Regine Hildebrandt at SPD-convention in Nuremberg (2001)
26 April 1941
|Died||26 November 2001
Woltersdorf (Berlin), Germany
- 1 Life
- 2 Death
- 3 Honours and awards
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Wartime in Germany
Regine Radischewski was born in Berlin during the war, the second of her parents' two recorded children. Her father was a pianist who worked as an accompanist at the National Ballet Academy. Her mother would later own a small tobacconist shop. When she was two the family were evacuated from central Berlin to countryside far to the east of Germany, and shortly after that they were bombed out, losing most of their material possessions.
The war ended in May 1945 and the family ended up back in Berlin. For the first five or six years of her schooling she attended a school in a western occupation zone of the city ("West Berlin"), but as the political division between the Soviet occupation zone and the western occupation zones became more stark and, it seemed, more permanent, her parents opted on her behalf for a school in the Soviet zone in what had by now become known as East Berlin. The family home was in the city centre along Bernauer Straße ("Bernau Street") which formed the (initially hard to spot) political border between East Berlin and West Berlin, and afforded Regine a ring-side seat in the cold wall drama until September 1961 when the family were forcibly relocated in connection with the building of the Berlin Wall. In October 1961 she co-founded and joined the interdenominational choir at Berlin's (Protestant) Cathedral, which now flourished under the musical direction of a man called Herbert Hildebrand.
From 1959 to 1964, she studied biology at the Humboldt University in East Berlin. She had never joined the Free German Youth (FDJ / Freie Deutsche Jugend), which was in effect the youth wing of the young country's ruling SED party. Her failure to join seems to have been a result of timetable clashes involving her commitment to singing in the church choir. Failure to enroll in the FDJ had nevertheless led to her application for the university course to be initially rejected; and subsequent failure as an adult to become a Party Member would constrain her career opportunities right up until 1989.
A career in research
Between 1964 and 1978 Regine Radischewski worked in a management position involving Quality Control in the pharmacology department of VEB Berlin-Chemie, a major conglomerate in East Berlin. Regine Hildebrandt combined her responsibilities in the pharmaceuticals department with a medicines research project at the Humboldt University which led to her receiving her doctorate in 1978. In 1978 she took a senior research position at Berlin's Centre for the Study of Metabolism illnesses and Diabetes, heading up the Diabetes department till 1990. During this period she had numerous research papers published.
During these years she also found time, in 1966 to marry Jörg Hildebrandt, brother of the musical director of the choir in which they sang. The two had known each other through the church since 1950: they had also been near neighbours, with a shared childhood experience of living along the East:West front-line before 1961. The marriage produced three children, born in 1969, 1971 and 1974. Her research career left her with enough space to devote time to the family, which was very important to her. Her husband later recalled that they ate together each evening six days per week, and on Sundays had a family lunch in the middle of the day after getting back from church. When she died, aged 60, she would still be living with younger family members in a large "multi-generational family house" they had been able to have built after 1990.
Interaction with the state
The family participated the political life of the one-party dictatorship only when they felt they had to. They did not vote in the country's sham elections because §22 of the constitution did not oblige them to vote (although the 1986 General election resulted, typically, in a reported turnout of 99.74%). Regine Hildebrand did join the national Trade Union Federation (FDGB / Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) because not to have done so would have deprived her research colleagues of vital funding. When fraternal tanks appeared on the streets of Prague to crush political reform, the Hildebrandts joined in a protest demonstration outside the Czechoslovak embassy in Berlin. They would write letters of protest to the Party Central Committee and to Neues Deutschland, the party's mass-circulation official daily newspaper. Hildebrand assiduously read Neues Deutschland and followed other official media, if only to keep herself up to date with The Party's politically correct linguistic contrivances of the moment . The family never owned a television set, but news came from radio programmes broadcast from West Berlin or London, and from friends who visited from the west and were permitted (unlike East German citizens) to return to the west afterwards.
The summer of 1989 brought a dramatic change in her life when she, together with her husband, Jörg, was among the co-founders of Democracy Now, which sought an alliance of Christians and critical Marxists "to think about our future, to think about a society based on solidarity".
The Social Democrats
On 12 October 1989 she joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) which (in East Germany) had been re-founded five days earlier. The Hildebrandts valued the embracing compassionate socialism of the moderate left which had been nurtured and demonstrated by iconic (western) SPD figures from the recent past such as Kurt Schumacher and former mayor Willy Brandt. A year later, following reunification, in October 1990 the party would merge formally with the West German Social Democratic Party (SDP). (Sources from 1989/90 differentiate the eastern and western Social Democratic parties by reversing the "P" and the "D", as in the initials "SPD", to identify the East German party.)
National ministerial office
1990 was the year in which, for rather less than a year, she became an important Social Democratic participant in the national politics of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). National elections in the GDR had traditionally operated according to a single list system which offered the voters only one list of (carefully preselected) candidates. Anyone wishing to vote against the list could do so by placing the ballot paper in a separate ballot box while the officials looked on: few did. But on 18 March 1990 the German Democratic Republic conducted its first (and as matters turned out, last) democratically configured general election. The Social Democrats took 21.9% of the vote which entitled them to 88 seats in the country's first freely elected National legislative assembly (Volkskammer). One of the seats went to Regine Hildebrand, representing the Berlin electoral district. She also joined the coalition government of Lothar de Maizière, serving between April and August 1990 as the East German Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. A political decision had been taken to convert East German currency into western Marks at a one-for one rate (except in respect of very large amounts), and Hildebrandt's priority as a government minister was tackling growing unemployment in east Germany, following economic disruption associated with the on-going reunification process.
The governing coalition started to splinter in August 1990 leading to the withdrawal of the Social Democrats from it, as a result of which Regine Hildebrandt terminated her career as a government minister at the national level. The next month, however, in 1990 she was elected to the national committee of the SPD (for the whole of Germany, even though national reunification would not be formally enacted till October).
Regional ministerial office
Regine Hildebrandt now became a key SPD figure in the regional politics of Brandenburg.
In October 1990 a regional tier of government was reintroduced to what had been the German Democratic Republic, and as part of the process elections took place for a new regional assembly in Brandenburg on 26 October. Hildebrandt took part. She was elected as an SPD member and then appointed to ministerial office under Manfred Stolpe: from 1 November 1990 onwards she served as Brandenburg's Minister for Labour, Social affairs, Health and Women, in effect an expanded version at the regional level of the minesterial portfolio she had been handling nationally earlier in the year. She was a popular and effective minister, often hitting the headlines with less than diplomatic outbursts, always charmingly reasonable but also forcefully persuasive with key colleagues when, as often happened, issues within her ministerial ambit came down to arguments about funding. In the popular media she frequently attracted the soubriquet "Mother Courage", a term powerfully resonant with a population that had grown up under a dictatorship in which Bertolt Brecht was a popular icon, and his powerful drama Mother Courage and Her Children widely studied and appreciated.
In the 1999 Brandenburg regional election the Social Democrats lost their absolute majority and the regional minister president Manfred Stolpe prepared to form a "grand coalition" with the centre-right CDU party. Regine Hildebrand was already seriously ill and had strongly campaigned for an alternative alliance, with the left-wing PDS. She now resigned from the regional government.
The Hildebrandts and the regional prime minister Manfred Stolpe had known one another since the 1960s through their church connections, though they had not been aware at every level of Stolpe's complicated and possibly at times collaborative relationship with the Ministry for State Security during the years of the dictatorship. After her resignation from the government Hildebrand and Stolpe would continue to treasure one another's friendship, and remain political allies, till Hildebrandt's death in 2001.
Honours and awards
- 1993: Gustav Heinemann Citizenship Prize
- 1993: Hamm Brücher Medal
- 1997: "Golden Hen"
- 2000: Fritz Bauer Prize
- 2001: Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- Almut Nitzsche (20 February 2009). "Regine Hildebrandt deutsche Biologin und Politikerin Biografie". Institut für Frauen-Biographieforschung. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Hildebrandt, Regine geb. Radischewski * 26.4.1941, † 26.11.2001 Ministerin für Arbeit u. Soziales". Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur: Biographische Datenbanken. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- Regine Hildebrandt (1999). "Mutter Courage des Ostens". Enkel-Brief aus dem Jahr 1999 (letter addressed to her three grandchildren and subsequently published on-line on her commemorative website). Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- ""Mutter Courage des Ostens" -". "Vita" (biographical summary). 1999. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- Jörg Hildebrandt (2010). "Jörg Hildebrandt über seine Frau Regine: Fürsorge und Verantwortung als Leitmotiv" (PDF). Neuanfang in Brandenburg. Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung. pp. 48–54. ISBN 3-932502-57-4. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- The German Democratic Republic had formally been founded in October 1949, but by that time the merger, in April 1946 of the old Communist Party (KPD) and more moderately left wing SPD into the new SED had created the basis for a return to one-party government in the evolving Soviet sponsored standalone state.
- Regine Hildebrandt - Obituaries, News - Independent.co.uk
- "Dr. Regine Hildebrandt". Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung, Potsdam. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- David Hudson (6 September 1999). ""A Mighty Wake-Up Call": Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats lose the Saarland outright to the conservative opposition as well as their absolute majority in Brandenburg in Sunday's state elections.". Der Spiegel (online). Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- "Regine Hildebrandt geb. 26. April 1941 Berlin gest. 26. November 2001". "Die Chronik der Wende". Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb). Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- Media related to Regine Hildebrandt at Wikimedia Commons