When looking over the list of suggested people to learn about, Katarina Witt was the first person I looked into. There were various artists, musicians, political figures, etc., but Katarina was only one of two athletes. Because of this, I figured she was pretty important, but I was still a bit skeptical about how influential she could have been. On top of my curiosity, Emily used to figure skate and has watched the Olympic figure skating performances many times. After our first search on the Internet for her, it was apparent that she was incredibly well known. At first we looked at things on a very superficial level. Most websites talked about her accomplishments and the fact that she came from East Germany. Additionally, the extensive list of awards she has won was very impressive. Almost every website also mentioned how much attention she has received because of her beauty and sexuality. We also learned about many various things she has been involved in outside of skating. It was easy to see how her many successes have made her famous. However, we still weren’t entirely sure how influential she was for Berlin and Germany aside from being a celebrity.
Without looking at the historical context where Katarina grew up and became famous, one would not have seen just how influential she was. In the United States we love our athletes, but for East Germany athletes played a huge role in politics. I have never thought of sports in this way. I grew up with sports being fun and something people truly loved, but I never saw sports as making a difference for our country politically. In the German Democratic Republic, athletes were seen as diplomats for the country. A success in sports was a success for socialism, a show of the country’s power and superiority. When looking for information for our second blog entry, I started to get a better understanding of just how important Katarina was for East Germany and its revival after World War II. I had heard of the Stasi before, but I did not know much about them and did not have a good understanding of what life was really like with the Stasi in charge. After reading about Katarina’s story, I think I finally began to see the reality of the situation. Her involvement with the Stasi was unimaginable for me. She was watched from an early age of eight years old. Starting figure skating at a young age, Katarina had enormous pressure put on her to succeed. She was supposedly given luxuries from the Stasi in order to make sure she wouldn’t defect. Then, once the wall fell and the Stasi files were made public, Katarina gained even more attention from all over the world. Her file revealed just how much the Stasi were involved in her life. She was very upset after reading the roughly 3,000 pages in her file and tried to get her file sealed. This led to rumors that she was trying to hide something. For years it seemed like Katarina was working with the Stasi. However, in interviews Katarina talked about how much she owed to the government. Some saw this as Katarina working for the Stasi while others saw this as something she had to do in order to continue her career as a skater. Once her files came out, more speculations were made. Katarina’s files are currently held at the Stasi Museum in Berlin, which is one of the sites we visited during our program here in Berlin. Through my investigation of Katarina, I learned a lot about the Stasi. When learning about Katarina I also learned about Debi Thomas, a U.S. figure skater and Katarina’s rival. It was interesting to see the comparisons of the two: who they were, how they grew up, and what they symbolized. They were in stark contrast with one another and represented two very different nations. Katarina’s and Debi’s rivalry showed the tension between the eastern and western blocs of Germany. When Katarina defeated Debi Thomas, it was a win for East Germany against the United States. In other words, Katarina’s win over the American skater helped to continue the rivalry between the United States and Germany after the war was over.
Debi Thomas (Katarina’s American rival)