School Visit of the Berlin Wall (1961)
It is not surprising that the Wesel High School amongst many other schools in North Rhine-Westphalia organized, one year before our graduation, a field trip to the capital of Germany to provide the students with first-hand experience of the wall that was going to separate Germans from Germans for almost 30 years. The day after our class had participated in a guided tour of a small section of the wall, the teacher in charge of our group granted me permission to go see my relatives in East Berlin. Mr. Zorn with the Latin nickname Ira was personally responsible for our safety. I often wondered how he could have allowed me to cross the border on my own with all the horror stories circulating in the daily newspapers about harassments, arrests, even disappearances of people from West Germany. At the checkpoint I had to list all my personal belongings. I had nothing to declare except my cheap DM 20.00 camera.
Again I enjoyed a most pleasant visit with Aunt Alma and her family. I cannot recall having announced my coming, but I must have sent them a card, because the whole family had assembled in the living room, when I arrived at their door. Uncle Artur with his biting sarcasm softened only by a disarming sense of humor was again, as on my previous visit, at his best poking fun at the political system in general, but especially at the wall very much to the chagrin of his party-loyal sons-in-law. He asked whether I knew why there were so many round holes in the wall. When I shook my head, he answered the question for me, “To let off the cabbage steam.” Now this riddle makes only sense in English if one knows that cabbage steam (Kohldampf) was a euphemism for ravenous hunger.
Now the sons-in-law had their turn to inform me from their perspective the raison d’être for the wall. It was built, so they insisted, to protect the citizens of the GDR from the attacks of the Western imperialists. Surely I must have seen the tank traps and the barbed wire in front of the wall facing west. They would serve as the first line of defense. If they were intended to keep people from leaving their socialist country, they would have been set up behind the wall. I remained unimpressed. Their fervor for the system showed me that they had pulled blindfolds over their eyes. They believed what they wanted to believe on the principle that you do not slap the hand that feeds you. With Uncle Artur`s help the family finally steered away from the political hogwash and focused on their guest.
Berlin Wall – Photo Credit: hstrclgrl.blogspot.ca
When I told them about my trips to Spain and Yugoslavia I indirectly conveyed to them the kind of freedom I enjoyed on the other side of the Wall. Also I enthusiastically talked about my career plans, namely to study high frequency technology. Uncle Artur, a leading scientist in a related field, a son-in-law already involved with electronics in the NVA (National People’s Army), Anje, the second youngest daughter also planning to become an electronics engineer, we all warmed up to this refreshingly apolitical topic with Aunt Alma cheerfully chiming in, “Wouldn’t it be nice, if Peter and Anje could study together in the exciting world of electronics!” With this comment Aunt Alma more concerned about good family relations than about politics made a profound statement about the tragedy of a divided Germany.