30 Years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: With Trabi in Upper Palatinate 2

30 Years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: With Trabi in Upper Palatinate

Altenstadt's Kerstin Birkner at Vohenstrauss does not look at his turbulent past in DDR. The 51-year-old lives there with her husband Andreas and has two grown daughters. In her home, the seamstress runs an interior design store and yoga practice. "I feel very much like Oberpfälzerin and we are known in Altenstadt as a colorful dog," she says pleased. The fact that the region could once become their home country was unthinkable for the native Turing people 30 years ago.

In 1989, she lived with her parents in Plattenbau, Schleiz. She talked with her boyfriend and today’s husband about running away in kindergarten – in a whisper. "We were afraid you never knew if you would be intercepted." In retrospect, the fear of surveillance proved justified. "A few years ago, I looked at my Stasi file, which I could never have imagined, but learned that my best friend at the time, IM (unofficial employee, newsroom), was on top of me Stasi, even what we did together in Hungarian rest. "

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On November 1, 1989, the NDR abolished the CSSR visa. Countless East Germans seized the opportunity and headed west. Before the border crossing at Schirnding, the crowd was huge.

Image: Claus Felix / dpa

"I've always been a wanderer"

Kerstin Birkner felt imprisoned in DDR, without the oppression of freedom. When acquaintances from the west arrived, they recounted trips to the Alps or the North Sea. "We lacked nothing. The basic services were good, but what we lacked was freedom. I was always wandering around." The student, therefore, participated in a Monday demonstration against the SED rule and planned with a friend who worked as a driver of a dairy truck to escape.

He drove daily with truck villages in the border area of ​​the zone to Bavaria, reaching the last security zone in front of the fence. "He was spying on the Borderer patrol watch as we considered running away with jokes." As the truck was strictly controlled daily during the ride, Andreas suggested hiding the girl in a milk tank. "But swimming in a dark steel tank of milk was far too grueling for me," says Kerstin Birkner.

Eventually, everything changed, events rolled over in the GDR: on October 31, the two heard that the border with the Czech Republic had been opened. "I got a sick letter and then we both went to the bank and took out all our money." Only now, the day before they escaped, did they inform the rest of the family. "My father-in-law was on the SED, strictly ideological. That was shocking, but in the end, everyone soberly accepted and accepted it."

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Carolyn Lausch with her husband Uwe (left) and son Alexander on the couch in their living room in Neukirchen near Sulzbach-Rosenberg. On November 6, 30 years ago, the family fled Trabbi to Upper Palatinate. "I can't imagine ever coming back," Alexander says.

Image: Tobias Gräf

Around the fence at the embassy

It was only with a small amount of luggage that the then 21-year-old, with her husband, left the awkward home on November 1 in Traby – because at the time the Czech-German border was still closed, the young couple headed to the German Embassy in Prague. As early as August 1989, GDR citizens had fled to the German representation in Palais Lobkowitz. In September, thousands of GDR citizens congregated in cramped spaces. The mass exodus was a thorn in the side of the Czechs, who closed the northern driveways of the city with the militia forces. "We were advised to avoid Prague and come to the city from the south," Birkner says.

The plan worked. In the dark, they both arrived at a police cordon message. "We rolled over an iron fence with a robbery ladder, and I excitedly trembled from feet to hair roots – we just wanted to get inside." The crowded property burst at the seams and slept outside on the beds. He had to stop for hours until the toilets could be used. Rudolf Seiters came to the embassy that evening. Similar to his boss Hans-Dietrich Genscher in his famous balcony speech on September 30, FRG Deputy Foreign Minister has good news for expatriates: "He told us that trains would be provided and that everyone could leave in the morning."

Already, since the beginning of October, the first trains were traveling to West Germany. At that time, he deliberately routed across the GDR territory to the west to maintain the front of his regular departure.

Flood Trabi: Remember the head of the reception center in Weiden

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Weiden in Upper Palatinate

Stands on the train to Schirnding

In the case of Kerstin Birkner, however, it went directly from Prague to Schirnding. Uncertainty has until recently been the companion of a young woman. "There was a man on the train asking us strange questions. It was immediately clear to us that this was one of the state's insurance companies. The whole ride was in a depressed mood. We were afraid the train would stop." Only when the train reached the Bavarian border did the tension ease. "A giant stone has fallen from our hearts, simply indescribable."

But not all DDR citizens traveled by train. The irony of history means that thousands of people cross the border with the class enemy Trabi, a socialist parade car – just like Carolyn Lausch.

"I requested an official request to leave and I stopped work the next day – the whole village knew immediately and I had to go to Stasi." It happened in August 1989 in Thuringian Frohnsdorf, with Carolyn Lausch reporting on their hometown in the former DDR. The 57-year-old lives with her husband Uwe today at her own house in Neukirchen near Sulzbach-Rosenberg. Professional and Family – Along with grown-up sons Alexander and Sebastian, the family in Upper Palatinate has long been integrated and is feeling well.

But 30 years ago, the future of the regime-critical family was uncertain. Just like Kerstin Birkner, the idea of ​​escape was ubiquitous. Uwe worked in mining and as a line installer, but career advancements stalled. "My goal was to overcome there, but I was rejected because I was not in the party."

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Kerstin Birkner escapes on November 1, 1989 with her husband Andrew and Trabbi at the West German Embassy in Prague. Later immigrants arrive by train across the border and finally with relatives to Vohenstrauß. A trained seamstress has abandoned her plan to leave the tank with a milk truck.

Image: Tobias Gräf

Torschlusspanik – escape to Trabbi

The decision to leave the country then came spontaneously, on November 4th. "We really wanted to have dinner with friends, but they told us: It won't work. We'll break tomorrow." The couple were panicked, handing over the house key to their mother next door – and on the morning of November 6, she and the children boarded Trabba. "We left everything behind, didn't say goodbye to almost anyone so we wouldn't endanger anyone," says Carolyn Lausch. For fear of asking questions at the border, state refugees were buying gifts for acquaintances, which they reportedly wanted to visit in Czechoslovakia (CSSR).

"We couldn't do it, we just had to join the endless Trabbis column. Everyone headed for Prague," recalls a current Kunert E-Center employee in Amberg. From November 1, 1989, entry into the FRG is possible without separate documents, an identity card is sufficient. Tens of thousands use this opportunity. At the Bad Brambach Grenzer border crossing, he slapped a beam in front of the car: "They knew exactly what we wanted." At Schirnding, Trabi finally crossed the Bavarian border for the first time – to freedom. An exhausted but happy family came to Nabburg at the Federal Border Police (BGS) local barracks. "I'll never forget it. The police were very kind. They served spaghetti Bolognese at night. This was our first Western meal and it was great."

We drove to Nuremberg at Christkindlmarkt. We stopped immediately due to engine failure.

Uwe Lausch (58) on his first West car, Opel Cadet.

Uwe Lausch (58) on his first West car, Opel Cadet.

Maximilian Zeus runs the German-German border

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But the big challenges started just now: Where should you stay? How to make money? Is one received friendly? Through the Federal Border Police barracks in Nabburg, the Lausch family reached the first reception center in Weiden. They only stayed at Ostmarkkaserne one night to retrieve personal information. "It was a disaster. The place was overcrowded. There was a lot of Assis, everyone was drinking," Uwe describes her memories.

From Weiden, the family was sent to a refugee-turned-hotel in Neukirchen, where they would stay for five months. "There was approval in any case," the independent plumber explains today. "People thought we could get everything for free, but it wasn't like that. We just paid 7,000 marks for accommodation in Neukirchen."

Of course, the memories that make me laugh today also exist. "We came to Bavaria with 22-year-old Trabbi, but wanted to take away an old suitcase. So the couple bought an Opel cadet before Christmas 1989 – and were very proud of the first Western car." We then drove to Nuremberg at Christkindlmarkt. and stopped immediately there because of engine failure. "

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Since the Americans transferred their troops to Grafenwöhr in April 1989, Camp Pitman has been released at Kasernenstraße in Weiden. He has served since September as a government admissions office to which expatriates were deployed after first registering in Ostmarkkaserne municipalities in the federal territory. The parking lot that developed behind the campground was full of Trabbis.

Image: Reinhold Balk

"Assis" at the Ostmark Barracks

Even a trip to an acquaintance in the Ruhr area has destroyed the illusions of the always golden west. "We were horrified at what it looked like in Duisburg. From the dating window, the man looked directly at the ironworks, where it was worse than at the DDR," Uwe says, laughing. Moreover, the artisan is glad that she quickly found a job with Ehm in Sulzbach. "Our dream home was always Bavaria because it had the lowest unemployment rate." And they impressed Oberpfalz, Carolyn recalls. "The farms were so clean and nicely decorated. When we first turned on the gas station, we couldn't believe it."

Kerstin Birkner confirms that it was not easy to integrate at first. Although the 21-year-old was lucky and quickly found a home with her husband's family in Vohenstrauß, but: "My husband immediately got a truck driver job at a freight forwarding company, at that time I was sitting alone with a family I didn't really know." Even starting a career at Hecht's bridal house in Weiden since January 1990 has not been easy for a new citizen.

Duisburg "worse than GDR"

"It was definitely a rejection at the beginning, just by dialect. Customers always wanted to be served by another employee, because Ossi just dared." It was similar to the construction of his own house in 1994 in Altenstadt. "We worked hard and saved 100,000 marks in five years, so of course people started talking about how it's possible to have just as much money from the East."

The fact that the seamstress barely saw her full-time husband, raised the children almost alone, and stress was almost driven by the burnout, did not initially see the social environment. Also, this strain in the early years was the reason why Birkner found yoga, and therefore inner peace.

Exactly 30 years ago, these moving events are back, and Carolyn Lausch says, "Never forget it. It shapes your whole life." It took a long time to create a circle of acquaintances. "We're a little more relaxed, and the Oberpfälzer is a little closed," says the smiling saleswoman. Since 2006, they have been living in their own house on the sunny slope of Neukirchen. They never regretted the decision to escape.

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"I have no regrets," Kerstin Birkner says of his decision to flee to Bavaria. "Thanks to the relatives at Vohenstrauß, we have integrated well, as if we have always been here."

Image: Tobias Gräf

Rejection through dialect

"We never forgot where we came from, but of course this has become our home here. I couldn't imagine ever coming back," admits Alexander's 34-year-old son, adding, "I feel like a German with East German roots."

When Kerstin Birkner talks about reunification of Germany, she avoids the terms East and West. They would emphasize and divide sharing. "I've been in the East for 21 years and have lived here for over 30 years. Schleiz is my new home for me, and Upper Palatinate is my new home."

Never again to the East

There was definitely a rejection, just by dialect. I, as an Ossi, just didn't think so.

Kerstin Birkner, 51, on Weiden's first work experience.

Kerstin Birkner, 51, on Weiden's first work experience.

Erstaufnahmelager Weiden:

At the turning point of 1989, Weiden played a central role for DDR refugees as the location of Bavaria's only reception center. Although there were other reception centers for former GDR citizens in Upper Palatinate, they were for boarding and lodging only. So each immigrant had to go to Max-Reger-Stadt in person for one or two days for the first time. The migrants are also refugees from the GDR who fled to Germany via Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Pasture accommodation was ideal. It was just that the newly built Bundeswehr Military School was completed in Ostmarkkaserne – because they had not yet used troops, it was a spontaneous diversion to Erstaufnahmestelle. In addition, the Americans cleared the next Camp Pitman in April 1989. The former US base at Kasernenstraße has served as a government reception center since September, from where new citizens are deployed to cities and towns across the country.

Reinhold Balk of October as Chief of Police Superintendent Weidener Erstaufnahmestelle describes her experiences. "There were two German states for me at the time. I did not expect the wall to fall." As the German armed forces took care of the refugees, Balk and his men took personal data on the settlers. Of the refugee rush dimension, the shift supervisor surprised about 35 subordinate officers. "Between October 22 and 16, we treated 6729 initial admission procedures," the native Amberger says of weeks of constant stress. The substance disappeared on October 15th. "We treated 698 people in 24 hours. After that we were really straight, I reported it to Munich because it can't go every day." But Balk remembers a "very positive mood" in the barracks. "People were really tough, and optimism reigned." Even the public's awareness of the assistance was "incredible." "People were bringing toys and clothes, and even Mayor Hans Schröpf was here every day – a real wave of help." In addition, there were no serious incidents despite hundreds of people in the cramped space, but: "Occasionally, people used to drop cabinets and supplies from the Bundeswehr showrooms, they just didn't have it in the East." A great relief to many refugees was the rapid integration into the labor market. On a daily basis, representatives of the companies contacted the initial reception center and directly employed workers, Balk reports. "Many of them were highly skilled, and even then skilled workers were poorly sought in Bavaria, and even there was a mining company from Canada."

At the Schirnding border crossing in Upper Palatinate, the Iron Curtain collapsed – even before November 9, 1989.