GDR television: Farewell elephants – last “current camera” 30 years ago

“That’s it” – a chapter of German-German media history ended in two words 30 years ago. In the studio of the German TV broadcaster (DFF) in Berlin-Adlershof, spokesman Wolfgang Meyer said goodbye to the audience – shortly before 8:00 p.m. on December 14, 1990, the “current camera” was history. A little more than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after 30,500 broadcasts, the GDR television’s flagship news disappeared from the screen.

When it was first broadcast on December 21, 1952, the GDR had achieved a minor victory in the systematic struggle. Five days before the start of the “Tagesschau” in the West, the GDR set up a regular news program. Ironically on Stalin’s birthday, a tribute to the Soviet “brother people”.

The actor Herbert Köfer was hired as the speaker. At first he only read the news to a small audience: there were barely 100 TV sets in east Berlin. “I looked at the screen every evening, but nobody knew me. Nobody asked for an autograph. Only my family was proud,” Köfer later recalled in an interview with Super Illu magazine.

For decades, the “AK”, as the name later became abbreviated, and the “Tagesschau” competed for interpretative sovereignty in the Cold War. After starting almost at the same time at eight, the “AK” was brought forward in 1960, and it was finally broadcasted at 7.30pm.

With an initially limited range of images – moving film snippets were the exception at the time – over the years the “AK” on GDR 1 won a steady audience. At the beginning of the 1960s, a million people watched every day. Party conferences, state visits, annual plans – the SED soon recognized the possibilities of the new medium as the party’s mouthpiece. On June 15, 1961, SED chief and State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht announced his legendary sentence on television: “Nobody has any intention of building a wall” – a fairy tale, of course.

Two months later the wall was built and GDR television rolled over with special programs. “AK” spokesman Klaus Feldmann was not allowed to read out an edited message text, only statements from Ulbricht’s office, as he later recalled in a conversation with the MDR.

The editors felt how narrow the leeway was gradually becoming, especially with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. “Journalism is the party’s strongest weapon” – under this motto, the SED’s interference is growing ever stronger. Many topics became taboo, for example when goods became scarce again. When Erich Honecker came to power, the SED loosened its reins a little, but the thaw did not last long.

The “AK” played a key role in the catastrophe winter of 1978/79. The GDR sank into ice and snow chaos, but the directives from the SED did not materialize. The editors were able to report largely censorship-free. For the editors, the situation was very ambiguous, later recalled the then “AK” editor-in-chief Ulrich Meier. “Because we were able to show the GDR as it really was this winter, completely free, completely realistically.”

The “AK” announced the most important news in GDR history rather casually. On November 9th, 1989 Angelika Unterlauf reads the news objectively as always: “Resolution: SED party conference in mid-December / Travel: New regulations of the Council of Ministers / Conference: Volkskammer meeting on Monday / Wave of emigration: 48,000 GDR citizens since November 3rd in the FRG “.

Unterlauf later reported that she was not aware of the scope of what she had just said. After the broadcast, a technician only asked her about the jewelry she had worn on her lapel in front of the camera.

The fall of the wall opened the “IF” New opportunities. The broadcast accompanied the optimistic mood in the GDR with the first free elections. At the end of October 1989 a late edition was started on DDR 2, which was also broadcast on the culture channel 3sat in the west. New times began at the Adlershof radio station.

A good year later, the “AK” clock ticked one last time when the broadcast began. The farewell dealt among other things with the death of the author Friedrich Dürrenmatt and the fate of the elephants in the Berlin zoo.

Current camera 12/14/1990 (last broadcast)


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