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A Participant Looks Back at the Unrest in East Germany in 1968 (Retrospective Account, 2003)

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It is remarkable that no politicians, in the narrow sense of the word, emerged from this group. Naturally, this was very much attributable to the circumstances, which did not allow free and open political activity. (The only person who could be mentioned in his context is Gerd Poppe, whom we used to call Popov. He played a role after the Wall came down and later served as a human rights representative in the foreign ministry of reunified Germany.) But this fact was not only attributable to political circumstances, but also to our understanding of what 1968 meant. If it can be said, in retrospect, that the cultural-revolutionary aspect of the 1968 movement in the West had the most significant impact, then it should be noted that this was always the main focus for those of us in the East, even from the very beginning. We followed the development of 1968 in the West, of the student movement, as best we could. There was also some direct personal contact – people such as Langhans, Teufel, and Kunzelmann from the K-1 commune came to our parties, and later Rudi Dutschke as well. For us, they were people we felt connected to, but they were only part of a movement that included much more. Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were equally – if not more – important. This music created a connection that reached all the way into the provinces, to a much larger group, the so-called Beat Fans, who were being persecuted by the state, and who could boast the only truly functioning illegal organization of the time: the record club.

I have often asked myself whether our eastern 1968 was just an offshoot, a dépendance of the western 1968. I have also asked myself if our 1968 was truly our own and unique, if it occurred simultaneously with the western 1968 only by chance and had little to do with it, or if common concerns stemming from parallel causes and motivations did in fact exist.

The conditions governing our actions were totally different. I think about the flyers, about forty of which landed me in prison for agitation against the state – and they had not even been handed out! – and then I think about the culture shock I experienced when I went into the cafeteria at the Technical University in West Berlin for the first time and saw hundreds of different flyers lying on tables, flyers that no one read or seemed interested in at all.

Our medium was also different. There was no Club Voltaire, no journals like Kursbuch or Argument, which the Haugs published, not even our own samizdat, or underground publishers, all of which could have helped give us a sense of identity. Merely operating one could have sent someone to jail for several years.

The reasons for becoming politically active were also different. In the West, it was the Americans and the Vietnam War, the Emergency Laws, and higher education policies that had sparked protest. For those of us in the East, there were manifold small reasons, those unreasonable demands to agree with things that no reasonable person could approve of, so that firstly it was not really about differing political views, but whether people wanted to preserve their own moral integrity and were willing to pay the price for it.

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