Uwe Ochsenknecht: West-East contact in times of the Wall was "pretty extreme"

Uwe Ochsenknecht had some relatives in the GDR. In an interview, the artist tells how "extreme" the West-East contact was during the times of the Wall.

A part of the family of the native Hesse Uwe Ochsenknecht (65, "Das Boot") lived in the former GDR. In an interview with the news agency spot on, one of the leading actors in Season 3 (Tuesdays, 8:15 pm, the first) of the successful historic hospital series "Charité" tells how "extreme" the West-East contact was during the Berlin Wall era news. The actor and musician also reveals what he finds particularly exciting about his role as gynecology professor Helmut Kraatz (1902-1983).

How did you prepare for the "Charité" filming?

Uwe Ochsenknecht: I looked at the hospital before filming and met with some people who were able to tell me about that time in 1961. The main area is so huge that you can spend weeks in it. And not to forget the many other buildings in the city that belong to the Charité. I also looked at the turbulent history of the hospital and also watched the first two seasons. But most important to me was to deal with my role and its history. There is a biography and a lot on the Internet that you can read about Prof. Helmut Kraatz.

Did you know his name before?

Ochsenknecht: No, I didn't know him. But of course I already knew Robert Koch (1843-1910, played by Justus von Dohnányi, editor) from season one (2017) and Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951, played by Ulrich Noethen) from season two (2019).

What is the exciting thing about your role for you?

Ochsenknecht: First of all, that he really existed. This allowed me to do a lot of research about him. When the border between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany was not yet firmly established, he was already an outstanding gynecologist in the GDR. He was also the first to take care of people born bisexual.

Would a gynecologist have been a professional alternative to acting for you personally?

Ochsenknecht: I have actually always been interested in medicine. Acting has been a top priority since I was 15 and it has stayed that way. Apart from that, it would not have been possible to study medicine without a high school diploma. But since I was present at four births, a woman giving birth could be seen, nothing new to me.

What is your character in the series about?

Ochsenknecht: The main topic is the competence dispute between the gynecology professor and the head of the children's department, Dr. Ingeborg Rapoport (1912-2017, played by Nina Kunzendorf). She is fighting for the children's department to be located closer to the gynecology department. So that children who need emergency medical help immediately after birth can be treated more quickly.

The border between the GDR and the Federal Republic ran through the Charité and separated the children's department from the gynecology department. If something happened to a newborn, the doctors had to be taken out of the building and taken by ambulance through normal traffic to the other building to the children's department. When it was a matter of life and death and then you got stuck in a traffic jam, you can imagine what it was like …

Season 3 takes place during the construction of the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1961. Your parents moved from Saalfeld in Thuringia, then GDR, to Biblis in Hesse, where you were born in 1956. Was the wall an issue in your home?

Ochsenknecht: The wall was permanently present. All my uncles, aunts, nieces and my mother's parents lived in the GDR. We often sent packages and spent many weeks there in the summer. Yes, it was often an issue and tears often shed with my mother, who missed her parents and siblings very much. At the very beginning we didn't have a phone either and were completely dependent on letters. We always hoped that the letters would arrive. Sometimes parcels didn't arrive at all or were only half full. It was all pretty extreme.

Did your family celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in particular?

Ochsenknecht: Yes, that was also during my mother's lifetime, as she had always wanted. I drove to Berlin with her pretty soon afterwards and walked through the Brandenburg Gate. She still wanted to experience that. And she did. It was very lucky for her and for me to be able to experience this with her.

The current "Charité" season is about polio, among other things. "An epidemic in West Germany" that had to be vaccinated against, schools were closed, etc. That are amazing parallels to today, right?

Ochsenknecht: Yes. But that will happen again and again: Viruses, mutations, vaccinations, diseases that need to be eradicated. This is why research in medicine is so interesting because you are constantly faced with new challenges. But that's also generally the case in life. You are faced with small and large challenges every day. And those who love life accept it and understand that this is part of life.

Was Corona already an issue during the shooting?

Ochsenknecht: It was already an issue and always hovered a little above us. We finished filming shortly before the first lockdown.

Did you bring a souvenir from the set? Do you even do that?

Ochsenknecht: No, I don't do that. I don't believe in setting up my own museum at home. But I took a lot of photos, including the props that were carefully collected and manufactured. They even set up an original operating room from that time in a disused former monastery. It was amazing and of course it's even more fun to play. It is really amazing what the props, costume and make-up artists have done. On this way again 1000 thanks and my greatest respect.