Although she hates to hear it, Olga has got to be one the last of the unrepentant Communists in Berlin. Originally from Varna, in Bulgaria, she came to East Germany to study genetics in the late eighties, where she joined a spectacularly old-school Communist folk music ensemble called the “Ensemble Solidarität”. Straight out of some Socialist-Realist Stalinist mural, the ensemble – formed by musicians from all over the Communist world, and all decked out in native folk costumes – played for Communist dignitaries at the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, as well as engaging in numerous workshops in pioneer camps in East Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall she experienced behind the iron curtain and remains a tragic event for her to this day. The new regime contracted her to reeducate “Nazis” in East Germany by means of lectures and Balkan music concerts, which she says netted her around 500,000 DM – money she gave out to various charities and poor people in the Balkans and elsewhere. When she met me, she had had enough with being a goodwill ambassador (“I’m no Jane Fonda.”) and wanted to sell out quick to the Capitalists and strike out on a successful career in America (while, paradoxically, remaining true to Communist leanings). I was supposed to be her ticket. I told her I would do what I could, but in the end was only able to organize one gig for her at a symposium of psychiatrists in north Brandenburg. Olga is amazingly talented, and remains to this day one of my heroes. In turn I was – though I never really thought of myself as a typical American – “Coca-Cola”, both despised and adored.
Von Kamchatka bis Angola alle kennen Coca-cola und vernetzt mit Internet auch sogar die ganze Welt. Bist du jung dann kannst du es, aber du weisst nicht wie es geht. Bist du alt dann weisst du es, leider ist es doch zu spät. Ein Cocktail von Endorphinen muss mann täglich sich verdienen und der jenen der es schaffen kann ist ein Lebenveteran.
– Olga Stancheva
Olga Stancheva: Socialism wasn’t perfect. Who’s saying that it was perfect? But at least it was an alternative to Coca-Cola. For a while, anyway, you didn’t have to busy your head with money. I know how it really was. I lived through Socialism. And I can truly say, you could do anything then, and cost-free. Money was frowned upon. You were a homosapien, and as such, you were above crude money matters. All that was sorted for you. You didn’t have to freeze in the cold, like now, and worry about paying the rent. That wasn’t even an issue then. Your basic needs were met. If you wanted something to drink there were bars everywhere. Drinking wasn’t forbidden. Do you understand? But they say, You were under control in Socialism. Ach, I’m thankful for the control we had. But I’m not here to lecture you about Socialism. I’m here to tell you about how in Socialist East Germany, there was an association of artists – an ensemble – called Ensemble Solidarität, of which I was a part. If you claim to be interested in Balkan music in Germany, then you have to go back to the Ensemble Solidarität.
The ensemble existed for thirty years, consisting of artists from thirty, forty different countries from around the world. With its headquarters in Leipzig, the ensemble was the first real multikulti thing in Germany. It was multikulti before multikulti. It wasn’t what one understands as multikulti today. Exotic banana Afri-cola blah, blah, blah. We heard that the only other place in the world that had something similar was in America. Aside from America – our brand – the true brand – of multikulti existed nowhere else, except for our little group in the GDR.
We were professional artists, intellectuals, singers, and dancers from various countries, each a cultural ambassador. Among us wereVietnamese, Indonesians, Angolans, Tanzanians, then the whole Latinos: Nicaragua, El Salvador. East Europe: Polish, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria. The Middle East: Lebanese, Palestinians. We had big concerts in the Palast der Republik, Alexanderplatz. We always put on concerts in big places twice a year. I have a couple recordings where you can see the masses of people that came to see us play. They came out in droves. Western propaganda maintains that people were forced to attend cultural events in East Germany. That isn’t true. You can see from the videos – from the smiles on people’s faces – that the crowds enjoyed our shows. We sang songs from Berthold Brecht: “Die Gedanken sind Frei”, to “Guantanamera” to the hymn of South Africa.
Twice a year we went to rehearse in pioneer camps. The whole countryside was open to young people and old people back then. There would be a lake, villas, a hotel. You could go to the pioneer camp and stay there for twenty days. We had one week free from the university and we went to a rehearsal space in the forest where we practiced for a week for an upcoming concert. The dance group rehearsed. The singers sang. And everyone was dressed in traditional costumes. First came a dance from Vietnam. And then came an Angolan who danced a hot rumba with ten other hot dancers. Then Vorwärts Und Nicht Vergessen Worin Unser Stärke Besteht. The hymn of our ensemble. “Vorwärts und nicht vergessen worin unser Stärke besteht….Vorwärts und nicht vergessen die Solidarität!” Why are you laughing? Do you know what solidarity is? You don’t know, because you are Coca-Cola – a product of the corrupt West.
In Communism we understood that solidarity was the tenderness of the peoples – die Zärtlichkeit der Volker. In our ensemble we had people from El Salvador, from Chile who could never go home. Nelson Mandela was in prison. Nelson Mandela was a known terrorist, ladies and gentlemen. We mustn’t forget this. Only recently did he receive a Nobel prize. We had people fleeing Pinochet and Allende and otherdictatorships. All of us were hunted from our homes. We couldn’t imagine ever going home. The South Africans couldn’t go back. The Palestinians couldn’t go back.
My first guitar I got from a Palestinian boy in the Herder Institute. He said, “I haven’t seen my mother in years. I don’t know if I will ever see her again. I’ve known war since day one. Bombs only bombs!”
This ensemble existed long before I came to East Germany from Bulgaria in 1988. And then I went to the Herder Institute to live together there with the whole world in order to learn German. There were only foreigners in the Herder Institute. No one spoke German. I lived in the beginning with a black woman from Africa. I had never seen anything like that before, ladies, dressed like in a fairytale with real African attire, splendid colors. Then behind them came two black men dressed in Chanel carrying their suitcases. They were dressed in the latest Parisian fashions. They came in and said bonjour madame. And the princess came to sleep in my room with me. Her name was Fatima. She came from Guinea. French speaking Guinea. You experience things when you live together with people from different parts of the world. And the first language I spoke with them was French. Because no one spoke Russian.
We all filed into the Herder Institute each morning like a herd of sheep. We stuck together and walked down the street as one. There was a woman from India, dressed in Indian attire from head to foot. Another from Pakistan, the other from Vietnam, each one totally authentic. And that’s how we went to school – as if attired for a fancy dress party. And how the East Germans stared at us! There was one from Laos. The whole year at Herder Institute. Didn’t speak a word of German. A brilliant mathematician. He could make the most amazing calculations but he just couldn’t get a grip on the German language!
And I, for my part, I won the first prize medal for the year. They made me the director of the culture department. It was now my job to organize culture with all the foreigners. In order to organize activities I got 800 GDR marks. I went straight to my friends, I said, “Hey people,” and we went to an exclusive shop – in the GDR you had these special shops where you could buy hard-to-get items. We had liver, caviar, all the things I bought! I spent all the money on eating, drinking, eating, drinking. I also bought nice shoes with this money. Oh, East Germany! You were my homeland! Really. Everything that I know about Germany is thanks to the GDR. They taught me about German history. I learned Die Gedanken sind Frei. Brecht. I even know Neruda from these people.
When we went to the rehearsal camp four busses took us, everyone traveling with their equipment. The Vietnamese with their bamboos. The Latinos with their hats and their charangos. The Africans with their drums. The Bulgarian people with their schnapps. With four busses-full we drove to the forest outside Berlin two rehearse four days long. And it was fabulous.
When it all came to an end a year later I was very sad indeed. I had just finished with my studies. And my friend, the trumpet player Welcome from South Africa, he was supposed to play at the Brandenburg gate, where the Wall, we had heard, was falling. We had gotten a gig. But he didn’t want to perform. Me, I didn’t even want to go there. I was so sad. Welcome, too, was sad. We didn’t want anything to do with this reunification. It wasn’t for us. Because we knew what was coming afterwards.
As soon as the Wall fell, in the dormitory where we lived in Tierpark, Coca-Cola came and destroyed everything. They threw everything out the windows. Even the wardrobes. And also the mattress I slept on. They destroyed everything. What we had there! We had it so good. Every student could go down and rehearse in a sound studio with sound insulation. Every room had insulation and a piano. So if you had an instrument you could go down and not disturb anyone. Plus you had a piano. Heating. Everything. Ten euros a month, fresh sheets. Do you understand? Made by the people for the people.
When Coca-Cola came they threw everything out the window. After that, they renovated everything. They pushed up the rent to three hundred Deutsch-marks. They made small apartments out of our dorm rooms. Every apartment with a bath. Before not every room had a bath, but there was a communal room where you could put on a party or study together. Everything was done differently. Now everyone got their separate unit with a TV, which it was your duty to watch instead of enjoying the company of others.
After the fall of the Wall, Coca-Cola needed multiplicators for better world-exploitation. That meant work for us, the people who were Multikulti mediators, doing pioneer work when West and East came together. Foreigners were new in east Germany, not to mention that Wessie hadn’t seen Ossie, Ossie hadn’t seen Wessie. There were a lot of problems. Aussiedler, people fleeing the war in Yugoslavia (Germans stoke wars everywhere and then the refugees come here and we have problems), xenophobia at home. Skinhead riots. We were supposed to re-educate the skinheads. That was our new role during the post-communist nineties.
It wasn’t really about xenophobia, though. That was only instrumentalized by the media – to divert people from their real problems. And the real problems were economic, unemployment, lack of direction, that kind of thing. Brandenburg – the whole of east Germany is full of unemployed people – The youth are left on the street without orientation. This is a big problem.
Are people in America xenophobic? No. When you go to areas where the people are poor and hungry then it doesn’t matter. Ausländer-mausländer. And you must not forget that this right-wing movement – I have a lot of colleagues in the field, who have written books on the subject of right-wing extremism – all this right-wing extremism was and is supported by right-wing parties which have their base in the West. Not the East. They don’t come from the East, the NPD. The whole support comes from Wessieland. The money and the whole mission. They know exactly where the directionless youth hang out. They tell these kids if they join the organisation they will feel strong. Because in this society where everyone is an individual – everyone preaches freedom of the individual in the West – people are so lonely that they flip out. Some turn to drugs, others turn to right-wing extremism.
To say that Ossies are xenophobic is wrong. It’s the result of propaganda. In South Africa people are asking why blacks kill blacks. Who supplies the contraband weapons? It’s the same as in Yugoslavia. The West creates most of the problems.
People knew me from the GDR. There were riots and then the minister of the interior came and then the Ausländerbeauftragte and called me up at four in the morning, and said, “Ivana, come quickly to Potsdam. We’re driving to Fürst im Walde because there are problems with the asylum seekers. There is a riot on.”
People like us were necessary, not only because we knew languages, but because we were familiar with the Ausländer mentality. There were a lot of Gypsies who came here in masses. And the Germans had a lot of problems dealing with these people; with refugees and asylum seekers. It was a big mess.
I was given the job of guest lecturer in a police school, with the duty of educating the police. We organized workshops, seminars, lectures and lessons in this institution for police around Bad Sarow. The subject was: “How should the police look like today?” Aside from technical know-how a person has to have certain qualities, be capable of intercultural communication to become a cop. This was my theory, at any rate.
To each cop we posed a question: “Why do you want to be a policeman?” There were maybe forty students there. Everyone wrote almost the same thing. “Because I want a house and a motorcycle.” “I want a house and an Audi….” Eighty-five percent almost the same thing. There were maybe one or two that struck me. One of them was: “I want to be a policeman because I like animals.” That was one of the more interesting ones.
And I did this kind of work not only with the police, but with technicians and I did a lot with schools. I was the head of a project called Ausländer Machen Schule. I had a budget for a project where I had five or six people I chose with foreign backgrounds. Persia, Iraq, India, Africa. I put the people together. All were academics with their own specialties. The one was a specialist for Islam. The other Hinduism. And with these people I went to various schools. Taught classes on the topic of balabala. Or workshops: Songs and Dances of the World. But also in order to bring the Germans closer to their own culture.
Many Germans hate themselves. You can forget about getting a German to sing a German song because they have problems with their identity. “But do you think you can sing nicely in German as well?” one said to me. And I said, of course, I can prove it to you. It will bring tears to your eyes how beautiful this German language can be. The old German writers and poets they used the German language so beautifully. Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt liebliches Geläute. Klinge Klange Frühlinglied kling hinaus ins Weite. Kling hinaus bis anderes Haus wo die Blumen sprießen. Wenn du eine Rose haust sag ich will dir grüssen. Dou you understand? You have to consider what kind of business we should do. Maybe we don’t even need the Balkans. We need a whole different direction. German songs.
I did this kind of work for ten years. I went to every imaginable kaf in east Germany, playing Balkan music, preaching Multikulti. When I went home my apartment was like a cemetery because the adults and children would always give me flowers, with messages like: “Dear Ivana we’ll never forget the song Bist du ein Weisser, Bist du ein Schwarzer.”
I was in schools everywhere. I was involved in humanitarian projects. I collected 400,000 DM. Plus I put on more than thirty concerts. I brought money to Bulgaria. Two thousand I gave to Gypsy schools. One thousand to the Union of Invalids. One thousand I gave to buy costumes for the dancers in the Kulturhaus. Eight hundred and fifty for the orphans. Money to hospitals. Sheets. Not second hand. And so on and so on. That was a mistake. Because I’m not Jane Fonda. And then when I collected money for schools, thirty children from a school came in Potsdam to get backpacks for schoolchildren. And this all over Brandenburg.
Everyone knows me. But that’s Coca-Cola. It gets people like me. One person can mobilize a lot. But for what? I couldn’t even help myself. All the things I did, why did I do it? I’m not religious. I got all the children to make donations. I organized an 18 ton truck to go to Bulgaria. I spent three days in schools and the teachers came and followed my pedagogical activities, my didactic methods. And they couldn’t believe that I could motivate these bored, unserious group of today’s children. Also right-wing extremists, skinheads, poor children. How can one motivate these children to come to school and learn? And then someone like me comes and puts on a show with them, at the end me making a twenty-minute spectacle in different languages: Zulu, Russian, Bulgarian. A Gypsy dance. And Die Gedanken Sind Frei. And then the education minister always came to my presentations. Without such activities the educational politics couldn’t continue. But that was the time when the associations were getting money from the government for social work. Then people like me were no longer necessary and we were put out of a job.
And that’s where I am now. Jobless and cut adrift in modern Germany. I tell you what I want now. I want to make money. For myself, not for others for a change. I want out of this luxurious hippy life of Berlin. I want to go to America. I want my Range Rover and house in the Balkans. I want the finer things in life now. I deserve them.