German Propaganda Archive Calvin College

 

Background: One of the most popular magazines in East Germany was Eulenspiegel, a satirical weekly. The Communist Party’s Agitation Department kept careful watch on Eulenspiegel, being sure it did not go too far. It was allowed to criticize some aspects of life in the GDR, as long as the criticism stayed local. It also had to support the party line, whatever it was. The building of the Berlin Wall is an interesting example of the magazine’s attempt to put the best satirical face on an unsettling event. For more information on Eulenspiegel, see my articles on it.

The source: Issues just before and after 13 August 1961.


Eulenspiegel Cartoons on the Berlin Wall

This pre-Wall cartoon shows an East German worker flying to the West to work, where two others have already been caught in flypaper. Meanwhile, the stay-at-home East German bees are literally in the roses.

Before the Wall was built, numerous East Germans did cross the border each day to work, something the government didn’t like, but did not ban either. Part of the justification for the Wall was the claim that innocent East German citizens were being lured to the West, only to be exploited.

Source: #33/1961 (Mid August)

Here one of these East German border crossers is working as a maid for a West Berlin family. The maid is saying: “This time, gracious lady, I could only bring along sixteen sticks of butter. The food supply situation keeps getting worse for us in the East.”

The point of the cartoon is that prices for basic foodstuffs in East Germany were subsidized, and were generally much cheaper than in West Germany.

Source: #32/1961 (Mid August)

This is a post-Wall cartoon. Worried looking caricatures of West German leaders are on one side, under a street sign for the “Avenue of 17 June,” the anniversary of the 1953 East German uprising, which was a holiday in West Germany. An East German soldier and a smiling citizen stand under a street sign for Unter den Linden, now renamed the “Avenue of 13 August.”

Source: #35/1961 (Late August)

The East German argument was always that the West Germans were exploiting the East Germans who crossed over to visit.

This cartoon shows a closed cheap movie theater, money changer and cigarette shop. Without East Germans to exploit, they have gone bankrupt.

Source: #37/1961 (Early September)

The East German government held an election on 17 September 1961, one month after the wall went up. It was billed as a referendum on government policy, though citizens had little incentive to vote in ways other than the government wanted. 99% voted for the government.

The election is presented in this cartoon as a triumph. West German politicians, having already had to accept one wall, now face another, the supposedly unanimous support of East German citizens for their government.

Source: #38/1961 (Mid September)

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