On the other side- 30 years ago


30 years of German reunification. SoSUE editor Knuth visited the GDR in the eighties. A memory of terrible border crossings.

"Go to the other side if you don't like it here," the man complained. When he read my flyer for a peace demonstration. "I will," I answered him. It was the eighties, I was a pupil and there was still the Cold War.

Over there, that was the GDR for us West Germans. Over there stood for injustice and oppression. I knew that. Nevertheless, I used the invitation of my aunt, who lived in Rostock, for a visit. I was curious and happy to see my relatives. In the spring of 1986 I took the train to the other side.

In my compartment were GDR pensioners who had visited their relatives in the West. They seemed anxious and cautious towards me. After leaving Hamburg, they asked me questions. Their concern was that they might get into trouble at the border because of me. I reassured them. I didn't have any western magazines in my suitcase and my presents complied with the regulations. The few conversations turned over the full shelves, the great fashion, the modern cities and the cars in the west. One woman regretted that she was not allowed to take an Otto catalogue with her.

The inner-German border came closer, I felt the tension increase. The woman, who had just regretted not being allowed to take an Otto catalogue with her, began to tremble. A man instructed me that I should please follow the instructions of the "Grenzer".

The Schwanheide border station was my first stop over there. The GDR welcomed me with all the charm of a dictatorship. It was a kind of high-security wing for trains with watchtowers, barbed wire, fences, shepherd dogs and border guards. In their uniforms, the self-proclaimed antifascists themselves looked like fascists. The Commando-German reinforced this impression with me. We had to leave our compartment because it was searched. A soldier in a trench coat, who smelled of floor wax, checked my passport on a strapped mini folding desk in front of his belly. He was happy about my Chinese name, something like that he didn't have often.


It was depressing. A day I won't forget. The shark smile of the soldiers didn't make it any better. We drove on. It was quiet in my compartment.

I stayed a few days with my aunt and uncle in Rostock. I was at meetings, queued up for my aunt, bought Westware from Intershop, celebrated in Datschen, went to consumer markets, watched West German television with them and made trips to the Baltic Sea. The minimum exchange of D-Mark for Ostmark brought me a small fortune. Nevertheless I could not do anything with my sudden Ostmark wealth, because there was nothing to buy. The shops were empty, and my interest in handicrafts from the socialist brother states or crocheted blankets was limited. I spent my money on a few books and classical records. So I got to know Tolstoy and Bach.

During my walks I got used to the air, which tasted like soot. The streets were grey. Besides, socialism seemed to have something against colour. Some houses looked as if they were the backdrop for a war film. The decay was visible.

The people were bitter. They felt betrayed by the story. The Wessis lived in a frenzy and they had to pay for everything. They wanted to express their opinion openly. They wanted to travel. They just wanted to buy things. They wanted to enjoy life. They wanted freedom. So did we Wessis. Although they had little hope for the future, they tried to come to terms with the system. In everyday life, it often looked like my relatives were always worried about something. In addition to the many problems, the surveillance state was also creating problems for the people, they did not know who was a Stasi informer and who was not. Information was even collected about me. Years later my aunt told me that after my visit the Stasi appeared with her, they were interested in my visit and asked questions about my person.

My departure led me again over the border station Schwanheide. Again I shared my compartment with GDR pensioners and the tension was again very great. The border soldiers who searched our compartment this time were even more exact. They were looking for Republic refugees. Their command German seemed to be louder to me than when I entered the country. They unscrewed almost everything and illuminated it. A shepherd dog sniffed around for safety. It took until the train drove on.

We left the border behind us and were again in the Federal Republic. We were all relieved. What a strange country, I thought.

A woman, who left for the first time, was surprised about the bathtubs, which stood around on the cow pastures and served as cattle drinkers. For them it was a sign of luxury. She explained to me how long people in the GDR had to wait for a bathtub, if there was one at all. Her seat neighbor, who had often been to the West, told her that it was nothing yet, that she should have a look at the department stores and supermarkets. Everything was completely different than in the GDR. There really was everything over here in the West. Over there was the West for the East Germans and meant abundance.

The Wall fell a few years later. I was very happy that the GDR was finally history. German unity followed. I have my doubts as to whether we are actually reunited. There are still people over there: the Wessis and the Ossis.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

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