It started perhaps when a guide on a free walking tour of Berlin pointed out “smell jars”, in which the Stasi – the GDR’s secret network of police and informers – hoarded people’s sweat by wiping their seats after interrogations. Meticulous, calculating captivity thronged the air just one generation ago.
This interest was renewed both by The Lives of Others, the edifying German film made in 2006, and Anna Funder’s book, Stasiland. And again in 2009 when Crazy Sandra emailed me – it was the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s breach, yet she remembered its fall like it was yesterday. Here is part of that email, which, to those raised in the West without restrictions of movement, ought to be moving and fascinating:
Single-party Socialist State
Today, 20 years ago, my family and me, we started in the evening direction west. This was so exciting. We heard the news in the morning in the radio and we couldn’t really believe what they said!! So I’ve started for school that morning and when I came home, I asked my mother: “Hey Mom, all of my classmates will go in the west today. Can we go also???”
My Dad came home a little bit after 6pm and he was exhausted from work. A friend of our family rings on the door and 30 mins later my brother also came home. And we talked about the new situation. My Dad wouldn’t like to go, but we begged and in the end he said, “Yes let’s start.”
We organized two 25l jerry cans of gasoline and started, without any west money, direction border. In GDR we couldn’t go near the border. It was forbidden! For GDR people 25km before the border was the end. It was prohibited zone. So we came closer and it was a lot of traffic. In one hour we moved only some meters. My Dad swored, but it was too late for reversal.
Established by USSR in 1949
The border cames closer and we have seen all these bright lights and later the soldiers with the dogs and machine guns for the first time. Strange…. When we passed the border we stopped our cars and opened a bottle of champagne with tears in our eyes. I never forget this moment in my whole live. My brother said: “I wanna see the Alps ones in my live, I drive to Garmisch Partenkirchen!” (in the Trabant) We all thought in that moment, that this situation is unique. We couldn’t believe that the border is open forever.
My parents and me and our friends we drove to Nürnberg. Every GDR citizen received DM 100,00!! It was called: “salutation money”. We must picked that up in the City Hall in Nürnberg. Totally crazy. We spend the whole night with waiting in our cars to get over the border and now again some hours to get some money. In the afternoon, now with money, we gone in a big mall. It was too much for me. I only looked at all these things we couldn’t get in GDR. Half an hour later, I sat outside and cried, ’cause I couldn’t believe all that what I had seen…