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Saturday, October 30, 2004

"East Berlin incident" of 1967

The National Institute of Korean History (국사편찬위원회) has researched German documents of the so-called "East Berlin incident" (Tongbaengnim sakôn) of 1967, tells the Hankyoreh. At the time Germany (West Germany) considered severing diplomatic contacts with ROK after several Koreans residing in Germany had been abducted to Korea for charges of spying for DPRK. One of them was even German citizen; perhaps the best known of the abducted was the composer Yun I-sang. Six were given death sentence, Yun among them, but all were released after pressure from Germany and other governments. Germany sent three Korean diplomats packing for being involved in the abduction, but withheld further considerations of severing diplomatic relations after the assassination attempt on Park Chung-hee by DPRK commandos and the Pueblo incident in 1968. Pressuring further on the diplomatic relations issue would have endangered the efforts to release the abducted and hardened the ROK stand, was the German judgement.

At the moment the East Berlin incident is mainly remembered as a major spy fabrication incident; what is true though are contacts with DPRK officials for various reasons and unification idealism among the "perpetrators". It's also clear that DPRK cynically took advantage of all that, sending operatives to approach South Koreans in Germany disguised as professors. (A short article in Korean in Donga Ilbo's weekly from '97)

(Jo Jung-rae in his novel Han'gang, which also has some of its characters go to Germany in the 60s as nurses, miners and students, depicts one character witnessing ROK and DPRK official holding a meeting in a restaurant back room.)

Funnily enough, East Berlin was the place where I knowingly met a Korean person for the first time. That was the last winter of the Berlin Wall; I was on a short vacation in West Berlin with my friend, and from there we could make a day visit to the East without visas. There, on the eastern side of the wall in Brandenburger Tor, was also a North Korean couple. I remember the man admiring my camera, which became a sort of a small joke between my and my friend: Cosina, oo!.

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