Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

March 2003

Sue-per Woman

Sue Dürr-wife, mother, musician and peace activist

After living in Munich for 45 years, American Sue Dürr perfectly embodies the dilemma of an expat-turned-native; she has long begun to think in German and often finds herself struggling to find the correct English expression in conversation. Perhaps Dürr’s long sojourn in Munich is the result of her nomadic and unconventional upbringing. Her mother had studied anthropology, and when young Sue approached her mother with “Life’s Great Questions,” she would hear, “Well, dear, the Samoans did it this way, and the Quaquitls [an American Indian tribe] did it that way, but you will have to figure it out yourself.” This enforced flexibility stood Dürr in good stead later in life, allowing her to look at problems from different perspectives in order to find solutions. Her father was an inspector and then conciliator for the Federal Mediation Service, working between labor and management, a job that involved continual relocation—her family moved from Berkeley, California, to Massachusetts, then New York City and back to California, and she was eight years old before she ever lived in one place for more than a year. Dürr’s schooling began in Honolulu, where she can remember seeing clouds of smoke hanging over Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack in 1941. More than a decade later Dürr was introduced to Europe, when her father, who had won an award for his work, decided to take a year off and study labor issues in Britain. While the family headed to the UK, Dürr went to Paris, where she worked as an au pair for a year before returning to the States to study music at the University of California.

In Berkeley she joined a musical quartet and it was there that she met Hans-Peter Dürr, a German whom she married and followed back to Munich to start her life as a homemaker and mother. In the 1970s, when the youngest of her four children had begun school, this feisty American was ready to turn her attention to something new. She approached a progressive, all-day school and offered to teach dancing. Unbeknown to her, the principal had a background in classical languages. When he heard that she wished to teach Greek dancing she was hired instantly—Dürr has just retired after teaching for 30 years. At about this time, she also began meeting up with a group of women from her local community to discuss such issues as the oil crisis and the weapons arsenals in Europe. After a while this informal group became a fully fledged peace movement. The 1983 debate to deploy mid-range Pershing missiles gave Dürr and her friends added impetus and the group created a human chain from Stuttgart to the US Army base in Neu Ulm to protest the issue. In the same year, Dürr and coactivists founded the Munich American Peace Committee, which continues to be active in the region today. “We’ve been serving southern Bavaria since 1983,” says Dürr proudly. Fortunately, her husband shares this vision of making the world a safer, more harmonious place to live in; a world with greater transparency and with long-term solutions to the problem of limited natural resources. Mr. Dürr, a former director of the Max-Planck-Institut, was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize for his efforts to seek solutions to the problem of sustainability. While her husband works with international experts and governments, Dürr herself is involved at a grassroots level. Over the years they have found that both approaches can bring about change.

In 1998 Dürr became the contact person for the anti-globalization organization ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens) in Munich. The group’s greatest triumph so far has been the implementation of the Tobin Tax, an international levy on currency speculation. Today there are 500 members and every week about 20 new people join the association. “There’s an increased feeling of discontent about the system we find ourselves living in. ATTAC has grown so fast because it puts its finger on the problems of neo-liberalism, which had promised to provide better solutions for everyone but is helping the economic giants instead. The gap between rich and poor has increased. The organization has the same approach as other progressive institutions: to provide concrete, specific, executable solutions that make incremental improvements to the system. Hopefully they will eventually lead to solving the larger problems.”

The petite Dürr is not daunted by the immense task of changing the world we live in. She feels that when people talk of idealism today it has connotations of the impossible. “When you feel you cannot make a change, it means that you are willing to accept the world you’re living in. It also implies that things will continue to go downhill. For me, idealism is about changing the idea, and that means changing reality, creating our own preferred reality.” She gives the example of Gerhard Schröder, who has maintained his antiwar stance and opposes Bush in his intended invasion of Iraq. “No one thought there would be a voice of dissention, and then Jacques Chirac decided to support Schröder as well. This has put more pressure on the US and it just goes to show that anything is possible.” At the time of this interview, Dürr was doing her bit against the Iraq war, too, by organizing a protest against America’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who was due to attend the Annual Security Conference in Munich in early February. Dürr’s work can be exhilarating when she reaps positive results, but it can also be extremely discouraging, exhausting and frustrating to be constantly pitching against such mighty opponents, often with little to show for all her efforts. Nonetheless this battle has become her raison d’etre.

One vital source of support in Dürr’s struggle for change is the circle of like-minded friends and acquaintances in Munich. And even in these dark times she believes in the power of music and dance to improve the quality of people’s lives. “If you love life and the world, celebrate it in a beautiful way. Do something that makes it a better place for future generations.”

tell a friend