“Face the Wall” - Creating Awareness about GDR atrocities

Project Overview

A screening of Stefan Weinert’s documentary film about the soul-crushing methods of the Stasi detention of suspected political dissidents.

Identifying the Problem

For many people from western Germany, an understanding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), informally known as East Germany, is limited to basic, historical facts. People from Lisa’s hometown of Lemgo were quite unfamiliar with what life had actually been like in the GDR, and Lisa had noticed that a sense of nostalgia for the former GDR was becoming popular among the youth of western Germany. She wanted to not only increase general knowledge about the GDR, but raise awareness about the atrocities committed by the GDR regime.

Creating A Solution

During Lisa’s Humanity in Action Fellowship in Berlin, she visited Hohenschönhausen, a former prison used by the GDR’s Stasi secret police to detain and torture political prisoners. Lisa later learned about Face the Wall, a documentary directed by Stefan Weinert. Face the Wall tells the story of five of the estimated 72,000 men and women imprisoned in the GDR for attempting to flee the republic.

Lisa contacted Stefan Weinert and requested his permission to screen the documentary in Lisa’s hometown in western Germany. She also invited him to attend the screening and participate in a discussion after the screening. Once Weinert agreed, Lisa got to work organizing and advertising the event in newspapers and by distributing posters and flyers across Lemgo, including high schools. 

The screening was a huge success, with around 40 people from Lemgo attending. Overall, the audience was very impressed by the film, especially by the stories of the protagonists and the injustice they all endured. An engaging discussion with Stefan Weinert followed the presentation, and the audience was particularly interested to talk about how the victims dealt with their own life stories and whether they managed to live with what happened to them. Most shocking for the audience was the realization that this could have happened to any one of them.

Lessons Learned

While Lisa was hopeful that many people who attended the screening would be interested in learning more about what life had been like under the GDR regime, she knew that it would not be interesting to everyone. Sure enough, some youth in the audience had never heard of the Stasi and did not seem all that interested in the stories told by the film. It was important for Lisa to remind herself that a movie screening is not an automatic solution to a general lack of knowledge or interest. Instead, she reminded herself that the screening did increase awareness for many people, and that it may serve as motivation for people to further educate themselves and others about the atrocities committed by the GDR regime. 

Lisa also learned the value of partnering with other organizations when organizing an event like this. By partnering with other organizations, she obtained much-need support in securing the necessary infrastructure, marketing strategies and financing that made this event possible.

Funding

The majority of the necessary funding was provided by a private donor from a Lemgo-based company, which allowed Lisa to cover the travel costs for Weinert. The rest of the funds were generously donated by Sparkasse Lemgo. Lisa co-organized the event with the Lemgo chapter of Amnesty International. Furthermore, Stadt Lemgo provided support for the PR aspects of the project, and Volkshochschule Lemgo provided the room and logistical infrastructure for the event.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Germany Germany 2008

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