04 October 2012

In the prosperous country of my childhood the weather map on TV showed a Germany with a straight line on the right edge and the clouds and sun beams of the daily forecast always faded abruptly into the east, the nowhere land. My Latin teacher would correct any messing around in class with his standard phrase, "you are in Central Europe, please behave accordingly" and we would reply with a suppressed giggle (preposterous snob). In the city, on the old market place right in front of one of the three medieval churches that had been reconstructed from rubble stood a short piece of wall, maybe 2 m by 2m with a plaque reading "A wall separates the people of Germany".

Of course all this meant nothing to me. The good world, our world ended just there at this fading line on TV every night and we were on the right side of it.

Many years later and  long after I had left this place behind me with no intention to return - my reasons were vague and angry - I met Anna, a woman my age (30), my first encounter with life from the other side of that line. We were living in paradise, in  this beautiful, corrupt and poor African country that used to send its promising young people to whatever university anywhere would offer a scholarship. East Germany did. And so Anna had fallen in love with this handsome African engineering student and after they had married she was allowed to be 'repatriated' to her husband's country. For whatever reason they were given tickets to fly from Frankfurt and not via the circuitous route with aeroflot. They had been instructed to travel straight to the airport and Get. On. That. Plane. Period. But they arrived way too early or maybe the plane was delayed, whatever, they had hours to kill. 
I was so ignorant, really, I listened in disbelief as she described how they sneaked out of the airport and into the city, just to look around, terrified of getting caught. And so, they just managed to run into the first department store and with their secret stash of dollars bought a Barbie doll of all things and then raced back to the airport as quickly as they could. All the time thinking that secret agents were watching behind every corner, while in fact they could have walked into the next police station where they would have been welcomed like heroes - those were the days.

We soon found out that, surprsingly, we had much in common, and anyway, Germany was way beyond the horizon.

Several months later I am sitting on the beach at sunset, in a lovely crowd of people, a beer in my hand, my feet touching the surf when this Australian guy walks up. He is working at the BBC relay station across the mountains where the reception is ok most of the time. We have no radio or TV and only the occasional newspaper, four weeks old if we are lucky. I first think he is trying to be funny when he tells me that people are standing on the wall in Berlin, singing and hacking big chunks off it. So I laugh him off and get another beer. But he is serious and out of the corner of my eye I can see Anna shouting and jumping and soon enough the crowd is cheering and dancing. Most people haven't a clue why but, hey, this is life on the beach. 
On the way home much later I try to imagine my mother at this moment, either drunk or in tears, probably both.


  1. Great read. Great blog.

    Translator? One of my blog friends... my first 'follower' (hate that word),is a translator, or trying very hard to be.

    Steven, by the way.

    Best... and thanks for dropping by.

  2. I love reading your stories.
    We were so fortunate in so many ways. None of our relatives which were mainly sisters of Oma and their families ended up on the wrong side of the wall.

  3. What an amazing story. thanks for sharing it. As good as any I've read in the big world. Really.