Many still know him from his days as an inspector in the popular and long-running TV-show “Tatort”. Today the actor Peter Sodann is busy collecting the dreams and tears of the socialist East – as captured in books from the former East Germany. Anyone interested in browsing them will now find a cross-section of his collection in the Schulz Hotel Berlin Wall library.
Historical GDR border at Spree river, Photographer: Hans-Joachim Grimm
“East Germany has, for the time being, opened its borders”. These are the words that made the hearts of millions leap for joy in November of 1989. Hundreds of thousands of people got together in Berlin to celebrate. The stormed the Berlin Wall, launched fireworks and drove in convoys of honking Trabants, the iconic East Germany-made cars. “Now what belongs together will grow together,” the former Chancellor Willy Brandt stated.
And indeed: Thirty years later, for younger generations, it is difficult to image that an inner-German border once separated Germans from one another; for decades, families and friends were torn apart by this wall. Right where the Schulz Hotel Berlin now stands and brings people together, one the longest remaining piece of the original Berlin Wall – the so-called East Side Gallery – reminds people that the nation of Germany was once divided.
Love and lies of yore
But what was it really like? Life back then in East Germany? What did East Germans dream of? What did they fight or laugh about? What hopes did they harbor for the future? It is these impressions that Peter Sodann – actor, politician and free spirit – wants to spare from oblivion and distortion.
“Books are the memory of mankind”. This is what it says on the homepage Sodann’s library, the Peter-Sodann-Bibliothek. “Books herald of the deeds of mankind, of their love and their tears, of their dreams and their lies and of their thoughts and their feelings.”
Discard the Russian tomes
In the wake of the German reunification, when tons of books from the old East German publishing houses were being disposed of (“Throw away the Russian tomes”), Sodann decided to do something to stop the dreams and tears of the East from sinking into oblivion. In line with the motto: What you don’t do yourself, no one else will do for you,” Sodann began to collect books that were sold both officially and under-the-counter during the East German era. In the meantime, some 2.5 million books have been assembled for the Peter-Sodann Bibliothek in Staucha, Saxony. This figure climbs by three to four thousand editions month by month. Usually it is elderly citizens who donate their books so this time in history won’t be forgotten.
The knowledge of the East is stacked in banana boxes. From Mao’s Little Red Book to cook books, essay collections about Communist morality, all the way to contemporary novels including the book Jugendträume by Manfred Künne. The author recounts his youth in post-war Leipzig. Künne’s commercially-successful and award-winning novels were also published in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Italy and Croatia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, they were struck from the publishing program.
Beyond ideology and East-algia
Even though the library buildings in Staucha and Limbach-Oberfrohna are beginning to burst at the seams, Sodann is not considering slowing down. “I will collect books until there are too many to burn”, he suggests. In the meantime, a cooperative is supporting the library in Staucha. Sodann is planning additional libraries of this type in East Germany to allow “Our children and grandchildren to inform themselves and get an idea – beyond ideology and East-algia – of what the era that followed upon German fascism was like”.
The actor already brought people from West and East together through in his role as Inspector Bruno Ehrlicher in the Tatort series. He helped Germans overcome the different mentalities and sensitivities that evolved during the course of many years of separation. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sodann suggested that “Most of the people in the West say that I helped them understand the East better. And those from the East say that I represent them”. In 45 episodes, Sodann – as Chief Inspector Ehrlicher – fights crime in Dresden and later also in Leipzig. Not always in the best of moods – but always fully committed to fighting for more justice.
Peter often gets into mischief
“I’ve always been a politically-minded person”, Sodann suggests. Indeed, his political activism actually got him jailed in real life. He spent nine months behind bars after publically criticizing East Germany’s Socialist Union Party (SED) in 1961 as part of a student cabaret. “Subversive agitation” is what he was accused of. But Sodann refused to be reformed. Nor would he be silenced; he remained true to himself. It’s comes as no surprise that his first school report card attests that“Peter often gets into mischief”.
If you don’t want to drive all the way to Staucha near the Czech border to get some insights into the world of ideas of the Socialist East, you have an opportunity to do so in Berlin. In its in-house library, Schulz Hotel Berlin Wall offers a cross-section of East German literature – selected and made available by the Peter-Sodann Bibliothek team. Books from 50 different publishers can be borrowed and read free-of-charge during your stay at our hotel. Schulz Hotel Berlin Wall, after all, is located exactly at the former border between East and West. So it’s exciting to know what was being read