Primary Sources

The Danger of Humor: GDR Jokes A


George Orwell once wrote, "Every joke is a tiny revolution." In state-socialist societies that had (or have) totalitarian characteristics, individuals found clever ways to carve out areas of freedom for themselves. These may have been areas of social freedom (with family and close friends), physical freedom (at one's small garden cottage), or mental freedom (through humor). There were risks associated with telling and listening to jokes that ridiculed the party or politicians, or criticized the failures of state socialism. Thus, cautious individuals shared jokes only within small circles of trusted friends. The risk associated with jokes intensified the pleasure gained from hearing and sharing them. This joke highlights one of the risks associated with political jokes, namely the possibility of arrest. This joke references Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party in the German Democratic Republic, and Erich Mielke, head of the State Security Service from 1957 to 1989.

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"DDR-Witze," trans. Elizabeth Ten Dyke, DDR-Witze (accessed June 17, 2007) and "Spitzenwitz," trans. Elizabeth Ten Dyke, Spitzenwitz (accessed June 17, 2007).

Primary Source—Full Text

Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke sprechen über ihre Hobbys. Honecker: „Ich sammle alle Witze, die über mich im Umlauf sind." Mielke: „Mensch Erich, da haben wir ja fast dasselbe Hobby. Ich sammle nämlich alle, die sie in Umlauf bringen."

Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke were talking about their hobbies. Honecker said, "I collect all the jokes about me that are going around." Mielke replied, "Man, Erich, we have practically the same hobby! I collect the people who are telling the jokes!"

How to Cite this Source

Anonymous, "The Danger of Humor: GDR Jokes A," Making the History of 1989, Item #328, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).