In the spring of 1970, Ursula Besser found an unfamiliar briefcase in front of her apartment door. It wasn't that unusual, in those days, for people to leave things at her door or drop smaller items into her letter slot. She was, after all, a member of the Berlin state parliament for the conservative Christian Democrats. Sometimes Besser called the police to examine a suspicious package; she was careful to always apologize to the neighbors for the commotion.
The students had proclaimed a revolution, and Besser, the widow of an officer, belonged to those forces in the city that were sharply opposed to the radical changes of the day. Three years earlier, when she was a newly elected member of the Berlin state parliament, the CDU had appointed Besser, a Ph.D. in philology, to the education committee. She quickly acquired a reputation for being both direct and combative.
The briefcase contained a stack of paper -- the typewritten daily reports on educational work at an after-school center in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood, where up to 15 children aged 8 to 14 were taken care of during the afternoon. The first report was dated Aug. 13, 1969, and the last one was written on Jan. 14, 1970.
Even a cursory review of the material revealed that the educational work at the Rote Freiheit ("Red Freedom") after-school center was unorthodox. The goal of the center was to shape the students into "socialist personalities," and its educational mission went well beyond supervised play. The center's agenda included "agitprop" on the situation in Vietnam and "street fighting," in which the children were divided into "students" and "cops."
The educators' notes indicate that they placed a very strong emphasis on sex education. Almost every day, the students played games that involved taking off their clothes, reading porno magazines together and pantomiming intercourse.
According to the records, a "sex exercise" was conducted on Dec. 11 and a "fucking hour" on Jan. 14. An entry made on Nov. 26 reads: "In general, by lying there we repeatedly provoked, openly or in a hidden way, sexual innuendoes, which were then expressed in pantomimes, which Kurt and Rita performed together on the low table (as a stage) in front of us."
The material introduced the broader public to a byproduct of the student movement for the first time: the sexual liberation of children. Besser passed on the reports to an editor at the West Berlin newspaper Der Abend, who published excerpts of the material. On April 7, 1970, the Berlin state parliament discussed the Rote Freiheit after-school center. As it turned out, the Psychology Institute at the Free University of Berlin was behind the center. In fact, the institute had established the facility and provided the educators who worked there. Besser now believes that it was a concerned employee who dropped off the reports at her door.
A few days later, Besser paid a visit to the Psychology Institute in Berlin's Dahlem neighborhood, "to take a look at the place," as she says. In the basement, Besser found two rooms that were separated by a large, one-way mirror. There was a mattress in one of the rooms, as well as a sink on the wall and a row of colorful washcloths hanging next to it. When asked, an institute employee told Besser that the basement was used as an "observation station" to study sexual behavior in children.
It has since faded into obscurity, but the members of the 1968 movement and their successors were caught up in a strange obsession about childhood sexuality. It is a chapter of the movement's history which is never mentioned in the more glowing accounts of the era. On this issue, the veterans of the late '60s student movement seem to have succumbed to acute amnesia; an analysis of this aspect of the student revolution would certainly be worthwhile.
The Possibility of Sex with Children
In the debate on sexual abuse, one of the elements is confusion as to where the line should be drawn in interactions with children. It is a confusion not limited to the Catholic Church. Indeed, it was precisely in so-called progressive circles that an eroticization of childhood and a gradual lowering of taboos began. It was a shift that even allowed for the possibility of sex with children.
The incidents at the Odenwald School in the western state of Hesse -- a boarding school with no religious affiliation -- showed that there was a connection between calls for reform and the removal of inhibition. The case of Klaus Rainer Röhl, the former publisher of the leftist magazine Konkret, also makes little sense without its historical context. The articles in Konkret that openly advocated sex with minors are at least as disturbing as the accusations of Röhl's daughters Anja and Bettina that he molested them, which Röhl denies.
The left has its own history of abuse, and it is more complicated than it would seem at first glance. When leaders of the student movement of the late 1960s are asked about it, they offer hesitant or evasive answers. "At the core of the movement of 1968, there was in fact a lack of respect for the necessary boundaries between children and adults. The extent to which this endangerment led to abuse cases is unclear," Wolfgang Kraushaar, a political scientist and chronicler of the movement, writes in retrospect.
A lack of respect for boundaries is putting it mildly. One could also say that the boundaries were violently torn open.
Sexual liberation was at the top of the agenda of the young revolutionaries who, in 1967, began turning society upside down. The control of sexual desire was seen as an instrument of domination, which bourgeois society used to uphold its power. Everything that the innovators perceived as wrong and harmful has its origins in this concept: man's aggression, greed and desire to own things, as well as his willingness to submit to authority. The student radicals believed that only those who liberated themselves from sexual repression could be truly free.
'Hostile Treatment of Sexual Pleasure'
To them, it seemed obvious that liberation should begin at an early age. Once sexual inhibitions had taken root, they reasoned, everything that followed was merely the treatment of symptoms. They were convinced that it was much better to prevent those inhibitions from developing in the first place. Hardly any leftist texts of the day did not address the subject of sexuality.
For instance, "Revolution der Erziehung" ("The Revolution in Education"), a work published by Rowohlt in 1971, which quickly became a bestseller, addresses sexuality as follows: "The de-eroticization of family life, from the prohibition of sexual activity among children to the taboo of incest, serves as preparation for total assimilation -- as preparation for the hostile treatment of sexual pleasure in school and voluntary subjugation to a dehumanizing labor system."
Issue 17 of the cultural magazine Kursbuch, published in June 1969, described the revolutionaries' position in practical terms. Published by German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the issue contained a report by the members of Commune 2 in Berlin, titled "Educating Children in the Commune." In the summer of 1967, three women and four men moved into an apartment in an old building on Giesebrechtstrasse, together with two small children, a three-year-old girl, Grischa, and a four-year-old boy, Nessim. For the residents, the cohabitation experiment was an attempt to overcome all bourgeois constraints, which included everything from separate bank accounts and closed bathroom doors to fidelity within couples and the development of feelings of shame. The two children were raised by the group, which often meant that no one paid much attention to them. Because the adults had made it their goal to not just "tolerate but in fact affirm child sexuality," they were not satisfied to simply act as passive observers.
The members of this commune also felt compelled to write down their experiences, which explains why some of the incidents that occurred were reliably documented. On April 4, 1968, Eberhard Schultz describes how he is lying in bed with little Grischa, and how she begins to stroke him, first in the face, then on the stomach and buttocks, and finally on his penis, until he becomes "very excited" and his "cock gets hard." The little girl pulls down her tights and asks Schultz to "stick it in," to which he responds that his penis is "probably too big." Then he strokes the girl's vagina.