Rainer Eppelmann, 27. 9. 1987, Berlin, East Germany


Location Berlin, East Germany
Date 27. 9. 1987
Length 12:50

Watch and Listen

Full video (mp4, 12 min)
Preview video (mp4, 1 min)
Audio track (mp3, 12 min) Show player

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

East German Protestant Church has an understanding with the state but it also has an inter-German dimension. How significant is this inter-German dimension of the Protestant Church here?
(German translation) The Protestant Church in the GDR has an understanding with the state here in the GDR, but also, there is a dimension between the two German Protestant churches here in the GDR and there in the West.
(In English) How do the two combine and how important is it?
(German translation) How do you see the importance of the… how can you combine these two aspects?
How can you combine these two aspects and how important is this inter-German aspect in the question?

If I see it correctly there are two aspects which have something to do with our existence, two possibly different dimensions. That which concerns the relationship with the Protestant Churches in the Federal Republic, that is a historic-cultural dimension, that has something to do with history (we have) in common, with history of origin (we have) in common, with subjects (of thought we have) in common, with traditions (we have) in common, and has particularly after the erection of the wall on 13 August 1963 obtained a dimension of communication. I don’t know whether it is known to you that after the erection of the wall a so-called twin parish in the Federal Republic was assigned to each parish, Protestant parish in the GDR. Till this day there is contact between parishes in the Federal Republic and in the GDR, which has lasted for more than 25 years. On the, certainly on the basis of this culture-historical and religious background. Therefore, there is always talk – and I think with justification – of a special connection between the Protestant Churches in the Federal Republic and in the GDR. Secondly, and this corresponds a bit with this, the Protestant Church in the GDR, particularly under the forethought of Bishop Schönherr, if I see it correctly, achieved to say a ‘yes’ to the principle of life in the country of the GDR in which we live. That is, if I see it correctly, in the first years of our country’s existence, the Protestant Church in the GDR also lived here in a certain temporariness. Today, a conscious ‘yes’ has been said to the society, the opportunities, but also the difficulties and problems of this society have been recognised, and since this top-level discussion between Honecker and Schönherr, the Protestant Church has seen itself as a shaper of the society in which we find ourselves to a completely different extent than before. That means, I believe, that if you consider the socio-political role or the voice with which the Protestant Church in the GDR expressed itself on socio-political issues in the GDR, then this voice has certainly grown after this discussion in March 1987. The socio-political importance of the GDR, of the churches in the GDR, has grown to a very special degree as a result, and it is certainly no coincidence that a similar development is beginning to emerge in the Catholic Church in recent months.

Can one say that Protestant Church is in a way against the ideological partition of Germany, against the, is an element of work against the ideological “Abgrenzung” as it is called I think? (German translation) Can we say that the Protestant Church is working against the division of the two churches?
(German): ... is an element that works against ideological separation in Europe and in Germany, the two Germanys?

I think the first sentence that needs to be said is this: The Protestant Church in the GDR accepts, and this only has something to do with insight into necessity and actual reality, accepts that it exists in a socialist society and can expand and live, work. On the other hand, since people in this country, the GDR, or people in both German states suffer from ideological demarcation, but also from actual separation – there is, after all, a border between the two German states which even today can be crossed by at most one tenth of the GDR population, in so-called ‘urgent family matters’ – the Protestant Church must of course oppose such demarcation by virtue of its mission alone. It also does this, but from the insight that improvements can only come about in agreement with those in power. It will not be possible to achieve improvements for the people against or alongside the rulers of the German Democratic Republic.

The Church in the field of tension between state and society is a common feature of the situation in Central Europe. How would you describe the differences between the situation of the Church here and in neighbouring Poland?

If I see it correctly, there is a whole series of differences … For one thing, apart from the Catholic Church in Poland, there is no Christian church in an Eastern European country or in a country that belongs to the Warsaw Treaty that has such a wide distribution, that is, that therefore also represents such a social force as the Protestant Church in the GDR. The difference between the Protestant Church in the GDR and the Catholic Church in Poland will be that the strength of the Protestant Church in the GDR is certainly not as great as that of the Catholic Church in Poland. The percentage of Poles who belong to the Catholic Church is considerably larger than the percentage of people in the GDR who belong to the Protestant Church. According to the latest rough estimates, about one third of the GDR population still belongs to the Protestant Church. This percentage is probably much higher in Poland, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. (…)

The identification with nationhood... the national question?

Yes, I don't think that plays a role in the Protestant Church in the GDR at all …

Can you say something about this, this…

Does not at all play such a role as in the Catholic Church in Poland. This is connected with the history of the Church. If I see it correctly, Polish nationalism, perhaps even the Polish nation, only exists because there has been a strong Polish Catholic Church over the centuries. That is, if I see it correctly, the Catholic Church in Poland has had a very strong unifying bond for the Polish population. I don't see it that way in Germany, where there have been tangible conflicts between, for example, the Protestant and Catholic Christian churches. Then there are differences between Protestant-Lutheran or Protestant-Reformed Christians in Germany, which means that there have been wars for many, many years and even religious conflicts for centuries. So, if I see it correctly, the Protestant Church in the GDR was not a supporting national element for the Germans. What it has tried to be again and again, often unfortunately very painfully, is that it has helped to shape and form a society. For many centuries in a union with the throne and the altar, that is to say these so notorious unions, which led to their unfortunate consequences under Hitler, the Protestant Church did not find the strength to separate itself from the terrible machinations of those in power at that time, but today I believe, against the background of the experience of history, it plays an extremely positive role in GDR society, and for me it is also a formative factor.

And the last question I think [unintelligible] again… something about the difficulties, are there in concrete in your work in the church…

Of course, there are always difficulties. This is partly connected with history, with the history that the Protestant Church or the churches in general have had with communists, for example, or vice versa. This has often been a very painful history, if I consider the criticism that Karl Marx, for example, had of the church to be much less a theoretical criticism than a criticism of the church of the previous century, which did not see the need of the poor. And it is no wonder that for this reason, the church, and I think I can say this in Germany, is not a church of the working class, but a church of the middle class, and has remained so to this day. And therefore, against the background of this sorrowful experience that people have had with each other, there is a whole series of mistrust. Our society is by its very nature…

Against this background, that our state is a state of ideology, it regards with suspicion - at least that is my experience time and again - everything that does not easily fit into this pattern, and therefore there are also difficulties, for example, when I think of exhibitions that have been held in our church by artists who hardly had the opportunity to exhibit in the communal area. There was always, yes, censorship, that one came forward and said that this or that picture, or this or that caricature had to go. Or I remember that several years ago we held so-called blues masses, youth services here, which were attended by a hundred people at the beginning and many more afterwards, people who otherwise did not have much to do with the church, and at these services topics were addressed that several years ago were still taboo topics, which were not spoken about in public. And then all these services were viewed and observed with a great deal of mistrust and reservations, and attempts were made to influence church leaders to stop these services from taking place. Fortunately, church leadership has not given in to this pressure. This means that we have a free space at our disposal, which is often greater than our strength to fill. But of course, in our work we always come up against limits beyond which we would like to go, and yes, it is then a question of dealing with each other that we always succeed in making the free space a little larger in these border areas. But here, too, in an effort not to overtax the others, the partners, the rulers.

Many thanks

Well in a way I don't want to answer that because I don't know what would be the single thing. I know that one of several important things but which probably really weighs on the hearts of all people h ere that's the impossibility of leaving the country. And I don't at all mean that what is now being made half-way possible that one can visit one's relatives from time to time, but that one can simply, like other people and from other countries too (visit) the, well, places one dreams of (literally: dream places) which every person has in his life, (that one) can visit and can then return; that one can live somewhere else for half a year and come back to Germany means come back to the GDR, I better say. That I think is something the state, in the long run, will not be able to avoid. That would be the most important (thing) if I think about what most people now would probably say was the most important. I think there are also others but that will lead too far.

Rainer Eppelmann (1943)

Rainer Eppelmann

Rainer Eppelmann was born on 12 February 1943 in Berlin. Eppelmann is a German Protestant pastor, civil rights activist and politician (DA, CDU). After gaining notoriety within the GDR as an oppositionist, he was Minister for Disarmament and Defence in the last GDR government in 1990. From 1990 to 2005 he was a member of the German Bundestag. Since 1998 he has been chairman of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Eppelmann grew up as the son of a carpenter in the eastern part of the destroyed but not yet finally divided city of Berlin. His father was an SS-Unterscharführer and guard at the Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. His mother was first in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) and then joined the NSDAP as a postal worker. His father remained a staunch anti-communist throughout his life.

He attended a grammar school in the west of Berlin and had to stop attending school in the 11th grade because of the construction of the Wall. Because he was not a member of the FDJ, it was not possible for him to graduate from high school in the GDR. That's why he couldn't realise his career aspiration of becoming an architect. He first worked as a roofer's assistant before completing a skilled worker's apprenticeship as a bricklayer from 1962 to 1965. In 1966, Eppelmann refused to serve in the National People's Army (NVA) and to take the oath of allegiance. He was then sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for insubordination.

Eppelmann studied theology at the Paulinum Theological Seminary in Berlin and completed his studies in 1974 with the first and second exams. Ordination followed in 1975. From 1974 to 1979 he was first an assistant preacher, then a pastor in the Samariterkirche parish in Berlin.

In the 1980s, the Ministry for State Security (MfS) planned the murder of the opposition pastor. Eppelmann was to die in a faked car accident through technical manipulation of his car. However, both attempts failed. The MfS did not carry out any further assassinations. It attracted international attention in 1988/89 when Rainer Eppelmann used Western technology to detect wiretapping by the MfS in his official and private rooms and this was made public in Western media.

Eppelmann became involved in the GDR opposition. In the 1980s he looked after non-conformist youths; they came from all over the GDR to his blues fairs in the East Berlin Samaritergemeinde, which were considered legendary and had been taking place since 1979. Partly secret, partly approved for "inner-church use", magazines and texts published by the Arbeitskreis Information under the leadership of Thomas Welz and Rainer Eppelmann were distributed within the opposition groups in the GDR. In January 1982, he and Robert Havemann called for disarmament in East and West in the Berlin Appeal.

He was a founding and board member of Demokratischer Aufbruch (DA). Before the first and last free elections in the GDR in 1990, Eppelmann was a member of the Central Round Table as a representative of the opposition and later also a minister without portfolio in the cabinet of Hans Modrow.

From 18 March 1990 until its dissolution in the course of German unification on 2 October 1990, he was a member of the GDR People's Chamber and Minister for Disarmament and Defence in Lothar de Maizière's cabinet. When the DA merged with the CDU in August 1990, he became a member of the CDU, which merged with the CDU of the Federal Republic of Germany in September 1990 to form the CDU of Germany.

From the first all-German election on 2 December 1990, Eppelmann was a member of the German Bundestag and remained so until the 2005 Bundestag election, when he did not stand again. He was elected by the Bundestag to chair the two commissions of enquiry on coming to terms with the history and consequences of the SED dictatorship.

Since its foundation in 1998, Eppelmann has been honorary chairman of the board of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.