Archive for the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ Category

Guenter Mittag – East German Economic Tsar

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Guenter Mittag was the third most powerful man in the former East Germany, after Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED), http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ and Erich Mielke, Minister of State Security. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ From 1976 to 1989, Mittag headed the Economic Commission at the Politbuero (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission – DWK), advocating and implementing the state’s economic policies.

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag’s rise and fall

Born in 1926, Guenter Mittag joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD) in 1945. A year later, he became member of the newly created SED). In 1958, Mittag earned a doctorate with his dissertation “Problems of Socialist Development of the Transport System”. At the same time, he became Secretary of the Economic Commission at the Politbuero, the principal policymaking committee of the SED. From 1976 on, he headed the Commission.

Along with Erich Apel, Guenter Mittag designed the New System for Economic Management and Planning (Neues Oekonomisches System). The system was implemented in 1963 and replaced Walter Ulbricht’s http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ Five-Year Plans, which had been launched in 1951. The New System for Economic Management was to streamline and modernize the East German economy by reducing waste of raw materials, increasing mechanization, reducing food shortages and improving product quality. Above all, the new policies were to demonstrate East German competitiveness with the West German economic miracle. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/ludwig-erhard-and-the-economic-miracle/ The new system was also put into place to halt Republikflucht attempts (desertion from the Republic), which had plagued the East German economy prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But Mittag’s new system did not generate the expected results and was replaced in 1967/1968 by policies, which concentrated on building up East Germany’s high-tech industries.

Guenter Mittag was a central figure in the German planned economy from 1958 to 1989. Although he recognized sooner than his comrades that the centralized and monopolistic economic policies did not produce the desired results, he did not want to admit his plan’s failure and hid the facts by doctoring the balance sheets.  http://www.zeit.de/1994/13/total-gescheitert It was not until mid-1989 that Mittag proposed a radical change of course, but by then it was too late. Following German reunification in 1990. Guenter Mittag was among the first to be relieved of his duties.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Erich Mielke – Master of Fear

Monday, May 1st, 2017

 

Erich Mielke headed the feared East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatsicherheit – MfS) for over 30 years. The agency became known as the STASI. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ From 1957 until shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi was enormously powerful, making Erich Mielke the most influential man in East Germany, right behind Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ One hundred thousand full-time agents and up to two million unofficial “citizen helpers” were under Mielke’s control. His agency stifled opposition by using assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation to keep the 16.5 million East Germans in fear. In a 1993 interview, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that the Stasi was “much, much worse than the Gestapo.”

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke’s Pre-Stasi Days

Erich Mielke’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD, making Erich a second-generation communist. Born into poverty in 1907 in Berlin, he joined the communist youth movement at age 15 and the KPD at age 20. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Communist party and the Nazi party were frequently involved in violent armed conflicts, Mielke was member of the communist paramilitary forces.

Together with another member of the paramilitary forces, Erich Mielke shot two Berlin police captains in 1931. Their names were Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the Soviet Union. He was not tried for the murders until 1993 when incriminating papers were found in his home safe during a search. While in exile in the Soviet Union, Erich Mielke attended the Communist International’s Military-Political School and the Lenin School in Moscow.

From 1936 to 1939, Mielke served as an operative in Spain’s political police. Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, he fled to France, was imprisoned, but managed to escape to Belgium. His activities during World War II remain largely unknown. In 1945, at he end of the war, a law enforcement agency closely associated with the Soviet Secret Police ordered him to return to Occupied Germany. His assignment was to build up a security force in the Soviet occupation zone, which involved tracking down Nazis, anti-communists and hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. The number of arrests exceeded the number of available spaces in existing prisons so that eleven concentration camps were re-opened or newly established.

Erich Mielke’s Stasi Days

With the establishment of the Ministry for State Security in 1950, Mielke was appointed deputy director of the institution. In November 1957, he became the head of State Security. At that time, the Stasi had 14,000 full-time employees. By 1989 that number had increased to near 100,000. Along the way, Mielke helped Erich Honecker to topple Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ as the party leader.

Erich Mielke’s Final Stasi Days

On 8 October 1989, Erich Mielke and Erich Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement “Plan X,” a plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency. On 13 November 1989, a few days after the opening of the wall, Erich Mielke gave a speech at the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik) http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-palast-der-republik-lives-on/ and in which he said, “I love all – all people.” On 3 December 1989, Erich Mielke was expelled from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitsparty Deutschlands – SED). Four days later he was arrested and imprisoned on remand in Hohenschoenhausen. http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/berlin/hohenschoenhausen-prison-part1/ Soon thereafter he was released due to medical reason and arrested again three months later for “crimes against humanity” and “perversion of justice.” He was moved to several prisons in succession. In 1993, the by then 85-year-old Erich Mielke was sentenced to six years in prison for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck in 1931. At the end of 1995, Mielke was released due to ill health. He died at the age of 93.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Erich Honecker – Berlin Wall Architect

Monday, April 24th, 2017

 

Erich Honecker was an uncompromising East German politician who rose to the top leadership post in East Germany. After holding several lesser positions, he was elected First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED) in 1971, a post which later morphed into General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. Erich Honecker held that position until just before the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. It was during his leadership that the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. He is said to have been its prime architect and a proponent of the order “to fire” on border crossers. More than 1,100 border crossers died trying to escape the former East Germany during his years in office. http://www.dw.com/en/more-than-1100-berlin-wall-victims/a-1673538

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker – Communist to the core

Born in 1912, Erich Honecker was the fourth of six children in the family. By the time he was ten years old, he had already joined the children’s division of a Marxist youth organization. Two years later, Honecker entered the Young Communist League of Germany (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD). Following high school he worked for a farmer in Pomerania for a stint. Then he returned to his hometown to enter an apprenticeship as a roofer. He never completed that apprenticeship but entered the International Lenin School in Moscow instead.

At that point Honecker’s political career began in earnest. He entered the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD), but during the Nazi years, Communist activities became illegal. Honecker was imprisoned. Following his release in 1946, he helped form the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) and quickly became a leading member in the party’s Central Committee. As Party Security Secretary, he was the prime planner of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Erich Honecker – Rise to the Top

In 1971, Erich Honecker initiated a political power struggle that ended with him replacing Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ as the First Secretary of the Central Committee and as chairman of the state’s National Defense Council. Under Honecker’s command, East Germany began to normalize  relations with West Germany and became a full member of the United Nations. The latter was one of his greatest political successes.

Erich Honecker – Fall to the bottom

In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/mikhail-gorbachev/ introduced several reforms to liberalize communism. Honecker refused to implement similar reforms in East Germany. Friction grew between the two men. At the national celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the East German state in October 1989, which were attended by Gorbachev, several hundred members of the Free German Youth suddenly chanted, Gorby, help us! Gorby, save us! The peaceful revolution had begun. Honecker’s leadership came to an end. He was forced to resign in October 1989.

Erich Honecker’s Final days

Following German reunification in 1990, Erich Honecker escaped to the Chilean embassy in Moscow. He was handed over to Germany a year later to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German regime. Due to his illness proceedings were abandoned, and he was allowed to join his wife in Chile. In 1994, Erich Honecker died in Chile from liver cancer.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Human Trafficking Called Haeftlingsfreikauf

Monday, April 17th, 2017

 

Haeftlingsfreikauf is the German word for ransom money once paid by West Germany to East Germany for the release of East German political prisoners. West Germany also paid ransom moneys for East German citizens who had applied for exit visas but were denied exit by East German authorities. Such human trafficking was unofficially practiced between 1962 and 1990 and sanctioned by both governments.

According to Andreas Apelt, author and historian, 33,755 political prisoners (which included people who had attempted to cross the east/west border illegally) and 250,000 of their relatives were sold to West Germany between 1964 and 1989. The Haeftlingsfreikauf cost West Germany a total of 3.5 billion West Marks. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29889706 Some of these political prisoners were well-known agents; others were nameless. The prisoners were given the option of being released into the East or into the West. Most of them chose the West. At times, the ransom consisted of western currency. Other times, “buying free” involved “merchandise” for merchandise, such as cadmium, copper, crude oil, rubber, equipment, cooking oil, coffee, tropical fruit. Human trafficking infused the East German economy with much needed cash and merchandise. West Germany assisted for humanitarian reasons.

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Start of the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice

The first East German political prisoners were bought free during the Christmas season of 1962. At that time, ransom moneys were paid for 20 prisoners and a number of children. They were released to the west in return for three truckloads of fertilizer. During those initial exchanges, the price per prisoner was about 40,000 West Marks. By 1989 that amount had risen to over 95,000 West Marks. Supposedly, the price was based on the “damage” the prisoner had caused to the regime plus the educational investment the East German state had made in the prisoner. For the last Haeftlingsfreikauf in January 1990 West Germany paid with copper, crude oil and light trucks amounting to 65 million West Mark. The funds were deposited in special accounts held by Stasi chief Erich Mielke http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ and by General Secretary Erich Honecker http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/.

How the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice worked

Neither side wanted the public to find out about the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice. East Germany did not want to appear weak, and West Germany did not want to be seen as supporting a communist regime. Therefore, the operation remained clandestine. Government representatives unofficially handled the arrangements. Representatives of the Protestant and Catholic Church acted as intermediaries. Attorneys from both sides facilitated the operation. Wolfgang Vogel http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wolfgang-vogel-east-german-profiteer/ represented the East German side; Juergen Stange acted on behalf of the West German side. Some prisoner releases took place in the underground railway. In other cases, prisoners were driven across the border in buses with revolving license plates.

How the Prisoners were actually exchanged

Exchanges were handled with utmost discretion. If the exchange involved busses, the prisoners were usually transported to the Kassberg prison in Chemnitz and then driven to the Herleshausen/Wartha border where they were expelled to West Germany. While still in East Germany, the bus displayed East German license plates. At the border crossing, the driver pushed a button on the dashboard, and the license plate pivoted to display a West German license. https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Artikel/2014_Deutsche_Einheit/1990-01-23-haeftlingsfreikauf-letztes-kapitel.html

I have a friend who was one of the 33,755 political prisoners bought free by West Germany. His story is hair-raising. When he was a high school student still living in East Germany with his family, he and a group of boys in his class decided to defect. It was more of a boys’ prank than a serious desire to leave East Germany. Nonetheless, the boys planned their get-away. But someone denounced them to the authorities. All of the boys were immediately taken into custody, separated and sent to prison. My friend found himself in solitary confinement for the better of six months. One night, he and a number of prison inmates of all ages and both sexes were told to get on a bus in a hurry. The bus was standing ready. They were not allowed to take anything. My friend did not know anyone on the bus.

It was completely dark inside the bus. All the prisoners could see was that they were being driven into the woods. There was dead silence in the bus. The prisoners feared for their lives. Finally, headlights became visible in the distance. Moments later, the headlights went off. The bus continued in the direction of the headlights now gone dark and then came to a stop. The driver turned off the engine. The prisoners were told to quickly get off. Once outside and still in complete darkness, they were barely able to make out the outline of another bus parked directly next to theirs. At gunpoint, they were told to get on the second bus as quickly as possible. Once everyone had boarded, the doors closed, the engine started, and the bus took off. It was still completely dark inside the bus. No one spoke.

A few minutes later, the lights came on inside the bus, music blared from the radio and the driver said, “Welcome everybody. In a few minutes you will be in the West. You are free.”

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Ludwig van Beethoven – lonely giant

Monday, April 10th, 2017

 

Ludwig van Beethoven, German composer and pianist (1770-1827), is still considered a giant of classical music. His family had Dutch roots, and Beethoven sometimes concealed the fact that the Dutch “van” in his name does not denote nobility as the German “von” does. In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to experience hearing loss. Toward the end of his life, he was so deaf that he had to be turned around at the end of the premiere of his famous Ninth Symphony to watch the audience applaud because he could not hear them clapping, nor had he heard the orchestra playing.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Early Years

Unlike his grandfather, who was a renowned musician in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven’s father was a mediocre singer with a fondness for alcohol. He became young Beethoven’s first teacher and taught with brutality. Neighbors recalled that the small boy had to stand on top of a footstool to reach the piano keys, his father beating him for any hesitation or mistake. Ludwig van Beethoven not only often ended up weeping while playing the piano, his father also locked him into the cellar, beat him or deprived him of sleep when young Beethoven did not perform to his expectations.

In 1787, the then teenage Beethoven travelled to Vienna for the first time, hoping to study with Mozart. Two weeks later, his mother fell ill, and Ludwig returned to Bonn. Following his mother’s death, his father slipped even deeper into alcoholism, and Ludwig van Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers. He spent the next five years in Bonn. Despite these personal struggles, Beethoven composed a significant number of works during this period, showing influences of Mozart and Haydn. In late 1792, Beethoven left for Vienna for the second time to further his studies and established himself as a piano virtuoso.

In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to notice some hearing loss. Over time, the loss became profound and Beethoven fell into depression. He wrote to a friend, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.”

http://www.biography.com/people/ludwig-van-beethoven-9204862 – losing-hearing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Middle Years

Despite his worsening deafness and many personal setbacks, (insurmountable class differences hampered his love life, one of his brothers passed away causing Beethoven to become entangled in a legal dispute with his sister-in-law over the custody of the couple’s nine-year-old son), Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated himself wholeheartedly to musical study. Between 1803 and 1812, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Later Years

In time, Beethoven’s hearing deteriorated to the point that conversation became so difficult that he had to make use of conversation books. He became lonely, short-tempered and absent-minded. Still, he continued to compose at a furious pace. Some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life when he was quite unable to hear. Works from this period are the most complex, such as the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, which features an elaborate choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode An die Freude (Ode to Joy), championing the brotherhood of humanity. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/friedrich-schiller-champion-of-freedom/ Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56.

Ludwig von Beethoven’s Major Works

His works include 9 symphonies, 7 concerti, 1 opera, 2 masses, 32 piano sonatas, 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, 1 sonata for French horn, 16 string quartets, 5 string quintets, 7 piano trios, 5 string trios, many chamber music pieces and many others.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Friedrich Schiller – Champion of Freedom

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

 

Friedrich Schiller (his full name was Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller – ennobled in 1802 allowing him to add “von” to his name) is probably the second most important playwright in Europe after William Shakespeare. Throughout his life, Schiller championed physical and spiritual freedom. Born in 1759 in Marbach in Germany, he produced scores of poems, dramas, historical and philosophical papers. Although “Friedrich Schiller” is not a household name in America, it was Schiller whose eloquent poem, “Ode to Joy”, inspired Ludwig van Beethoven to set it to music in the famous last movement of his Ninth symphony. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/ode-to-joy-european-national anthem/

 

“It hinders the creative work of the mind if the intellect examines too closely the ideas as they pour in.”

— Friedrich Schiller

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned "Friedrich von Schiller" in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned “Friedrich von Schiller” in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Friedrich Schiller’s taxing life

Germany, at the time of Friedrich Schiller, consisted of many small kingdoms. The poet was born in the little duchy of Wuertemberg, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the second of four children in the family. His father was an army doctor; his mother was a quiet, pious woman. When Friedrich Schiller was 13 years of age, the Duke of Wuertemberg insisted that he enter an elite military academy, the Karlsschule. Until then, Schiller had leaned toward becoming a man of the cloth and felt trapped at the academy. For the next eight years, he studied law and medicine. Strict obedience was stressed. Its students enjoyed little freedom. To keep up his spirits, Friedrich Schiller wrote his first play (Die Raeuber – The Robbers) while still at the school. The play scrutinizes the inequities resulting from class, religious and economic differences. When his play opened in Mannheim in 1780, Schiller stole himself to the opening without first requesting permission. He was 21 years old at the time and sentenced to 14 days in prison. In addition, he was prohibited from publishing any future works. In response to the sentence, Schiller deserted and fled to Weimar where he lived under an assumed name. Forever cash-poor, he penned several plays during that period.

Between 1787 and 1798, Schiller changed course, became Professor of History and Philosophy in Jena and pursued historical studies. In 1794, he struck up a close friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/goethe-writes-faust-a-closet-drama/This mutually beneficial alliance inspired Schiller to compose some of his best-known dramas, including the Wallenstein Trilogy, Maria Stuart (Mary Stuart), Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maiden of Orleans) and Wilhelm Tell (William Tell). In 1805, Friedrich Schiller died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-five.

 

“Opposition always inflames the enthusiast, never converts him.”

— Friedrich Schiller

 

Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy

Many Americans know Friedrich Schiller only through Ludwig van Beethoven’s musical setting of a part of Schiller’s most famous poem, the “Ode to Joy”. From the very year in which the poem was first printed (1786) the Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy) began to be sung to various musical accompaniments. That same year, a composer by the name of J. Chr. Mueller set the Ode to Joy to music. By 1800 there were at least twenty different versions of “An die Freude” that still survive today. 

https://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_91-96/931_Schiller_Ode.html

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Ode to Joy – European National Anthem

Monday, March 27th, 2017

 

Two hundred years after inception, Ode to Joy is still as popular as ever. Throughout the world, it is seen as a song about resistance to war and repression. It is even speculated that Schiller originally entitled his lyric poem “Ode An die Freiheit” (Ode to Freedom) and later changed it to “Ode An die Freude” (Ode to Joy).

First written in 1785 by German poet Friedrich Schiller as a celebration of the brotherhood of man, Ode to Joy is best known as the 4th and final movement in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When the poem was republished in 1808, Schiller made some minor revisions. This revised version forms the basis for Beethoven’s famous movement. The Ninth Symphony was completed in 1824.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Becoming the European National Anthem

In 1972, the Council of Europe adopted Beethoven’s famous movement as the European National Anthem. In 1985, it also became the anthem of the European Community and in 1993 that of the European Union. The European Anthem does not replace the national anthems of its member states. It celebrates their shared values and their unity in diversity. It symbolizes not only the European Union but also Europe in a wider sense. Just as Schiller’s lyric poem, the European Anthem symbolizes the human race as one of brothers.

Due to the large number of languages used in the European Union, the European National Anthem is purely instrumental. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXuhvzbQ5EI In the universal language of music, this anthem expresses the European ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity. It is played on official occasions, such as the opening of Parliament following elections and at formal sittings.

Ode to Joy has been heard around the World

In Chile, women sang Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the streets and sometimes outside torture prisons during Pinochet’s dictatorship to raise the hope of inmates. In 1989, Chinese protesters sang the Ode to Joy during their march on Tiananmen Square. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Ninth on both sites of the Berlin Wall to celebrate freedom.

German and English Lyrics to the Ode to Joy

Ode an die Freude                                 Ode to Joy

Freude, schoener Goetterfunken             Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,

Tochter aus Elysium.                                 Daughter from Elysium.

Wir betreten feuertrunken                       We enter, burning with fervor,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!                   heavenly being, your sanctuary!

 

Deine Zauber binden wieder                    Your magic brings together

Was die Mode streng geteilt;                    what custom has sternly divided;

Alle Menschen werden Brueder,              All men shall become brothers,

wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.                  Wherever your gently wing hovers.

 

Wem der grosse Wurf gelungen             Whoever has been lucky enough

Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,              to become a friend to a friend,

Wer ein holdes Weib errungen                Whoever has found a beloved wife,

Mische seinen Jubel ein!                          let him join in the jubilation!

 

Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele                      Yes, and anyone who can call one soul

Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!              His own on this earth!

Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der steel             And who cannot, let them slink away

weinend sich aus diesem Bund.              from this gathering in tears.

 

Freude trinken alle Wesen                      Every creature drinks in joy

An den Bruesten der Natur;                    At nature’s breast;

Alle Guten, alle Boesen                            Good and Evil alike

Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.                          Follow her trail of roses.

 

Kuesse gab sie uns und Reben,               She gave us kisses and wine,

Einen Freund geprueft im Tod;               A true friend, even in death;

Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,         Even the worm was given desire,

und der Cherub steht vor Gott.                And the cherub stands before God.

 

Froh wie seine Sonnen fliegen                  Gladly, as his suns hurtle

Durch des Himmels praecht’gen Plan,    Through the glorious universe,

Laufet, Brueder, eure Bahn,                       So you, brothers, should run your course,

Freudig wie ein Held zu Siegen.                Joyfully like a conquering hero.

 

Seid umschlungen Millionen!                   Be embraced, you millions!

Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!                  This kiss is for the whole world!

Brueder ueber’m Sternenzelt                    Brothers, above the canopy of stars

Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.                  Must dwell a loving Father.

 

Ihr stuerzt nieder, Millionen?                   Do you bow down before Him, millions?

Ahnest Du den Schoepfer, Welt?             Do you sense the Creator, world?

Such ihn ueber’m Sternenzelt.                  Seek him above the canopy of stars.

Ueber Sternen muss er wohnen.              He must dwell beyond the stars.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Donkey Down the Well

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The story of the donkey down the well is an old fable that I think of whenever I feel unappreciated or treated unfairly. I don’t know when or where this inspirational story originated, but it goes something like this:

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into the man’s well. For hours the animal cried pitifully while the farmer tried to figure out what to do. His donkey was old, and the well was dry and of no use to him anymore. The shaft should have been covered up years ago. Now the farmer had a big problem. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get the old donkey out of the well. With a heavy heart, the farmer decided that it would be best to cover it up, donkey or no donkey. The animal would perish, but the farmer saw no viable alternatives.

He asked all the neighboring farmers to come and help him cover up the well. Each man grabbed a shovel and began to scoop dirt onto the back of the animal in the shaft. The donkey soon realized what was happening and cried dolefully. The men shoveled faster to hasten the end, and after a while, the donkey stopped crying. The farmer and his friends looked down the well.

To their surprise, they saw something unexpected. With each shovel full of dirt that had hit its back, the donkey had shaken it off and let the dirt fall to the ground around him. Then he had simply lifted his foot and taken a step up onto the newly deposited dirt. As the farmer and his neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, the donkey continued to shake it off and to take small steps up. After enduring many shovels full of dirt coming his way, the donkey was finally able to step over the edge of the well and happily trot off.

The Donkey down the well, photo courtesy of mylifeyoga.com

The Donkey down the well, photo courtesy of mylifeyoga.com

Moral of the story: Who hasn’t been the donkey at some point in life? I know I have. Now, whenever I find myself in that position, I picture the donkey and try to conquer the obstructions in my path. I look for opportunities that get me to where I want be rather than try to fight what is happening around me. Try it yourself. Picture the donkey, then shake off any unfairness, inequity, discrimination, intolerance, chauvinism, bigotry, prejudice, racism or bias and use them as a stepping stones to where you want to be.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Leierkastenmann of Yore

Monday, March 13th, 2017

 

“Dear Leierkastenmann, start from the top once more …” is the beginning of a sentimental tune about Berlin in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often cranked out on a barrel organ and recorded by Marlene Dietrich, Hildegard Knef, Walter Kollo, Claire Waldoff, Bully Buhlan and many others, the song evokes a yearning for simpler times. The German lyrics are:

Lieber Leierkastenmann,

Fang nochmal von vorne an.

Deine alten Melodien

Von der schoenen Stadt Berlin.

Stehst du unten auf dem Hof

Wird mir gleich ums Herz so doof.

Noch mal so’n junges Blut sein

Noch einmal im Tanz sich zaertlich dreh’n.

Lasst man Kinder, lasst man gut sein,

Uns’re Stadt Berlin ist doch so schoen.

What is a Leierkastenmann?

Leierkasten is the German word for street organ or barrel organ. Pins on a large barrel store the music. A person – usually a man – turning a crank to activate the music is called a Leierkastenmann. A woman is a Leierkastenfrau. The organs were designed to be small and mobile enough to be carried or rolled from street to street and courtyard to courtyard, where the Leierkastenmann would play his tune and hopefully collect some coins before moving on. Most of these street performers cranked barrel organs for a living, and most of these street organs had 20 or fewer pipes and weighed only a few pounds. Due to their small size, their barrels could only contain a few tunes of fixed length, which greatly limited the Leierkastenmann’s repertoire. Most of the tunes played were excerpts from operas, operettas and marches.

When was the Leierkasten popular?

Empress Maria Theresa of Austria was the first to authorize permits to crank a Leierkasten in public. Licenses went to invalids of the Seven-Years-War to help them make a living. In 1810, Prussia copied Austria and issued permits as well. Not every duly licensed Leiderkastenmann owned his own Leierkasten, however. Many rented the relatively expensive instruments from the manufacturer.

As the number of organ barrel operators increased steadily in the second half of the 19th century, Berlin became the leader of German Leierkasten manufacturing. Up to 3,000 licensed operators cranked a Leierkasten on a daily basis in Berlin alone. As these men moved through the city, residents opened their windows and threw a paper-wrapped five- or ten-Pfennig coin to the Leierkastenmann. I was a little girl in the 1950s and remember being allowed to throw a wrapped coin to the Leierkastenmann five stories below. I watched keenly as he spotted the change, doffed his hat and moved on.

In the 1950s, the popularity of the Leierkastenmann had already declined. The increase in automobiles made streets and public spaces noisy places. The noise drowned out the Leierkastenmann, and radio and record players filled the void. The exception was a well-known Leierkastenfrau (woman barrel organ player) by the name of Elsa Oehmigen, who continued to practice her trade throughout Germany until 1992. However, she rarely played in public places, but usually performed at private events.

Leierkastenmann of Today

The Leierkastenmann of yore does not exist anymore. Most current owners of a barrel organ are collectors or lovers of the instrument. In addition to a few antique barrel organs, there are many more modern street organs in existence. The latter do not operate on pinned barrels, but use perforated paper rolls (similar to player piano rolls) or sometimes even electronic systems.

"Orgel-Ebi" Eberhardt Franke in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Photo courtesy of berliner-kurier.de

“Orgel-Ebi” Eberhardt Franke in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Photo courtesy of berliner-kurier.de

Once a profession to make ends meet, the Leierkastenmann has become an icon. In 1987, German sculptor, Gerhard Thieme, memorialized the Leierkastenmann by creating a bronze sculpture, which now stands in the beer garden of the Café Reinhardt in the Berlin’s Nikolai Quarters.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

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From Thaler to Euro

Monday, March 6th, 2017

The Thaler was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. It served as currency in Germany between the 16th and the 19th centuries. The Thaler was first minted in 1519 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at that time. Today, the town of Joachimsthal lies within the borders of the Czech Republic. The word “Thaler” is an abbreviation of “Joachimsthaler,” the term by which the coin was originally known. In 1902, the German spelling of Thaler was changed to Taler in conformance with a spelling reform. Dollar is an Anglicised form of Thaler.

History of the Thaler (Taler)

The Thaler or Taler could be rather gigantic in weight and size. Some of the coins weighed in excess of a full pound of silver; some reached a diameter of more than 5 inches. Similar coins began to also be minted in neighbouring valleys with silver deposits. Each valley named its coins after the valley (thal) it came from. Many silver coins came into existence with different names. To make it easier, the silver coins began to be known as “Thaler” in the German and “Tolar” in the Czech language.

These early Thaler or Taler served the Holy Roman Empire as a standard by which to value various European region’s currencies. The Thaler (or Reichsthaler) was the currency of Prussia until 1754 when the Conventionsthaler was introduced. From 1857 to 1871, the Vereinsthaler served as standard currency in most German states. In addition, there were many other Thaler variations in use.

From Thaler (Taler) to Deutsche Mark

Following German unification in 1871, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/Otto-von-Bismarck-visionary-or-villain/ Germany adopted the German gold mark, officially known as the Mark as its currency. In 1914, the link between the Mark and gold was abandoned. In late 1923, during the time of the Weimar Republic of Germany, hyperinflation made the paper Mark virtually worthless, and it was replaced by the interim Rentenmark (1,000,000,000,000 paper Mark for one Rentenmark) and by the Reichsmark in 1924.

Toward the end of World War II, the Allied occupation forces printed occupation marks or military marks to be accepted at par with the Rentenmark and the Reichsmark. Banknotes worth 15 to 18 billion military marks were issued for purchases by the occupying forces in Germany and to pay soldiers’ wages. In June 1948, military marks were demonetised as part of the West and East German currency reforms.

On 21 June 1948, the Deutsche Mark (colloquially called “Westmark”) was introduced in the western zones of occupation in Germany (West Germany. And on 23 June 1948, a different Deutsche Mark (colloquially called “Ostmark”) was introduced in Soviet-occupied Germany. The Westmark replaced the Ostmark when Germany was reunified in 1990.

From Deutsche Mark to Euro

In 1999, the Euro replaced the Deutsche Mark (Westmark), http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/history-of-the-euro/ initially only as an electronic currency. Then, in 2002, Euro notes and coins replaced the Deutsche Mark entirely. Although not every Eurozone member state has its own mint to produce euro coins, Germany mints its own. All euro coins are legal tender throughout the Eurozone, and all designs feature the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint.

But who is the father of the euro sign? Two different camps claim paternity. More at http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/paternity-for-euro-sign-disputed/

1 Euro coin, featuring the 12 stars of the EU, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

1 Euro coin, featuring the 12 stars of the EU, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

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