DDR Museum – the ‘Living History’ of East Germany

Life in the DDR - East Germany - becomes history in a fascinating new museum

Life in the DDR – East Germany – becomes ‘living history’ in this fascinating museum

It’s not often that the immediate past becomes history as quickly as did that of the erstwhile East Germany.  The hated communist regime of the DDR (or GDR or East Germany) vanished almost overnight in 1989.  But now, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, life in the former soviet satellite state is being looked at and explored as never before.  That the regime of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) was a brutal and cruel one is obvious to all, but the majority of East Germany’s citizens were decent human beings living their lives as ‘normally’ as possible despite such difficult circumstances.

The DDR Museum in Berlin does a wonderful job of showing how ordinary people lived. Through familiar, everyday things, it shows how East Germans made the best of a bad job and tried to make life as bearable as possible for themselves and their families.  It also offers remarkable insights into the insidious ways the state attempted to manipulate, bully and threaten its citizens into silent conformity to a regime that was patently unfair, corrupt and inhuman. The propaganda machine rumbled on for 40 years spewing out distortions and half-truths – but most people saw through the lies.  And it was the people of East Germany themselves who finally had the courage to stand up and be counted and who brought down that hated regime.

When we visited last week, I was pleased to see that the positive role of the church has been acknowledged too: the protection it offered to dissenters, the space to be quiet, to think, to articulate peaceful protest against the regime.  The church was not a political party, but neither was it a pawn of the state.  As one of the exhibition boards says: “The SED forced the church onto the margins of society, challenging its existence, symbols and articles of faith. The discrimination against church members in the educational system and the professions was designed to weaken its membership. Nevertheless, the persecution strengthened the church, which then developed into a politicized public space.  Initially a rallying point for small groups, the Protestant Church attracted thousands in the 1980s and provided the starting point for the peaceful revolution.”

The church played an important role in bringing down the communist regime in East Germany

The church played an important role in bringing down the communist regime in East Germany

But one thing in particular really came home to me during our visit.  So much of what we saw there could apply just as easily to Britain today: from the ‘propaganda’ used daily in our newspapers, to the lies and half-truths told by our politicians as they abuse our system to line their own pockets, blatantly ignoring the wishes of the people they were elected to represent.  Democracy is a very, very fragile thing and needs to be carefully guarded and nourished.  Like the people of East Germany back then, we need to be committed to playing our part in the life of our country.  Some things can’t be left to politicians or to those who use money and privilege to abuse power.

“Wir sind das Volk!” – “We are the people!” was the cry that was heard in the streets of East Germany 25 years ago.  It’s a cry that has begun to be heard again in this country and one that needs to continue to be heard loud and clear if Britain is to become a better place for all its people – not just for the few.  We need to re-engage with politics.  We need to have the courage to stand up and be counted.  Without doubt, we could learn a thing or two from the people of the former DDR!

Link to the museum: The DDR Museum in Berlin

“Border Crossings” now available as an eBook

"Go, Trabi, Go!" - right through the Berlin Wall!

“Go, Trabi, Go!” – right through the Berlin Wall!

As November 2014 saw the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I thought it would be a good time to publish “Border Crossings” as an eBook and I’m pleased to say it is now available to download through Amazon Kindle:

Border Crossings eBook

Many of you will have seen the excellent films “Good Bye, Lenin!” and “The Lives of Others”, both of which gave insights into the lives of the East German people during and just after the fall of communism. Two very different films, but both showing that even in the face of an oppressive regime people are still living, breathing and caring human beings.  And that for every person prepared to betray their fellows, there were others prepared to stand by those they loved and cared for – whatever the cost.  It was this humanity that won through in the end and that is truly something worth celebrating and remembering. Looking back over 36 years of a Scottish-German friendship that began in East Berlin in 1978, this book tries to do just that!

Ordinary people can change history!

Click HERE for Reviews of Border Crossings by Martin Dey, David Pattie, Kerstin Jorna and others

Amazon Bestseller Religious Studies ratings 20th December 2014:

Amazon best seller list religious studies 20 12 14Amazon ranking 8 RS

The Berlin Wall – Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross

The view from a derelict watch tower on the former 'Death Strip' of the Berlin Wall

The view from a derelict watch tower on the former ‘Death Strip’ of the Berlin Wall

Sunday 9th November 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I was delighted to be asked to take part in BBC Radio Scotland’s “Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross” programme to discuss that exciting time.  It was an historic turning point for Europe – and the world – and I was privileged to have made many visits to East Germany both before and after those amazing days.

The courage, determination and hope of the people who lived through that brutal regime is remarkable.  The endless shortages, the ban on travel to the West, the constant spying and fear of the dreaded Stasi (the secret police) made life extraordinarily hard.  But in the end the regime fell and life changed for the people of the former East Germany.

My friends there live a very different life now and although the transitional period was not always easy,  there was a whole new Europe for them and their children to explore, enjoy and contribute to. Political reform is rarely easy as those with power seldom wish to relinquish any of it!  But events in what was East Germany – and the other countries in the former Soviet Bloc – show what can be done if people are determined, courageous and persistent enough!

The picture above shows the cover of the book I wrote about these experiences.  It is still available from Vival Publications and will soon be out on Kindle.

Links: Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross,

Listen to the broadcast here

Border Crossings

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – BBC Radio Scotland

Knocking down the hated Berlin Wall

Bringing down the hated Berlin Wall, 1990

It is 25 years to the day since the Fall of the Berlin Wall – 9th November 1989.  A quarter of a century ago the seemingly impossible happened and that grotesque symbol of a brutal totalitarian regime was breached.  Not through violence or bloodshed, but through the non-violent, patient, persistent refusal of the people of the GDR – East Germany – to tolerate any longer the brutal, unjust and economically inept rule of a decaying communist regime.

It was a day not many had foreseen but what a day of rejoicing it was!  This morning I took part in a discussion of that wonderful time on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross” programme and you can listen to it by clicking on the link below.

Radio scotlandThe Berlin Wall

It’s 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We recall that historic turning point through the perspective of two people who had unique experiences of it at the time, Hans-Dieter Robel and Vivien Martin.

You can listen to it here:

The Berlin Wall BBC Radio Scotland 9 11 14