23 December 1918: Helmut Schmidt was born 100 years ago today. As German Chancellor, he was committed to the NATO Dual Decision in 1979, whereby negotiations were offered to the Warsaw Pact. At the same time, however, new US missiles were deployed in the Federal Republic.
Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would have turned one hundred today. When the Berlin Wall was built in the summer of 1961, Helmut Schmidt had just become Senator of the Interior in his home city of Hamburg. His big test came only a few months later in the winter of 1962. When a storm tide threatened Hamburg, he successfully led the large-scale deployment of the police and other rescue services, such as Katastrophenschutz or the Technisches Hilfswerk (THW). On his instructions, even soldiers from the Bundeswehr were deployed, along with their heavy equipment and helicopters. Only five years ago, in the summer of 2013, during the terrible floods on the Elbe, we were able to experience how important this can be for success in averting disasters. Helmut Schmidt may not have been able to prevent more than 300 victims in 1962, but without his organisational skills there would certainly have been many more.
The building of the Wall on the night of 12 to 13 August also required similarly good organisers. Walter Ulbricht, as head of the SED and the new GDR head of state, primarily entrusted Erich Honecker with this task. Security Secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling party. Honecker was almost fifty years old at the time. In addition to the GDR police (Deutsche Volkspolizei), he had paramilitary units at his disposal, such as the so-called combat groups and the GDR military. There were no fatalities. Its operations centre that weekend was the police headquarters at Alexanderplatz. From here, the western part of Berlin, the part that had emerged from the French, British and American sectors of occupation, was sealed off. From then on, no East Germans were to be able to leave the GDR via this area. That’s why, after being sealed off with barbed wire fences, construction workers are busy replacing the fences with a wall.
The designation Wall was rather avoided in the GDR. The better term was: anti-fascist protective wall, which actually served to protect the GDR from criminal criminals and people smugglers. Young men, believing this propaganda, reported for duty at the border and actually found themselves withAgenten confronted. Students at the Free University in particular organised escapes for their fellow students or friends from the eastern part of Berlin. They forged identity cards or built escape tunnels, in other words, they did everything that corresponded to the predicted image of an agent.
Some twenty years after his trial by fire as a politician, Helmut Schmidt met this Erich Honecker, now GDR head of state, in what is now Brandenburg on 11 December 1981. The special relations between the two German states did not allow a German chancellor to be received in the Council of State building in Berlin like other official guests. An overnight stay by Schmidt at Schönhausen Palace, then known as the Niederschönhausen Palace first guest house of the Council of Ministers, also remained excluded. So the two men met outside Berlin.
Helmut Schmidt might have liked it if he had known that forty years earlier all of Ernst Barlach’s paintings had been gathered in Schönhausen Palace. Helmut Schmidt was a great Barlach admirer. The extremely successful North German artist Ernst Barlach had been trained in Hamburg. Under the National Socialists, Barlach came under criticism as a so-called “degenerate artist”. Over 400 of his works of art were removed from public collections in Germany. Josef Goebels used Schönhausen Palace in Berlin-Pankow as a depot for these works of art. Before that, a heating system had been installed here. Art dealers like Cornelius Gurlitt’s father (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Gurlitt_(Kunstsammler)) Hildebrand Gurlitt came and went here and unintentionally financed the machinations of the Nazis. Barlach’s works of art ended up mainly in Bremen after the war. How they were able to leave the Soviet occupation zone after 1945 has remained unclear until now, because most of Barlach’s works could not be sold in Schönhausen Palace.
There was another Barlach collection in Güstrow during the GDR era. Of course, Helmut Schmidt really wanted to visit it. Erich Honecker was able to fulfil his wish. At the same time, with the help of the Stasi Minister Erich Mielke, he once again presented himself as an absolute organisational talent. Schmidt was almost completely shielded by the residents of Güstrow. For his little visit, the population was practically exchanged. In order to stage an Advent mood and festive atmosphere, the Christmas market remained open, of course. Most of the visitors, however, were Stasi employees dressed in civilian clothes. They were, of course, cheering for Erich Honecker, Chairman of the Council of State of the GDR and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED. As at the building of the Wall, numerous security forces were on duty. Once again, there were arrest warrants and personal checks. Even flat searches, as in the summer of 1961 in the areas near the Wall, were carried out in Güstrow and the surrounding area shortly before Christmas 1981.
For his birthday and Christmas, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was back home.