A German life. An exemplary communist career. A steadfast belief in a historical aberration until his last breath. Not even a hint of remorse or self-doubt. Erich Honecker was what one would call pig-headed. Equally stubborn against the Nazis, who put him in prison, as well as against the doubters and dissenters from within his party’s own ranks. Even today – almost ten years after his death and more than a decade after the demise of “his” state, he still represents the GDR.
Born in the Saarland in 1912, he ruled the East German state for nearly two decades until its collapse. After initially being seen as a modernizer who deposed the unpopular Ulbricht, he was ultimately more opposed to reform than even his predecessor. He reinforced a dictatorship and fostered a personality cult around him reminiscent of Stalin’s reign.
The Berlin Wall and the order to shoot anyone trying to cross the German-German border were his decisions. Trying to enhance the status of the GDR internationally, he employed Prussian-German history selectively. The apparatchik had few visions – one of them being to preserve the Berlin Wall for the next hundred years. Under his rule, the Stasi was an all-embracing octopus that even spied on Honecker himself. His legacy is still tangible in the continuing effects of mismanagement on the former GDR as well as in its self-pity as “victims of German reunification”.
This documentary follows Honecker’s life story, from being a party hardliner and son of a Neunkirchen mining family, who began his political career at the age of ten. All information is based on original film footage and interviews with contemporary witnesses.
Family members, friends and former enemies such as Heinz Kessler, Günter Schabowski, Wolf Biermann and others give their views on a principled opportunist who ruthlessly cleared friends and enemies aside if they got in his way.
Even his extra-marital affair with the attractive Margot Feist could not harm the FDJ leader’s carefully planned career.
Honecker did the “dirty work” for Ulbricht, discredited doubters and understood the party apparatus like no other until he successfully forced Ulbricht into retirement in 1971 with the help of the Soviets. In 1989, he made his biggest mistake in not responding to Gorbachev’s reforms. What began with a peaceful revolution in the streets of East Germany would end with his expulsion – making him a symbol of failed real socialism. He ended in Chilean exile 1994 as an incorrigible believer who had long lost touch with reality.