Erzgebirge’s Utopia of 1945 (nd-aktuell.de)


A big celebration a few years ago: representatives of the “Free Republic of Schwarzenberg” take part in a parade on Saxony Day

Photo: dpa / Jan Woitas

There are not many cities whose name makes it into the title of the novel. Schwarzenberg is lucky. In addition to travel guides and publications, the market’s tourist information also contains the novel by which writer Stefan Heim helped the town in the Ore Mountains achieve literary fame: “Schwarzenberg,” published in 1984, a fictional intellectual game that takes on reality. Historical events as a starting point.

Anyone wanting to learn more about these things, with a flyer in hand, can follow the six stops of an educational path that goes through the castle, through the park, and later on to the town hall. The trip is titled Unoccupied and recalled with historical curiosity: the time when occupiers were not occupied after the end of World War II. After May 8, 1945, neither the Red Army nor the US Army moved into the 2,000 square kilometer Schwarzenberg area, which was home to 300,000 people. In order to prevent chaos and anarchy, four communists and two members of the Social Democratic Party formed a “work committee” that organized daily life. Food was purchased, a newspaper was published, emergency money and stamps were printed. Schwarzenberg remained autonomous for 42 days before Soviet forces moved in on June 24.

The “empty period” is not unique – there were other regions in Germany that shared this fate – but it is special. This applies even more to the novel developed by Stefan Heim. In it, he creates the fictitious “what would have happened if” scenario and demonstrates how democracy and socialism could have been “linked” “on liberated territory, but without pressure from foreign powers”. This did not go well with the leaders of the GDR. And a work book, “In the Hands of the Enemies of Socialism,” a ruling on state security. The novel was initially published only in the West.

Today, a metal statue next to Schwarzenberg’s town hall commemorates the writer, and his novel is also on shelves in the Ore Mountain town and is a “unique selling point,” says Lydia Schönberg. She belongs to the group of artists “Zone”, which adopted and continued the myth after the end of the GDR. She announced the virtual “Free Republic of Schwarzenberg” and printed, for example, passports on which the circle of gold stars of the European Union was supplemented with spruce from the Ore Mountains. The old town “Café Piano”, founded by Schönberg and her father Jörg Pierre, who died in 2021 and which also houses the “Galerie Silberstein”, worth seeing, has been declared the “permanent representation” of the Free Republic. A major festival is held every five years where the city is symbolically divided into four occupied and one uninhabited district and this special chapter of local history is celebrated.

What interests artists about history, says Schoenberg, is the “utopian element”. Jörg Pierre, who was a sculptor and the driving force behind the “Free Republic”, was particularly fascinated by the fact that at that time, in a very difficult time, people took their fate into their own hands and acted at their own risk. The sculptor made no secret of the fact that the present can also do with a little political imagination.

Meanwhile, artists, including cartoonist Ralph Alex Fichtner (better known by his acronym “RAF”), who died a few weeks ago, see the idea of ​​a “free republic” as part of Schwarzenberg’s identity. At first glance, their self-image, like that of the entire region, is shaped by mining and folk art from the Erzgebirge. Anyone who climbs steep steps from the parking lot to the castle, which culminates on a rocky outcrop over the Schwarzwasser valley – or leaves themselves in the elevator next to it – will find themselves on a shopping street where forced miners, angels of light and incense smokers stand in shop windows. In addition to the local history museum, there is also a lace-making school in the castle itself; Delicate floral motifs and stars dangle in the windows.

But Schwarzenberg is also “more than just lace and shuttle carving,” says Lydia Schönberg at her pub, which looks a bit odd on Schloßstrasse. Even on the ivy-covered facade, signs and quirky and hilarious photos refer to the Free Republic of Schwarzenberg; More documents, photos and artwork follow in the stairwell reminiscent of a mine tunnel. The “Café Piano” operator can regularly welcome guests and tourists into the rustic bar room who – often inspired by Heym’s book – want to learn about the “Free Republic”. Their passports, which can be bought here for 8.50 euros, are very popular as souvenirs. Many people interested in literature “at the same time associate our city with this history,” says Schoenberg.

On the contrary, this applies only to a limited extent. Schwarzenberg never announced himself with the Free Republic. The city’s website briefly mentions the “empty period” in historical chronology. One looks vainly for further explanations or references to Heym’s novel or current activities on the topic. The Local History Museum has only a small section on this part of the city’s history. Of the 16 tours that tourists can book, only one is about the “Fantasy of a Free Republic” – plus tours about the history of the railways or the washing machines that were produced in the city from 1902 until the factory went bankrupt in 2000. But there are no modern digital shows , advertising flyers, brochures, not to mention a campaign about Schwarzenberg as the “City of the Free Republic”. Schoenberg says the city is treating the issue like a “hot potato.” Robin Gearhart (CDU), who has served as mayor of the city since 2020, describes the vacant term as “a history you can look back on with pride.” And as far as marketing is concerned, he admits: “There will be more possible out there.”

The main reason for hesitation is that “time vacant” continues to stir controversy. Schwarzenberg historian Leonor Lubeck, for example, interprets it as a smooth transition from one dictatorship to another, for example in a large article published on the website of the Federal Agency for Civic Education. In a book published in 2004 by the Saxon State Commissioner for Stasi Documents, which has been revised several times, on the “Schwarzenberg utopia”, there is talk of “communist actors” who “brought not freedom and self-determination” but “new ones that others set in their minds” were the rulers Incidents such as the arrest of NSDAP Mayor Ernst Rich, who was later handed over to the Soviet military administration and executed in May 1946, are considered evidence. In a richly presented exhibition in 2010, Jörg Beyer argued that Rich was convicted of his role in the murders of Jews in Belarus. , Mayor Gayhart talks about the “atrocities” of the past that should not be forgotten.

So the struggle continues over how to interpret this part of Schwarzenberg’s story. It has already scheduled several scientific conferences as well as regular festival weeks with lectures, readings and guided tours, which take place on the important anniversary. After the 2020 festival week had to be canceled due to Corona, the following week is scheduled for 2025. Before that, they wanted to “return to the archive,” says Gayheart. Lübeck continues to see the city in a “balance” between getting the story right and “marketing a legend”. On the other hand, Lydia Schönberg believes that the latter is much less than is possible. For example, her father dreamed of owning his own museum for an uninhabited period and the Free Republic for many years, but it still does not exist today. “Any other city,” Schoenberg is convinced, “would do that.” Until then, its pub will serve as a sort of mecca for Free Republic fans, where they can grab a beer after a city tour and immerse themselves in their fascinating history.

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