Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Friederike Frach: DDT in Wiepersdorf


Friederike Frach: DDT in Wiepersdorf

As can be heard at another audio point, Wiepersdorf soon became a place of exchange in the arts after the Second World War thanks to the dauntless work of Bettina Encke von Arnim.

Thus, the great-granddaughter of Bettina and Achim von Arnim made sure that the German Writers’ Foundation took over the castle. It was mainly writers who were given the opportunity to work here for a limited time from 1947 on, and later they were joined by visual artists and composers. The basic concept remained the same throughout GDR times.

After the castle was completely refurbished in the 1970s and closed during this period, it reopened its doors in 1981 to make a fresh start. I would like to tell you something about those days.

It was the time when global environmental problems received greater attention. The Green Party was founded in the Federal Republic in 1980, and the environmental movement was also gathering momentum in the GDR. And what was the situation in Wiepersdorf? Being an artists’ residency center, the castle has often been described as being somewhat removed from the real world. But as I see it, some of the stories in Wiepersdorf reflect the events of the big wide world as if through a magnifying glass.

One such example dates back to 1984 and can be found in the records of the State Security Agency. The file with the name “Forest Pest Control” contains documents of one of the few incidents directly related to Wiepersdorf Castle. What had happened? The pilot of a small airplane had the mission of spraying an alleged aerosol over the forests of the Fläming district to fight insect pests. He forgot to close the hatch, so it rained poison over the village and the castle as well as the park. Soon the rumor spread that it was the neurotoxin DDT, which was also banned in the GDR.

In 2009, I had the opportunity of talking to people who were guests at the time, and they said: “The guests were quite alarmed, and we took up the challenge. Here was the possibility of exposing the otherwise actually not-to-be-criticized GDR over a dramatic incident, because we could relatively safely prove a breach of the law, which had affected a whole village. DDT had been banned since 1975, and everyone who spoke to us back then simply called it “the agent.” The gardener had recognized, from the smell, that it was DDT ...” (Frach 2012, 192 – FN 56, Ehepaar Gersch im Gespräch am 24.09.2009)

Consequently, several guests at the castle wrote a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food, and copies were sent to the Ministry of Environment and Water Management, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Culture.

The following is an excerpt from the letter: “On May 21/22, 1984, an insecticide containing DDT was sprayed over the forest of Wiepersdorf in the Jüterbog district. Contrary to the regulations published in the press, the aircraft took off in stormy weather. Moreover, the pilot obviously flew a wrong route. As a result, the entire local area was contaminated by the contact poison. The inhabitants and guests of the castle only became aware of the great danger when, days later, the order came through that fruit, vegetable, and fodder crops growing in the area were to be destroyed.” (Frach 2012, 192 – FN 58, BStU, HA XX 14654, Bl. 10, Kopie des MfK)

Interestingly, this letter is no longer to be found in the archives of the respective ministries; it is only preserved in the documents of the State Security. How important the documentation of such an incident was for the State Security can be seen from the fact that the unofficial collaborators of the area around Wiepersdorf were also involved.

The following is an excerpt of a report by an employee of the State Security Service: “Concerning the complaint made in this regard by the vacation guests of the Bettina von Arnim Artists’ Residency Center, the unofficial collaborator assumed that the district hygiene inspector came by and was witnessed by the vacation guests. The alarmed vacation guests calmed down only after the head forester appeared on the scene ... But at that time the petition had already been sent off.” (Frach 2012, 193 f – FN 63, Bericht IM „Paul“, 21.6.1984, BStU Potsdam, Pdm. AIM 2677/88 II.II, Bl. 230 f.)

The writers and artists were repeatedly referred to as “vacationers.” Outsiders seemed hardly aware of the fact that the lodgers were working at the castle. In a conversation twenty-five years after the incident, the mayor of Wiepersdorf at the time related what the consequences of this environmental scandal were. There were measures taken, but in his opinion they were quite ineffectual. For example, the grass was cut and put on the compost, although “the stuff,” as he called it, was still in the ground. And he noticed afterwards that he didn’t hear birds sing in the area for a long time. (Vgl. Frach 2012, 194 f.)

Dr. Friederike Frach is executive director of the Brandenburgischer Literaturrat. She studied cultural studies, musicology and cultural communication at the Humboldt University of Berlin and later worked as an editor in the fields of documentary film, television and literary events. Her dissertation on contemporary history entitled "Schloss Wiepersdorf: Das Künstlerheim unter dem Einfluss der Kulturpolitik in der DDR" was published in 2012. From 2013 to March 2020, she headed the Career Service at the DEKRA Media University. She is a lecturer in media studies, audio-visual communication and academic writing. Her research focus revolves around the theory of memory sites. Friederike Frach is an honorary member of the advisory board of the Association of Friends of Schloss Wiepersdorf. She is also chair of the board of trustees of the study foundation KKGS-Berlin.