What the Stasi butler saw – terrible table manners

Erich Honecker, the little grey leader of socialist East Germany, ate with his mouth open, drank West German beer and had his favourite foods delivered to his servants to cook just so, his butler says in a new book.

What the Stasi butler saw - terrible table manners
Photo: DPA

Lothar Herzog was butler to the Honeckers for 12 years, seeing them at their most private, hidden away in their villa in Wandlitz, a lakeside village near Berlin that was full of top party functionaries.

Honecker would drink fresh lemon juice every morning, “to protect against flu,” said Herzog in his book “The Private Honecker” which has just been published.

A professional waiter, Herzog entered the personal protection section of the East German secret service, the Stasi, in 1962, and was moved to Honecker’s personal service ten years later.

The Politburo’s table manners “left room for improvement,” Herzog wrote, and described dinners with East Germany’s rulers as full of slurping, burping and talking with full mouths.

Honecker ate at great speed – ideally simple German food. “He was certainly no gourmet,” said Herzog.

Although he was with Honecker for 12 years, including 30 state visits and holidays, he never had a conversation with the socialist leader.

“I served and kept quiet,” said Herzog, adding that he had been told only to speak when spoken to. “And as he never asked me, there was never the opportunity for us to speak.”

Laying the table always included West German DAB beer in cans for Honecker and HB brand cigarettes for his wife Margot, who was also the country’s education minister. Apparently he would only drink East German Radeberger beer when he had visitors.

“EH never showed his feelings,” said Herzog, but describes how he was weak-willed when confronted by his grandson – one passage describes him giving in to the boy’s insistence that his dog be allowed to remain in the dining room.

The book describes many of the privileges the top ranks enjoyed, with dinner menus for the families at the weekend, and food deliveries made with official cars. When the East German-made Wartburg car became unpopular for such errands as it was considered too loud, a West German Volkswagen van was found and used instead.

Herzog was suddenly withdrawn from the Honeckers’ service in 1984, without being told why. Only later did he discover that his daughter had been talking on the phone to a friend in West Berlin, and the Stasi had been listening and decided this was a security risk.

Honecker died in 1994 aged 81 in exile in Chile after a trial against him for the people killed at the Berlin Wall was dropped.

DPA/The Local/hc

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