5 November 2009

Where were you 20 years ago?

Our friend Hannelore Schmid who works at the Ecumencal Centre has contributed her memories of 4 and 5 November after reading Jane's blogpost on the 4 November demonstration:

I know exactly where I was on 3 and 4 November 20 years ago. On Friday, 3 November, I had as usually on a Friday afternoon been working at the Bahnhofsmission at the Stuttgart railway station where we were confronted with the arrival of more and more GDR citizens who somehow had made their way to the West via Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Some wanted to stay in the Stuttgart area and we tried to find shelter for them in one of the hostels or even with private persons who had started to offer accommodation in a quite spontaneous way. Some wanted to travel on and we gave them something to drink and to eat and somehow tried to find the money to pay for their train ticket.
Then I took a night train from Stuttgart to Berlin where I arrived early in the morning of Saturday, 4 November. I made my way to a couple living in West Berlin whom I had known in August and September 1989 when I participated in an international peace walk along the Oder-Neisse border to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack on Poland and the beginning of the 2nd World War. It was during this peace walk that I had "discovered" the GDR as I had never been to this country before except for a day's visit to East Berlin during a Berlin trip of our school class.
The couple, both were former GDR citizens who had left their country in the 1970s, had informed me about a big demonstration which was planned to take place this Saturday around Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. We had agreed that I would travel to Berlin and that we would try together to get to East Berlin as day tourists and then see whether we would be able to join the demonstration. On the last moment, the husband decided not to come with us. He was too afraid that there would be violence, that he and his wife would not be allowed to come back again. But his wife wasn't. So Ingrid and I went alone.
At the border, we were astonished how easy it was to get our permission to leave the West and to enter East Berlin. No questions about where we intended to go etc.
Our meeting point was an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg where we would meet with some of the participants from the GDR of the peace walk and then together go to the "Alex".
It was amazing how the atmosphere had changed within a few weeks time. During our peace walk end of August in Forst, a small town close to the Polish border, a handful of people had tried to make use of the presence of an international group to demonstrate for more freedom and had been put to jail. And now, here we were again and this time we would make sure that something like this could not happen again.
As we were about to leave the apartment, Thorsten from Dresden arrived. He was very agitated and said that he was too afraid to come to the demonstration. Some days before, he had been released from prison in Dresden. Ingrid and I decided to stay with him and to listen to his story: how the police had beaten him up just because he had had the bad luck to be close to the Dresden railway station when a train with "Republikflüchtlingen" from Czechoslovakia was passing through. Later he was brought to the Stasi, interrogated and arrested. While we were talking, a neighbour rang and told that we could watch the demonstration life on GDR television. We couldn't believe this, but when we switched on the TV set we could see a huge crowd of people on the Alex listening to Stefan Heym ...
When our friends were back from the demonstration - excited, so happy, proud, optimistic - we had coffee and tea together and made plans on how both our countries would evolve and develop, how the two states could influence each other in a positive way, which parts of these two systems of society would be worthwhile to be kept, what needed to be changed in both countries. We certainly didn't think about a united Germany.
When we went back to West Berlin that evening, I heard an elderly lady in the waiting queue behind us whisper "They have certainly been to this demonstration!". No, finally we hadn't participated in what proved to be the biggest, non state organized demonstration of the GDR. But we were sure that we had lived a historic moment.


Olivier said...

Very impressive, thanks for sharing this.

Post a Comment