Wolfgang Ullmann, pastor and politician: born Bad Gottleuba, Germany 18 August 1929; ordained a Lutheran minister 1954; married 1956 Christa Kohsa (died 2003; one son, two daughters); died Vogtland, Germany 30 July 2004.
In the claustrophobic intellectual environment of the German Democratic Republic, as its Communist rulers liked to call it, the Lutheran churches formed one of the few havens for semi-free dialogue. Some Lutheran pastors rose to the challenge, giving cover to peace and environmental groups that functioned as a surrogate opposition to the government.
Wolfgang Ullmann was one of a number of well-known pastors – among them Rainer Eppelmann, Joachim Gauck and Manfred Stolpe – to abandon their pulpits as Communism fell and submerge themselves in politics. Had politics really been their true vocation all along?
Building on his early involvement in the civic movements of the 1980s, Ullmann threw himself into unmasking the vote-rigging of the Honecker regime’s last-ditch attempts to stay in power in the May 1989 GDR elections. As pressure mounted on the regime and the movement turned from an intellectual and student talking shop to a mass movement, Ullmann co-founded the Democracy Now group and helped draw up a manifesto for political freedom.
In late 1989 he joined the Central Round Table, which was seeking to broker a political consensus between the opposition and reformist Communists. But throughout the struggle he remained a serious scholar. On 9 November he was giving a class on the church fathers, which his students were reading in the original Greek, when the news spread among them that the Berlin Wall had been breached. Ullmann calmly chose to carry on teaching.
“On the one hand, we were taking our studies very seriously,” he later recalled. “On the other, I had long regarded the fall of the wall as something that had to happen sooner or later.”
From February to April 1990 he even served as a minister without portfolio in the transition “national responsibility government” led by the Communist Hans Modrow, but this government would soon be swept away.
In the last faltering months in mid-1990 of a separate East German parliament, the Volkskammer, Ullmann served as an Alliance 90/Green member and deputy speaker. He worked hard to help secure the archives of the Stasi secret police to ensure that its victims would know the truth.
Born in a village in Saxony not far from Dresden, Ullmann began theological studies in the Western sector of the divided city of Berlin in 1948, transferring in 1950 to Göttingen in West Germany. He was active in a non-Communist Socialist Party.
Called by his church in 1952 to return to East Germany to take up a post, he initially refused, but two years later accepted after completing his doctorate in theology. He became curate in Colmnitz near Freiberg in Saxony, later taking over as pastor.
In 1963 he began teaching at a seminary in Naumburg, researching into the early church fathers as well as the Saxon Reformation Protestant revolutionary Thomas Münzer and the German-American 20th-century philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. In 1978 he moved to a Lutheran college in East Berlin, where he remained until 1990.
Ullmann’s academic studies and pastoral background stood him in good stead for his post-Communist political career. Elected in late 1990 to a German federal parliament enlarged after reunification, he was active in promoting justice for the victims of the East German regime. He lobbied for Berlin to be made the federal capital and bitterly criticised what he saw as the selling off of East Germans’ inheritance.
He also led a quixotic campaign to change the German constitution to bring greater popular participation in government, but eventually had to give up, stymied by party-political interests.
In 1992 he helped set up a centre in Leipzig which originally planned to establish a tribunal to judge the record of the East German regime as a start to the reconciliation and healing process and which continues to reveal the dark secrets that were hidden for so long. When initial enthusiasm waned, only Ullmann’s tenacity kept it going.
Ullmann decided not to stand for parliament in 1994. From 1994 to 1999 he sat as a Green in the European Parliament.
But retirement did not silence him. Although married to a German driven out of Silesia by the post-war ethnic cleansing of Germans from Eastern Europe, Ullmann vigorously opposed plans last year to build a centre in Berlin dedicated to the expulsions.
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