My radical family

Rudi-Marek Dutschke on how it feels to be the son of Germany’s most iconic 1968 student leader... when you’ve never even met him.

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Photo by Veronica Jonsson

Rudi-Marek Dutschke on how it feels to be the son of Germany’s most iconic 1968 student leader… when you’ve never even met him.

It’s still kind of a painful topic.

When a young right-wing fanatic fired three shots at his dad on Ku’damm April 11, 1968, Rudi- Marek (who goes simply by Marek) had not even been conceived. And when Rudi Dutschke died of complications from the assassination attempt on December 24, 1979, Marek was still in his mother’s belly. He was born four months later, in April 1980.

He grew up with two siblings – sister Polly- Nicole and brother Hosea-Che – in Denmark, Germany and the USA, travelling with his mother, best-selling author Gretchen Dutschke- Klotz, and eventually attending university in Massachusetts. There he became interested in learning more about his father, moving to Berlin to conduct research that would result in his book, Spuren meines Vaters (2001). After dabbling in Green Party politics and working at the Hertie School, he’s now a stay-at-home father of two with several writing projects in the works.

In his Friedrichshain home, Marek is surrounded by children’s toys, books and other trappings of a peaceful domestic life. Apart from the name and a slight resemblance, you’d never guess he’s the son of one of Germany’s most famous revolutionaries.

Rudi-Marek, you’re named after the Austrian communist Franz Marek as well as your father Rudi Dutschke. Are you a communist yourself?

I’d rather call myself a democratic socialist… Basically, I don’t think it’s that important to label oneself. Keep yourself open.

Can you describe your father in your own words?

He was a student revolutionary in the late 1960s, the most prominent figure of the SDS organisation, and he became fairly famous through his anti-Vietnam War congress. He was definitely viewed as a rebel, but he was less counter-cultural than many others, I would say. He had a Christian upbringing, he wasn’t all into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a little less rebellious in that way.

What kind of reaction do you get from people once they realise who your father was?

Almost always positive. Even when we were campaigning to get the street named after him, handing out flyers, we didn’t get any negative feedback. Obviously in Berlin more people were sympathetic to him than in other parts of Germany. I mean, he’s not even that unpopular among conservatives, because he was an early proponent of reunification.

And when did you yourself realise his importance?

We attended a 25-year reunion of ‘68 in the early 1990s, a big congress with [ex-German foreign minister] Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit that took place in Prague. There I got the feeling that he was quite famous and there was a lot of interest in him. I was surprised and confused, I guess.

But your mother or siblings must have explained him to you?

To be honest, we didn’t talk that much about him. Just generally that he was active in the student movement, that kind of thing.

So you had to take an interest personally to find out more.

Yeah, around age 20. And that’s what the book was about. I don’t find it that interesting when I read it now. My brother recently published a book and I think it’s a lot more personal, whereas what I wrote is more political. His book is more interesting in that way.

When you moved to Berlin to do an internship with the Green Party, you made a bit of a media splash.

It had to do with the photos of Fischer throwing stones and beating up a policeman in the 1970s. It was part of a whole debate about my father’s past.

That’s when you tried to speak for him…

In my early twenties, I would say yes to everything and speak about him all the time, to anyone. Looking back now I think it’s kind of foolish. He can’t speak for himself but I don’t think other people should speak for him. I’m also kind of tired of it, I guess… I’ve outgrown it a bit.

Aside from the media attention, has your last name and resemblance to your father been a burden?

Well, when I was engaged in the Greens, it became more of an issue than I thought. I was surprised that people inside the party would use it against me, like, “Is he trying to use his name to get ahead?” Stuff like that.

You, your mum and your brother have all written books about your father. Do you discuss them among yourselves?

No, we don’t really discuss it with each other. It’s still kind of a painful topic, and it boils a little under the surface. But yeah, I think there’s an understanding there, that we defend his legacy and we respect each others’ decisions, what they say or write. And my mum is trying to raise funds at the moment for the publishing of my father’s complete works – I’d like to help out there if I could.

Do they tell you stories about him?

My siblings always tell me that after dinner he would force them to take walks, which they hated. He had a saying, “Nach dem Essen sollst du ruh’n, oder tausend Schritte tun” – after eating, either rest or take a thousand steps.

Did your mother also carry out that same style of parenting?

She was definitely anti-authoritarian, giving us a lot of space to do what we wanted to do and develop in the direction we wanted to go.

You have two kids. Will you be the same with them?

To an extent. I think you need to put up boundaries, I think I’ll be stricter.

Originally published in issue #126, April 2014.