14 December 2009

Helplessness and resignation?

Jane's diary, 14 December 1989, written in the train from Cologne to Brussels

What a crazy few days, writing Christmas post, washing, buying, packing ... 10 December was international human rights day, Friedrich Schorlemmer received the Ossietzky prize on behalf of Demokratischer Aufbruch. In Czechoslovakia, the Communist Party is now in a minority in the new government, Husak's final act as president was to swear in the new ministers, some who have been in jail until as little as a fortnight ago. Change seems even faster there than here in the GDR. Dubcek or Havel for president? All the shops were open in Wittenberg this afternoon, a Sunday, the 2nd advent, a cold clear day with yellow winter sunshine and a Father Christmas being driven in a horse and trap along the main street throwing out sweets to children.

I was full of cold for my last few days in Wittenberg. On the Sunday I made it to church. The church was cold and the sermon somehow missed the mark but the BBC Radio 4 service was coming from the United States and I was back in time to hear Barbara Harris finishing her sermon and then celebrating the Eucharist, the first woman to be elected a bishop in the US Epsicopal Church. That was special.

I got an exit visa in Wittenberg but when I got to the border in Berlin the border guards couldn't tell me whether or not my new entry visa was there. I crossed into the West with two of the other students who like me were in Berlin for a meeting with students from our sister seminary from West Germany, Soest. The other two went off to get their church Begrüssungsgeld from West Berlin (hard currencyto which otherwise East Germans had no legal access). The people there wanted to give me some too - quite seriously. Very odd!!! Then we set off on the 54 Bus for Spandau, which I knew very well from the gap year that I had spent working in a church-run children's home at the Johannesstift there. It was strange seeing the Christmas market in Spandau gain, just as it had been eight years ago, and the kitsch almost worse then the stuff in Wittenberg. Then out to an evening with the Soest lot at a Pizzeria at Savignyplatz in West Berlin where red wine was consumed. I stayed over in West Berlin.

The next morning back to the border, where, amazingly a visa was waiting for me - and free of charge!! But the Polish visa office in East Berlin was closed - I needed to a get Polish visa for a trip our group was to make to Poland in the New Year. Then to the church headquarters in Augustrasse still a little worse for wear from the night before. I managed to make it back to the Soest meeting at the Auferstehungsgemeinde. I found myself in one group suddenly feeling like an easterner in a strange sort of way, chafing against the wishy-washy western liberalism. The crux of the question is not whether the we feel the "experiment" of socialism in the GDR should go on, but what are we willing to give up, we privileged Westerners and the answer is, "not a lot".

Earlier in the day at the foreigner's registration office at the police in East Berlin, I interpreted for a very sweet but rather clueless Australian who kept trying to pay in the wrong currency. This then led the overworked woman behind the counter to extend my residence permit until June 1989 - in my hungover state I didn't notice, but later in the evening the border guards didn't seem to mind too much, "just make sure that you get round to registering properly"!

Berlin was so wet and disgusting that I simply wanted out and away. On the train I thought back again to the German question, our sense of helplessness and resignation, no new ideas in the face of its inevitability and the lure of the Deutschmark. Whatever happened to "We're staying here!" On the train the guard noticed my ticket had been bought in GDR Marks in East Berlin and didn't ask me to pay the supplement for the InterCity train, it's strange being a token GDR citizen.


Dr B. said...

I'm sure that if the problem with your residence permit had been a year earlier you would have been sent back eastwards. One of the things I noticed after 9 November, even when I was refused entry, was that the border guards suddenly seemed more relaxed and friendly. What sort of life must it have been to sit in those cabins all day long vetting people to and from the west, knowing that the west was literally just a few metres away? Of course the political ideological education meant that you were to be convinced that your were protecting the socialist homeland against the capitalists on the other side of the wall ... One of the things about oppression is that it dehumanises the so-called "oppressors" as well.

janetlees said...

I agree with the point that we are all dehumanised by oppression, both opressed and opressor. That's why it was always so good to hear Tutu laugh at the Tutu jokes in South Africa (see Jane's blog for great photo of Tutu). It's really warming to read your diary and feel the human responses to what was happening.

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