Inviting an East German Orchestra from Leipzig to U.S. (A)

New York, N.Y. In 1968, when I became Impresario, I was staring at the world map on the wall. I thought I would like to go somewhere new. Where would be a country unknown to most that had a very high level of culture?

I pinned a white arrow in East Germany, the country that had produced Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and home of the Dresden Opera Company and Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra – a country the world admired.

At that time, I thought would like to go to a place where no impresario had ever visited. Off I went, flying into West berlin from where I took a subway to East Berlin. It took courage for me then to travel into an unknown country where I had no connections. But I knew realized the people there were also human, so I did not fear.

So I travelled to East Berlin, all by myself. At this time, one had to go by air to get to West Berlin, and then from West Berlin to East Berlin by road or subway.

East Germany then was a very dangerous place, not unlike North Korea today. In a tavern there I witnessed a Western student say the photo of the president on the the wall ‘looked like a goat.’ Police immediately arrest him and took him away.

Berlin’s Circumstances at the Time

I would like to take a moment to explain the political situation of Berlin to our younger readers:

At the end of World War II in 1949, Germany was divided into two countries. These were the DDR (German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany) supported by the Soviet Union (now Russia), and FRG (German Federal Republic, known as West Germany) which the U.S., Britain and France supported.

There was a border separating these two countries. At that time, Berlin was geographically within the East German territory. However, as Berlin was such an important city, it was divided into four areas and treated separately from the rest of East Germany.

Surrounded by the territory of East Germany, it became isolated like an island. That is, although Berlin was in East Germany, four countries (USSR, U.S., Britain, France) controlled and governed it. East Berlin was under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union and West Berlin became a jurisdiction of America, Britain and France.

The U.S., Britain and France established an embassy in the new city of Bonn, whereas Berlin became the capital of East Germany and the Soviet Union and other Communist countries placed their embassies in Berlin.

As the number of people who escaped from East Berlin to West Berlin increased each year, East Germany suddenly blocked passage between East and West Berlin. All West Berlin was isolated within barbed wire and later high walls of concrete. Anyone who attempted to cross this wall was immediately shot to death. This “Berlin Wall” became the symbol of German division for many years, as well as the symbol of the East-West Cold War.

In the confusion of the East German revolution following the Eastern European revolution in the fall of 1989, many East Berlin citizens pushed forward in front of the wall on the evening of November 9th the same year. This was the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The gates of the border checkpoints opened and tens of thousands of East Germans entered West Berlin. I think many remember this news the most.

Call from an East Berlin Hotel

Returning to my story. When I went out, up from the first station in East Berlin (Friedrich Strasse), I saw there was a place called ‘Checkpoint Charlie,’ the border between West Germany and East Germany.

I completed the visa procedure which allows visitors to enter and leave within 24 hours. Immediately after entering the East German territory, there was a hotel named Unten den Linden (‘under the linden tree’) in front of me. I approached the front desk and, without thinking anything, said, “I am from New York and would like to meet the East German Minister of Culture.”

The front desk lady made a phone call and, much to my surprise, the lady minister came to the phone. When I started talking, the minister was so angry and said; “America is a terrible, cruel, hateful country! The Vietnam war is outrageous!”

I quickly replied, “I’d like to invite the Gewandhaus Orchestra,” but she had already hung up. Not one to give up, I called again shortly thereafter. This time, however, it occured to me to say, “I am Japanese!”

She paused and said, “What is a Japanese woman doing here?” Off the top of my head, I said, “I want to create a cultural exchange between Japan and East Germany.” As soon as I said this, everything changed. “Please come and see me right away!”

“We will absolutely not talk about America, but my country really wants to go to Japan. We have not had any sort of exchange with Japan since the war ended.” I thought, suddenly recalling the Osaka World Expo in Japan in 1975, “I hereby invite an East German cultural group to visit Japan and fulfill your country’s dream!”

Although this was a serious statement, I had no authority to make such an offer. But I made up my mind to do make it happen even at the risk of my own life.

(To be continued in the next issue)

Originally published as Vol. 16 in Weekly Biz, February 10, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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