Posted by: ingogulde | March 24, 2010

Why Freedom was a Driver for Change in East Germany

“I’ve been looking for freedom”, by David Hasselhoff was one of the most popular songs in 1989. The timing for this song could not have been more perfect. It captured the spirit of 1989. The following video is the best recording that I found from that night of New Year’s Eve in 1989. From talking to people in the USA, this song did not seem to be as popular in the US.

Millions of people in East Germany and other East block countries were desperately looking for freedom and for change. For me, three types of freedom stood out:

Freedom of Speech
“But don’t tell anyone at school!” said my mom. I must have been 8 years old. I saw a news cast about politics on West German TV, which we were not supposed to watch. I told my mom about it. It must have been something critical about the East. My mom did not want me to tell what I had seen at school. The Stasi, the Ministry for State Security, had its ears and eyes everywhere. The parents of my classmates could have been potentially involved with the Stasi and reported suspicious behaviors. Also, teachers could have been Stasi spies. It could have been anyone: neighbors, co-workers, wives, husbands… One could never feel safe and always had to watch what one said.

Freedom of Assembly
Stopping the formation of resistance groups or movements was one of the top priorities of the socialist regime. Even seemingly harmless church groups or peaceful movements came under scrutiny. The system was everywhere. It was powerful, strong, and very effective in maintaining an inner equilibrium. In the late 1980ies, however, the equilibrium went out of balance. The number of people longing for a change was too big. It’s very likely that the system itself lost the beliefe in Socialism.

Freedom of Travel
My uncle left East Germany before the Wall was entirely completed. He was one of our few relatives that lived in the West. Unfortunately, it was not very easy to visit him in West Germany. East Germany imposed very strict travel restrictions. One was not at liberty to decide when to go to the West and for how long. Everything was regulated. The government was aware of the drastic differences between the East and the West. They were afraid losing their people to the West. If they let someone visit West Germany for example, the government had to be sure that there were compelling reasons for people to return. Travelling to other East block countries was a little bit easier. Since 1972, one could even travel to Poland and the Czech Republic without visa.

The longing for these three basic forms of freedom was probably the most decisive driver of change. If it was not for the thousands of brave men and women who stood up against the regime, especially in 1989, the Change might have come later. But I am very certain it would have come eventually.


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  1. Hallo Ingo … viele Grüße aus Berlin!

    Beim Anblick des YouTube-Videos auf Deinem Blog musste ich doch sehr schmunzeln. Ob Du es glaubst oder nicht, ich habe letztes Jahr im Oktober, als in Berlin „20 Jahre Mauerfall“ gefeiert wurde, genau diesen Song ein paar Mal mit Freunden im Netz aufgerufen. Haben die Anlage aufgedreht und die alte Zeit Revue passieren lassen. Wenn auch etwas mehr mit den Erinnerungen unserer Kinderaugen und als damalige Fans der Serie „Knight Rider“, so haben wir schon an die Wende und den Auftritt von Herrn Hasselhoff gedacht, aber auch im Zuge der Diskussion in den Medien, ob Herr Hasselhoff zu diesem Event auftreten darf oder nicht. Die Politik und das Feuilleton der hiesigen Tageszeitungen hat sich das Maul zerrissen und die Mehrheit war dagegen. Letztendlich ist er aufgetreten. Soll aber keine Glanzleistung gewesen sein!

    Ich war da am 9. November 2009 und habe mir die Feierlichkeiten und den symbolischen Akt der „Fall der Mauer“ durch Dominosteine angeschaut. Es war viel Politprominenz vor Ort und Berlin eine Sicherheitsfestung. Es war sehr bewegend.

    “I’ve been looking for freedom” – es stimmt: Für viele war dieser Song die Seele des damals herrschenden Zeitgeistes für die Sehnsucht nach Freiheit. Vor allem Rede- und Reisefreiheit, wie Du in Deinem Artikel postulierst waren den Menschen in dieser doch ungewissen Zeit wichtig. Keiner wusste, was passieren wird. Es hätte auch alles ganz anders ausgehen können und die „friedliche Revolution“ wäre heute nicht Symbol für eine unkriegerische Konfliktlösung.

  2. Translation of Jens’ comment above:

    […] There was quite some controversy in Germany about whether or not David Hasselhoff should be allowed to perform his song at the 20 year celebration of the fall of the Wall in Berlin in 2009. Finally, it was decided that he could perform but it was not one of his best performances that day.
    Read more (in German) about the 20 year celebration in Berlin at

    “I’ve been looking for freedom” – it’s true: For many people, this song embodied the soul of the zeitgeist and the longing for freedom at that time. Especially, freedom of speech and travel which you have mentioned in your article were very important to the people. Nobody knew what would happen. It could have been a very different end. Instead of a “peaceful revolution”, we might have had a “warlike revolution”.

  3. […] it perfectly captures what I described in “Drivers for Change: Looking for Freedom” (see “Freedom of Speech”). What happened in “The Lives of Others” on a […]

  4. […] or human nature that led to the Change. See also previous posts about the drivers for change (Freedom and Material […]

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