Lippi-Bekenntnisse – a different look at life in the GDR

Lippi-Bekenntnisse - Unverblümte Plauderein über ein authentisches LebenIt is now 15 years ago that I made my first trip into what used to be East Berlin.  I was there to solve a problem with a computer belonging to someone who I have been in contact with ever since and recently visited at the Störtebeker Festspiele on the island Rügen – singer and television presenter Wolfgang Lippert.

I had only been living in Germany for a year and although I was aware of the significance of whose computer I was looking at in terms of how important the customer was for my employer, only recently have I discovered the significance of the person behind it for the former East Germany’s show business industry.  This I have to thank to his autobiography Lippi-Bekenntnisse.

Rather than being just another autobiography of a German celebrity, Lippi-Bekenntnisse gives an inside look into the way that the entertainment business worked in the GDR from someone who was part of it in quite a unique way.  Reading it made me realise how little I know about that part of Germany’s history. [Read more…]

The night the Wall came down

Today is a big day in Germany.   20 years ago today the East German government made the announcement that their citizens would be able to pass freely into the West. As one of the journalists asked from when this would apply, Günter Schabowski of the SED answered “as far as I am aware […] immediately”.

And so a large number of East Germans made their way to the border, leading to the now famous scene of the crowd pushing up the barrier at Checkpoint Charlie and flowing into West Berlin.

Much of the blogosphere is buzzing about this today, as are the mainstream media. And one of the biggest questions being asked is “where were you on that day?”

So where was I?

Well, at the time I was still living at home and studying for my A-levels. I remember waking up the next morning and watching the reports from Berlin during breakfast. I think at the time I may have realised that this was a significant event in German history, but maybe not quite the importance that it has come to have.

You see, I don’t think I knew that much about the GDR. I knew about the wall being built, and how Germany and Berlin were divided. I knew a little bit about the rules for visiting the East and how difficult it was to get to the West. But I could probably only name three towns in the East: Dresden, Weimar and Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) and I cannot say that I knew much about things like the Stasi, or the internal politics and culture of the state.

One of my A-Level subjects was German, so inevitably the fall of the wall was going to be something that we talked about. I remember keeping files of newspaper cuttings about the events that followed, and in lessons we talked about the events that were changing Germany. We followed the first elections in March 1990, and the discussion about reunification in the same year.

However some wheels turn slower in A-Level education, and I do not remember these topics coming up much in the exams a year later.

They did have a larger impact on my time at university. With the GDR being one of the core components of studying German, much of this part of the course was probably re-written for my first year there. Many other components had to take a new direction as well, as current affairs in the country inevitably looked towards the East.

In front of the Berlin Wall in November 1996

In front of the Berlin Wall in November 1996

I never made it to the GDR myself. My first visit to that part of the country was in November 1990 when I spent a day in Erfurt. Not much had changed in the few weeks since reunification. The buildings were still drab and there were still Russian troops on the streets. Some of the roads were in bad way. In a way, I had a taste of the country without ever visiting it.

Strangely, I have never been back. With the exception of a few visits to Berlin, one of which I returned by car from, which entailed travelling through the Neue Bundesländer, I have never visited that part of Germany again, despite travelling extensively throughout the rest of the country either on business or with the Scouts. I don’t really know why, the opportunity just never arose.

Solidaritätszuschlag

The Solidaritätszuschlag is an additional form of tax that was originally conceived to assist with the re-building of East Germany after re-unification.

It was introduced in 1991 and although there was a break of 2 years in the 1990s, it is still valid today and anyone who pays tax in Germany also pays this Zuschlag on top.

The Solidaritätszuschlag is often a point of discussion, especially a to how long we will have to continue paying it – 18 years after re-unification.  However, at the moment there appear to be no plans to discard it again.

To hear a simple explanation and a short discussion in German, listen to the podcast:

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