East Germany Lives

Honecker and the New Politics of Europe

by Heinz Lippmann, translated by Helen Sebba
Macmillan, 272 pp., $7.95

The Changing Party Elite in East Germany

by Peter C. Ludz
MIT Press, 509 pp., $15.00

Behind the Berlin Wall

by Steven Kelman
Houghton Mifflin, 327 pp., $6.95

Erich Honecker
Erich Honecker; drawing by David Levine

We are watching what is supposed to be the end of a great war in Asia—an ending so difficult and so often interrupted by checks and relapses that it is more like witnessing a painful death than a birth. Whether the war ends or not, the United States and its allies are silently, but with hideous peristaltic convulsions, eating a million words. The same is true in Central Europe, where the United States and her NATO allies are ending a phase of the cold war and swallowing, in the process, an even vaster number of proclamations and eternal promises. The West is setting about recognizing the German Democratic Republic at last.

Recognition is a nervous, embarrassed, touchy business. There are problems about where embassies shall stand, whether the GDR owes anyone reparations and compensations, and how to solve the Talmudic complexities of fitting recognition and embassies into the persisting fiction of Allied rights over “Berlin-as-a-whole.” But at least the quarter-century of pretending that there was no such place as the GDR is over.

Here, too, it is wise not to gloat. But one can recall tableaux of idiocy that will never be repeated: the old Allied Passport Office in the Pots-damerstrasse refusing travel documents to East German scientists, actors, and journalists who wanted to visit London or New York; the 1966 clash of patrol boats on the Elbe, which might have developed into a border war because nobody would talk to the East German authorities about where the demarcation line ran along the river bed; the “sound faults” that developed on West German television whenever the East German anthem was played at an international sporting event. With the exception of Albania, the GDR has remained the least known socialist state in Eastern Europe, reported about from West Berlin in terms, often, of comical falsity; it was the favorite location for Anglo-Saxon thriller writers who wanted to feel free to invent. Now there begins the period in which the place may be seen for what it is.

At present, this takes the form of translating the more responsible West German literature on the subject. Both Professor Ludz and Heinz Lippmann wrote their works in German, and Lippmann has the particular advantage of direct experience: he was for some years a senior official in the “Free German Youth” (FDJ), the East German youth movement, and before his departure for the West he worked with Erich Honecker, now first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the successor to Ulbricht since May, 1971. He has made, this book suggests, a considerable effort to wash the natural rancor and disillusion of the émigré from this biography. He does not always succeed. But compared to previous literature about the GDR’s leading figures—for example, Carola Stern’s withering biography of Ulbricht*—this is a remarkably objective book.

Honecker is not outwardly a memorable figure. Whereas Walter Ulbricht…

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