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October 29, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

In 1965, Carl-Wolfgang Holzapfel was arrested by East German border guards and spent nine months in solitary confinement in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, the notorious prison run by the Stasi [previously]. Starting today, Holzapfel is back behind bars in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen to remind people how they felt before the Wall came down 20 years ago. You can ask him about his campaign and watch him live here. posted by up in the old hotel (7 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For anyone passing through Berlin (which is a wonderful city) I thoroughly recommend visiting the Stasi museum situated in the old Stasi headquarters.
posted by Artw at 12:05 PM on October 29, 2009

You can also tour Hohenschönhausen, with English tours offered twice a week! Totally worth it, even if it's a bitch to get to.

I went on a German language tour: my guide was also a former Stasi prisoner, and he talked very candidly about the post-traumatic stress symptoms he had after his time in solitary confinement.

Another weird anecdote: I saw this thing about Carl-Wolfgang Holzapfel on the U-Bahn today. I live in the former East, and one of the middle-aged women sitting across from me looked at her friend and said "Why don't they ever talk about the good parts of East Germany? Especially now, with the economic crisis," and her friend sort of nodded her head.

It can be a very contentious topic--even at university I've heard students complaining about what they see as an exclusive focus on the negative parts of East Germany, when a lot of people feel like East Germany did a lot of good things that are completely ignored.
posted by besonders at 3:29 PM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

besonders: what do they say those things are?
posted by lodurr at 4:44 PM on October 29, 2009

I've read a couple of things of the phenomena of Ostalgie, e.g.
posted by Abiezer at 1:12 AM on October 30, 2009

lodurr: Economic safety, a sence of community and belonging where capitalism has shattered and fragmented the society. Where you had a comfy place before while now everything in your life is centered about the need to make ends meet, solidarity replaced by competition, you see the depopulation of vast parts of former east germany, dismantelment of its industry, enormous unemployment and degrading treatment in the employment office while the press and populist politicians rag on welfare freeloaders.

Many ostalgic germans probably also think that there weren't as much foreigners in the east before, racism is a wide-spread problem, not only but intensified in the east.
posted by ts;dr at 4:38 AM on October 30, 2009

ok, i had more in my original question that could have been interpreted as being somewhat snarky (though wasn't intended to be) and now I'm glad i left it out. Some of that strikes me as naivete (the community was oppressed and nowhere near as solid as they remember it, that secure & comfy place wasn't as comfortable as they remember it, etc.), but even where that's true some of it is a reasonable response to getting thrust into a modern capitalist society. It's true that life under a totalitarian regime is dehumanizing, but life in a regime of thriving capitalism can be dehumanizing in its own ways. In a capitalist ecosystem, those industries have to be dismantled. (Though i think you could probably sell the hell out of a Trabant with a modern engine and made with modern plastics.)

The foreigner thing -- i'd heard about that, too. Opening borders comes with some paradoxes. ON the one hand, it can reduce governmental nationalism and so give smaller ethnic groups room to breathe. On the other, it lets ethnic groups mix in ways they've had practical barriers to in the past -- coupled with relaxation of governmental nationalism, that leads some people to get more strident in their personal and community-based nationalism. I'm not trying to sound pessimistic, I really hope Europe can work this stuff out if only to prove to the rest of the world that it's possible.
posted by lodurr at 5:15 AM on October 30, 2009

lodurr-- I forgot about this post, sorry I didn't respond, but yeah, basically ts;dr hit it on the nose: economic security and the shock of having everything change.

You get thrust into a modern capitalist society and it tells you that your qualifications aren't good enough, and you have to go back and get re-trained, and now even the jobs at the bottom of the food chain are held by Turks and Greeks, you feel humiliated.

There are also little unexpected places where this crops up, like being gay. The East German church worked openly with gay groups (an alliance between two groups the state wasn't too keen on getting involved with) and even passed a statute in 1991 saying that homosexuality was a natural part of human sexuality, not a disease, and should not be condemned. This followed a 1987 declaration by the East German Supreme Court that homosexuality was natural, the opening of government-run gay discos in the late 1980s, and a 1989 law that eliminated special age of consent laws for homosexuals.

There may have been Stasi spies in these circles still, but by the time East Germany crumbled, gay life seems to have been sputtering along pretty smoothly.

In West Germany, on the other hand, the conservative church played a much larger role in state policy, and continued to condemn homosexuality, and when the two churches came back together, of course the West Germans played the "Um, we're a real church, and you're a church from a godless state" card. Gay pastors were forced back in the closet, and so were gay government employees. [My sources for the government employee thing are these two guys I work with, but I am trying to find independent substantiation for this claim.]

West Germany also still had a special age-of-consent law for homosexuals on the books, and it took three years after reunification before the new Germany agreed to get rid of that law.

So a lot of East German gays were understandably pissed about reunification. They've worked their asses off for forty years trying to get the government to accept them, and then it happens, and then all of that progress gets turned back by this supposedly more enlightened state? You'd be pissed too.
posted by besonders at 3:50 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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