Obituary: Wolfgang Ullmann ; Lutheran Pastor Who Abandoned the Pulpit for Politics as Communism Fell in East Germany

Article excerpt

IN THE claustrophobic intellectual environment of the German Democratic Republic, as its Communist rulers liked to call it, the Lutheran churches formed one of the few havens for semi-free dialogue. Some Lutheran pastors rose to the challenge, giving cover to peace and environmental groups that functioned as a surrogate opposition to the government.

Wolfgang Ullmann was one of a number of well-known pastors - among them Rainer Eppelmann, Joachim Gauck and Manfred Stolpe - to abandon their pulpits as Communism fell and submerge themselves in politics. Had politics really been their true vocation all along?

Building on his early involvement in the civic movements of the 1980s, Ullmann threw himself into unmasking the vote-rigging of the Honecker regime's last-ditch attempts to stay in power in the May 1989 GDR elections. As pressure mounted on the regime and the movement turned from an intellectual and student talking shop to a mass movement, Ullmann co-founded the Democracy Now group and helped draw up a manifesto for political freedom.

In late 1989 he joined the Central Round Table, which was seeking to broker a political consensus between the opposition and reformist Communists. But throughout the struggle he remained a serious scholar. On 9 November he was giving a class on the church fathers, which his students were reading in the original Greek, when the news spread among them that the Berlin Wall had been breached. Ullmann calmly chose to carry on teaching.

"On the one hand, we were taking our studies very seriously," he later recalled. "On the other, I had long regarded the fall of the wall as something that had to happen sooner or later."

From February to April 1990 he even served as a minister without portfolio in the transition "national responsibility government" led by the Communist Hans Modrow, but this government would soon be swept away.

In the last faltering months in mid-1990 of a separate East German parliament, the Volkskammer, Ullmann served as an Alliance 90/ Green member and deputy speaker. He worked hard to help secure the archives of the Stasi secret police to ensure that its victims would know the truth.

Born in a village in Saxony not far from Dresden, Ullmann began theological studies in the Western sector of the divided city of Berlin in 1948, transferring in 1950 to Gottingen in West Germany. …