Sep 2020

VI. Buchbesprechungen: Freya Klier. Und wo warst du?

Freya Klier. Und wo warst du?


30 Jahre Mauerfall.

Freiburg: Herder, 2019, 272 Seiten.

Helga Druxes, Bennington, Vermont


Together with her husband, the political songwriter Stefan Krawczyk, Freya Klier, the well-known dissident activist fought for civic freedoms within the peace movement in the GDR. Klier delivers a compelling anthology of 23 recollections by authors from East and West, addressing the times immediately before or after the fall of the Wall. The essays are organized under three rubrics: “‘We have to do something’: The long road leading to the fall of the wall”, “‘The Wall has to go’: Moving towards Freedom”, and “‘Meeting of Two Worlds: Germany Reunified.” Each segment offers vibrant first-person accounts in a striking variety of voices. Let me highlight just a few.

Ingo Hasselbach, famous for exiting the German neo-Nazi scene to co-found EXIT, viscerally describes his fears during a three-year prison stint. Those who were incarcerated were not even informed that the wall had just come down.

A civics teacher from the provinces, an obedient daughter who followed directives unquestioningly and who was raised in the home of a state security operative and a Party cadre, today confronts her own complicity as an educator “within a system that disrespected human beings.” Particularly striking is her relationship to her grandmother: despite the fact that they were close, they never had a frank discussion about politics until the collapse.

Nadja Klier, the daughter of the volume’s editor, remembers how the relentless Stasi surveillance of her parents radiated out into attempts to subvert her close friendship with a classmate. Both girls were fifteen. Decades later, Nadja researches her files at the archive, and asks her friend Anna to do the same for her own. Anna rediscovers a troubling fact she had repressed: at her own mother’s urging, the Stasi recruited her as a youth informant and she signed papers to this effect shortly after Nadja and Freya were deported to the West. The Stasi dangles a possible meeting with her best friend before the naive Anna, to gain her cooperation. In the end, the Stasi did not manage to destroy their bond: in 2018-19, the two friends sit down together, and help each other heal by talking about what really happened.

A translator tells us about the pervasive mistrust of strangers that the Honecker regime spread to keep its citizens docile: “I never had carefree contacts with new people.” For the adult, a turning point becomes the dismissive treatment of her East German travel group on their return from the Soviet Union. Another rupture is the entry of her son into socialist daycare. He is upset and cries. The staff tell her to leave quickly, promising that he will soon adapt. When she returns several hours later, he is still at the fence crying. Nobody spoke a kind word to him to ease the transition. Eventually the May 1989 election arrives, when a large number of people vote against the Socialist Unity Party, only to realize that the results were falsified. Her diary entries from this time reveal how much she craves change. She joins the protestors.

A former West German, Uwe, tells us that information about the East was not part of school curricula. Even so, a 1972 class trip to the border sparks his outrage at the barriers and surveillance towers. He sees East German border-guards watching his group. Later, as a university student in Bonn, he organizes an effective protest on behalf of Niko Hübner, an East Berliner who refused to join the National People’s Army and was imprisoned. The ensuing media attention means for the Westerner that he is now blacklisted by the Stasi. West German embassy personnel advise him not to travel overland into the GDR, because he would be arrested. Unlike many young people of his generation, Uwe does not become a leftist, he joins the Christian Democrats and begins advocating for unification. He is very critical of his party’s rapprochement with GDR leadership, because it seems to accept the status quo of a divided Germany rather than work towards the possibility of unifying Germany one day.

The collection offers other unexpected viewpoints: a former machinist from Dresden who now volunteers in eldercare is also an occasional Pegida supporter and we are made to understand his reasons; Astrid Proll, one of Germany’s first-wave Baader-Meinhof gang members (now rehabilitated and working as a photo journalist) tells us about her visit with one of Germanys’ most wanted terrorists: Inge Viett, who had joined the Red Army Faction in the early seventies, been involved in crimes and spectacular prison breaks, and went underground in 1972. Roughly from 1980 on, Viett and nine other RAF terrorists hid out in the GDR with the approval of the Ministry for State Security until the fall of the Wall, assuming new identities as ordinary factory and office workers. Of course, they remained closely monitored by the Stasi. Viett’s new life during these ten years is more turbulent because she has to assume two false identities, and because she is an out lesbian, which makes her more vulnerable to scrutiny. Other Easterners write about their engagement in the New Forum as they search for a different political path than becoming part of the former West.

The thirty-year distance in time allows many to assess their enmeshment in, or victimization by political practices intended to produce docility and tacit compliance. Those who braved their fears of reprisals, joining the peaceful protest movement, speak of their amazing sense of empowerment. The collection allows for compelling glimpses into multi-faceted experiences on both sides of the border, and manifests genuine respect for diverse points of view. Especially valuable is the range of social classes and backgrounds represented by the various testimonies. While no single volume could possibly claim to be definitive about the ground-level reactions to the collapse of the GDR regime, Klier’s is an exciting and important contribution that provides nuanced insights into a range of responses. Even more importantly, her collection encourages us to become resilient subjects, standing with others in the fight for social justice, no matter what constraints we may face.

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