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“Köhler’s 1956 story is astonishing” – Foreign Journalists Met Witness of Period during Hungary at First ‘Site’ Conference

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2019.10.24.

1956, Budapest. The revolution only lasted two weeks in October in Hungary. Then the Soviet troops repressed the uprising. The Hungarians hoped for freedom and democracy for 13 days.
1956. Storkow. A school class that keeps a minute of silence in the GDR out of solidarity with the Hungarian uprising was collectively punished and excluded from the Abitur. One of the students was Karsten Köhler, who came to Budapest after more than 60 years to visit the country only for the second time- the land that changed his life forever.

Journalists from 10 countries around the world had the opportunity to ask the former class representative how he had experienced the Hungarian revolution in the GDR during the Hungary at First “Site” conference, organized by the Friends of Hungary Foundation.

After the journalists watched the film “Silent Revolution” at the conference, most of them reacted by saying “it was astonishing.” The film portrayed the story of a high school class, right before their graduation, in which the pupils were collectively punished for their solidarity with the Hungarian freedom fighters and were excluded from the Abitur. Only 15 months later were they able to pass their A-levels in West Germany.

The participating foreign journalists had the opportunity to ask questions from the former member of the class, Karsten Köhler, at a round table discussion. About the film, Köhler said that in some places it deviates a bit from the original historical events: “After all, it’s a feature film and not a documentary. The director said I’m doing a movie, not a documentary. It should entertain. That’s why they mixed the different characters together.”

“Solidarity for the people was important at the time”

Köhler was also asked about his first impressions of West Germany.

We came to Bensheim, and we found a great place there, that was something new for us. We did not have any money because we could not bring anything with us, we all just fled with a briefcase. At the time, solidarity for the people was important.

Then he once again thanked everyone who had helped him and his classmates back then.

“For a long time, I did not believe that I would live to see the reunification”

He also talked about the “first critical opinions,” something he had never heard in East Germany in relation to socialism. Köhler said, “people just became more courageous,” adding that this was the time when the first “Monday demonstrations” began as well.

When a small beam of hope appeared

Köhler said that from 1990, something happened, and people in both parts of the country started to say:

We are one nation!

The journalists also asked him how he saw and sees the situation in East Germany. Köhler said: “My wife and I have been living in Brandenburg since 1993. We deliberately chose to move there. I just wanted to go home!” He added that although the eastern part used to have great economic problems, today the situation is much better.

He added that Helmuth Kohl promised them blossoming landscapes in 1990, and now they exist. Unfortunately, little consideration was given to the feelings and impressions of the East Germans. According to Köhler, this had negative consequences as well: for example, the AfD recently received 25% of the vote in Saxony, saying

we would not have believed that 10 years ago.

Finally, Köhler admitted that he had never regretted the minute of silence, and would do it again. He thinks the majority of his classmates would see it that way as well.

Translation by Fanni Kaszás
Photos by Tamás Lénárd/Hungary Today