That's what our sergeant major in the National People's Army (NVA) used to explain to soldiers in moments of inner softness. Boot-cleaning, bed-making and a clean collar tie were cornerstones of a worldview that gave meaning to his life. But the altar of this religious-like ritual, at which the high mass was performed, was the locker – a small cupboard in which each soldier had to store his uniform and small belongings. In fact, there was a separate service regulation for the locker, which even included how pictures should be attached to the inside door. Alongside family photos, »tasteful depictions of landscapes« were also permitted – a phrase that constantly elicited grins.
The locker, which can be found in the permanent exhibition’s installation on the topics of the NVA and military service, would certainly have triggered a fit of rage in my sergeant. The steel helmet, which visitors can take out in accordance with our basic principle of »a hands-on experience of history«, is always lying upside down. They often take a piece of uniform out of the cupboard and put it back in the wrong order. The distance between the hangers is never right either.
»Two fingers wide,« I hear my sergeant bark. He always found points that didn't comply with the regulations. I can still see him looking at my row of books neatly aligned in the designated compartment. Something irritated him about my little reference library. Then he asked, »Sorted according to regulations?«
»Yes, Comrade Sergeant Major,« I replied. »Arranged by colour.«
»Arrange them according to size,« he ordered. Logical, really, because that was also how the soldiers had to line up in the marching order. »And just so you remember this once and for all: twenty push-ups!«
I fell into the push-up and began .... one ... two ... three ...
Slightly disgusted, he watched me do the exercise. Then he turned away and muttered in a resigned manner, »Well, the main thing is that it's enough for you to turn the pages.«
It was enough for a lifetime. When I sort through my books, however, I often think of my sergeant. Always according to size!
In this episode of the series »Ask Dr Wolle«, the academic director of the DDR Museum talks about conscription in the National People's Army (NVA) in the GDR. Enjoy watching!
You can find all objects related to the NVA in the collection of the DDR Museum here.