Das Konzept

Youth resistance and youth opposition in Eastern Germany in 1968-1989

The exhibition “Do not wait for better times! – Youth Resistance and Youth Opposition in Eastern Germany (1948-1989)” opened on 9th November 2009, 20 years after the Berlin Wall had collapsed. It provides an insight into the youth resistance, especially under the umbrella of Protestant parishes, against governmental repression, in which punk and rock music played an important role. It created remarkable impulses to the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989. The exhibition is aimed primarily at adolescents, but not only. The illustrated charts, images and sound documents show that there is less a difference in life forms practiced then and today, but how hard it was to live a self-determined life under dictatorship.

The exhibition is intended to keep alive the memory of the importance of resistance and opposition in Friedrichshain and remind us how important the “upright walk” and courage are today.




„Don’t wait for better times“- exhibition abstract

Dear visitor,
Welcome to our small but unique exhibition! We are dedicated to create an extraordinary setting which acknowledges an important part of the local history of the Friedrichshain district. The church of Galilee is the synonym of young people’s resistance against the Communist regime in the 1970s/1980s. Currently we exhibit photographs and original documents, which have been donated by local activists and supporters. We also have recorded interviews with eye witnesses.

The exhibition shows the development and diversity of oppositional youth movements before and during the German Democratic Republic from 1945 to 1989/90. The focus is on the late 1970s and the 1980s, when significant oppositional movements first appeared among young people. Back in those days, governmental institutions and public organisations, which were all under control of the ruling Communist party, felt increasingly challenged by young people who either demonstrated different political views or had chosen so called ‘deviant’ lifestyles. These groups grew in number and boldness over the years.

It all started back in 1976 when Gerhard Cyrus, at this time the parson of the Galilee parish, invited some punks into his church, after they had lost their refuge in the nearby Pentecostal Church. Around 1980 many other youngsters – Christians, peace activists, environmentalists and young people who just wanted freedom of thought and to listen to music of their own choice – used to gather at this church. This church protected these dissenters against the secret police.

The following topics are highlighted here:

The Prague Spring

The Prague Spring was named after a Prague Music Festival, but it meant the departure of Czechoslovak society from an ice age of Stalinist rule. On April 5, 1968, under its new leader, Alexander Dub?ek, the CP? introduced a programme reforming the economy, guaranteeing freedom of the press, and acknowlodging Stalinist crimes. Art and culture began to flourish after the abolition of censorship, new models of socialism were publicly discussed.
While Prague became a mecca for young people from across Europe, the governments of other communist states feared for their power and called on the Czech government to end the reforms.

On the night of 21 August, the troops of Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and, above all, the Soviet Union invaded the CSSR and ended the reforms by force. The troops of the GDR Army NVA were on standby. 98 Czechs and Slovaks and 50 soldiers of the intervention troops lost their lives. For many people, the suppression of the Prague Spring put an end to the utopia of a socialist society with a human face.

In the GDR, there were numerous protests against the occupation. The Ministry of State Security caught a total of 1189 people, three quarters of them – under 30 years old. Some of them later founded Kommune 1 Ost in Samariterstraße.

The communards’ idea was to continue searching for new opportunities to live together in the spirit of the protest movement of 1968. For a long time, however, the commune did not achieve the status of the “First Commune No.1” in the West as every act of protest was seen as a provocation by the state and was met with punishment. The commune was soon spied on by the secret police. After a move to the Garten Street in Berlin-Mitte in August of 1970, the authorities used the opportunity to disperse the commune, as the commune did not have permission from the state to move to a new place of residence.

The spring of 1968 was wonderful – there was an abundance of amorousness and other exciting things. The freedom from fear during the discussions in the Prague City Center, the end of phrases in the media, the explosion of creative forces in the culture was discernable everywhere – in theaters, on the Charles’ Bridge, at rock concerts. I’ll never forget any of it…. The impressions of these eight months held me captive for a very long time – so that I ultimately was able to rigorously judge the political experiment ten years later. The memories of this feeling of knowing what an open society is, free of fear, stayed awake in me.

Jan Faktor, author, born 1951 in Prague

More information: http://www.jugendopposition.de/index.php?id=2661

The Berlin Appeal

In December 1981, the system critic Robert Havemann and the parson of the Friedrichshain Samaritan Community Rainer Eppelmann drafted an appeal for disarmament, which called on the governments of both German states to enter into disarmament negotiations, regardless of their military block affiliations.

When the Berlin appeal was published on January 25, 1982, it had been signed by about 80 people, including many young people from Friedrichshain. Communist party leader Erich Honecker did not decide, as proposed by the State Secretariat for Church Affairs, to pressure the church to take action against Eppelmann in “instructive talks”, but demanded to “act according to law”. Reiner Eppelmann was arrested on 9 February 1982. Although he was released two days later after intervention by the church leadership, the church had to discipline Eppelmann. Officially, the church distanced themselves from him and stated that the Berlin Appeal reflected a “distorted picture”. Reiner Eppelmann was suggested to leave for the West, which he rejected.

The church administration collected the signature lists in order to protect the young people against the secret police. Critics complained that the church leadership was interested only in a pleasant relationship with the authorities.

The Berlin appeal was the first major conflict between representatives of a grassroots initiative and the church leadership. The groups responded by organizing the Peace Workshop in the Lichtenberg Savior Community, also attended by the Samaritan Peace Circle, which in 1987 led to an initiative to establish the Grassroots Church.

Women for Peace - Gemeinsam für Abrüstung

At the end of the seventies, groups emerged in Eastern Germany and also in Friedrichshain who dealt with issues of peacekeeping and environmental protection, irrespective of official policy. When on March 25, 1982, a new military service law was issued, that allowed for drafting also women, activists like Bärbel Bohley, Ulrike Poppe, Irena Kukutz, Bettina Rathenow, Jutta Seidel etc. established a group and joint the international women for peace movement, founded in Ireland in 1970. A protest letter against the new military service law was signed by 150 women. Their night prayers, which took place from 1984 to 1987 in the Church of the Resurrection in the Friedrichshainer Friedenstraße, aroused the suspicion of the security forces. When four women were arrested on December 12, 1983, they had to be released due to international protests. In response to the deployment of Soviet nuclear weapons in the Czechoslovak Republic, Eastern Germany and Poland, as well as the nuclear upgrading in Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany, these women, together with women’s groups from other European countries, to issue an open letter:
“Military détente bottom-up! For Europe free of nuclear weapons! “

The Women for Peace were not only active in peace politics, but also dealt with gender issues in church and society. The secret police “managed” to organize significant professional and personal troubles to the women. Because their group acted under the umbrella of the church, the church leadership was also put under pressure. The latter then informed the women in 1984 that they could no longer protect their actions. During the Peaceful Revolution the Women for Peace got involved in numerous democratic organisations, such as The New Forum and the Independent Women’s Association (UFV) and thus actively participated in the regime change.

Literature: Antje Finger, Ingeborg Michael: Genau hingesehen, nie geschwiegen, sofort widersprochen, gleich gehandelt – Dokumente aus dem Gewebe der Heuchelei 1982 – 1989, Widerstand autonomer Frauen in Berlin Ost und West, Hg.: Bildungswerk für Demokratie und Umweltschutz, Januar 1990.
Ulrike Poppe: Frauen für den Frieden. In: Hans-Joachim Veen (Hg.): Lexikon Opposition und Widerstand in der SED-Diktatur. Propyläen, Berlin – München 2000, S. 135-137.
Further infomation: Irena Kukutz „Die grenzüberschreitenden Aktionen der Bewegung Frauen für den Frieden in Ost und West – als Teil einer europäischen Frauenfriedensbewegung in den 80er Jahren“ Documentation: http://www.havemann-gesellschaft.de/index.php?id=81

The Peace Decade of the Protestant Churches

Since the end of the 1970s, the power blocs in the East and West have been irreconcilably facing each other in an intensified arms race. Disarmament negotiations between the political representatives of the blocs were increasingly perceived by the people as fruitless and untrustworthy. By contrast, the threat posed by the numerous nuclear weapons increased and societies in the East and West became increasingly militarized. In order to stand up for peace from the basis and to demand more disarmament efforts, youth pastors and the Working Group of Christian Youth in the GDR initiated a peace decade in 1980 together with the Commission for Church Youth Work. The impetus for the introduction of a peace week came from a church student and youth conference in 1978 in Budapest.

The idea was to dedicate the ten days before the Day of Prayer and Repentance in East and West to peace work and thus to give the peace movement a stronger public impact. Under a common theme the horrors of war were enlightened, peace was discussed. People sung and prayed together, and discussed initiatives that could benefit peace. These were exchanges of ideas which made peace tangible in a special way. Initially planned only as a singular event, in the following years numerous parishes prepared events which took place during the last ten days before the Day of Prayer and Repentance, to sensitize people to peace. The Decade of Peace was carried out in both German states and therefore seen as a cross-bloc peace initiative.

The Peace Decades have given Christians and non-Christians in East Germany the experience that the “power of the weak” can also have a liberating and encouraging effect, and that the ideas of the peace movement can be carried beyond the church context and made popular.

Swords to ploughshares

On the occasion of the Decade of Peace in November 1981, the Brandenburg Youth Pastor, Manfred Domrös, and the Babelsberg Pastor, Stephan Flade, provided the cover sheet of a material folder with the picture of the sculpture swords to ploughshares. This sculpture was a gift from the Soviet Union to the UN and stood in front of New York’s UN main building. They had the symbol printed on fabric to distribute as a bookmark. Countless young people in the GDR, including those who participated in the youth work in the Friedrichshain congregations of Pentecost, Resurrection and Galilee, cut out the symbol and stitched it onto their jackets as a sign of an independent will for peace.

For the first time, the independent peace movement succeeded in stepping out of the churches and making its ideas popular with larger sections of the population throughout the country.
The symbol established itself as the sign of the independent peace movement in the GDR, which led the state to take action against it. Depending on the friendliness of the police officers, anyone who was found with the patch either had to cut it off immediately, hand over their jacket, or come with them to the police station, where there were often threats of further harassment. Many young people were expelled from school or excluded from apprenticeships and studies because of the patch. On August 1, 1982, the secret police noted that a total of 3,676 persons had been identified with this patch. However, according to one estimate, almost 100,000 people are said to have worn it.


Anke Silomon: „Schwerter zu Pflugscharen“ und die DDR. Die Friedensarbeit der evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR im Rahmen der Friedensekaden 1980-1982. Göttingen 1999.

Construction soldiers

After conscription had been introduced in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1956, the GDR followed suit shortly after the wall was built in 1961. In 1964, church representatives succeeded in establishing a “soldier’s service without weapon” at the state level. Their argument was that people who had relatives in the West – and thus also in the Bundeswehr – could not shoot at them.

Numerous young men, including members of the Friedrichshain Samaritan Peace Circle, made use of the possibility of unarmed military service. But especially since the end of the 1970s, this way of objection was no longer sufficient for many young people. Construction soldiers were now also involved in military planning and obliged to build military objects.
Anyone who resisted being drafted into the National People’s Army was usually sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Refusal of the reservist service was punished with nine months of imprisonment.

Literature: Uwe Koch: Bausoldatenkongress. Zivilcourage und Kompromiss, Bausoldaten in der DDR , 3-5 September 2004 Berlin 2005.

Further information: http://www.havemann-gesellschaft.de/bausoldaten/gbuch.htm

Supporters of conscientious objectors

As early as 1982, the Protestant churches of East Germany had begun to commemorate the imprisoned conscientious objectors in their Sunday services, also in the Galilee Church. In the autumn of 1985, the state tried for the last time to discipline all the complete conscientious objectors, and arrested about 70 young men, including an employee of the Offenen Jugendarbeit (Open Youth Work) in Friedrichshain. However, they were released after six weeks, probably because disarmament negotiations had started in Geneva. The Warsaw Pact risked to appear untrustworthy if conscientious objectors were arrested in the meantime.
As a result of a.m. arrests, the Freundeskreis Wehrdiensttotalverweigerer (Circle of Friends of Complete Military Service Objectors) was founded in 1986. This movement was structured regionally and saw itself as a kind of solidarity-based emergency community, which also demanded the demilitarization of society. The activities of the Circle of Friends, which also maintained contacts with complete objectors in other countries, were observed and haunted by the authorities. Nevertheless, by 1989 the network had grown to a size of 17 groups and 24 regional representatives.
At the Peace Workshop in 1988, complete objectors from East and West created a small memorial to the “Unknown Deserter” during a performance that took place in the Chruch of Galilee, where today the exhibition of the Jugend[resstands]museum is located. From 1988, the Circle of Friends also published its own magazine, which was named “Sag Nein!” (Say No!) after Wolfgang Borchard’s famous poem.

Literature: Stefan Eschler, Uwe Koch: Zähne hoch, Kopf zusammenbeissen. Dokumente zur Wehrdienstverweigerung in der DDR. Kükenshagen 1995.
Further information: http://tiltonline.net/tilt/gruppen/fwtv/fwtv.htm

Initiative for a social service for peace (SoFd)

On May 9, 1980, representatives of the Open Work (Offenen Arbeit ) in Dresden had made their public appearance with a campaign to introduce a social peace service (SoFd) in the GDR as an alternative to military service. In an open letter they called on the state synods of the Protestant churches to support such a peace service. This letter was also discussed in the Galilee Church on the occasion of a youth workshop on 24 and 25 July. By the end of the year, 12.000 signatures had reached the state synods of the Protestant churches in the GDR, which supported the proposal.
Unique in the GDR, the SED was forced to officially react to an initiative of the independent peace movement. On 21 November 1981, Werner Walde, head of the SED in Cottbus, announced in a speech that this initiative was “hostile to the state, the constitution and peace”. The initiators were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. Nevertheless, they succeeded in enforcing a procedure in which young men who totally refused military service were not drafted. However, they had also lost their chance of studying or continuing their education.
Literature and further information:
Roland Brauckmann und Heike Möbius: Die Dresdener Initiative für einen „Sozialen Friedensdienst“. Ein Zeitzeugenbericht in: Horch und Guck 2/2004, S. 42-44. http://www.horch-und-guck.info/hug/archiv/2004-2007/heft-46/04611/

Environmental movement/ Tchernobyl desaster
According to official accounts, there were no serious environmental problems in the GDR until 1989. But because the destruction of nature was becoming increasingly apparent, young people in particular were no longer irritated by the state’s information policy in the 1980s. Air pollution in chemical districts and large cities, tree deaths in mountain regions, water pollution and uncontrolled desertification of land and chemical misuse in agricultural production were no longer to be concealed. The extent of destruction in uranium mining and in the Halle-Leipzig-Bitterfeld chemical triangle by the chemical plants and in coal mining was particularly great.
In Berlin-Friedrichshain, it was above all the small circles of friends and church groups, whose members had been working in the environmental library of the Zion Community in the district of Berlin-Mitte since 1986, who critically observed this destruction. The Green-Ecological Network Ark emerged from the Environmental Library in spring 1988 as a splinter group. Until its incorporation into the Green Party of the GDR in autumn 1989, the Network Arche (Netzwerk Arche) developed into a vital opposition movement of the GDR with courageous and intelligent actions. It published the magazine Arche Nova under the protection of the Church and was read throughout the GDR by people who were sensitive to environmental issues.
The reactor disaster in Chernobyl
On 26 April 1986, a serious nuclear accident was caused by a negligent experiment in a Soviet nuclear power plant near Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine. Even today, after almost 25 years, the surrounding area is considered to be permanently contaminated. The city itself has been abandoned and a total of 350 000 people have been resettled. The information policy in the Soviet Union and the GDR was irresponsible. They tried to conceal the catastrophe or talk small and fulfilled their duty to provide information too late and insufficiently. At the end of April 1986, GDR environmental groups protested against the GDR’s environmental and information policy with the public appeal “Chernobyl is everywhere!”
On June 5, 1986, parishioners of the Samaritan community and their pastor Rainer Eppelmann wrote a letter to Erich Honecker demanding a rethink. Starting from a quote from the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev, that the nuclear era required a new political thinking and a new policy, they appealed to the government of the GDR to fundamentally rethink its attitude to the use of nuclear power and to draw the appropriate conclusions. Among other things, the following points were proposed:
“The GDR government is taking all possible steps to work within the International Energy Agency to significantly improve cooperation there, including the immediate and comprehensive and general obligation to provide information in the event of disasters.
The establishment of a compulsory school subject with the aim of conveying issues of peace, justice, environmental protection and a new, more responsible lifestyle.
Use all media, newspapers and magazines, literature and art to warn of the risks of nuclear energy and prepare the population for the planned phase-out”.

Squatting in East Berlin and evictions in the Mainzer Street

Squatting in East Berlin – Evacuating Mainzer Strasse
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the ownership of many houses in East Berlin was unclear. Whole streets stood empty, while in West Berlin there was a lack of living space. After in December 1989 the residents of the house Schönhauser Allee 20 in Prenzlauer Berg made their occupation public by banners, in the following time there was a multiplicity of occupation in the inner city districts. In the summer of 1990, there were over 100 such house projects in East Berlin. After calls from East Berlin squatters and in the autonomous West Berlin magazine Interim, West Berlin’s left-wing alternative in particular occupied houses in Mainzer Strasse during a May 1 demonstration. The apartments that had been rented between 1987 and 1989 were originally to be demolished in favour of new buildings. A total of 12 houses were occupied there, including 10 standing together. The Police (Volkspolizei) and the responsible authorities did nothing about it, and the municipal housing administration (KWV) initially even promised a temporary stay and offered interested parties further vacant flats.
The squatters began to repair the apartments and disbanded traditional residential structures by tearing out walls and installing communal kitchens. A lively cultural and political scene soon formed around the house projects. There were various pubs, late sales outlets, event and band rehearsal rooms, cinemas and so-called “Volx kitchens” in which hot food was served at favourable prices for the neighbourhood. However, the squatters’ lifestyle also met with displeasure from the residents, who complained about disorder and noise pollution. Especially after Mainzer Strasse and other left-wing house projects in Friedrichshain were repeatedly attacked by neo-Nazi groups and the squatters massively defended themselves, the expressions of solidarity decreased. A “citizens’ initiative Mainzer Straße” was founded, which advocated the evacuation of the occupied houses.
On 24 July, the “Berlin Line”, which had been developed in West Berlin in 1981, was also transferred to the eastern part of the city. From the deadline of 24 July 1990, newly occupied houses were to be vacated within 24 hours, while other houses were to be offered contracts. With reunification on 3 October, the West Berlin Senate also gained political and police sovereignty over East Berlin. The then West Berlin police president, Georg Schertz, demanded a tougher crackdown on squatters.
The evacuation of three squatters in Lichtenberg and Prenzlauer Berg after 24 July on the morning of 12 November 1990 triggered the evacuation in Mainzer Strasse. Around noon, about 50 occupiers of Mainzer Strasse spontaneously joined together to demonstrate for the cleared houses on Frankfurter Allee and erected barricades. The police took massive action against the approximately 500 to 600 occupiers with 1,500 emergency personnel, water cannons and tear gas. Further barricades were erected and a tram car that had stopped in front of the entrance to Mainzer Straße derailed. According to the then coalition partner of the red-green Senate Alternative List (now Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), the governing mayor Walter Momper promised not to clear the squatted houses in Mainzer Strasse without their prior consent. Nevertheless, police forces from all over Germany were ordered to Berlin. On the morning of 14 November, the Mainzer Strasse area was sealed off. Efforts by GDR grassroots groups such as the New Forum (Neue Forum), but also by District Mayor Mendiburu, to find a negotiated solution failed. A human chain of civil rights activists at the confluence of Mainzer Strasse and Boxhagener Strasse tried to prevent the police from advancing and was pushed away by the approaching police.
With the help of water cannons and tear gas, the barricades were broken open, the squatted houses were surrounded and some of them penetrated through roofs. Many people were injured in the fighting and 417 people were arrested, including parliamentarians. In the late afternoon of 14 November, a spontaneous demonstration started at the Red City Hall with over 10,000 participants protesting against the eviction. After the evacuation, the squatters’ apartments were evacuated, the street was closed and the police guarded the following months. Two days after the eviction, the Alternative List announced the red-green coalition with the Social democratic party (SPD) in protest against the eviction.
For the squatters, the evacuation of Mainzer Strasse, which was completely renovated shortly afterwards, was a deep cut. It marked the beginning of a new, less confrontational policy in Berlin. In the following years there were further evictions, but also various legalization models.
For the squatter movement, the evacuation of Mainzer Strasse, which was completely renovated shortly afterwards, was a deep cut. It marked the beginning of a new, less confrontational policy in Berlin. In the following years there were further evictions, but also various legalization models, through which alternative lifestyles could continue to exist.
* – Berlin Mainzer Straße. Wohnenit wichtiger als das Gesetz. Berlin 1992.
Further information:
– http://umbruch-bildarchiv.de/bildarchiv/ereignis/141190mainzer_street.html

“Mr. Keuner says no” – the resistance of young people against National Socialism with a focus on Friedrichshain and Berlin East

A permanent exhibition on the resistance to National Socialism in East Berlin

Today, at a time when many of us are no longer properly aware of our freedoms and rights, when Neo-Nazi terrorists murderously drive through the country and Neo-Nazi parties sit in parliaments, when anti-Semitism becomes bold again and immigrants are facing social exclusion, it is these examples that motivate us to keep memories alive and to call for active engagement with history as well as with the present.
Staging and distrust
When Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933, his followers staged a pompous torchlight procession through Berlin and many other festivities throughout the German Reich. Another time seemed to have dawned. But neither all Germans wanted to celebrate, nor the entire Reich capital. In the east of Berlin, in the densely populated working-class districts, the people openly distrusted this strange “workers’ party” and its self-proclaimed redeemer of Germany. In the last free elections of the Weimar Republic in November 1932, the Nazi party in Friedrichshain had brought it to just 20 percent, compared to 33.1 percent in the country as a whole) behind the KPD and SPD. Even with the election of March 1933, which was already taking place under the unleashed terror of the Brownshirts, the Nazi party in Friedrichshain only achieved second place behind the rival KPD.
But at that point in time politically, with the ballot nothing could be changed. The Nazi opponents in East Berlin and elsewhere were forced into illegality and subjected to brutal persecution, especially since the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933. Many groups and individuals made their way into illegality in full awareness of the danger involved. Others in turn, e.g. faithful Christians, many Jews or even unpolitical and conservative people, found themselves unwillingly forced into a decision situation they had not sought and which they could not avoid in the face of the terror regime.
Resistance in the East Berlin neighborhood
The exhibition documents various facets of the resistance against National Socialism, with a focus on Friedrichshain and East Berlin. The spectrum ranges from resistance by the labour movement and the Confessing Church to the Jewish group around Herbert Baum and the Red Chapel, as well as from pacifists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and former pupils of the Ruetli School. They distributed pamphlets, committed arson attacks and some spied for the Soviet Union. The consequences for the few courageous people whose actions the exhibition documents were similar in most cases: torture, long prison sentences and death.