The short summer of euphoria: The 10th world festival of youths and students, 1973, East Berlin
A Discussion between: Simone Hain (sh), b. 1956 in Elsterwerda, is an architecture historian who euphorically experienced the World festival. Wolfgang Kil (wk), b. 1949 in Berlin, is an architect and architecture critic, he watched the crowd mill around with the distance of a slightly older person. He was 24 at the time. Ronald Lippok (rl); b. 1963 in East Berlin, is a musician (Torococorot, Tarwater) and artist. Ronald dimly remembers the festival; he was 10 years old in 1973. Ina Rossow (ir), b. 1975 in Halle/Saale, studied cultural sciences in Leipzig. The World Festival was the topic of her Master’s thesis and she compiled the World Festival (WF) archive for Werkleitz. Jochen Becker (jb), b. 1962 in Frankfurt am Main, who writes on urban development and art, is a cultural producer and member of the curatorial team of the Werkleitz Biennale. Florian Zeyfang (fz), b. 1965 in Stuttgart, is an artist, writer, and as editor of this publication, he is interested in what remains of internationalism.
ir: It is amazing what a lasting impression the World Festival had on so many. On behalf of the Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR (Documentation Center for Everyday Culture in the GDR) in Eisenhüttenstadt, we posted an ad requesting newspapers in Hallo Berlin and the Märkische Oderzeitung and we were overwhelmed by more than 100 calls and letters. Everyone wanted to tell us about his or her own experiences and started talking away on the phone, saying how great everything was and what else we really needed to know.
sh: My experience is what took place on the streets. I didn’t sleep during that time, at most maybe just one hour standing somewhere and leaning against a wall. Everyone was totally euphoric. Everybody collected autographs. I had a pair of suede sandals that went all the way up over my ankles on which you could write. I’m maybe the only one here who can give you a direct account of the 10th World Festival. That was our festival; we weren’t hired to cheer and wave flags in the crowd.
wk: Outside of the official events, the atmosphere was extremely important. There was this sort of hippie feeling, a lot of people with guitars on Alexanderplatz, sitting on the ground, hanging around, washing themselves in the fountain. It was unprecedented, in the GDR people were not allowed to leep outside at night. I think a lot of people just wanted to have a good time apart from the events. My most lasting memory is that I caught a really bad cold. Because I was out all night and had to be at work in the mornings, I was constantly tired and thought at noon, when nothing’s happening, I’ll lie down on the lawn in front of the television tower and take a nap during my lunch-break. When I woke up, I realized that I had been lying in a huge puddle of mud the whole time. They flooded the lawn so that nobody would lie down on it. I took that maliciously.
sh: My parents’ generation was enthused by the World Festival in 1951 as well. They tell each other stories about it at funerals: “Where you at the World Festival too? Did you also want to travel to Berlin?” 1 . The fact that I was allowed to participate in 1973 was an honor. I was in high school and the delegate of our district. I must have carried out the orders in regard to the festival very well, because the local press did an article on me. My girlfriend and I had collected a lot of money for more than a year through diverse activities. We had a small share in financing the festival and therefore, we felt that we were hosts.
ir: There were official GDR delegations, just like there were national delegations from other countries around the world. Each delegation consisted of about 1000 people, only the absolute crème de la crème. They were given political schooling beforehand: there was a big camp by the Werbellin Lake where the delegations were brought into line.
sh: But the district delegations didn’t take part in that; we weren’t schooled. The official members were briefed for the international political forums and tribunals – like “Anti-imperialistic solidarity” or “Apartheid, today and yesterday”. These forums were only open to people who ranked as sort of diplomats.
wk: I completed my architecture studies in 1972 and did my first practical year in a Berlin housing-construction combine. My office was on Magazinstraße near Alexanderplatz, so I had the major advantage of being right in the middle of the World Festival. But, being born in 1948, I felt that I was already too old for it. I don’t mean it in a physical sense: members of the Junge Union (the youth organization of the West German Christian Democrats, CDU) such as Eberhard Diepgen and Klaus-Rüdiger Landowsky, who for us, were considered very exciting at the time, were all a lot older. I don’t know about the Jusos (youth organization of the West German Social Democrats, SPD), they weren’t as conspicuous for me. 2 I didn’t feel addressed by the programs, although there were program points for older, more mature people… As I wasn’t a member of a delegation, I thought about what I could do on my own. There were these discussions taking place at Alexanderplatz where I was completely bewildered listening to East-Berlin residents – and not only FDJ-guys (Free German Youth, the GDR youth organization) – but, also Jusos and members of the Junge Union were there arguing. Of course the Stasi (Staatssicherheit = State Security Service) was always present. But, they had a hard time.
fz: Even the Junge Union was there? Interesting that the CDU allowed them to attend.
wk: They were really proud of that fact. It was most likely some kind of politically calculated proof of openness on the part of the GDR government that the Junge Union could attend with their own delegation. They arrived wearing T-shirts with Junge Union printed on them. It was the time of Willy Brandt, the time of a policy of détente toward the East, maybe that was the reason. In all respects it was an attempt at opening up, no matter by what means. I was astonished that such public debates on the streets could be held at all; I didn’t believe they would allow it. The SED only succeeded in persuading the Junge Union and the Jusos to come to East Berlin by promising that everything would take place in public.
sh: The chips were down constantly: there was a lot of talk about “police state” and “Orwell”. Those from the West were also schooled. I felt an unbelievable tingle the entire time. My biggest wish was that all this was a test and that it would then become the normal state of things. They were finally allowing something. We were quite aware the whole time that it was an exceptional situation.
fz: Here, the World Festival has this myth of being unique. But, it did in fact take place on a regular basis in different cities.
wk: After Berlin it was Havanna’s turn and then P’yongyang. Western cities were always a kind of gray zone. In Helsinki and Vienna, East Germans only participated as an official delegation, but there were a lot of Poles and Czechs who came on a private basis. Therefore, these were cities that could be reached. The entire festival system was linked to the International Students Association based in Prague. 3
ir: The advantage of the World Festival taking place in Berlin was of course that the youths of the GDR could travel there without visa problems. Unfortunately, I haven’t investigated to what extent non-delegates from the GDR took part in other festivals.
fz: Within the Werkleitz Biennial, the topic “World Festival” was taken up as a backwards projection. The issue related more to the view on the mood of awakening in the 70s, on the ideas of internationalism and socialism–not only in the GDR, despite the fact that the festival was a state-organized event.
wk: In the early 70s, the SED was interested in signaling a change in power, pointing to Honecker and currying favor with the youth. This may sound nasty now, but it’s intended to be taken seriously. One can’t just regard this country as having been simply a sort of machinery of oppression – they had plans for this nation. There was a real desire to gain an international reputation, to finally enter the global arena as an equal. At that time there was a very special line of tradition surrounding the World Festivals. They were always simultaneously campaigning to unify Germany – under socialist conditions of course. Or, they acted as a patriarchal gesture: let’s allow them to dance on the tables over the weekend, then they’ll perform better at the work-bench. The notion, that in the end a kind of Woodstock took place, is a result of the Zeitgeist, there was nothing else available in terms of form. The music got louder, became electrified, and there were a lot of discos. Everything had to be colorful, everything was pop and the message became: stop using those big fat slogans and let’s make colorful balloons instead. I can remember the colors, these funny balls that were attached to all of the poles or the pictures around Alexanderplatz. To me, that element was strangely small-minded and parochial, and it contradicted the intensity of the movement that took place between the people. Traffic rules no longer existed. People walked freely across the streets, and also trampled all the flowers. In a positive sense, it could be read as ‘laissez faire’, a situation that this bureaucratic Prussian state would normally not tolerate. Poles were sitting there playing guitar. Those were of course the people who came to Berlin because they couldn’t make it to Woodstock. The motivation was the same, even if they came from the town of Elsterwerda: it was about getting the maximum share of offbeat experience in Alexanderplatz. Everyone made it their own thing, and that’s what characterized the experience of a generation. The organizers had no way of influencing this outcome.
wk: It was typical of the GDR’s international reputation that the World Festival took place without a single political slogan. There were absolutely no banners in the entire city. The only decoration consisted of the famous children’s pictures at Alexanderplatz. The total absence of propaganda was part of the program, something that was especially conspicuous in the city plans. The only thing that interested me as an architect, was how they managed to develop a completely new, and for the GDR, very unconventional, colorful and extremely rational street-furniture program. One could have built real arenas or grandstands out of them.
ir: One could perhaps say that the use of banners was minimalized, but there were a few in public spaces. The official slogan of the 10th World Festival “For anti-imperialistic solidarity, peace and friendship” was displayed on billboards or stenciled cross buildings and pedestrian bridges. wk: I really don’t remember that. But even if that was so – the official parole for the festival was far away from the usual forms of propaganda that were posted in the GDR during that period.
ir: The design was omnipresent: five colors symbolically stood for the petals of the festival flower and were incorporated in the design of T-shirts, giant windmills and stands.
rl: Axel Bertram, the chief graphic artist at the Art Academy in Weißensee, was something like a super designer responsible for all of this. He designed the famous flower, which I recently discovered in my garden again when I wanted to repair the toilet. I removed the wallpaper and the wall behind it was completely decorated with these festival flowers – that’s private archeology. The Art Academy Weißensee had a design department that followed the tradition of Bauhaus where a lot of applied art was produced. Among other things, it was their task to create an overall design for the festival.
wk: With the student collective there already was an established context of “young people”. Young design. These were also the signals that were sent out.
ir: There were already initial signs of this at the World Festival in 1951, when people from the Design Academy Weißensee designed the scarves for the festival. Like in 1973, they also had scarves you could buy.
wk: I found the graphic design of the World Festival very petite bourgeois. The spirals of the Olympics were much more intelligent because they created an abstract sign. I saw them attached to the lapels of Western suits as silver pins and was always fascinated by the great graphical construction. I never would have wanted to wear one of those funny buttons of the World Festival. They had these pale, washed-out colors…
jb: The Olympics took place in Munich a year before, and functioned as West Germany’s opening up to the world, and also acted as a kind attempt to de-nazify the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Otl Aicher, who also worked for BMW and Lufthansa, created a consistent color design. There was also an international program with music from South Africa and South America, for example.
wk: You can assume that the visual outfit of the World Festival was indeed intended as a response and an answer to the Olympics. New Recruits from the Left
jb: I can remember a photo with Jesse Jackson next to Arafat. The new political recruits were ready to start. They wanted to pursue something like a global international world politics. The appearance of Arafat was certainly a provocation for the West – after the attacks on the Isreali sportsmen a year earlier in Munich.
wk: Sometime during these weeks, I was walking down Friedrichstraße, when suddenly a convoy of huge dark Volvo limousines stopped in front of the Metropol Theater with screeching tires. Then Arafat came out of the fourth automobile to meet Honecker in the Metropol Theater. One can maybe count Angela Davis as political folklore, but Arafat was already at the time a pretty important figure of political events and he performed real politics. I think the World Festival was of great international importance for the politics of the GDR. My time as a student was full of pop; Che Guevara was also only an icon for me. What we actually read in terms of political theory was Marx, everything else surrounding that was only regarded as chic: no reason to hurry to Berlin on account of Angela Davis. Arafat was no longer considered a game, and did not become one of the common festival stories – these cars were real and the bodyguards would have really used their guns. It was a year after the assault on the Olympics in Munich, Arafat was a target.
fz: Arafat in the summer of 1973 – shortly afterwards, ‘Black September’ took place and thousands of Palestinians were killed in Jordan. And, Allende was overthrown soon afterwards, too… Politically it was a heated time.wk: Certainly a lot took place behind the scenes as well. I only wound up in a closed event once. There, however, everything was terribly stilted and bureaucratic, and the there was really nothing at stake, it was purely representational. International Issues fz: How was the relationship between West and East Germans?
sh: Everyone talked with one another, and the Latin Americans were especially embraced. Next to the Algerian French and the communist Cypriots, the Palestinian Lebanese and the Arabian Israelis, they were closest to us. Nationally as well as internationally, they were not recognized, existences that fell between the cracks. I can remember an incredibly interesting discussion with people from India. They were surprised that we all spoke English and could communicate fluently… The heated German-German discussions were held near the Marien Church. I communicated very well with the Cypriots. Coming from an ethnically split island, they showed solidarity with us divided Germans.
fz: How was it with the USA? We only know of Angela Davis. Did they also send delegates, did they make an impression on you? sh: Laura Mingest or Ben Ramirez were also there, just like Mariella from Prague or a couple of wonderful hippies from Zakopane or Marseille. And the most imposing, non-conformist examples had names like Wilhelm and came from Kiel or Leipzig. I thought they came straight from the Colombian underground! The Vietnamese were especially celebrated. I believe they were all war heroes. Totally enraptured, they explained using their hands and feet why they were the ones who were allowed to travel to Berlin – it mostly had to do with how many airplanes they gunned down, one of them brought down 50… The most popular ouvenirs of the World Festival were aluminum rings made from American aircraft.
jb: Could foreign contract workers also attend the World Festival? Or apprentices and students who weren’t born in the GDR? Did they also come and visit ‘their’ people?
wk: There weren’t any foreign contract workers there at the time yet. In the second case it depended on the status of the country you came from. The students with whom I took classes had very different opportunities in terms of freedom of movement. The Arabians for instance, the Iraqis and Jordanians, had a lot of freedom. The Palestinians too, although at the time they weren’t allowed to be referred to as such. They and the Greeks were allowed to move about absolutely freely. In the case of the Vietnamese students, the Vietnamese embassy saw to it that they obediently stayed where they were supposed to. And in addition, they spoke German so poorly that they couldn’t have traveled around the country that well.
jb: What does it mean for a country, in which the 10th World Festival was organized so intensively as an internationalistic festival, that today there are areas which neo-Nazis have declared “nationally liberated zones”?
wk: Hard to say. At school, socialist ideas – in terms of solidarity for example– were conveyed as stereotyped phrases, and they actually never reached anyone deep inside. It ́s now insinuated that the World Festival was an opportunity to experience this kind of solidarity on a personal level and make it real: just by meeting an African one has heard of all the time and has supported in a solidary way by writing letters, making flowers, etc. But in regard to the ‘nationally liberated zones’ – it’s simply a different country now.
fz: Was internationalism a relevant concept for you at the time and what does it mean today?
wk: My concept of politics never dealt with the reality in the GDR, that was impossible. Anytime I reflected politically on something in the GDR it was always within a world-wide context. My internationalism was different than the one that played a role in official politics. The way it was dealt with there was in terms of giving instructions: one must show solidarity, donate and write letters. These were all symbolic gestures. At the same time, there were so many people that would have loved to have traveled to Cuba and help out during the sugar cane harvest. But that’s not how ar solidarity went. Instead, you should write letters and take care of your duties at home. But of course you don’t have to ask on whose side I am in regard to this issue. Vietnam, Grenada, Chile etc. – a couple of my anti-American reflexes can indeed be traced back.
fz: Internationalism is therefore anti-Americanism?
wk: The way I’ve experienced world history until now, a lot speaks in favor of the maxim: ‘America’s enemies could become my friends’.
fz: A Cuban friend of mine said: for us, internationalism was always sending off troops to somewhere.
wk: We always had to send trucks, sewing machines or sleeping bags to the regions in crisis; the Cubans didn’t have anything but sugar. They sent contingents of 10,000 soldiers to Angola and Mozambique. I never understood how such a small country could spare so many people.
fz: For some, the question of internationalism is posed anew today.
jb: Internationalism was often initiated by the government. Now there’s grassroots globalization in the form of globalization critique, which no longer only includes national liberation movements, but entails much more complex and also transnational alliances. Such an understanding has little to do with the internationalism of the 70s.
sh: Even beforehand, I made contact with any foreigner who popped up in my little Saxon town of Gröditz. There was a large steel plant and many foreign students: Colombians, Angolans, Vietnamese were trained to become engineers. And when the Colombian went to visit a friend who was studying in Munich, he brought back books on Latin America for me. I needed these contacts to get my hands on literature. At the time, I intended to take up Latin American studies and then become a journalist. For my generation, the GDR was simply too small and absolutely unbearable without this perspective.
jb: How did other people endure it? Later, you were in Africa, but many never left the country. Didn’t it make matters worse after one experienced a hint of how things could be during the World Festival?
sh: From when I was 18 up to shortly before the end of the GDR, I was hardly in the GDR anymore. I was abroad for seven years. Many friends at least worked on the BAM (railway project Baikal- Amur-Magistrale) for a year, or they got to Mozambique via FDJ projects. There were various FDJ initiatives through which one could get out.
wk: You had to act in a flexible way, be inventive. Those who didn’t succeed in that regard probably went to the West – many went to the West. That all really started in 1976. Working on the oil pipe line “Friendship”, or in German short “Trasse”, was obviously meant as a romp, an outlet. There were so many people who wanted to go to the desert, the jungle, into the mud. They simply wanted the real thing, as an adventure. Siberia is all that remained. Tens of thousands of youths worked along the line. For the late GDR, this line was their myth of the Wild West. Films were shot on it and pop groups were sent ‘to the front’ for entertainment. There was almost one musician, actor or filmmaker for each worker. For this country it was like an adventure playground, a substitute world and a situation in which you could prove yourself. Of course we needed the gas, but that was no reason to organize such an enormous traveling circus.
ir: The same is true of hitchhiking, on a smaller scale. That was a very important thing in the 70s. Being on the road was important: feeling released, finally not having to think about any kind of border. Alexander Osang put that in a nutshell with his book Lohn der Angst. Bulgarien sehen. Und sterben (The reward for fear. See Bulgaria. And die.)
wk: One could have thought one was living in a closed system. But that wasn’t true. You were constantly busy coming to terms with changes. No matter if they were true changes or just fake movements – there was at any rate a huge quest going on. This society muddled its way forward. And forward meant: toward openness. There was a concept of the future, which you thought you could grasp: in the future only prosperity and freedom of movement were waiting. he opinion was that once Ulbricht died, Stalin’s heritage would finally be over and done with. Then the more modern type of guy appeared, Erich Honecker, – and after all, he was from the West German state of Saarland. The World Festival promoted this idea. It’s not that all this didn’t leave a trace: afterwards, the local culture business made headway. Films were again produced, the press expanded. In the field of theater incredibly exciting things happened. There was a new generation, not only in the politburo but also in the field of culture, all the way up to the editorial departments. New debates were initiated. Although you did have the feeling that the exceptional situation, which the World Festival had created ended overnight, the progression was not stopped the way it was in 1968. It only ended in 1976, with the Biermann affair. East German society never recovered from that set-back.
sh: What remained were the youth clubs. They originated as festival clubs, through self-help and self-initiatives. At first they involved repairing and renovating, in the provinces as well. It was something autonomous. In this respect, the World Festival wasn’t a deception – these clubs lived on afterwards.
Then Ulbricht died
sh: And then right in the middle of the World Festival Ulbricht died! And everyone thought the events would be cancelled. We were at the railroad station when the news reached us. Our FDJ and delegate leader said: now a minute of mourning! Up to this moment we were extremely tense in regard to whether this asshole would ruin everything for us.
wk: Friends who were in the army at this time told me that during the entire course of the festival noone could take a leave. When the news broke that Ulbricht had died, the order was: “Mount!” because over night the entire decoration would have had to have been removed. The next day, the city would have been entirely stripped and bare.
ir: But Ulbricht, kind-hearted like a grandfather, said on his death-bed: “Keep on celebrating!”
sh: Then there were announcements and greetings from Egon Krenz, the top dog of the national preparation committee. The gist of what he said was: we’ll put him on ice for a week and no program points will be cancelled. Afterwards people said: ‘hey, we’re fans of Egon Krenz’. In the end, we regarded it all as a gigantic experimental set-up. The issue was a single question: whether they would finally trust us young people. And we thought that the big shots would now show some understanding, with all those restrictions, and that finally a breakthrough would occur, real modernization. Maybe at the end of the day, one would be able to love one’s little country… I was too young in 1968 – but what if socialism were even fun? And of course the question on everybody’s mind was: what will the new guy do? Change the government? Replace the members?
wk: The change in power had long taken place already..
ir: I think they got rid of Ulbricht in 1971.
sh: The exercise in loosening-up clearly had Honecker’s handwriting. The entire World Festival was an unbelievable, and for German conditions, surprisingly spontaneous embrace of other peoples. And this beautiful and happy festival constantly scraped and crashed against the old, omnipresent demarcation and security syndrome of the state. At times, it was completely uncertain how things would turn out.
The Autumn of Euphoria
jb: But at one point, the exceptional state X. World Festival of Youths and Students changed?
wk: Overnight! Suddenly Alexanderplatz was swept clean. During the festival, the Weltzeituhr (clock showing times around the world) became a meeting point, it functioned like a live mail-box. From the very first evening on, people pasted messages all over the column. That was something we were unfamiliar with. It remained that way all week, and you got used to the sight. Then on the morning after, the column was scrubbed clean! Everything was cleaned – it was an unmistakable signal: now it’s over!
ir: There’s a nice text by Reiner Kunze, Nachhall (Lingering Echo), in which he describes precisely this phenomenon.
sh: In front of Hotel Berolina, where I met my darling every evening, I was warned: now it’s over. I was angry. At the final rally I approached my social studies teacher and cried. She took me in her arms. She had the same perception: the time of utopia was over. I was at this hotel every evening, kissing an economics student from Mexico – we greeted those gray guys who were supposed to be watching out! He was an official member of the international preparation committee and part of the folklore jury. The whole time it was clear that I belonged to one of the guests – but starting today it’s unfortunately over. Mail never arrived, the correspondence was cut off.
fz: Actively cut off?
ir: I can’t imagine that our correspondence just petered out by itself. One of the women I interviewed got to know an Indian. She planned to travel to Calcutta, but the contact at one point simply stopped, no more letters arrived. Today, it can’t be established whether he stopped writing or if the letters were intercepted. One East Berliner got to know a Juso member. They sent each other material, books and other things. He said he once found a hand-written note from the State Security in his envelope.
Too Young to be a Hippie
rl: During that time, our American relatives visited us. It was the summer in which I discovered pop music. I was ten years old and received a loud cassette player from my uncle as a present for the Jugendweihe (GDR ceremony in which fourteen-year-olds are given adult social status). The visit of the Americans that summer, the festival, the music… They were just visiteing us, it had nothing to do with the World Festival. I carried a guitar around without knowing how to play it. I walked around all day with this guitar acting as if I was a musician. I can remember the atmosphere: a lot of people sat around and everything was lively. I also remember that a lot of people of color were there, something which was also unusual for Berlin.
jb: Later on you were a punk? Did you write off the World Festival as belonging to the age of the hippies?
rl: It was too far back to get aggravated by the World Festival afterwards as a punk. As opposed to this bohemian scene, the punk scene no longer had any idea that the GDR could be worth a thing. It was really a kind of parallel world that this scene had created – also a very political one. But it was more nihilistic, you weren’t interested in the state, you preferred doing your own thing.
jb: One hung around on the streets again?
rl: There were two places we met. One was Alexanderplatz, there were beerhouses down inside the television tower. Then there were sausage stands up front on the side of the television tower. That’s were we met. Then the punks were driven away from Alexanderplatz. They then all went to the Kulturhaus Treptow because there were no other spaces, no clubs. The first punk concert I saw was at the Yugoslav embassy, where a couple of ambassador’s sons acted like punks. But that episode was soon over, it lasted two months. My brother Robert, a punk rocker, was picked up on Alexanderplatz and led to a room where he was interrogated. He was photographed and my parents were informed. The police wanted to know where he was headed to, whom he wanted to meet, why he walked around dressed up like that and who his friends were… He was then prohibited from accessing Alexanderplatz.
1 During the 3rd World Festival 1951 in Berlin, the FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend, Free German Youth, the GDR youth organization) marched towards West Berlin on August 15, allegedly upon an invitation by the West Berlin senate. The march was brutally halted by the West Berlin police. East German newspapers did large stories on the incident and published photos of the casualties. It is unclear to what extent the FDJ deliberately planned and provoked the reaction by the police. Since 1951, the FDJ has been banned in West Germany.
2 From the Federal Republic of Germany 800 official delegates from more than 40 youth and student organizations participated in the festival, among them the Junge Union. There is no information on the number of guests who entered the country with a tourist visa.
3 VII. WFS in Vienna 1959, VIII. WFS in Helsinki 1962, IX. WFS in Sofia 1968, XI. WFS in Havanna 1978, XII. WFS in Moscow 1985, XIII. WFS in P’yong yang 1989, XIV. WFS in Havanna 1995, XV. WFS in Algier 2001. The World Festivals were organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth WFDY, and since 1951 also by the International Student Federation.