The Reifferscheid Tree


Chart IV Ernst and Elisabeth Reifferscheid

My Travels to the West in 1955 and 1987

(Chart IV – IV, V)

Contributed by Norbert Werner

Part I

Born in the year of the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) I have been living here up to its collapse and beyond. How many can claim to have gone through the beginning and end of a state?! It is well known that we citizens lived here in the GDR well protected, isolated, and screened off from the rest of the world. Travels to only a very few countries were permitted in those days.

Paul Wener and family 1956
Elsbeth, Paul, Norbert and Christian Werner 1956

I vaguely remember that during my early childhood my mother, Elsbeth, and I were allowed to visit her parents in Velbert, West Germany. That was definitely before the building of the Berlin Wall. My brother Christian asserts that it must have been in 1955, because during that time he had to go to a children’s home across the street from where we lived at Reinhardsbrunner Street.

1
Our House in Gotha

One thing will always remain in my memory of our visit. On the bookcase shelf in the living room was on prominent display the 20-volume encyclopedia. Later on, I found out that my father had mailed the books in separate parcels, partly using different return addresses, to his parents-in-law, who had to leave the heavy items behind at their flight in 1954 (Read more in bieneklopp.com).

On our return trip West German border officials thoroughly examined our papers. The reason for their curiosity was that they were puzzled by my father’s name (Paul Werner), which they had come across somewhere in our transit papers. At the time there was a high-ranking member of the East German government by the name of Paul Verner! This was my first visit to the West.

In Part II I will report about my second journey in 1987.

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My Travels to the West in 1955 and 1987

(Chart IV – III, IV and Chart I – III, IV)

Contributed by Norbert Werner

Part II

From my uncle Walter (Biene’s brother) we had received many travel reports about his life in the USA as well as about the life of the Klopp family in Canada. Besides my wife’s uncle lived with his family in Toronto. And so my curiosity for the land and people had been awakened. Above all, I desired to see my aunt Biene after more than 20 years.

I figured that (at least by German standards) Stefan, the youngest member of the family, would have to start school by September 1987. Under these circumstances I saw a worthwhile cause to apply for a travel permit. With this idea in mind I began the long arduous task of travel preparations. One needs to know that everything had to be arranged by mail. We had no phone and there was no possibility this way to make contact with people in the West.

The first step brought me to the travel agency of the GDR to explore the necessary travel connections. The information I received was quite favorable, for there was an itinerary from Berlin-Schönefeld (GDR) over Belgrade to Toronto for a total cost of about  3,400 marks. At that price I was able to finance half the trip by myself (For your understanding: My monthly salary being on the lowest rank of the salary grid at that time in the people’s owned state enterprise (VEB) was about 1,500 marks).

Now I had to inform Biene about my intentions; for up to now she had absolutely no idea about my ‘invitation’. There was great joy on both sides of the Atlantic. There was just one little obstacle left that had to be removed. How would I get from Toronto in Eastern Canada all the way to Fauquier not far from the West Coast (The reader needs to be reminded that Canada is the second largest country in the world. PK)? Walter was able to help me and took care of all the remaining arrangements.

curly separator

My Travels to the West in 1955 and 1987

(Chart IV – III, IV and Chart I – III, IV)

Contributed by Norbert Werner

Part III

Now the path can finally be cleared to all sorts of government offices. First of all the application form for the passport needs to be procured. By this process the first decision regarding the success of this undertaking would be made. We are at the end of February. I am so bold and book at the travel agency the flight for the 24th of August – of course totally without any obligations; for I do not yet have any official confirmation or permit at that time. Meanwhile the application is being processed at my work place. I figure that my chances of success are good. After all, I am leaving a wife, two children, a house and property behind as ‘security’. That should convince the comrades at the State Security Service (Stasi) that I would definitely also take the return flight! With Walter and Peter’s help I request the necessary papers: the official invitation and confirmation of the school administration in Fauquier. To obtain these documents is no problem for Peter. Of course, they are written in English, so I need to get an officially certified translation with seal and signature.

In April I submit the application and receive the passport at the beginning of May. Now my departure has been secured. Now I need to get the entry visa to Canada. That would take up to 8 weeks, for the closest Canadian embassy is located in Warsaw. I am using the waiting period to plan the journey and the program. Walter and I arrange with the relatives in Toronto that we would spend the first week (Robert would be joining us later) to get to know the city. Walter is taking care of the tickets from Toronto to British Columbia.

In July the moment has finally come. The visa arrives. We all are informed, for now everything has been settled and the last round of preparations can begin. Twenty kg of luggage is quickly put together,  for there should be a little gift for everyone. The special school candy bag (Zuckertüte) for Stefan is going to be the highlight. The ticket has been paid and I exchange 15 mark of GDR currency at the rate of one to one into West mark. More than that I am not permitted to have. Can you imagine? I am starting this journey half way around the globe with only 15 marks in my pocket, modest command of the English language, without cell phone, etc. ?

On August 24th my journey begins, first to Belgrade with overnight stay included in the price (remember I have only 15 marks), then on the next day on to Toronto. These are going to be four weeks filled with adventure and great experiences. Walter documented this in three big photo albums. I made hundreds of slides, which I could show later on many occasions to marveling GDR citizens.

 The impressions and experiences I had on this my very own ‘world trip’ are going to be another chapter. In the contribution to this blog I just wanted to create an impression of the travel (im)possibilities in the German Democratic Rebublic, which nowadays one can hardly visualize.

And the best part comes here at the end: Up to the last moment I believed that there would be a big family celebration for Stefan’s introduction into the school system, as is the custom in Germany. I was greatly disappointed, because Stefan had been in school for over a year, just like his brothers in the Fauquier Elementary School, where their father had been the teacher for grades 4 to 7.

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