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The Untold Sixties: When Hope Was Born

An Insider's Sixties On An International Scale

NOTE: The material in this section was written
during the early and mid-Seventies when it was still quite
fresh in the author's mind and is also based upon
his large collection of Sixties documents. For
further information, see the book outline by clicking here.

The Berlin Commune
July, 1967

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Since  this book has now been published, many of its chapters have been abridged, though the summary and four chapters can still be found in their entirety.

As I began to settle more firmly into my role as agent for the international underground in Berlin, so my role as a power—or at least an influence—on the local scene also began to grow. Copies of my coverage of the incidents rocking Germany had leaked back into the country through various routes, and I found myself being interviewed for my views on where Germany might be headed—or England or America for that matter. One of the most popular guessing games of the Sixties was entitled "What Is The Younger Generation Up To?" and all those with a ghost of a notion were quite quickly set up as authorities whether they were or not. A German publisher also started to import copies of International Times for sale to Germans who could read English, and this got written up in Der Spiegel, which of course led to yet more publicity.

But by far the most rewarding consequence of my journalistic work was not any superficial and transient notoriety I may have garnered in passing, but rather my coming to know and appreciate a small group of unique human beings, commonly known at that time as the Berlin Commune, dubbed the "Horror-Commune" by the reactionary press, and simply referred to by the students and themselves as Ka-Eins, or "K-One."

I had been aware of the existence of this group since my arrival in Berlin the previous fall, but until the summer of 1967 I had been put off by what I imagined to be their doctrinaire political views and their penchant for gratuitous threats of violence. What I did not realize was that this was only one side of the commune, and even then mainly the work of only one or two individuals in it. Furthermore, I had until that summer allowed myself to misjudge them by not reading their leaflets and publications for myself but accepting the views of a few of my student friends, themselves doctrinaire in their own way.

I have mentioned earlier how basically boring and verbose I had found so many of the demonstrations staged by the Berlin students, how predictably they were staged, and how even more predictably they were countered by the police. It was my hope that something would happen, some group would emerge to break this pattern and attempt more ambitious demonstrations, both as to goals and means, such as I knew were more the rule in Holland and already, to some extent, in America. I was at that time unaware that a representative of the Dutch provos had come to Berlin the previous winter and had sought to convert the students to precisely this sort of activity.

One of the students who had been imprisoned at the time of the police riot when Ohnesorg was killed was in fact a member of the Berlin Commune. His name was Fritz Teufel, and along with Rudi Dutschke he had been singled out by the Springer press as one of the chief student villains to arouse their readers to self-righteous fits of fury.

His name Teufel literally means "devil" in German, which no doubt contributed to the hysteria which came to surround him. He spent seventy days in jail for ostensibly having thrown a rock at the police on the night of June 2, although no witnesses could be found to corroborate this crime. During these seventy days Berlin was plastered over with stickers and posters calling for his release. And the Springer press just as insistently cried out for his indefinite detention.

Perhaps the best way of conveying to Americans the impact and the importance of the Berlin Commune in Germany is to imagine what the cumulative effect might have been if Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Joan Baez, Grace Slick, and Tim Leary had all lived together in a commune throughout a two-year period of the mid-sixties, with Patty Hearst thrown in through a time-warp for good measure, and with other superstars of the new left moving in and out over that period along with an ever-changing crowd of female groupies. If this had happened in America, the resulting barrage of publicity might have approached that surrounding the Berlin Commune.

I say might have because the break with the ordered, disciplined past which the Commune represented was even more unprecedented for Germany than our own Sixties were for us in America. This is because self-determination and independence of spirit have traditionally been closer to the norm in America than in Germany or at least lip service has always been paid to these qualities in America. This was very far from being the case in Germany, where the social system and the social hierarchy had always come first.

On August 12, exactly seventy days after the demonstrations of June 2, Berlin entered in on a new era of demonstrations, The occasion was the release of Fritz Teufel from prison, and I wrote about it as follows in International Times:

    "What occurred was a festival of joy worthy of London or San Francisco, but most important, it represented a complete break with the traditional, sober-sided German political demonstrations with placards and leaders and solemn-faced demonstrators. Food, wine, and flowers were distributed to a crowd of one thousand by gaily costumed Commune members and others as they chanted:

    "Ein, zwei, drei.
    Wir lieben die Polizei!
    Ein, zwei, drei.
    Fritz Teufel jetzt ist frei."

    As usual, the police were totally baffled by these protestations of love. Though a few disgruntled burgers muttered complaints about the alleged disorder, the police did not know what to do with a group of demonstrators who insisted on their love for them—the female members of the commune openly flirted with the police.

    "The commune was assisted by a cross-section of Berlin's artists, actors, and students. Passers-by donated money, and more wine and food was bought. People gathered along the Kudamm to discuss what had happened for another six hours after the five-hour be-in was over. The bright, wide streets of Berlin are ideal for this sort of demonstration, and the overall gaiety was in distinct contrast to the terror which marked the gatherings on these same streets following the purely "political" demonstration which led to the death of Benno Ohnesorg."

While the demonstration I have just described may seem old-hat today and compared to Amsterdam or San Francisco was slightly behind the times even then—it nevertheless represented an enormous step forward for Germany at the time. I made it a point to find out a great deal more about the Commune after that and ended up writing several more articles about them, which soon appeared in many underground papers.

This was to a great extent a labor of love, for the Berlin Commune, despite the various alarms and persecutions it was continually subjected to, was at that time one of the most idyllically tranquil places I have ever laid eyes on, the proverbial eye of the hurricane. Both Ilene and I spent many hours with the Communards, talking, discussing tactics, answering questions about England and America, and just sitting around listening to music or watching TV.

Fritz Teufel was the resident writer and chief martyr of the group, though his exploits were soon to be challenged by others. He was given to a dry sort of ironic wit that cut several ways and was probably the most dispassionate and objective of the commune members, quick to criticize anything, including the Commune's own established policies on any matter.

He was favored with a continuous stream of young German girls passing through the Commune, anxious to sleep with this little piece of German history. He accepted this tribute amiably enough and was always on the lookout for new worlds to conquer. At one time Fritz and I discussed swapping Ilene for a night or two in exchange for one of the more regular Commune girls, whom I found attractive. All parties were agreeable, but because of the intense pressures of demonstrations, arrests, and trials, we were never able to put this plan together.

The chief Commune strategist was Rainer Langhans, an extremely nervous young man with horn-rimmed glasses and an enormous German afro, at that time and place quite unique, and it was he who would lead the ideological and self-criticism sessions which were held each day. During his period of compulsory military service he had been a lieutenant in the army and had learned the art of using explosives, an achievement which sent the Springer press into paroxysms of panic. Rainer also had a great gift for words, and he and Fritz wrote most of the Commune literature.

The third major personality in the group, somewhat overshadowed by Fritz and Rainer—and occasionally resentful over this—was a red-bearded young man with intense eyes named Dieter Kunzelmann.

[This chapter has been abridged pending publication...]

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This book excerpt is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
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All Rights Reserved.

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