Am November 9, 2022, at 11 a.m. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opens the conference “How do we remember November 9?” in Bellevue Palace – like this German day between the abyss and historical happiness. There is a lot of symbolism in the room. Werner Schulz, GDR civil rights activist and Greens politician, born in 1950, is no longer in the room. The revolutionary, the East German Vaclav Havel, who has long enjoyed legendary status with his policy of straightforwardness. He died in these minutes, as it will later be called, in the Bellevue toilet from an attacked heart.
What kind of death was that? “For me, the unresolved national question was always an issue in the GDR opposition,” Werner Schulz once said, thinking of a “self-confident national state in a united Europe”. Not an entirely normal position for someone from the East German opposition, but one that can be read biographically: In September 1961, the eleven-year-old traveled with his father to Hemsbach in Baden-Württemberg, to see his grandmother, uncle and aunt. The black-and-white pictures of the Eichmann trial ran on television. The boy saw a man in the glass case and listened to the family men later yelling at each other about Eichmann at the kitchen table. At some point the father said, as the son remembered: Be honest. We followed the lunatics.
On the way back east, father and son sat in a completely empty interzone train without being checked once. If someone did walk through the train, it seemed to the boy that they were being looked at like extraterrestrials. “We were simply going in the wrong direction. September 1961 went through my bones.” In 1965, the sister and her husband attempted to escape. Arrest, pre-trial detention, house searches at the parents’ house, interrogations by the Stasi followed. The brother-in-law was sentenced to eight years in prison, and the sister underwent a failed operation while in custody in Cottbus. “The father suffered like a dog,” said Werner Schulz, “and died in 1968 at the age of 59 from a perforated stomach.”
The death of the father and the Prague Spring of 1968: political sinkers, biographical shibboleths. Or also: How Werner Schulz fought for his freedom in the church peace, ecology and human rights movement of the GDR, from 1982 on in the Pankow Peace Circle. That was his political fundus and became a dissidence that made him the target of state security. “We agreed among ourselves who would take the children if we were arrested,” he said. Finally came 1989 and its revolution. The television pictures showed a very thin man in his late thirties with a mottled beard at the lectern, strained, sparkling, sensitive: Werner Schulz as a founding member of the New Forum. Werner Schulz at the Central Round Table of the GDR, as a member of the first freely elected People’s Chamber, from 1990 a member of the German Bundestag, spokesman and later parliamentary director of Alliance 90/Greens. Politics as a hyper movement and Werner Schulz in the political center, with verve, attitude, with straight sentences.