Guns of Honecker up for auction

Tue Sep 2, 2008 10:41am EDT
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By Josie Cox

BERLIN (Reuters) - A unique collection of hunting rifles and pistols that once belonged to East German leader Erich Honecker and his top deputies will be auctioned off next month, a German auction house said on Tuesday.

A total of 31 weapons, including the pistol that Erich Mielke used in a 1931 shootout with police, are part of an extraordinary collection assembled by Christiane Bernuth, an auctioneer in the eastern town of Erfurt.

Mielke, a dedicated Communist and avid gun collector, later became head of the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police who crushed dissent through torture, intimidation and a vast network of informants.

"The weapons are all exceptional items, many of them decorated with intricate engravings," Bernuth said. She said she expects the sale of the weapons, many made in an arms factory in Suhl, to make well above 50,000 euros ($73,000).

Memorabilia from Communist East Germany remain in great demand, even two decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of East Germany in 1990.

A collection of this sort is particularly rare as there were almost no private gun owners in East Germany.

Items linked to Honecker -- who was ousted in October 1989 just before the Wall fell and died in Chile in 1994 -- are especially coveted by collectors. His French-made Citroen limousine, made in 1978, was bought in 2000 for about $10,000.

Mielke owned 16 of the 31 guns to be auctioned on October 25 in Suhl, including a Walther pistol that he used in a shootout with the police on August 9, 1931, one of the most notorious gunfights of the Weimar Republic era.

Bild newspaper, hailing the sale as "the auction of the year," said the gun's authenticity had been confirmed and that it could fetch 1 million euros.

Other weapons in the auction belonged to East German Communist leaders such as Walter Ulbricht and Guenter Mittag, a member of the Politburo.

<p>A photo of Erich Honecker is pictured in a room at the "Ostel" hotel in Berlin June 28, 2007. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke</p>