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Erika Harder

A Youth in the Sixties

I was born on the 15th of October 1956. My parents were farmers and I have grown up working on our farm whenever I was not in school. However, in spite of having a lot of work to do even as a child, I had a happy childhood. When I was a child, that is, in the early 1960s, the stores did not sell food in great abundance, so we were lucky to be able to grow our own food. My adolescence took place in the "wild era" of the 1968 student revolts and the hippie movement.

As a small child I did not have much contact with the media and I only developed my affinity towards the radio as a teenager. We got our first TV set in 1960. In the beginning, the TV programs addressed a broad audience and offered little entertainment for children, later however, that changed. The first thing I watched on television as a child, was of course the "Sandman." I liked it a lot because the puppets were elaborately dressed and the scenery was always beautiful to look at. I especially liked the stories from the "Fairytale Wood" that were part of the Sandman program: Madam Magpie, Mister Fox, Pittiplatsch and Moppie the dog. Programs other than the Sandman that was shown every weekday at seven, were shown on weekends and one that I particularly liked, was "Meister Nadelöhr," a tailor sitting on his desk and telling fairytales to the children. That may sound very simple and boring - considering that this was still all in black and white - but it really spurred my imagination.

Although the GDR was a socialist country sealed off from the West, almost all GDR citizens could receive West German TV and radio stations and I certainly took advantage of that. In my youth I loved to listen to the radio - as did all my friends - and I can remember vividly sitting in front of the radio each Friday night and listening to the charts presented by a man called "Lord Knut" on the RIAS, the radio station of the American sector in West Berlin. "Lord Knut" presented the West-German billboard charts from the end of the 1960s to the 1970s and was extremely popular also in Eastern Germany. Most of the songs that were featured were by German bands and singers, but sometimes there were songs by Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep. These were my favorite bands because it was only much later, that is, after the fall of the wall that I (re-)discovered East German rock bands of my youth like "Karat" and "Die Puhdys." It may seem strange, but only now I associate these bands with my youth and I now feel nostalgic about this kind of music.

Since we had access to West German TVs and thus also to films from other Western European countries and America, we were all well informed about the latest films and, of course also about the student movements, the revolts in the West German universities, the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the Hippie Movement and Woodstock. My classmates from the P.O.S. and I imitated the dress and language of Western teenagers and I often sewed myself the clothes seen on TV. I used to wear very strange, self-made hats - much like the guy in "Strawberry Statement." This film is one of the few I remember because it had a strong impact on me. It felt exhilarating to see how the young people in what politicians declared our "capitalist enemy nation" were fighting for the same things in which we believed.

I do not remember the characters really or the details of the plot but I remember the sit-ins and discussions - the same discussions we had. The people in the movie also had the same icons, that is Che Guevara and Mao, and they listened to same music. In fact, I think the reason why I remember so well the impression this film made upon me, was its soundtrack. John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" and Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" were hymns also for my generation in the East, but apart from that they are simply beautiful, melancholic songs. The film is, I think, not very optimistic about the movement and I myself actually felt that it would not get to where we wanted it. Although the young people in the GDR could do little in the way of open regime criticism, like demonstrations and sit-ins, we discussed these subjects intensively. Me friends and I often went to certain "intellectual" cafés to discuss about Mao and culture-revolution, the students movements and similar issues. To be honest, I was disillusioned with this culture-revolution in China because it killed a lot of people and did not bring any democratic change. However, many of my companions then were exhilarated and thought it was great. A lot of people then carried a "Mao-Bible" everywhere they went because it was "en vogue" but I did not because I frankly did not care to have one.

Going to the cinema was something very special when I was young and that's probably why I remember the few movies I saw so well, for instance "Death in Venice." I think it was made by Visconti, a great director whom my mother also liked. Can you imagine that I went to the cinema three times to see it? Today it seems a bit foolish to me. And also I have to admit, that it was mainly because of this heavenly, gorgeous boy who played the part of Tadzio that I liked this film so much. This film is essentially about the finality of life and about how we search youth and beauty to evade death. I have to admit, that I also venerate beauty in people, although I know that it passes. The film - in spite of the tragic end - is very romantic I think and I was extremely romantic myself then. However, at age eighteen I lost the belief in romantic love and became mature.

By the way, I remember that when I went out with my first sweetheart - I think I was around fourteen years old then - I had my first dance and they played "Yellow River." Now I don't remember the band or the lyrics anymore but I remember the melody and the feelings it incited. I love all songs that have to do with the water. Actually I also remember this incredibly sad and romantic song which begins with "Take me down to my boat by the river." I have forgotten the text but I heard this song when I was around twenty.

What influence these films and songs had on me? It's hard to say but I guess I already felt then, that the ideals my generation pursued were just not to be realized and that made me feel melancholy. Then again it was exhilarating to feel that I and my friends were part of an international movement, and it was films and radio which facilitated this feeling of being part of something greater. Today I have a totally different attitude towards the media, especially film, TV and internet. I hardly ever watch TV, go to the cinema or listen to the radio because I do not like what it shown or to be heard. Everything has become so confusing and loud. I do not like that. Now that I have to use the internet to communicate with my clients, I still do not like it very much and I still have no interest in using it for entertainment or similar purposes. It just makes me feel dizzy to see all these blinking and moving items on the screen and I can't extract the information I want because there is just too much that distracts me. It took me half a year just to get used to the procedure of accessing the net and finding the websites I needed.

Maybe it sounds silly but I think that in my youth, many things were easier, the world was not so confusing. When I was young, I felt curious about the world and wanted to see the world but now I travel very little although now there is no more wall that prevents me from doing so. I prefer to go to quite places with beautiful scenery - like Sweden. I also begin to feel very nostalgic about Russia where I studied for some time before I became a teacher in a GDR elementary school. I would love to go there again, but I just have so little time these days.


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