Politics of the open ear

At the age of 50 years the pharmacist Christine Bergmann goes into the policy. "I understood in the fall of 1989 that change is only possible with the help of solid structures," recalls the federal government's abuse commissioner. Since then, the now 71-year-old has not let go of politics.

After the fall of the Wall, the pharmacist, who earned her doctorate in 1989 at the Institute for Pharmaceuticals in the GDR, had a stellar career: Elected president of the first freely elected East Berlin city council in 1990, she was senator for labor and women's affairs in the black-red Berlin Senate under governing mayor Eberhard Diepgen (CDU). In 1998, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder (SPD) finally brought her into his Red-Green cabinet as family minister.

She and her ministry did not have an easy time of it. Schroder at the time dismissed family policy as a "crock of shit". Nonetheless, Bergmann took some steps to improve the work-life balance, introducing parental leave in place of the previous parental leave and pushing through a law on part-time work. Despite Schroder, she says: "These ies are not marginal ies."The revaluation of family policy in subsequent governments probably proves her right.

"Our situation was that of those who had come to join us"
Born in Dresden, she came to the SPD via an appeal at the Gethsemane Church in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, one of the most important centers of the peaceful revolution in the GDR. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, she was instrumental in ensuring that East Berlin's city council adopted its own constitution. "We didn't want to come to democracy empty-handed," she says.

And yet, after reunification, it quickly became clear: "Our situation was that of the newcomers."Entire biographies, life paths and life achievements were called into question. "We have no common socialization due to the years of division," sums up the mother of two children, who has always worked throughout her life. Again and again, she mentions equal opportunities for women and men in the workplace. "Gainful employment of women, even with children, was a matter of course in the GDR and was not questioned."

"A caretaker with an open ear"
In her political work, Bergmann earned a reputation for being competent and courageous, but preferring to work in the background. Bergmann is not a woman of loud tones. After retiring from the front row in federal politics, she was a member of the ombudsman council that was supposed to critically accompany the Hartz IV reforms. "One important recommendation was: there must be no East-West difference in the standard rates," she recalls. "A caretaker with an open ear" is what the parliamentary correspondent of the "Tagesspiegel", Tissy Bruns, once called the politician.

In recent years, it had become quiet around the woman from the East. When more and more cases of sexual abuse in church and other institutions became known at the beginning of this year, the federal government appointed Bergmann as abuse commissioner. Its task: to be a point of contact for victims of sexual violence. Every day, her staff answered calls at the hotline, read letters. Before the end of the year, the Round Table against Child Abuse plans to present an interim report. "We are far from finished with the reappraisal," says Bergmann.

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Christina Cherry
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