Rainer Eppelmann

* 1943

  • "It was, if you want, the first time when I had flown my flag or when I had shown my face. Of course I was aware of it. I had by then suffered already for seven years as a subject. With a different career path than the one I had originally dreamed of forced upon me. In the meanwhile, I was also in jail for some time. As the subsequent rehabilitation has shown, I was imprisoned for reasons of conscience. So I had not committed a crime in the truest sense of the word. All of this had certainly not fostered my love for society and those who represented this society. And now something that instilled great hope and inspiration in me and others happened suddenly - not in another world, but only a few hundred kilometers away. This made us think: 'perhaps the so-called socialist German Democratic Republic does not necessarily have to be as it is now. There can be reform from above'. Of course this inspired us with hope. Even if the developments in the two countries would not be quite identical, at least the developments in Czechoslovakia - if successful - would inspire the Poles and the GDR citizens. Despite the bad experience we had with June 17, 1953, with the revolt of the people against the government. I went together with a friend to the Czech Embassy, when the Soviet and other soldiers marched in or moved in with their tanks, and we formulated a declaration of solidarity there. My friend put his name under the text and I - as I am sometimes a bit cheeky, but also helpful - put down not only my name, but also my address, because I wanted to make it a bit easier for them. There was a member of the German People's Police guarding the door, but surprisingly he let us in and afterwards he also let us out without demanding to hear from us what we did in there. And since then nobody has ever bothered me because of my solidarity declaration, amazingly enough. I've neither found anything about this in my Stasi file, when I was reading through its pages later on. Thus, I figure that the book or the list of the signatories did not come into wrong hands. I have no idea whether they eventually destroyed it or what they have done with it, no idea. But I know that they prosecuted other people - GDR citizens - for this. For us this was not the case. So I can say only of the very narrowest circle of our community that we talked about these things, of course. We were unanimously positive about what happened in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, what the people there had done. It moved us deeply. So, in any case, the events in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968 were emotionally much more moving for us than what happened, for example, in West Berlin. I'm not speaking from the position of an internationalist, but because I had the impression that what happened in 1956 or 1968 had much more to do with our own life than the other things."

  • "Yes, that's how it started, 'operational process cross ", the first finding. And then one day came Holly. A stranger with long hair, jeans, ragged cassock and a beard was standing in the door in the Samaritan parish and asked if I had a moment of time for him, that he wanted to talk to me. He also used to be a Bausoldat and he knew that I had also been one. So I invited him to come inside and he told me that he was a musician and that he would like to hold concerts in our church. He was apparently fascinated by the vast space of the church. The second reason was that as he played black blues - as it turned out afterwards - he had no chance of playing in the GDR discos. He didn't want any money for it. He said that we could make a collection of money at the exit for any good purpose. But I told him that I wasn't in charge of this kind of things. There was a directorate for concerts and guest performances that was responsible for these things. I wasn't even allowed to organize concerts. However, I told him that if he could think of a way how to integrate his music with my religious services, then we might strike a deal. We agreed and I told a colleague from the neighboring parish, Hans-Otto Seidenschur, to come aboard, and we held a service together. We agreed to select a few biblical texts, formulate a short speech, a prayer and a blessing word, to do it in blocks and to put blues music in between the blocks. And he told me that I could, of course, announce it to my parish and he'd tell his fans about it. Then we chose the date and I told my church people and they yes, service, yes. And then the day came and Hans-Otto and I went down to the church and saw 150 people there. In a normal church service, the number of attendees would be anything between 20 and 50. Only Christmas Eve or a confirmation would attract more visitors. Of course that this filled us with pride - we filled the church, or at least there were many more people than usually. However, looking at it from a second angle, I thought: oh my goodness. Most of the attendees were still standing as it hadn't started in the front, yet. All of them looked like Holly, smoked and had a bottle of red wine either in their pocket or in their hand. We gave each other such a look, like 'oh dear, what have we got ourselves into here' but then we went to them friendly and said that we would now slowly start and we asked them to kindly sit down and put out the cigarettes. We also asked them to not drink the red wine in the church but later on outside. And they actually did what we asked them to. We understood very quickly then that they didn't do it to provoke or annoy us, but because they had never before been in a church and thus they did not know how to behave in a church. Well, no wonder they had never before been to a church in a country where Christianity was being wiped out by the regime. Well, we agreed right away that we'd hold another service such as this and we set the date to four weeks later or so. The next time, 300 of them arrived, then 600, 1200 and so it went on and on. By the time 500 or 600 of them showed up there, I and Heinz-Otto realized that it was about time to do something more than just pick a random prayer for the blocks in between the music. We felt that we had to do more than that. We wanted to give them a real chance. To grant these people an opportunity as they were people who would have normally never come to a church. We wanted to rouse their interest and really make them listen to us, not just to endure the religious part for the sake of being able to listen to blues music. And then we luckily came up with an idea - it was in the mid-seventies, the time of the so-called social diaconal youth work in our church. That means we started to educate people, for young people who didn't come from Christian families, who were merely standing in the streets and obviously had nothing to do with their time. An hour or two later, they were still standing there - perhaps now drinking, making nonsense, or at best playing football or something similar. So, we tried to engage people who obviously didn't dream about spending their leisure time with the Free German Youth. We spoke to them and asked them if they didn't want to help us to prepare these services. And that caught fire. Now they had a task that no one dared to entrust them with before, as they had always been treated a bit like outsiders. And suddenly, they were entrusted to take over the whole organizational part. We subsequently let the young people determine the topics for these services. We would ask them to give us the topics that excited them, that annoyed them that they were afraid of. They would subsequently not whisper anymore, but in our company - as we became very informal together - say out loud what they really thought and what they were afraid of. And after they had realized for the first time that what they had told us in our familiar circle, we would speak about at the next blues service in front of 2000 or 3000 people, it was like a cry of liberation. One only needed to listen to what they said - to their chatting, their bellowing, to what amazed them. It was the sort of things that everybody would think for himself, but nobody would dare to say it out loud publicly. Of course we would ask ourselves, oh my goodness, where does this phenomenal success come from? I think it was, first of all, a bit because of the blues, which was alright. Secondly, it was a bit of an adventure to hitchhike without any money in your pocket from Erfurt to Berlin, to be out there all day long. And of course, it was a unique thing. There was only blues service in the whole GDR was. You would not have it anywhere else in the country. All of this by itself is already quite a lot, but then, on top of that, you get to listen to what you think yourself but don't dare to say out loud there. This was, I think, the ultimate reason for the success of the blues service. In the meantime, the Stasi had of course long since noticed our activities from its operative process ‘Cross’ that subsequently turned into operative process ‘Blues’. There was mounting pressure of the Stasi on me, then the Superintendent in our parish, then the General Superintendent in Berlin and finally the bishop and the church leadership. They presented it as a danger to the relationship between the church and the state and so on."

  • "The first conscious memories originate from a later time. It was in 1953. At that point, I have to confess, I would not yet be able to formulate it in the following words: it was when I turned from citizen to serf. It was on 17 June, 1953. My father came home and told us that the working people of the GDR as well as in Berlin, where we lived, went on strike and were standing in the streets. He himself did not get involved in the strike. I assume that he looked on from an apparently safe distance and then came home and told us that Soviet tanks opened fire at the unarmed strikers and that some also got injured and even killed. I can still remember that a day or two later, a Soviet tank rolled down the Pankow Maximilian street where we lived, with opened lid and a Soviet soldier or officer sticking out his head. On the opposite side of the street, on the balcony, there was an elderly couple and cheered on this tank and the crew. I was 10 years old by then and I asked myself in my amazement, how can you cheer on people, or rather monsters that shoot at the defenseless. Today I know that it was even worse. They shot at people who had claimed a right granted to them by the Constitution of the GDR. And that's where my bitter but realistic designation comes from: perceived citizens who would think turned into serfs."

  • "Finally, I may tell you, that the happiness of my life and of my biography in terms of this historical-political dimension, was not that I was only a suffering human being, a surprised-suffering man on 13 August, 1961, but also a happy and an active person on 9 November, 1989. I was not intentionally a citizen, but only until 17 June, 1953, whereupon I was made a subject by those who had promised us paradise. On August 13, 1961, I was made a serf, and not even as such I was allowed to move where I wanted. We became whisperers and at some point we realized that hope is not the belief that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. And I'm very happy and very grateful to find it has turned out well. Sacrifice is not a word that sits with me."

  • "Yes, then they came for me immediately. I refused military service and was thus drafted to the construction soldiers ('Bausoldaten'). The reasons that I had were several. First of all - and I didn't put this one quite openly to them although it was a major reason for me - I would not defend a regime like the Communist regime, that had locked me up, that had blocked my training, that had prevented me from choosing the career path I wanted and that had separated my family. I would not and I could not defend such a regime. In addition - and that was my main argument - I had arguments that were based on my religiosity. That's what I said, that already as a child and adolescent, I came to understand that it is not the cause of man to take the life of another human being, to kill a man. And the third argument had to do with my education. And as I recall it now it doesn't matter whether the service would be in the east or west, at this point. It dawned on me that ordinary people had committed abominable acts in the period 1933-1945. And when you asked then why they did it, they would say that they acted on orders. They claimed that they simply had to obey the orders, that they had been sworn to obey orders. In principle it was like this. Not every individual order, as they were no longer even being asked in each and every case. But they were basically sworn to obedience. And by this I mean absolute obedience. Those who refused to obey orders - and yes there had been thousands of cases - were executed by the Nazis in martial law. The Bundeswehr has interestingly learned from this experience. The principle of obedience is still valid today in the Bundeswehr, but with the restriction that if you get an order that goes against human rights and human dignity, you not only have the right to refuse but it is even your duty to refuse. And you have to even call the one who has given you that order. It's not always quite easy, in some specific cases or in an extreme situation when you have to refuse face to face to your superiors - when you have to tell him 'no, I'm not doing this'. It may possibly even result in a court hearing. But in the GDR it was unconditional obedience. And should there be such a case - although it is actually totally inconceivable that in a socialist army, you would get an order violating human rights and human dignity - then you would be given the right to complain afterwards. That's when I told them, considering the experience of Auschwitz; I'm not prepared to take such an oath, to promise that I'll do whatever you say. This resulted in my jailing for 8 months for a number of acts of insubordination. I served my term in the former military prison in Ueckermünde on Oderhaff. It was an extension of a civil jail, because it was not yet set up to also deal with army offenders. The great military prison in Schwedt was only built later on. I didn't get to experience it anymore. After having served my eight months in jail, I got picked up again from jail and got assigned to my unit by a sergeant and then I served a year and a half as a Bausoldat without having to be sworn anymore."

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    Berlin, 07.07.2014

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We need to stop whispering and say things out loud.

Eppelmann / Initiative "Demokratischer Aufbruch"
Eppelmann / Initiative "Demokratischer Aufbruch"
zdroj: Archiv Bundesstiftung Aufarbeitung, Fotobestand Klaus Mehner , Bild 89_1216_POL_GPT_DA_01

Rainer Eppelmann was born in 1943 in Berlin-Pankow. His father was a carpenter, his mother a dressmaker. Eppelmanns parents were critical towards the GDR regime and raised their children in the Christian faith. Eppelmann was neither a member of the pioneers, nor of the FDJ. He did not receive the national youth initiation, but received a Protestant confirmation. After he had completed secondary school, he was denied to attend higher education in spite of his excellent grades. This was in part due to the fact that he was not a member of the Communist youth organizations. In addition, his father was considered to be a so-called „Grenzgewinnler“ (somebody profiting from living at the border) because he lived in the GDR, but worked in West Berlin. Eppelmann and his sister were able to attend the Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium in Neukölln, one of the two schools which had been established in West Berlin for students from East Berlin. The construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August, 1961, marked the end of his schooling. At that point, Eppelmann attended the 11th grade and as a result he could not take his school-leaving exam. Thus, his dream of studying architecture was shattered. After the construction of the wall, his father remained in the West. After some time, Rainer‘s mother and the two younger siblings were allowed to move to the father in the context of family reunification. Eppelmann himself stayed in East Berlin and worked as an assistant roofer. After a year, he was offered an apprenticeship as a mason and plasterer, which he accepted and completed in the years 1962 to 1965. After his apprenticeship, he applied for the School of Civil Engineering. Soon after the beginning of his studies, however, he realized that he no longer could bear the system, fell repeatedly sick and eventually broke off his studies. After abandoning his studies, Eppelmann again worked as a mason. In 1966, he was drafted into the army as a „Bausoldat“ (construction-work soldier), after he had refused military service for religious reasons. In the course of his service, Eppelmann was sentenced to eight months of prison for multiple acts of insubordination. Eppelmann publicly disclosed his oppositional stance for the first time with the signing of a statement of solidarity at the Czechoslovak embassy after the suppression of the Prague Spring. After his time as Bausoldat, Eppelmann in 1969 decided to study theology at the Paulinum College .After completing his studies in 1975, he was first an assistant pastor, then parish priest in the East Berlin Samaritan community and district youth pastor for the church district Berlin-Friedrichshain. Together with the blues musician Günter Holly Holwas, Eppelmann since 1979 organized the so-called Blues Masses, combining religious services with concerts and criticism of the communist regime. These events soon attracted hundreds of young people who had up to that point not come in touch with the church. In this way, the events became a platform for dissenters. The Blues Masses would eventually attract as many as 8,000 - 9,000 young people from all over the GDR, which did not escape the attention of the state security. The state security exerted considerable pressure on Eppelmann and the church authorities. Nevertheless, the Blues Masses continued to be held until 1986. In 1982, together with the communist dissident, Robert Havemann, Eppelmann drafted the Berlin Appeal „Making Peace without Weapons“, which called for disarmament in East and West. Eppelmann was arrested but after only three days released again as a result of the efforts of the Church and public pressure from the Federal Republic. Eppelmann‘s Samaritan community had become a center of the peace movement since the late seventies. After a first attempt in the elections to the People‘s Chamber of 1986, Eppelmann‘s Samaritan community initiated a review of the municipal elections of 1989 that revealed election fraud in several districts of Berlin. In the autumn of 1989, Eppelmann became the founder and later chairman of the opposition grouping „Democratic Awakening“, which was approved as a political party in December 1989. Eppelmann experienced the fall of the Wall directly at the border crossing Bornholmer Straße, which became the first border crossing to be opened peacefully in Berlin on the evening of 9 November, 1989. Eppelmann became a member of the Round Table and Minister without portfolio in the cabinet of Hans Modrow that was in office between November 1989 and March 1990. He eventually became Minister for Disarmament and Defense in the cabinet of Lothar de Maizière. From 1990 to 2005, Eppelmann represented the CDU in the Bundestag. Since the founding of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED dictatorship in 1998, he has been the honorary chairman of the foundation‘s board.