8. The first (!) Seal-Station
Who forgot it? Surely nobody! Or maybe it’s forgotten, because it was a top secret site, which was built on order of the former East German leader Walter Ulbricht close to the Warshaw Pact Navy station Hohe Düne near Rostock. But back to the beginnings.
When I was researching in the archives of the bureau responsible for the East German files, a found a very special folder. On its cover there was just the handwritten line: „Seals for comrade Walter.” As Seal just has the meaning of the animal in German I got curious, I removed the cord around it, and what the nearly one hundred pages showed, put a complete new light on the former head of the state’s council.
The letters were ordered chronologically and all starts in 1954 with a confidential marked message from Ulbricht’s secretary to the zoo of Rostock, which’s director Rudi Baldwech he knew from his times at the university. „Dear comrade,” the letter starts, „I hope, you can help us with a big problem. Comrade Walter got us together today and gave us a very delicate task to accomplish. As you all know, our first secretary of the central committee is a very animal loving person. When he again had to overcome hour long discussions to our people’s best, nothing helps him more to relax than petting a cozy animal.”
And now the surprising fact, what never made it into public before. Thanks to the lines in files of the bureau I found it’s time now: „Recently comrade Walter more and more had a problem when petting cats or rabbits,” can be read there, „because each time within a short period he develops countless and terribly itching pimples all over his body, and he has to end his relaxation time immediately.”
Not just head of the State's Council, but after
long experiments a great friend of seals too
In his answering letter the then deputy head of the zoo of Rostock, Dr. Alfred Nochwasda, recommended to check comrade Walter at the Charité hospital in Berlin for allergies on animal hairs. Obviously this seemed to have happened. Although it took some time, because the next letter in the folder is dated March 26th, 1954.
In this an employee in Berlin – named Fleißig-Horch – is telling the head of the Rostock zoo that comrade Walter is allergic to all animal hairs. The important question: „Our most superior comrade can’t relax after long meetings or speeches, when he can’t pet pets. Which animals could you recommend as an alternative?”
A difficult mission to be accomplished:
Comrade Ulbricht needs a new pet and
gives the order to search one to his team
It didn’t take two weeks, according to the date stamp in Berlin, that an answer from Rostock was received. Again signed by Alfred Nochwasda, now director of the Rostock zoo, after Rudi Baldwech escaped to the West at a symposium in Helmstedt on the subject „The Wall-Lizard”. But back to the original story:
Alfred Nochwasda recommended checking animals which don’t have hair first. Should there be nothing useful „in the aim to help the people by helping the secretary to relax”, then it could be proceeded „with very short haired specimens of the fauna.”
The file „Seals for Comrade Walter” reveals on the following pages, that in the following year steadily experiments with different animal had be performed. In the folder there were even photographs giving evidence of the experiments.
For example on picture, barely dated on „Summer 1955”, shows the secretary Walter Ulbricht petting tortoise. In the accompanying letter to the new director of the Rostock Zoo, Jochen Erztreu – his predecessor Alfred Nochwasda had used a congress on the subject „The Fence-Hopper” in central Berlin to clear out to West Berlin – the result was mailed.
„On the one hand comrade Walter was happy with the result,” the letter dated August 8th, 1954 reads, „because after petting the armored animal no scary skin scratching reactions could be realized.” Nevertheless, it’s critically added – and by this obviously the tortoise named “Sergei” didn’t pass the test – that petting the „extremely hard and inflexible carapace brought no well-feeling to the comrade. Also, he didn’t really like the scratching of Sergei’s claws in his lap.”
How many further tests were accomplished is not exactly known, as the folder I found in the bureau seems to have some gaps. So nobody knows really how many animals went through the allergy-petting-tests with Walter Ulbricht. Proven are at least some other experiments, for which photographs can be found in the file from the years:
No success: Snuggling with tortoise "Sergei"
- 1957 (Test animal iguana „Wilhelm“, Opinion: „Much softer then 'Sergej", but - to be honest - no t yet fleecy enough. And scratches much more.“);
- 1959 (Test animal carp „Jozef“, Opinion: „He is really soft, does not scratch, but very cold and is not moving at all since half an hour now.“);
- 1958 (Test animal python „Leonid“, Opinion: „Does not scratch, but is very slippery, not warm enough and looks much too weird. I don't like him“);
- and 1960 (Test animal jellyfish „Alexander“, Opinion: „He is not scratchy at all, but not of use to be petted at all and he is even wetter than the fish.“)
The breakthrough came in 1960. On suggestion of the director of the Rostock zoo, Jochen Erztreu, Wlater Ulbricht – in the meantime head of the new founded State’s Council – dared to test animals with just a few hairs. And the first one was already a hit in the bull’s eye. Seal „Erich”, according to file number DB0815X living in the zoo of Berlin, agreed to be chucked by Walter, had a temperature cozy to the hands, was soft and didn’t scratch.
An order by the Ministry for the State’s Security to the zoo of Rostock from February 29th, 1961 was therefore: „Comrade Head-of-the-State’s-Council says thank you for your help and gives order to install a small seal station at a convenient location close to Rostock at the Baltic Sea, where some of these animals can be kept, that comrade Walter can relax there after exhausting meetings in the capital by petting the seals, far away from the view of the media.” Together with Erich Honecker and Günther Mielke then Walter Ulbricht had this decision made and drank with them to it – as a photo proves.
Finally success: Seal "Erich" was snuggly, didn't scratch and cause itching
Cheers: Mielke and Honecker drink with Walter Ulbricht and seal Erich on the search for a pet...
Dr. Hans Werbinch, new director of the Rostock zoo – after the predecessor Erztreu had moved his place of living in the vicinity of Irkutsk in Siberia, because it had become known, that the US CIA had hired him as an informant on the congress „The Mole” – took first steps immediately.
Soon at the bay called Breitling an appropriate location was found, not far from today’s seal station. Walter Ulbricht originally had asked for keeping the seal completely free. Bur Werbinch as experienced zoologist and director of enclosures (among others in Bautzen) contradicted this request on June 8th, 1961: „Nobody has the intention to build a wall”, he said then – a sentence, Walter Ulbricht would repeat one week later unintentionally – „but if we don’t do that, wham-bam they are all swimming away to the West, because they like the North Sea more.”
And so at the Breitling off Rostock at Hohe Düne a small but nice seal station was founded, regularly visited by the Head of the State’s Council Walter Ulbricht, to relax from his political work by petting seals. According to pictures for nearly ten years he even welcomed international guests here, like USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, or Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, what photos in the folder prove.
Even Khrushchev visited Ulbricht's seal station. The show, how large the oldest seal is in the meantime.
Comfortable small talk with Egypt's president Nasser and seal when visiting Hohe Düne
Not before 1971 it ended. Ulbricht’s power and also the existence of the seal station. Because the last letter in the folder „Seals for Comrade Walter” shows us the line „Away with these terrible disgusting fat worms, I never could stand them. Close the station.” Signed was this letter by the new Head of the State’s Council of the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker. According to rumors the experienced huntsman shot the seals himself and presented the dead animals at Hohe Düne. But this are really just rumors.
© Mig Phönix 2008