Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Detente, and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973

By M. E. Sarotte | Go to book overview

Introduction: Opposing Devils

Von Zeit zu Zeit seh ich den Alten gern Und hüte mich, mit ihm zu brechen. Es ist gar hübsch von einem großen Herrn, So menschlich mit dem Teufel selbst zu sprechen.

From time to time I see the fond Old Man And hold myself back from breaking with Him. How nice it is to see his greatness decline To dealing with the devil like a human.

—Goethe, Faust

After decades of confrontation, leaders of the two Cold War German states met for the irst time in 1970. One gave the other a ceremonial gift copy of Faust, Goethe's magniicent poetical play about the dangers of bargaining with the devil. It so happened that the gift came from the representatives of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) under the leadership of Willi Stoph, and was given to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. 1 The book was presumably a not-sosubtle reminder from the East German ruling regime—the Socialist Unity Party, or SED in German—that it controlled both Goethe's inal resting place and, by extension, the cultivation of his legacy. 2 The SED venerated Goethe in ways verging on the bizarre. Acting on party orders in the fall of 1970, a secret team exhumed Goethe's bones in the dead of night, cleaned them thoroughly— and then re-buried them. The party seems to have hoped to stave off decay. 3 It was for much the same reason—to stave off decay—that party leaders found themselves sitting opposite their capitalist counterparts at a negotiating table.

The gift of Faust was a surprisingly appropriate choice. It could just as well have been given by the West Germans to the Easterners, for both sides found

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