes sense.I read that a Stasi document that was found after the Wall's collapse indicated that something like one in eight East Germans were government informants and that kids frequently informed on their parents and that people frequently informed on their spouses.

I can't wait to see who informs on me when I refuse to comply with HusseinCare regulations.

5 posted on 11/09/2009 4:57:21 AM PST by Gay State Conservative (Host The Beer Summit-->Win The Nobel Peace Prize!)
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To: Gay State Conservative; ThunderSleeps; Talisker
Berlin Wall anniversary: escapees tell of night they fled to West by boat
6 posted on 11/09/2009 5:05:15 AM PST by myknowledge (F-22 Raptor: World's Largest Distributor of Sukhoi parts!)
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To: myknowledge

History Channel has a show called “Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall” coming on next week. It was pretty interesting. Detailed several escapes over The Wall and did some background on the The Wall itself.

Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall
Fri Nov 13 2pm


7 posted on 11/09/2009 5:38:17 AM PST by VeniVidiVici (Keep your dog. Get rid of a Liberal.)
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To: myknowledge; All

Having been there immediately after the war and wittnessing the devastation and the recovery and the American contribution to Germany’s and Europe’s recovery due to the Marshall plan which Obama downplays. Now brings us to the reason why “Our President” is not showing up at the anniversary of the walls destruction.

During his election bid he scheduled several foreign locations to make campaign speeches and approached the German Government (Merkel a socialist) for permission to speak before Brandenburg Tor (gate) facing the wall as JFK did. Obama was denied that privledge because he was not an elected leader (ie he was using it as a political event) and if they allowed it, it would appear that the Merkel government was taking sides in our political election .

Now a genuine political leader would have understood this and attended but not Obama . Let there be no doubt in anyones mind that Obama has repeatedly shown he is petty and vindictive . It should surprize no one that he refused to show up at the wall’s anniversary. Despite that broad smile and clipped speech filled with pleasantries and platitudes this guy’s a creep.
http://www.theusmat.com/


8 posted on 11/09/2009 5:43:46 AM PST by mosesdapoet (We don't need no stinkin videos unrelated to the subject screwing up our downloads)
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To: myknowledge
Communism ISN'T evil.

Just ask the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Secretary of State...

9 posted on 11/09/2009 7:09:00 AM PST by jonascord (Hey, we have the Constitution. What's to worry about?)
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To: myknowledge

I was stationed at U.S. Army Field Station in Berlin for three years (1974 to 1977) and met scores of former East Germans, including my landlord, who lived under the iron heel of the STAZI and told me that life under communism was “living death.”

Karl was one of the lucky ones the border guards didn’t hit in his dash to freedom in 1963.

I’m pleased that Berlin - the modern day symbol of man’s endless struggle against tyranny - is the free and beautiful city it always wanted to be.

A memory and tribute here to the free city of Berlin:

http://ronbosoldier.blogspot.com/2009/11/berlin-wall-anniversary-soldier.html


10 posted on 11/09/2009 7:12:02 AM PST by Ronbo1948
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To: myknowledge
So he staged protests to draw attention to the wall. He threw leaflets over into the East and even managed to steal a bed of nails from the death strip. "I was surprised to read in my Stasi files that there were plans drawn up to kill me, wipe me out. That was shortly after I stole the bed of nails," he said.

I don't fully understand this part of the article. What "bed of nails" is he talking about? Did the Stasi use it as a torture device?

11 posted on 11/09/2009 7:17:19 AM PST by SkyPilot
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To: Gay State Conservative

I see kids here at MS wearing these Che tees from time to time. Its sad that they are so utterly clueless about their
hero and what he and his handlers brought forth.

The DDR was perhaps the most patently evil of all the Communist states. One could sense it looking at the border strip, watching the Aufklaerer watching you watching them.


12 posted on 11/09/2009 7:19:10 AM PST by rahbert
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To: myknowledge

and yet so many Germans today suffer from Ostalgie, a sick kind of wistful nostalgia for life in the former DDR


13 posted on 11/09/2009 7:20:31 AM PST by Buckeye McFrog
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To: SkyPilot

One of the most telling scenes in “The Lives of Others” was when they were bugging the apartment, and the Stasi officer, Wiesler, noticed the neighbor was watching, and so he goes over to her apartment and informs her that if she tells anyone, her daughter won’t get into the university.


14 posted on 11/09/2009 7:21:54 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Buckeye McFrog
and yet so many Germans today suffer from Ostalgie

I don't think it's that big of a deal. I can't believe anyone really would want to go back to that, but I think it's more that East Germans do resent their second-class status compared to the Western Germans. That's just another price of the division that it will take several generations to get rid of. The "Wall of the Mind" is still there.

15 posted on 11/09/2009 7:27:01 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: rahbert

“...I see kids here at MS wearing these Che tees from time to time. ..”

Here’s the ultimate in irony (or stupidity): I’m driving home from work one day through the downtown city, and there’s a yuppie in a BMZ in front of me, with a holographic “Che” poster on the back window of his Beamer...

Too stupid to realize that Che and his communist POS cohorts would have slaughtered him just for OWNING a Beamer...

And they vote...


16 posted on 11/09/2009 8:49:00 AM PST by NFHale (The Second Amendment - By any means necessary.)
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To: SkyPilot
I don't fully understand this part of the article. What "bed of nails" is he talking about? Did the Stasi use it as a torture device?

The East Germans placed beds of nails in the "no man's land" strip between the inner fence and the outer wall that surrounded West Berlin. This was one of many obstacles the East Germans placed in this so called "death-strip" including land mines, dogs, tank traps, etc. The bed of nails was the first obstacle one would encounter when hoping the fence on the East Berlin side, in other words anyone hopping the fence to try to get through the death strip and over the wall would land onto this grating infused with sharp, metal spikes. Apparently what this man stole was one of these grates.

17 posted on 11/09/2009 10:32:57 AM PST by MissesBush
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To: jonascord

18 posted on 11/09/2009 2:46:29 PM PST by myknowledge (F-22 Raptor: World's Largest Distributor of Sukhoi parts!)
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To: Buckeye McFrog

Because Ostalgie was romanticized in movies portraying the former GDR in a positive light. You wouldn’t want to have watched those movies.


19 posted on 11/09/2009 2:50:04 PM PST by myknowledge (F-22 Raptor: World's Largest Distributor of Sukhoi parts!)
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To: MissesBush
Many thanks for that. They should have explained that in the article as it would have been very effective towards readers. After you described the "bed of nails," I remembered I had seen one at the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin.


20 posted on 11/09/2009 3:26:23 PM PST by SkyPilot
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To: SkyPilot

That’s a fascinating museum isn’t it? It’s been over 20 years since I visited it—and the Wall was still up at the time just outside of the windows of the museum which made it all the more fascinating. I’d love to go back to Berlin these days.


21 posted on 11/09/2009 8:18:06 PM PST by MissesBush
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To: SkyPilot

That’s a fascinating museum isn’t it? It’s been over 20 years since I visited it—and the Wall was still up at the time just outside of the windows of the museum which made it all the more fascinating. I’d love to go back to Berlin these days.


22 posted on 11/09/2009 8:18:15 PM PST by MissesBush
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To: dfwgator
One of the most telling scenes in “The Lives of Others” was when they were bugging the apartment, and the Stasi officer, Wiesler, noticed the neighbor was watching, and so he goes over to her apartment and informs her that if she tells anyone, her daughter won’t get into the university.

Intersting. Thanks.

Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama will soon have the power to tell people that if we speak out against them, our children won't get access to health care.

23 posted on 11/10/2009 3:11:05 AM PST by SkyPilot
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