Mikhail Gorbachev at the IFSH

Dr. Margret Johannsen

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Mikhail Gorbachev and Egon Bahr (r.) (c) M. Johannsen

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union and pioneer of German reunification, celebrates his 90th birthday today, 2 March. Almost exactly 29 years ago he was a guest at IFSH. IFSH Senior Fellow Dr Margret Johannsen remembers 11 March 1992:


Mikhail Gorbachev was hungry. After all, it was an early riser’s lunchtime. The staff of the IFSH were not prepared for this; Mr Lutz and Mr Mutz, as late risers, usually ate late, and Egon Bahr joined them out of necessity. They always ate at "Zum Falkeinsteiner", a restaurant three minutes from the Institute in Hamburg-Blankenese. One phone call later, everything was settled.
Egon Bahr’s secretary Heinke Peters picked up their order and ran up the steep driveway to the Institute with a full tray of sandwiches, to the delight of the crowd of waiting journalists.
This was the first and only time that there were a bunch of journalists outside the gate of the Falkenstein family – no press conferences were held in the classy Blankenese villa district, where Axel Springer and his swimming pool lived a few estates away. Especially since the 286 bus only ran every half-hour.
Gorbachev ate with gusto, and the gentlemen from the IFSH did, too. Heinke Peters walked back and forth behind them balancing the tray, which was emptying rapidly.
I was supposed to write the minutes. As a newcomer at the IFSH, I had already written minutes several times at meetings with the IPW in East Berlin, which was then under the direction of Max Schmidt. Of course, it was forbidden to run the tape. At the first two-day meeting, which took place from 30 September to 1 October 1987, a few months after the publication of the SED-SPD paper “The Conflict of Ideologies and Common Security”, I promptly contracted tendinitis. This would not have happened to Egon Bahr: he knew shorthand. He had to, because before going into politics his first job after the war he had been as a journalist in West Berlin.
Taking photos and minutes at the same time was pushing it, of course. I didn't know shorthand and relied on the colleagues present to help me out if I didn't catch something. They did, and it was well received. Egon Bahr then did a lot of editing, probably on the basis of his stenographic notes, and the result clearly bears his handwriting.