Karl Eduard von Schnitzler, 23. 9. 1987, Berlin, East Germany


Location Berlin, East Germany
Date 23. 9. 1987
Length 16:16

Watch and Listen

Full video (mp4, 16 min)
Preview video (mp4, 0 min)
Audio track (mp3, 19 min) Show player

TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video

What are the origins and purposes of the “Schwarze Kanal”?
(German translation) What are the origins and purposes of the “Schwarze Kanal”?

Oh, to answer that briefly is difficult. The origins – Chancellor Adenauer once delivered a polemic against the GDR in the Bundestag and I answered polemically on the “Aktuelle Kamera” [news programme on GDR television]. From that came the idea, that one must do that more often. And some said every four weeks, every three weeks, every 2 weeks. I said if, then every week at a certain time. And so the “Schwarze Kanal” was created. It is an exploration of the television of the FRG.

For which reasons did one feel that this programme was necessary?

I must say first of all, what is not true of this programme. The “Schwarze Kanal” is no interference. I have never demanded a West Berliner or a West German to go on strike or to overthrow his government. My addressee is the citizen of the German Democratic Republic, who in turn is subject to interference, constant interference in the ether. And I would like to contribute a little to hygiene in the ether.

What is the role and purpose of a journalist inside a socialist society?
(German translation) What are the aims, what is the purpose of a journalist in a socialist society?

It is a little different from the task of the journalist in your country. We are fortunate that in our country profession and confession coincide, that is, the profession and the confession. I am not afraid to say that I am biased. And that ... it is not in opposition to objectivity. But that, of course, I approach the problems from a certain point of view that I want to convey to my viewers or even to my readers when I write an article. First, I want to convey facts; second, I want to convey arguments – my viewers, for example, are made up more than in other television programmes of multipliers, of duplicators – that is, teachers, functionaries of the party, the trade union, the Free German Youth [youth organisation of the GDR], above all teachers, also political officers in the People's Army. This means that my audience is not someone who sits back and says, “Now entertain me” during an entertainment programme, but who actually takes notes and carries it forward. And if I have switched on my – every Monday round scarce million devices – for my broadcast – then that is not 1 or 2, but 3 times, 4 times, 5 times or with teachers 20 times, yes, multipliers, that is a very important task.

There is a special problem here in the GDR because something like eighty percent of people here regularly watch West German television. Doesn't that make it difficult to maintain and propagate the party and socialist view of the world and current events?
(German translation) There is a special problem here in the GDR, because 80 percent of the population regularly watch West German television. Doesn't this make it more difficult to hold and continue the country's policy and socialist line [...]?

So you mentioned the figure of 80 percent, that's your figure, but of course the television of the West is seen here and that, by the way, I also have my viewers in West Berlin and in one third of the Federal Republic of Germany. Whereas the Federal Republic reaches 95 to 96 percent of the territory of the German Democratic Republic. But that is precisely why, for example, such a polemical counter-propagandistic program as the “Schwarze Kanal” is a necessity. Yes. Because both states have two different incompatible economic, social systems – fire and water – Honecker has just said again – it doesn't have to burn, you don't have to get wet, but still - the character is absolutely opposite and incompatible and if there from over there the whole word programme of crime films apart – and there also sometimes – if the whole word programme is anti-socialist – then you have to deal with it. And there you have to contribute a little bit, that's my task, not to...I'm against banning that. No, one should turn on the West television. Yes. But I try to give a little help in listening, watching and thinking.

But in your view as a socialist isn't a real purpose of journalism then to serve politics?

Yes, in our country, information policy must not interfere with politics or trade policy, economic policy, but support them. I would say support, not serve.

You took a dialogue between the East and West ... and your programme
(German translation) You have spoken of dialogue between fire and water, but is it not rather that you, that you as well, your programme is called ”Schwarzer Kanal”, is then the purpose of the programme not rather against what you as lies and  propaganda from the West, against it?

That is one of the tasks and that was initially the main task at the beginning. Of course, the “Schwarze Kanal” does not look the same today as it did 27 years ago. Back then, our republic was insulted and slandered by the West to such an extent that we simply had to hit back hard. But the more we asserted ourselves, the stronger the GDR became, the more sovereign it became – in two respects – sovereign in terms of international law, but also in terms of internal superiority, the more objective, calmer my tone could become. It was a true reflection of the change in the balance of power, and today it is the case that there are things that take precedence over the actual dispute and irreconcilable opposites. I am referring to the question of survival. Today, weapons technology, nuclear weapons technology has developed in such a way that war is no longer waged, no longer winnable, and look, what good is the capitalist's capitalism if the world is dead and he has no one to exploit? What good is our socialism on a scorched globe? So we have an overriding common interest, but in doing so the opposites remain. Only these antagonisms, which are to be carried out further, must not be carried out with war, not with violence, but if possible also with culture. That is, for example, the subject of the joint document that we have drawn up here with the Social Democratic Party Executive Committee. That is, the conflict of ideologies and the common security interest, and this is the space in which I am moving with my mission.

Can you make that clearer?

Yes, there was talk in the West about the need to dismantle enemy stereotypes. They say the same thing elsewhere. That is not right. We remain enemies. We don't have to dismantle enemy images, we have to change the way we deal with each other. That is one side. And the second is that for many years it was said in the West that the existence of two states, the division of Germany, was the source of the danger of war. In the meantime, it has become generally accepted, also in the West, even in America, that the existence of both German states is in fact a prerequisite for the strategic military balance in Europe.

Does capitalism and the West represent an enemy of the GDR?

This is not a state issue, but the two systems are not compatible with each other, you cannot cut off a piece from capitalism and cut off a piece from socialism and then put them together. The two systems are fighting over which one is better. However, this dispute must be conducted in sensible, cultural forms and, above all, not on the battlefield. Not with violence.

Don't you think it's an oversimplification to think that there are only fascist tendencies in West Germany? Doesn't the GDR also inherit some of the negative aspects of the German and Prussian traditions?
(German translation) Is it not a simplification to say that fascist tendencies only exist in West Germany? Didn't the GDR also inherit some negative aspects from the German and Prussian tradition?

Let's start with the last, with the last part, there are positive and negative phenomena in Prussianism and we have seized the good traditions of Prussianism in the reappraisal of history. That is one thing. The second thing is that I do not overestimate neo-fascist tendencies in the Federal Republic, but they are not seriously fought there. They exist. And we don't have fascist tendencies and we have just proved – at this very moment there is another trial in Dresden against a criminal against humanity who has only just been exposed – and that is actually proof that this is a lame excuse, that people in West Germany have not come to terms with this past to the same extent as we have.

But the most important thing is - we have eliminated the economic basis of fascism. Because the economic basis of fascism is monopoly capital. Fascism is the highest form of imperialism and imperialism again the highest form of capitalism, we have absolutely eliminated it.

With us there is no anti-Semitism, with us there is no master race, no arrogance, no claims to world power. We are a socialist state. That is a very fundamental difference.

What was the historical significance of Herr Honecker's visit to Bonn?
(German translation) What is or was the historical significance of Party Secretary Honecker's visit to Bonn?

I am very careful with the expression “historical significance”. The visit has a historical dimension, there is no question about that. It lies exclusively in the fact that between these two states there is not only a normal border, a state border, but that this is the dividing line of socialism/capitalism, where the most powerful military coalitions in history are confronted, and both states belong to opposite alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Treaty. In that sense, this is..., this has historical significance, that these two states in particular are struggling to have a normal relationship with each other. But otherwise, this visit is completely normal, this is catching up on the part of the FRG, this is just like when Honecker went to...to the NATO state of Greece or will go to Holland or to Belgium or went to Japan. This is the normality that is now finally being established on this most dangerous border in the world. Whereby I would like to add that we do not raise a cry of triumph because of normality. But I personally am not afraid to say that I feel a great sense of satisfaction, because when I think about how in these – soon to be 38 years of the GDR – how we have been insulted, slandered, fought against by the West, how attempts have been made to destabilize us, how our flag has been insulted – during the last visit of Stoph to Willi Brandt, our flag was torn down in Kassel. There is a government directive from 1957 in Bonn, which states that the police must intervene against the display of the “splittist flag”, which is our national flag. And now Honecker arrives, the leader of the Council of State, the roofer, the communist – in this state, is received by the head of state, head of government, is received by the head of state, the Bundeswehr appears with an honour formation, our anthem is played and the flag of the German Democratic Republic flies above everything. I... we fought for it for a very long time, but not for the satisfaction of our own national vanity, but because this relationship between the two states must be normal, for the sake of peace in Europe and in the world.

Allow me to make a personal remark. I come from a family that has produced a whole series of well-known war criminals who were tried and sentenced in Nuremberg. Diplomats, IG Farben people, chemical industrialists, bankers, etc. Close, direct relatives. Nevertheless, I am proud to be German, very proud. And I can be so because I have always stood on the side of the right, true, genuine, good Germany. I separated from this family and from this class very early - at the age of 14 already - and if I think about it, I spent almost half of my life searching for my fatherland. It couldn't be the Kaiserreich, because I was born at the end, still in diapers. It couldn't be the Weimar Republic, because I had already found my way to the working class. It could not have been the Hitler Empire. Nor could it be the British zone, where I was at first. I can determine when I found my fatherland - when I fulfilled my assignment and did the radio reportage on the election of Wilhelm Pieck as the first president of the socialist German state, I had found my fatherland.

Karl Eduard von Schnitzler (1918–2001)

Karl Eduard von Schnitzler

Karl-Eduard Richard Arthur von Schnitzler was born on 28 April 1918 in Dahlem; he died on 20 September 2001 in Zeuthen. Schnitzler was a German journalist. During the Second World War, as a soldier in the Wehrmacht, he was transferred to the Strafbataillon 999 for anti-Nazi propaganda. As chief commentator on GDR television and author and presenter of the political-agitational television programme “Der schwarze Kanal” (The Black Channel), he was the most controversial journalist among the population of the GDR.

Schnitzler was the youngest son of Legationsrat Julius Eduard von Schnitzler. According to his autobiography, Schnitzler's grandmother was an illegitimate daughter of the "99-day Emperor" Friedrich III, and he himself was therefore a great-grandson of the Emperor. Schnitzler's father had been vice-consul in Shanghai since 1898. He was elevated to the Prussian nobility on 20 September 1913. His mother was Margarethe von Schnitzler, née Gillett. His cousins included the sales director of I.G. Farben, Georg von Schnitzler, and the ambassador Herbert von Dirksen. Schnitzler's upper middle-class family included later Nazi war criminals.

At the age of fourteen, Schnitzler joined the Socialist Workers' Youth (SAJ). In 1937, after graduating from high school, Schnitzler dropped out after two semesters of medical studies he had begun in Freiburg. He had contact with the banned KPD. From 1938 to 1940 he completed a commercial apprenticeship at the Felten & Guilleaume cable works in Cologne.

During the Second World War, Schnitzler did military service from 1939 to 1944. From 1940 to 1944 he was a Wehrmacht soldier in France, Yugoslavia and the USSR. In August 1941 he was wounded and deployed with the punitive battalion 999 in the African campaign because of anti-Nazi propaganda, where he was wounded again. In 1943, he made contacts with the Résistance in France. In April 1944, he was arrested in Paris. He escaped from custody and was active in the military resistance with the maquis. In June 1944, he became a British prisoner of war. In the same year, he became a staff member of the BBC's Germany department and did propaganda work for the British.

During his time as a British prisoner of war, he prepared for his work in post-war German radio: he was employed by the BBC programme “Here German Prisoners of War Speak to the Homeland”, and later by the radio station in the British occupation zone, Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) in Hamburg. In January 1946 he became head of the politics department at NWDR Cologne. Due to his communist partisanship, he increasingly came into conflict with the British control officers and was transferred back to Hamburg in 1947, where the conflicts intensified. Schnitzler was dismissed in the same year.

At the end of 1947, Schnitzler went to the Soviet occupation zone, where he joined the SED in 1948 and became a commentator at Berlin Radio and Deutschlandsender. In 1952 he became head of the commentary group of the State Broadcasting Committee and later chief commentator of GDR television.

From 1960 (first broadcast on 21 March) he hosted the propaganda programme “Der schwarze Kanal” (The Black Channel), in which he commented on excerpts from West German television in the interests of the GDR leadership.

In the GDR, Schnitzler was one of the most hated representatives of the system among the population. On 30 October 1989, after 1519 episodes, GDR television discontinued the “Schwarze Kanal” after its cancellation had been demanded during the Monday demonstrations. In January 1990, the SED-PDS initiated party expulsion proceedings against Schnitzler, which he pre-empted by resigning. In the following period, Schnitzler published justifying autobiographical writings and worked for a time as a columnist for the satirical magazine “Titanic”. In his journalistic work, he continued to hold the view that the GDR represented the better Germany and that the future belonged to communism.