DUB Travels… (1) GDR 1986

Vlag DDR
I love to travel. For business or pleasure, I like the international environment. On the road to France, at the airport for a business trip or on holiday just eavesdropping conversations in different languages. One learns a lot abroad and by seeing and experiencing other cultures one becomes more tolerant and understanding. At least that is my opinion. Travel was a blank spot on my blog. So let’s start with one of the most impressive trips I ever experienced. It was a school trip to former East Germany in 1986. So before the wall was chipped away after November 9th 1989.

I was 18 years old back then and the trip was organized bij the German section of my high school. We were lucky to get a visa because it was refused the years before. We were given strict instructions when crossing the border and time after time it was emphasized that it was absolutely not done to laugh, do funny things behind one’s back or even to cough when die Grenztruppen were in the bus. It was because of these warnings that I was fiercely scared when I discovered that the banana given to me by my mother that laid next to my passport in my plastic bag had opened and had stained the most important document I needed. I handed over the sticky pass to the severe looking German border patrolman. He coughed and then looked at me. I did not dare to look back but his eyes kind of hypnotized me and I simply had to look back. ‘Also, behandelt man so wichtige Dokumente in den Niederlanden? Lieben Sie Ihr Land nicht?‘ It was clear that I was not supposed to answer. After the longest two minutes of my life he threw back my pass, stating: ‘Lumpen‘ (rag). If looks could kill than my German Teacher was Jeffrey Dahmer in his best years.

Anyway, we crossed the border and found ourselves in a different world. A world of repression and a world where one could not say what one wanted. And a world where there was no unemployment and where everybody more or less earned the same (which was not entirely true, but officially that was the definition of communism). I was impressed by the beauty and devastation that coexisted in the streets of Leipzig. We visited Potsdam and the Buchenwald concentration camp. The most impressive was the slogan “Jedem das Seine” (literally “to each his own”, but figuratively “everyone gets what he deserves”) placed over the camp’s main entrance gate. I tried to feel what thousands of Jews and Roma must have felt when they entered this camp. It must have been horrible and I will never forget this visit to Buchenwald.

I could write a thousand words and more about this trip but I will reduce it to three more remarkable things. At one night we went for a drink in the local pub. There were fifty of us and any pub owner in our world would thank the Lord when a party like that would come in on a week night. In the GDR this worked a bit differently. When the first of us entered the Stube the ‘owner’ walked up to us and said: ‘No, no, only two at a time’. When we said that we all wanted a drink he turned the sign ‘closed’ on and said: ‘Feierabend, Schluss’ (end of hours, closed). The pub was not his and he was hired by the State. He was paid by the hour and did not feel to serve fifty people.

The second thing I will never forget is a meeting with the ‘FDJ’. The Free German Youth, also known as the FDJ (German: Freie Deutsche Jugend) was the official socialist youth movement of the German Democratic Republic and the Socialist Party of Germany. They were not very different from us. Had the same school problems and the same pimples. We officially could discuss every topic, although they were reluctant to talk about politics and especially freedom op speech. You could sense that they wanted to say more but did not dare to or were not allowed to. One girl I liked the most. Of course because she looked good but also because we had a high level chat about the future in our respective countries. We exchanged addresses and we wrote to each other until the end of the wall in 1989. Thereafter I did not hear anything about her anymore and I am still looking for her. The next line is German, addressed to Christiane (her name) or someone who knows her. ” Hallo Christiane, ich hoffe es geht dir gut. wenn du dies liest, bitte sende mir eine Mail. Ich möchte wissen wie es dir geht. Wenn einer Christiane Senst kennt dann würde ich mich sehr freuen wenn Sie mir ihre E-Mail-adresse geben könnten. Sie lebte damals Schwanebeckerweg 24 in Belzig”.

The last unforgettable event was the day we went form East Berlin to West Berlin. The food in the east had not been very good, to put it mildly. We all got 20 Deutsche Marken for a lunch in West-Berlin. Without any exception we all rushed into the nearest McDonalds. They were indoctrinated, but weren’t we the same?

There I learned that freedom of speech is very important and for me necessary to be able to live. Until then and still nowadays I’d always liked to give my opinion every time and everywhere. One week with my mouth sealed made me realize that being able to say what you want is one of the main assets of civilization! I promised myself to fight for it the rest of my life!