Posts Tagged ‘Walter Ulbricbht’

Story behind Max Lingner wall mural

Monday, August 28th, 2017


In 1950, Max Lingner (1888 to 1959), German painter and graphic artist, won a competition to create a 60-foot mural. Made out of Meissen porcelain tiles, the mural embellishes the exterior of a massive office complex on Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. When Lingner created the mural, the complex was known as the Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). During World War II, it was called the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry. Since 1991, it is referred to as the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (Detlev Rohwedder Building).


Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named "Detlev Rohwedder Building". Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002.

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named “Detlev Rohwedder Building”. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002.


Why such a large mural was commissioned

The East German state was created  in 1949. At the time of the design competition, Germany was divided and the House of Ministries was located in the Soviet Occupation Zone. It had miraculously survived World War II and needed to be repurposed. First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Walter Ulbricht, and East German Prime Minister, Otto Grotewohl, tried to reinterpret the building’s Nazi architecture in accordance with the new socialist ideals of East Germany. They commissioned Max Lingner to create a large mural depicting contented citizens looking toward a bright future under communism.

Max Lingner tries to meet the challenge

Lingner’s original design was entitled, “Die Bedeutung des Friedens fuer die kulturelle Entwicklung der Menschheit und die Notwendigkeit des kaempferischen Einsatzes fuer ihn.” (The Importance of Peace for the Cultural Development of Humanity and the Need to Fight for it). He chose to portray several self-reliant, poised family groups filled with zest for a new and better life. But Otto Grotewohl had different ideas. He sought a mural with political undertones. He changed the name of the mural to Aufbau der Republik (Building the Republic). Lingner was asked to revise his design no fewer than five times to achieve these new objectives. In fact, Grotewohl, a hobby-painter, changed Lingner’s drafts several times himself.

As far as East Germany’s leadership was concerned, Max Lingner, who had lived and worked in Paris for many years, had adopted a style of drawing that was considered too frivolous and playful. His style was criticized as being “too French.” The final product bore little resemblance to Max Lingner’s original design. In fact, neither Lingner nor Grotewohl were ever really satisfied with the final “Aufbau der Republik” mural.

Elements of the Max Lingner Mural

In the “Aufbau der Republik” mural, everyone looks strong, healthy and happy to work toward a common cause. Young members of the FDJ (a youth movement in the former East Germany), musicians and young pioneers sing and dance in the streets. Officials in business attire, working class tradesmen, a farmer, an engineer and an intellectual work closely together in the new classless society.


Max Lingner's famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002.

Max Lingner’s famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002.


It is all the more ironic, then, that only one year after installation of the Max Lingner mural, the House of Ministries became the focal point of the 1953 East German Uprising when construction workers from a Stalinallee project (renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) marched to the House of the Ministries to protest a 10% increase in performance quotas. When the peaceful march turned into a rebellion, Soviet tanks crushed it.

In 2000, Wolfgang Rueppel’s magnified photo of the 1953 protesters was laminated under glass and sunk into the floor in front of the Detlev Rohwedder Building, not far from the mural. Rather than happy, contented faces, the photograph shows angry and disappointed ones. Next to each other, mural and photo clearly reflect the conflict between socialist wishful thinking and social reality.


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 Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


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.

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 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 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

Berlin Television Tower

Monday, July 20th, 2015

At 1,207 feet, the Berlin Television Tower (Fernsehturm) is the tallest structure in Germany. With a million visitors a year, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Berlin. The Berlin Television Tower is located at the Alexanderplatz in the city’s center. An exhibition center and restaurant surround its base. The Neptune fountain, which used to stand in front of the Berlin City Palace, adorns the large plaza in front of it. The fountain’s four cascades represent Prussia’s main rivers at the time of the fountain’s construction: the Rhine, Elbe, Oder and Weichsel.

Berlin Television Tower Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Berlin Television Tower
Photo © J. Elke Ertle

History of the Berlin Television Tower

The Berlin Television Tower was constructed between 1965 and 1969. In 1964, Walter Ulbricht, then leader of East Germany until 1971, decided that East Berlin needed its own television broadcasting system. He decided to build it right in the center of the city. To this day, the Berlin Television Tower remains the only city television tower in Europe. Its dome is modeled after Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite. It is said that Walter Ulbricht wanted the Berlin Television Tower to be exactly 365 meters (1,197 feet) in height so that even a child would remember its height – as many meters as there are days in a year.

Indeed, the original Fernsehturm was 365 meters high. But in 1990, an antenna was added increasing its height to 368 meters.

God’s Revenge

The Berlin Television Tower’s design had an unexpected consequence. When the sun shines on its tiled stainless steel dome, the reflection looks like a cross. Since East Germany’s secular had aimed at removing crucifixes from churches, Berliners quickly nicknamed the cross “Gottes Rache” (God’s Revenge). And they nicknamed the tower “St. Walter”, after East Germany’s former leader, Walter Ulbricht.

Telecafé and observation deck

Similar to the Berlin Radio Tower, the Berlin Television Tower includes an observation deck and a restaurant. On a clear day, the view from the deck can extend 26 miles into surrounding Brandenburg. The observation deck is located 666 feet above ground. Just a few feet higher, the restaurant – Telecafé – rotates once every 30 minutes and offers coffee, snacks and full meals.


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 Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.