A shortcut to democracy
These parties are too good to receive any votes. —Security guard at the House for Democracy
In East Berlin's high-rent district, not far from the showpiece Grand Hotel and the historic avenue Unter den Linden, the orchestrators of East Germany's revolution sat in their House for Democracy. Once the East German Communist Party's regional headquarters, the building had become home to the small, citizen-based parties and movements that had led the fight against the communist authorities. In 1990, that grand year of newly minted pluralism and first-time free elections, the House projected all the exuberance of an East European opposition: frenetic and haphazard, fresh and exciting, poor yet noble. And diverse. The conservative Democratic Awakening attracted the jacket-and-tie crowd. Activists from the Marxist United Left favored the bearded and crumpled look. Bespectacled Greens and feminists from the Independent Women's Association planned election strategy in cluttered offices.
In 1990, on the eve of East Germany's first (and only) free national elections, the House for Democracy seemed very much like Solidarity headquarters in Warsaw or Civic Forum's building on Wenceslas Square in Prague. Opposition nerve center. The heart of the struggle. The eyes and ears of the new political generation.
But the House for Democracy was none of these things. Having indeed led East Germany through its revolution, the groups and movements that filled the House would after the elections occupy but a small corner of the new Parliament. For all its similarities to the headquarters of its victorious counterparts throughout Eastern Europe, the House for Democracy was really at the fringes of East German politics. The foreign media, covering the first entirely free election in the region, emphasized by omission the House's marginality: newspaper reporters were more frequently seen around the corner at the headquarters of the election