Prof. Horst Gundermann
6th May 1922 Berlin–8th September 2013 Heidelberg
Born into a working class family in Berlin-Wedding, young Horst got the opportunity to go to high school (Gymnasium). In the 1930s he participated in a school exchange program and experienced life in England while staying with a family in Sheffield. A friendship with the British exchange student lasted his entire life. After passing the school exit examination (Abitur) in 1940, he was immediately drafted into the military service and sent to fight in the Africa Corps under General Erwin Rommel. In 1941 he was captured by the British at Tobruk and was detained at several camps in Egypt before he had to embark on a steamer under Polish guard in 1942. Watching over the railing, Horst Gundermann could see the Suez Canal, Madagascar, the Table Mountain of Cape Town which he visited about 50 years later, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. He arrived in Boston, MA, where he and his comrades were handed over to the Americans. While there, POW (prisoner of war) H. G. fell ill with severe angina. The American military doc treated him promptly and properly with a medication that had only recently been invented and would be unavailable in Germany for many years to come: penicillin. The captive soldiers were transported to Canada with good catering and in comfortable coaches by the Western Pacific Railroad. For the next few years, they were to live in a well-equipped camp near Edmonton, AB. While there was a mostly benign outside supervision by the Veterans Guard of Canada, the POWs were allowed to self-govern their internal affairs in the camp.The prisoners could read all important Anglophone newspapers and they were allowed to work outside the camp, to earn money and to buy what they needed. Gundermann was working at a farm. The Canadians would only intervene when even after the German capitulation Nazi fanatics among the prisoners still executed compatriots who did no longer believe in the Führer and the Endsieg (final victory). This criminal offence under Nazi law was called "defeatism". An older companion who had been a journalist before the war was becoming a mentor to the 20-year-old Horst and implanted in him a lifelong sympathy for the Anglo-American understanding of democracy.
Half a year after the end of war, the prisoners were shipped to England in order to carry out reparation work. In 1946 Gundermann finally saw his home town again, as a heap of rubble. He managed to get a place at drama school of the famous Deutsches Theater zu Berlin (German theatre of Berlin). Later he performed with the Städtische Bühnen (local theater) Leipzig, Eastern Germany, and also spent time moonlighting as a radio presenter. When he realized that he had to broadcast the propagandist lies spun by the East German government he would have none of it and quit his acting career. But there was one thing he was taking with him from the stage: his original interest in the human voice. He took a new approach to the subject via medical study in Leipzig from 1952 to 1958 and specialist training in ENT at the university hospital of Greifswald from 1960. In 1959 he married the microbiologist Dr. Annemarie Fabian. Lukas was born in 1962, Susanne in 1966.
In 1964 he became one of the two senior physicians in the Greifswald hospital. He received training in phoniatrics with Miloslav Seeman in Prague and founded the phoniatric department with 20 beds in Greifswald. For patients with vocal disorders he initiated “Stimmheilkuren” (cures of voice treatment) in the neighboring Baltic health resort Lubmin. His basic idea: Vocal disturbances are deeply-rooted, so during therapy the entire personality of the patient has to be influenced – by psychotherapy, training of respiration, posture, phonation, hearing training and many more – all taking place faraway from the pathogenic milieu under health resort conditions. In this way holistic voice cures were established long before the word "holistic" became the fashion.
The observations resulted in his post-doctoral thesis „Die Berufsdysphonie der Lehrer“ (Professional Dysphonia of Teachers) in 1969, published in 1970 by Thieme Leipzig as a monograph „Die Berufsdysphonie: Nosologie der Stimmstörungen in Sprechberufen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der sogenannten Lehrerkrankheit“ (Professional Dysphonia: Nosology of Voice Disorders in Speaking Professions with Particular Regard to the so called Teacher’s Disease).
The next step in his academic career should have been the university teacher. But in the GDR (as Eastern Germany was officially known) this way would have required too many kowtows to the regime. Gundermann was unwilling to do that. So he moved to the provinces, to Neuruppin, as a head of the ENT department at the hospital. He was able to set up the Stimmheilkuren anew in Dambeck near Neustrelitz, 90 km north of Neuruppin, to where he drove on weekends.
There was a sufficient number of patients with occupational vocal disorders in the GDR. Many teachers developed an ill voice – the "teacher illness" – caused by the conflict between that what they had to teach and that what they were secretly thinking themselves. Many students were pushed to pedagogic studies against their will. However, there was a nationwide obligatory vocal aptitude test for candidates for vocal occupations, that was also required for teacher trainees. The phoniatrist was able to certify more than a few candidates to be unsuitable for this occupation, even prophylactically, thereby enabling them to switch to their originally desired subject.
Gundermann tried to see our world from many points of view and to win a general understanding, even beyond the field of medicine – encompassing the perspectives of history and philosophy, psychology, literature and theology. Likewise he strove throughout his life for truth and felt obliged to truthfulness. Consequently he suffered under the intellectual narrowness and hypocrisy of the dictatorship of the GDR he had to live in. „How is it possible that we’re still walking around freely? They know what we think, but they wrap us in cotton wool and act as if everything was normal – even though nothing is normal!“ He cited Thoreau: „There is only one place for a democrat in a dictatorship, that is the prison“
In this discouraging situation it was a glimmer of light to him to be permitted a trip to Belgrade to the foundation meeting of the UEP in 1971. It was Gerhard Kittel’s stroke of genius initiating this venture across the Iron Curtain. He understood well how the GDR’s greed for international recognition could result in the grant of travel permission to the nominally socialist, but de facto semi-westernized country of Yugoslavia. In the following year, unfortunately, this effect was not strong enough to provide for a travel permit to the Western German city of Mainz.
In summer 1975 Gundermann grasped at the chance of the Helsinki Accords signed also by the East German dictator. According to "Basket III" of the treaty, everybody could leave his home country and return. Gundermann applied immediately for an exit visa. During the first months after signing the agreement, the regime let applicants leave, physicists and mathematicians earlier, doctors later; but persons filing applications for exit visas were subsequently jailed. Early in 1976, he was dismissed as the head of the ENT department at the hospital and was demoted into the outpatient clinic. That was a first glimmer of hope to him, which weeks later was to shine brighter when losing this post too and becoming jobless in a country boasting about being free of unemployment. Over and over again he was subjected to exhausting questionings by the authorities. A few days after his 54th birthday in May 1976, he and his family received their long-awaited release from GDR citizenship. The Gundermanns had to pack their household contents under surveillance of state controllers to prevent them taking any cultural assets with them. Gundermann documented the rocky way out of the GDR in his book "Entlassung aus der Staatsbürgerschaft" (Release from the Citizenship) (Ullstein in 1982).
In his long life Horst Gundermann never stopped being a founder. After the foundation of the Phoniatric Department in Greifswald and start of the voice cures in Lubmin and Dambeck, he became a professor at the Universities of Mainz, later of Heidelberg and Mannheim. In Heidelberg he inaugurated the Department of Phoniatrics and a large School for Speech Therapists at the Stiftung Rehabilitation (foundation for rehabilitation). When he approached retirement age, he founded another large phoniatric hospital in Bad Rappenau. In 1986 – at the age of 64 – he organized the first „Kommunikationsmedizinische Tage“ (days of communication medicine) in Bad Rappenau, repeated in 1988 and 90 and in Bad Boll in 1992. According to his holistic approach, he gathered experts from all disciplines dealing with voice: physicians, actors, teachers, singers, speech therapists, music experts, psychologists and many more. In 1996 the conferences found their final home in the Baden-Wuerttemberg capital as biennial "Stuttgarter Stimmtage" (Stuttgart vocal days), founded together with Uta Kutter and Annikke Fuchs-Tennigkeit. Gundermann still managed to secure the commitment of many highly qualified co-working colleagues in advancing and promoting the institution "Stimmtage" – even during his last years when old age and frailty prevented him from participating himself. The most recent edition of the "Stimmtage" was successfully held in 2014. In 1999 Gundermann received the German Federal Cross of Merit.
Beside all this he has published numerous scientific papers and also popular advisories for patients and parents. He also wrote poems, unpublished until now – exploring the deep truth of life as only poetry can.
Horst Gundermann has lived an exemplary life as a truth seeker in science, politics and in personal life, always looking for the widest possible horizon. His holistic idea is well accepted in the phoniatrics today and is living on.
Dr. Eberhard W. Grundmann, Burglengenfeld