Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Weimar, German History in a Small Thuringian Town

When in May my son was in Frankfort on a business trip and was stranded there for a long and lost weekend he possibly had in mind my blog about Weimar when he spontaneously decided to visit the town. He came back full of fascinating experiences telling us stories and impressed Elisabeth so she wanted to see Weimar too. Three weeks ago we went there for a long weekend staying in (where else?) the Elephant Hotel.

I felt happy showing to my wife the Weimar that I know so well. Before we went it happened that in a small bookshop at Kirchzarten near Freiburg a week earlier Annette Seemann who had published a Weimar travel guide previously gave a presentation of her latest book: Weimar, eine Kulturgeschichte. Her reading was overbooked and I was lucky to find a seat. In a panel discussion the editor for culture of the Badische Zeitung tried to have the author cover the content of the whole book. That was a problem for the amount of information in the already thick book is the result of laborious work presenting many detailed facts but the text occasionally lacks a deeper going analysis. Nevertheless I learned quite a lot, e.g., about the Reformation and that Luther was in Weimar several times. Anette Seemann's tome will complete my collection of books on Weimar that I shall present in a future blog.

Red Baron then a young scientific hopeful in Munich still remembers his first visit to Weimar in 1959. In November 1958 Nikita Khrushchev issued the Berlin ultimatum that caused Hamburg's press baron Axel Springer in January 1959 to start a campaign in the Federal Republic with the slogan Macht das Tor auf (Open the Gate) selling* pins with the Brandenburg Gate. Later in 1987 President Reagan when visiting the Berlin wall and looking at the Gate modulated Springer's slogan imploring the right person: Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
* for 20 Pfennig a piece

In fall 1959 a left wing Gesellschaft für fortschrittliche Politik (Society for progressive politics) in Munich had posted an answer to Axel Springer: Wir machen das Tor auf (We open the Gate) offering a bus trip at a moderate price to Gera, a small industrial town in Thuringia, and as a lure a detour to Weimar. Together with a friend and a couple of other students we took this unique opportunity to visit Weimar the working place of Germany's quadruple star Goethe, Herder, Schiller and Wieland but before that our delegation had to suffer agitated political discussions in Gera.

Political slogan in Gera's theater: Germany's fate will be decided between the forces of peace and the military adventurers in the west. This and the following scanned slides are more the 50 years old. In spite of image processing the quality is bad.
With my friend we fought virtually back to back against devoted followers of the communist regime. In the beginning we felt somewhat lost against their arguments supported by hard facts until we noticed that the achievements forwarded were not as "hard" as it seemed. So I started to invent "supporting numbers" myself and became so successful in defending "western values" that my East German counter part, a trade union official, looking for help frequently asked a journalist of the Neues Deutschland, the official government newspaper: Antworte du dem doch mal (You should rather answer him).

The following day we were shipped to Weimar. It was in November. A pale sun illuminated the square in front of the Goethe-Haus that was closed on a Sunday morning. When we walked to the Goethe-Schiller monument the sun disappeared and the two geniuses of German literature stood gray against the gray front of the Nationaltheater that had been a symbol of hope in 1919 with the adoption of the democratic Constitution of Weimar.

We soon had to leave the magic places to visit Weimar's other heritage the concentration camp Buchenwald. Here during the introduction the East German propaganda machine went into high gear asserting: In West Germany new concentration camps are under construction. Luckily we had some law students in our group mastering their words much better than physicists. They branded the lies and the cheap propaganda resulting in a icy silence. Full of shame our group eventually visited the horror place in silence, unmolested.

The classical suum cuique here perverted at the entrance to the concentration camp

Inside the camp.
Note the GDR flag and the Russian soldiers in the back on the left.
My second trip to Weimar took place 30 years later in April 1990 but this is another story as well as Elisabeth's and my most recent trip. Stuff for future blogs.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post! My most recent trip to Thuringen was to Erfurt and South to Gehren and Langenwiesen, so I missed Weimar now and also in 2010. I have never visited Buchenwald and may never visit there, so I'm glad that you write about it, I look forward to your future entries on Weimar!