Open the border, Erich!

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In this week’s blog, journalist and author Eugene Byrne shares a historical anti-establishment joke popular during the 1980s about an East German Communist leader and his mistress, and takes a look at the history behind the laughter

The joke – popular in the 1980s

It is 1989, and East German Communist leader Erich Honecker is hosting a dinner for a large number of party officials. His mistress is sitting next to him.

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“Erich,” she whispers in his ear, “please open the border with the West.”

“Why?” he says, suspiciously.

“Because I want to be alone with you.”
 

 

The story behind the joke

While the British often stereotype Germans as humourless, East Germany under Communist rule had a very rich culture of anti-establishment jokes, usually revolving around shortages of goods, and the luxurious lifestyle of Communist officials. This is all the more surprising given the large numbers of East Germans who spied on their neighbours and workmates for the Stasi.

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By the summer of 1989, the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe was visibly disintegrating. This was particularly the case in the German Democratic Republic where by August thousands of people were leaving the country, usually via Hungary (and from there to Austria). People demanded that Honecker open the border with West Germany, which he refused to do. Honecker was forced to resign in October and the Berlin Wall fell a month later.