Berlin Debates Honorary Citizenship For Wolf Biermann | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.01.2007
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Berlin Debates Honorary Citizenship For Wolf Biermann

Opposition leaders in Berlin would like to make one of Communist East Germany's most outstanding balladeers and political dissidents an honorary citizen. But the proposal is being met with fierce resistance.

Critics in Berlin question whether Biermann deserves to be an honorary citizen

Critics in Berlin question whether Biermann deserves to be an honorary citizen

Regional lawmakers in the German city-state of Berlin are currently embroiled in a debate over whether or not to grant honorary citizenship to the man called the "troubadour of inner German conflict."

Wolf Biermann was forcibly expatriated by the East German regime in 1976 after years of openly criticizing the political structures in his country in his songs. Following his banishment to the west, the singer songwriter continued to pick apart East and West Germany in his work.

Today, Biermann lives in Hamburg and has indicated that he would like to become one of the capital's honorary citizens. A regional conservative cultural affairs expert, Uwe Lehmann-Brauns, took up the idea.

"He's a freedom fighter," said Lehmann-Brauns. "He used his talent not only to produce poetry wrapped in music, but also to challenge a dictatorship which harried so many people."

Opposition to Iraq stance

Lehmann-Brauns' proposal has been eagerly supported by the opposition Green party and free-market liberal Free Democratic Party. But initially the parliamentary groups of the Social Democrats (SPD) and the successors to the East German communist party, the PDS, were reluctant to give Biermann their blessing.

Bundesverdienstkreuz Wolf Biermann und Horst Köhler

President Köhler awarded Biermann the Federal Cross of Merit last year

Carola Bluhm from the Left Party said the songwriter should not be given the honorary citizenship because of his one-time support of the US-led war in Iraq.

Many Social Democrats in Berlin also still bore a grudge against Biermann for his fierce criticism of what he called the SPD's political pact with the PDS in Berlin. According to Biermann, the PDS' sleeves were still stained with blood.

But in a surprising move on Tuesday, the Berlin SPD group threw its support behind Biermann with Michael Müller, the group's leader, saying members praised him for his "outstanding political engagement and artistic work."

"I never was a lousy dog."

While his music has never been to everyone's liking, a great many people can relate to the political messages he has conveyed through his songs. During German division and beyond reunification, Biermann seemed to have never betrayed himself and nor stopped short of addressing political shortcomings.

Wolf Biermann Konzert in Distel Ostberlin 1965

Biermann has stayed true to his roots

"In the east, I was a dragon-killer, and in the west, I was simply a wolf," Biermann said, citing from his own lyrics. "But I never was a lousy dog, and I never was on anyone's lead."

The Berlin government's parliamentary factions still face additional votes and meetings before a final decision on Biermann is made.

The city-state of Berlin, where eastern and western ideologies still live on at close quarters, is used to long drawn-out debates about granting honorary citizenship. In many cases, applicants have just fallen by the wayside, because their historical merits are viewed and assessed in a fundamentally different way on both sides of the former east-west divide.

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