Interviews:

Atwood,
Jim

Bundy,
McGeorge

Garthoff,
Raymond

Heym,
Stefan

Hosseni,
Margit

McNamara,
Robert

Rostow,
Walt


     
   


INTERVIEW WITH MARGIT HOSSEINI

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INT: So what did people do? You said that people... Perhaps just taking it through to sort of six months after that - I mean, living in a city which was constantly vulnerable, what did that feel like? Were you always ready for the possibility of being taken over? Did people make preparations?

MH: Well, after six months it was pretty clear that it won't happen, but it was also pretty clear that we have to change our life totally, because now it was a proper island. You couldn't just simply hop across, there was no hopping across at all anymore. Firstly, you could not phone anymore; it was extremely difficult to phone. I think... I can't remember ... it must have been about six-seven months later - it was quite a long time after this August - where the first telephone lines were established, but you had to phone from West Berlin to Frankfurt in West Germany, and via the switchboard in Frankfurt you got then into East Berlin, so it was an upheaval and very, very difficult. Post(al) contacts were also very difficult, so it was... at that time, you really realized "this is it", you know, you are totally isolated. And for me, for example, it... I used to go by S-Bahn to work - I was a bookseller apprentice at the time; that was my first year of my apprenticeship - I couldn't go to work the way I wanted to go, because the S-Bahn belonged to East Berlin and there were sanctions: you did not spend money on the S-Bahn. So I had to go halfway round, into town and out of town, to go to work by bus. The underground did not stop anymore in East Berlin, as it used to be, so... everything had changed. I think, also, the gas, electricity ... it wasn't just the telephone... everything was disconnected and made separate. So it was quite a change. You couldn't just simply go on holiday again. It took a long time until it was established, and in fact it probably...properly established, it was in the beginning of the Seventies, when Willy Brandt did his 'Ostvertrge', when the contact was then established, which is nearly 10 years later, that you could lead a fairly normal life again. But when I talked to friends in West Germany - I mean, we could never say, "All right, we'll go to the country this weekend," because the country was far off; you had to first cross a large stretch of land to get there, and the border guards could be very, very nasty and make it very, very difficult for you.

INT: ... Was there a feeling of vulnerability living in Berlin then, as it went on?

MH: I think we got quickly used to it, we West Berliners. What I noticed, talking to West Germans - they were paranoiac, you know, they expected that everyone in Berlin [sic] was a sort of spy. I remember once going to the theatre, and I was sitting next to a student who came from Stuttgart, and we had a quite nice chat about this play, and suddenly he said to me, "I mustn't talk to you - you might be a spy fthe East." And I just sort of stared at him - I thought, "They are very ignorant." And there was this distinct "them and us". And in a way, I think maybe just a little now still, you know, that Berliners are different from the rest of Germany, or West Germany at the time. And as I grew up, we looked down, actually, at the West Germans, because we thought they were a bit bourgeois and sort of established. And they thought we were a bit sort of wild. Because intellectually, Berlin, because of that island situation, it developed in different ways. There was more going on. And maybe also because of that island situation, people were politically more aware. I always felt... with the student revolution, that changed, but before that, people in Berlin were more aware of what is going on in the world.

INT: Was that because of the possibility that what went on in the world might affect them?

MH: Might affect Berlin.

INT: Could you say that in a sentence, because...?

MH: Because it would affect you personally, as an individual, you took the political situation all over the world... The Cold War was not something which was a theory, which was far away and was interesting to read about in the paper. That was different in West Berlin, because our life was affected what was [sic] happened. I mean, I remember clearly the worries with the Cuba crisis. Every rumble in the world we felt was reflecting the situation in West Berlin, and it was affecting our life. And so in some ways it trained you to be politically more aware and follow what was happening.

INT: And what did you feel about the Wall itself? I mean, it's a sort of very ugly structure, which got uglier as the years went on, but also a symbol of the Cold [War]... what did it sort of symbolize to you, bearing in mind that you were working next to it at one stage, or almost next to it at one stage, weren't you, or close to it? ... You said you knew it was unjust, and you knew that it was going to go on... but you didn't think it was going to be permanent. How did you feel about it?

MH: I think to me, it personified the absurdity of political life. I probably am one of the few in my circle of friends who firmly believed that this division is not for ever. I did not think that it would happen in my lifetime that it would sort of dissolve, so to speak, but I thought it was so absurd and so unrealistic that it could not survive for long. And, because I like history, to me 50 years in history is not a very long term... it's not a long time. It's a long time for a person, but not in historical terms.

INT: Did you feel it was unjust as well? I think you said to me earlier that it was...

MH: I felt it was unjust, but so unjust that it's absurd. You cannot lock a whole nation in; you cannot, against the will of a large population, rule. Only to an extent, and only to a time. There will be one time when it will crumble. However you suppress and however you lock people in, however you make them dependent on you as an authority, you can only do it, I am personally convinced, only for a certain time. There will be an outbreak. You can't for long ... this is not possible.

INT: Margit, can you describe to me what happened with the Peter Fechter incident, what you were doing, and how you observed what was going on?

MH: Well, I was staying with friends near there, and we heard that something was happening. We sort of went out to look, and I can't remember whether we actually saw him physically lying there, I don't think there was a television there - I think we must have seen him lying there in what we called "no man's land". And as the hours went on... it was a very strange atmosphere... the Americans gathered, the soldiers gathered on one side, not doing anything, and on the other side the GDR, the Vopos, the police there, was standing on their side, not doing anything. And this young man was huddled... I remember he was lying like an "S" shape... and first he screamed, he cried, he shouted for help. And as the hours went on, his voice got weaker and weaker, until he stopped. It was... I don't know... in a way, as an individual, I felt it was so heart-rendering [sic], that in the middle of nowhere was a human being dying, and two groups was facing each other, too worried to act, because they didn't know what the other one was going to do. Politically, I thought it makes you be aware how difficult it is to act in a political situation. If you over-act, it might be wrong; if you do nothing, it might be wrong. And this poor young man just was lying there between two powers, paying for their not knowing what to do with his life, because probably, if one of them would have pulled him over, he probably would have survived. As far as I remember, I think he was just bleeding to death. You felt anger and sadness at the same time. And at the time, I think my sadness for him was stronger than my anger. But later, when I thought, well, if they would have barged in, the Americans, what would have happened to us, to the rest of the West Berlin? And I am sure the other side thought exactly the same, so there were just sort of like two forces facing each other, not knowing what to do. And I think it wasn't just that, physically this facing each other - I think both sides, both in the West and in the East, didn't know quite how to handle the situation. I'm sure there must have been lots of phone calls to and fro, deciding, you know, "What are we going to do?" And in the end, it just drizzled out. You know, when he was finally dead, I think they took the body across to East Germany. But... it made you realize that a personal action is sometimes not good, for the good of everyone else, so there is a difference between a political action and a personal one.