Ronald Wendling. Image: Oliver Feldhaus
The sky looks grey. It’s raining. That kind of thin and soft rain that lies like a heavy blanket on the surface. Tourists are climbing the stairs of the subway station and heading towards Berlins well known sight, the Brandenburg Gate. A few people take the opposite direction along the Boulevard Unter den Linden, paying only a little attention to the scenery in the middle of the street.
From the distance it looks slightly sad: A man in a black coat stands alone between three handmade blue and yellow flags on that rainy afternoon. From time to time he walks a little up and down the sidewalk, dragпing a chain behind himself. Around his body he has fastened posters, making himself a human advertising column. Across the street the Russian embassy is located. A building that seems to tell – with huge pillars in the front and a tower in the middle – from power. It’s an architectural statement. In this direction the lone guy shows his message – written on one piece of paper for each letter: „We demand the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko.“
The name of the guy is Ronald Wendling. In Berlin he organizes rallies to support the captured Ukrainian pilot. But at that very moment he is the whole rally. Just an hour before in the small city of Donetsk in southwestern Russia the verdict against Savchenko was spoken, sentencing her for 22 years in jail. „That means, from tomorrow on I will come here for 22 days in a row,“ Wendling says. He posted on facebook on the day before that he will protest in front of the embassy. „But until now only an elderly couple came by for half an hour,“ he says.
Wendling seems not to be disappointed. „People come here when they have the time. Maybe later this day when their work is finished.“ He is used to spend a lot of time opposite of the huge building in the center of the city. „We do the weekly rallies in support of Nadiya Savchenko for more than 70 weeks.“ At the beginning about 30 people participated, Germans and Ukrainians. But after some weeks the attention faded.
On the other hand he still gets attention that is uncomfortable and also scary. It is not about the usually observing policemen who are sitting in a car 50 Meters away. „They are only watching,“ Wendling says. As long as he doesn’t put his banners on trees or public benches there is no problem. It is also not about the bypassing men that casually photograph Wendling and his mates. It didn’t even happen on the actual spot: On his way home in a different part of the city a man talked to Wendling. That unknown man had offered him an envelope full of cash, Wendling says. „We would be glad if you stop your rally,“ that guy said in German with a Russian accent. But Wendling didn’t accept.
Obviously Wendling is a very persistent person. „They won’t get rid of me easily,“ he says, pointing across the street towards the embassy. As a man in his late fifties he is already retired. The reason for that is also the reason, why he is rallying to support Savchenko: More than ten years ago Wendling suffered a post traumatic shock that he never really overcomes until today. He was held captive earlier in his life as a political prisoner in the 1980s in East Germany under communistic rule.
When he was 25 years old he refused to go to the East German army because he didn’t want to learn how to kill. Of course, this was not allowed in the so called German Democratic Republic. Every man had to do his duty to serve in the army in the cold war against the „enemy of the working class.“ That enemy was personified by West Germany. The sentence for an opinion like his were several years in jail. Of course Wendling didn’t the idea of wasting his life in jail.
So he tried to leave the country legally – which was very difficult. He formally applied for a permission to migrate to West Germany. „But they didn’t even tell me if they would consider the application,“ he remembers. When he went to the office the second time he claims that he is going to protest publicly for his demand. That was enough to arrest him right at that spot. The members of „Staatssicherheit,“ the East German KGB, were already waiting there.
In a made up trial he was sentenced to one and a half year in prison for „subversion of public peace and order.“ He was shattered. He didn’t suffer physical torture, he says, but the prison guards had tools to demonstrate the power in a lot of ways. After five months he was released to West Germany, because the West German government paid money to the East. For the Communist Party this was a usual way to get rid of opposing persons and earn valuable cash at the same time. 32000 political prisoners were traded like Wendling over the years.
„It is hard to be in prison especially when you are not guilty,“ Wendling says. „Persons who are captured for political reasons need support.“ Even if it doesn’t lead to an actual release, it is very important for political prisoners to feel not left alone. „As long as people outside show that the prisoner is not forgotten, the hope stays alive.“ From his own experience he wants to show that Savchenko and the other Ukrainian prisoners in Russia are not forgotten.