Humor for All Occasions: GDR Jokes B
George Orwell once wrote, "Every joke is a tiny revolution." In state-socialist societies that had (or have) totalitarian characteristics, individuals found clever ways to carve out areas of freedom for themselves. These may have been areas of social freedom (with family and close friends), physical freedom (at one's small garden cottage), or mental freedom (through humor). There were risks associated with telling and listening to jokes that ridiculed the party or politicians, or criticized the failures of state socialism. Thus, cautious individuals shared jokes only within small circles of trusted friends. The risk associated with jokes intensified the pleasure gained from hearing and sharing them. These jokes reference the dangers associated with jokes in the GDR, East-West German relations, the Stasi (State Security Service), the alleged stupidity of the police, and the futility of factory work.
To view the associated Teaching Case Study, click here.
"Hannes DDR-Page," trans. Elizabeth Ten Dyke, http://ewh.hosting.padberg-it.de/ddr-page/index.php (accessed June 17, 2007) and “Karl-Heinz Kirstein,” trans. Elizabeth Ten Dyke, http://www.ddr-witz.de/ddrwitz/ (accessed June 17, 2007) and So lachte man in der DDR, trans. Elizabeth Ten Dyke, (Munich: Eulenspiegel Verlag, 1999).
Primary Source—Full Text
Ich kenne einen Witz: "Erich geht mit einem Strick in den Wald." "Und weiter?" "Darf ich nicht erzählen, fängt aber gut an."
I know a joke: "Erich took a tether and went into the woods." "Then what happened?" "I'm not allowed to say, but it starts off good!"
2. (East-West relations)
Pre-requisite knowledge: West Germans regularly sent packages of desired goods to their friends and family in the East. Packages often included coffee, chocolate, panty-hose and other items that were hard-to-find in the East.
Stehen zwei Vopos auf der Berliner Mauer. Sagt der erste: "Was machst Du, wenn ich Dir einen Tritt gebe?" Sagt der zweite: "Dann schick ich Dir jeden Monat ein Paket."
Two cops were standing on the Berlin Wall. The first one said, "What would you do if I kicked you (off the wall)." The second replied, "Then every month I'd send you a package!"
Pre-requisite knowledge: Often erroneously translated as "Secret Police," the Stasi is actually short for the East German "State Security Service." However, the Stasi functioned in some ways like a "secret police," using networks of informants and a variety of surveillance techniques to collect information on ordinary and not-so-ordinary individuals. Both East and West Germans were subject to surveillance; they may or may not have presented an actual threat to the communist regime. The Stasi could detain individuals, interrogate them, even imprison them without due process or other protections of civil society.
Drei Jäger, einer davon ein Stasi-Mitarbeiter, gehen in den Wald. Jeder soll ein Wildschwein schießen. Der erste kommt nach kurzer Zeit zum Treffpunkt zurück: Auf dem Rücken eine große Wildsau. Kurz danach kommt der zweite und bringt auch ein Schwein mit. Auf den Stasimann warten sie und warten sie, bis sie ihn suchen und vor einem Baum wiederfinden. Er hat einen Hasen an den Baum gefesselt, prügelt auf ihn ein und schreit: Gib zu daß du ein Wildschwein bist - wir wissen alles!
Three hunters, including one from the Stasi, went into the woods. Each of them was supposed to shoot a wild boar. After a little while the first one came back to the meeting place. He has a large wild sow slung over his shoulder. Then the second one came back. He had a large boar as well. They waited and waited for the Stasi man to return. Finally they went to search for him. They found him in front of a tree. He had a hare tied to the tree. He was beating it and shouting "Confess that you're really wild boar! We know everything!"
4. (The police)
Pre-requisite knowledge: the police were often targets of jokes ridiculing their alleged stupidity.
"Du, ich erzähle jetzt einen politischen Witz."
"Pass auf, ich bin bei der Polizei."
"Ja, Ja, ich erzähl auch langsam."
"Hey, I'm going to tell a political joke."
"Careful! I'm with the police."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll tell it slowly."
5. (Factory work)
Frage: "Worin besteht der Unterschied zwischen einem Gespenst und sozialistischer Leitungstätigkeit?" Antwort: "Es gibt keinen, alle reden davon, manche beschreiben es auch, aber gesehen hat es noch niemand."
Question: "What's the different between a ghost and socialist leadership?"
Answer: "There is none. Everyone talks about it, some even describe it, but no one's ever seen it."