East and West Germany: Questions answered!

My name is Peggy Spitzner and I am Editor and Translator. I work on texts and translate them mainly from English into German or I check the grammar and spelling of the text and correct it. I have worked on books and leaflets about scientific and creative topics. I also draw and illustrate books or do handlettering. When I was young I wanted to become a photographer or singer. Sometimes I appear in movies or tv series as an extra.

I have lived on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

Peggy as a child.jpg

Photo: Peggy as a child

Q) What was is it like living on both sides? From incredible_wombat, Morley Newlands Academy

A) I lived in East Germany until I was 7 years old. This was called the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and was ruled by the Russians. When I was born in 1982, there was a wall separating East from West Germany at main border checkpoints, mainly in the capital Berlin. In my childhood, I was not aware of what was going on politically, I had a good childhood and a lot of friends. The school was doing a lot of group events, mainly of course for political causes, like sports events, crafts or performances on stage. As a child, I did not feel the need to travel, but when I went to Hungary with my parents every summer, I had to pretend to be sleeping when we went back home and crossed the border. This was to prevent that they would search us and find stuff that my parents had bought but were not allowed to. They were not allowed to travel to countries that did not have communist or similar regimes and sometimes I had to be careful about what I told my classmates or neighbours about my parents and what they talk about at home, because people were spied on or had a hard time getting jobs or cars or telephones when they said something wrong about the regime. Sometimes they had to wait for a car for 20 years. Also, my mum was not allowed to study what she wanted to because her parents where in church and the parents of her father had escaped the GDR before the wall was built (to keep people in). In the West, I recognized the full shelves in the supermarkets, everything was so colourful and wrapped in plastic. I was given stuff for free as a promotion in the streets and my parents bought me really colourful clothes. Later, we bought some passionfruit juice and creamcheese etc. and I was amazed. This was all new to me, the products in the GDR were restricted, bananas or other exotic products were only sold sometimes in small amounts and only to people who were more or less loyal to the government.

My childhood was good and I liked that at school we did a lot of sports and crafts. Everyone had a job. Everyday household items and other products were made for life. There was not much choice and everyone had the same model, but many people in East Germany still use their GDR stuff. That was good, but nothing else really. Everything was more simple and reduced to the basics, mainly the food supply. My father always tells the story when he wanted to buy something normal to drink and they only had rhubarb juice or milk in the shop. If they sold something special in a shop, like bedsheets, everyone would queue up and buy the item 10 times to hoard it, just in case.

Q) Did you still get to see all your friends/family? From energetic_rock, New Horizons Children's Academy

A) When we escaped, no. We were in the West and the rest of our family still in the GDR. My grandmother was allowed to travel, because she was a pensioner already and the government did not care for them so much, they were allowed to travel more frequently. But we had to wait until the wall came down in November in order to see everyone again.

Q) Are you allowed to choose on which side you want to live on? From balanced_singer, The Ruth Gorse Academy

A) The way this question is asked – now, yes. If we are talking about before 1989 though, no, not as a citizen of the GDR. You could apply for a permission to leave the country. But this was not always granted and never on your terms. If you applied for this, you were automatically an enemy of the state. This also meant that you would not be allowed to travel back in after you left and quite often they made you wait on your bags until they suddenly told you to leave the country within 24 hours. People from the West were allowed to travel in and out of the GDR.

Everyone had a job. Everyday household items and other products were made for life. There was not much choice and everyone had the same model.

Peggy Spitzner

Q) What struggles did you face when living in East Germany and how does it compare to living in the West? From creative_sparrow, The Ruth Gorse Academy

A) I did not have many struggles as a child except some moments in kindergarten perhaps where I had to sleep on my belly and with my hands under the pillow and when I couldn’t do it, I had to sleep standing up in the corner of the room. We also had to eat everything they gave us. I hated fish but I was forced to eat it. Also, I had to be careful what I talked about in kindergarten or school if my parents had talked about something political at home. The West was of course not like that. I remember staying at a house shortly after the escape. It belonged to a family from the US and the daughter had every Barbie thing imaginable, a villa, a convertible, a horse… I had never seen so many pink things and so much plastic. They also had a TV which was running all day long. In the GDR, there was nothing on most of the time. Also, their Polaroid camera inspired me to take my first shots. There was a lot to discover. But this was mainly superficial and had to do with the stuff you could buy in shops. The people were as nice as they were in the East but it was easier to trust others. A lot of my friends mum's stayed home and didn’t work, that was also unusual for me, because in the GDR everyone worked.

Q) Do you think that your experiences from living on both sides of the Berlin Wall relates to Trump's wall in any way? From content_lemon, Boutcher C of E Primary School

A) Before we escaped, it meant nothing to me. I was not aware of it as a child. I was maybe aware that we were not allowed to do. I was aware that I was not allowed to talk about everything my parents talked about at home, especially not with neighbours or in school. After the wall came down I started to become aware of what it was and meant. Now to me it is a symbol of fundamentalism and violence. It was something that locked people in and out. If a wall needs to be somewhere with this purpose then the politicians have failed at some point. If they have to do this to their own people, then something is not right or not working in their advantage. If all people and their needs are considered in a society then noone has to be locked in or out.

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