Butler with a weapon: Serving as Erich Honecker′s bodyguard | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.11.2014
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Butler with a weapon: Serving as Erich Honecker's bodyguard

Bernd Brückner was Erich Honecker's long-term bodyguard. He tells Deutsche Welle about his time protecting - and cleaning up for - the former East German leader both at home and abroad.

You spent 13 years working as Erich Honecker's bodyguard. How did you come to the job?

I was training people in personal security when I was asked if I would like to work as a body guard myself. The idea of working for Honecker always held a certain appeal. I'd been training his people and I knew I could do the job. When they asked me, I had no problem with the idea. I started at a good time, because back then Honecker didn't have many people, and I helped to create a structure. Ultimately, I was commando leader and had 28 people working under me.

Is it true that Honecker was not keen on having bodyguards around him?

He didn't want them to begin with. You always have these men who think they can manage without them, and Honecker was one of them. He'd say he could take care of himself. He had a little pistol out at his hunting lodge in the Schorfheide that he used to say he'd take with him when he went walking. But that changed with the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Olaf Palme. After that he told us to do what we had to do.

What did a typical day as bodyguard for the East German leader actually entail?

We used to pick him up in Wandlitz, which is where much of the political elite lived. Depending on his weekly schedule either his physiotherapist or his beautician would be there, and then we'd drive into Berlin to his office at the party headquarters, and from there the day would take its course.

During the week, and according to the hunting calendar. I've often wondered what it was he used hunting as, whether it was a kind of compensation, or a way of balancing his political activities.

Erich Honecker on one of his famed hunts

The East German leader was an avid hunter

Honecker liked to hunt?

Yes, yes. He had about 80 guns out there, presents from all over the world.

And did you accompany him on his hunting expeditions?

Yes. I was the one who put a security structure in place out there. We had a security commando in the forest. I used to go with him when he would hunt, but later, when I was commando leader, I ran operations via radio and telephone.

How did you perceive him, as a public figure or a man you spent a lot of time working for?

People sometimes ask me how I could have worked for him, for a dictator. But I tell them that while what they saw was a film about a dictator sitting on his throne shouting at his people, I saw him as a person, as a grandfather, a father.

As a politician he was generally calm. He sometimes got grumpy, and you could always tell because he's slam a door. That was usually because he had some kind of problem with Moscow.

Did you speak to him much on a personal level?

No.

Was there more to your job than taking care of his personal security?

When we stayed in hotels abroad we would ask for an iron and ironing board, and we'd iron his shirts or sew his buttons. And in the Schorfheide, once dinner was finished, he would call us to do the washing up. Even when the whole family was there. You could say we were butlers with weapons.

You traveled together often, do you have any particular memories of your trips abroad?

There was something memorable in every trip. One thing that really made me stop and think though was when 20 or 30 people gathered outside our hotel in the Netherlands holding signs calling on Honecker for political change. The police behaved in a completely normal way towards them, which was very hard for us, as East Germans, to understand. But it got me thinking.

What conclusion did you come to?

That the same could be possible in East Germany. We always assumed that any action directed against the state apparatus would automatically end in aggression. But what I saw there proved that it was possible to express thoughts.

Bernd Brückner

Bernd Brückner started out on a two month trial basis. Those two months turned into 13 years

By the time Honecker was forced to resign, you had been his constant escort for 13 years. How did you feel about his demise?

It wasn't just that he was forced to resign. I suspected that change was on its way, but the fact that it was so bound up in both internal and external politics made me feel pretty shaky. I didn't know what would become of me.

What was the mood like among your colleagues when the Wall fell?

It was chaotic. Nobody knew what position to take, whether we'd be getting a new boss, or a new minister. It was a really strange situation. Nobody likes to hear this because everyone likes to talk in terms of a peaceful revolution, but looking back I have to say, it's a miracle that nothing bad happened. There were plenty of opportunities.

Overall, how would you describe your time as Erich Honecker's body guard?

I would say I learned a lot. It was a life's work and I wouldn't change it. I was responsible for the head of state, and if anything had happened, I would have been the one in front of him, or the one standing between him and his attacker. That's how I approached my job.

In 2000, Bernd Brückner set up in business offering training in the sectors of private security and social care for the elderly.

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