Thursday, January 24, 2008
And why wouldn't they?
We stopped in Leipzig to visit our friend Stefan, who kindly showed us around town. The place had not suffered much in the war, but forty years of communist neglect had done a lot of damage to the former capital of Saxony’s historic buildings. Construction cranes and heaps of slag are all over the city, as they try to restore the place to its former glory, and centrally-planned brutalist slabs share space with idiosyncratic Beaux Arts wonders.
For the most part, the autocrats of the GDR had left the edifices of the Saxon bourgeoisie alone, to crumble of their own accord. One exception, Stefan explained with typical understatement, was the old university chapel: “They blew that up in the 1980s. This did not go unnoticed.”
The Stasi emblem - they weren't aiming for warm and cuddly.
There were protests, which was remarkable, given the state of fear people must have been living in. We got a taste of that in the Stasi museum, which memorializes the East German republic’s secret police methods. These ranged from the tragic, like mothers interrogated for the ideologically impure school essays of their children – to the absurd, like a camera hidden in a pillow strapped around the abdomen of a female agent to fake a pregnancy (“Ooo! I can feel it clicking!”) Another disguise kit included a hard helmet, prompting me to wonder if the agent was to infiltrate the Village People.
They were efficient, at least: these are confiscated "Western" musical cassettes, repurposed to record phone taps.
All joking aside, it was a chilling place, and the events it memorializes are not purely historical, by any means – more than one exhibit had photographs ripped from the walls by people that had recognized themselves or loved ones.
That said, we know how the story ends, and it ended here in Leipzig.
The St Nicholas church was the scene, starting in the 1980s, of a series of protests against the regime. Initially, these were demands for a better quality of life but over time bloomed into the mass movement that eventually overthrew the regime, disproving Stefan’s observation (quoting Goethe) that given a choice between injustice and disorder, Germans will always choose the former.