Karin’s Escape Story
Kellen’s History Class Interview
June 6, 2003
Interview a Person who participated in a Historical Event:
“Karin, my former nanny from Germany, was present, at age 13, when the fence between East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall were erected overnight by the communist government. She managed to escape from her homeland at age 27.”
At what point in time were you in East Germany and what was it like?
Explain an ordinary day of life.
What were your reasons for escaping to the West?
How did you cross the border and what was it like?
How do you think the fall of the Berlin Wall affected western society in culture and politics?
After contemplating your interview request I decided to write my response in letter format, since I am a writer of letters in my role as a Lightworker for America.
Kellen: At what point in time were you in East Germany and what was it like? Explain an ordinary day of life.
Here are some data: I was born in East Germany in 1947, two years after World War II. In 1949 the German Democratic Republic was founded.
When I was thirteen the government under chairman Walter Ulbricht built the Berlin Wall and a division fence along the entire border to West Germany. It happened overnight on August 13th of 1961. On that historical day I was in a summer camp near a border town to the West.
I remember that we five-hundred “Young Pioneers” got fliers handed out with which we had to go from door to door and collect signatures of confirmation that the citizens of the German Democratic Republic were happy with the government’s action of closing the border. Of course I had no awareness of what all this meant. At this point the communist indoctrination of the people had already been massively underway for over twelve years. There were no protesters in this fear-conditioned nation of 17 million. Would anybody have said anything against the fence and the wall they would have immediately been led away by the secret police, the Stasi.
To explain an ordinary day is impossible, I can only give you an overall impression of my own family’s life. My parents did not suffer under the communist regime as much as others did. My father was a member of the Socialist Party, meaning they went along with how things were. Consider, that they lived through the Nazi era. My father was drawn as a soldier at age 18 and young women like my mother had to work in ammunition factories to serve the war.
Their generation basically went through the oppression from the Nazis to the oppression of the communists under a new flag.
Of course for a factory worker like my father it was incredibly hard to bring up five children. My mother stayed at home, being the head of a seven-person household. We were able to keep some chickens and rabbits for eggs and meat on holidays, a vegetable garden, as well as a small field with potatoes.
Besides working at home as my mother’s maid, so to speak, I had to work after school in the fields of the Russian-modeled collective farms. I think many others had it worse than we. To my mind comes the story of the family who lived next to us. They had four children. The father got 8 years in prison for telling a joke in the local pub about chairman Walter Ulbricht. His wife had to work in a factory, 5 miles away, and bring up their young children all by herself.
Kellen: What were your reasons for escaping to the West?
It was all about Freedom, or better – the lack of it. There are those people to whom Freedom is essential like air. And there are those who are more comfortable if an authority tells them what to do, what to think, and how to behave. For the majority of the people life in the German Democratic Republic wasn’t bad, in fact, the economy improved little by little. Everything was organized, everybody and everything was taken care of. Nobody was starving, nobody was homeless, nobody was unemployed. Renting was affordable for everybody, and all had free health insurance.
But those people who are born with a desire for freedom cannot stand to be manipulated into conformity. They make up the “Cultural Creatives” of a nation; they cannot breathe while feeling the
omnipotent boot of the government on their neck, so to speak. Well, I realized early on that I would have to live my entire life in an imprisoned country where all were pressed in the same mold, where
people were changed into “sheeple”.
From age 18 on I wanted to get out of the country and I kept my eyes and ears open for stories about individuals who had managed to escape through Yugoslavia, or the hearsay of people smuggled in vehicles over the green border to Western Germany, or supposed tunnels underneath the wall that separated East and West Berlin. I also heard that rich people in the West could buy out their East German relatives or political prisoners. Of course these things were not mentioned in the newspaper, they were passed on word of mouth only among those who could trust each other. Consider there was no means of spreading information among the people.
Those early copy machines in offices were strictly controlled.
I had pursued a career as a secretary, because that was what my mother wanted for me. At age 18 I was fortunate to get a job offer in the headquarters of the Youth Organization, the Free German Youth, and thus got permission to live in the capital East-Berlin. The government controlled who was allowed to live in the capital, because the Berliners had to serve as the cheerleaders for the many political and military parades.
Kellen: How did you cross the border and what was it like?
When I met my first husband, Peter Dorn, who also had a permit to live in Berlin, it became our goal to escape together. He was a composer and pianist and had been blacklisted by the Culture Department for speaking his opinion. After three years of marriage I moved out and took an apartment, but we remained close friends.
In summer of 1972 Peter met at the popular Alexander Place in downtown Berlin a young man from West-Berlin, Matthias, who had come by daytime-permit to visit the capital of the German Democratic Republic. Visitors from West-Berlin came over by the thousands and brought in west currencies by being allowed to buy duty-free goods in “Intershops”. They had to return by midnight.
Peter told Matthias his story and what life was like for people like him in a fenced-in country. Peter also explained that he is still married and that it had been our goal to get out of the country together.
Matthias promised Peter to get the both of us out. He said it had occurred to him many times that he could easily smuggle somebody in his car to the West. Being from Hamburg, in the Northwest, he had been driving for several years the patrolled and monitored transit road for travelers from West Germany to West-Berlin and vice versa. With his small French car with hatchback, called Citroen Diane, he collected antique furniture from the Hamburg area and took them to West-Berlin where he had a carpenter workshop to restore and sell them. His car was always loaded to the max with furniture, yet his vehicle had never been checked at the border. He was known as the happy-go-lucky hippie from Hamburg, always having a chat with the border patrol agents and sharing West-cigarettes.
Matthias suggested to Peter that he could even hide the both of us at once in the back of his car, covered with light-weight stuff, because he could raise his French car body higher from the frame so that it would not look weighed down from two stowaways.
So when Matthias and I met it was almost “logical” that we fell in love. He came to visit me in East-Berlin regularly with a daytime-permit. From this time on it took the three of us two years of planning and preparation of how to manage the escape. Peter and I sold our small house and belongings and paid the friend back who had loaned us the money for the small house in a garden colony.
Of course we had to take in consideration getting caught. We knew that in case the checkpoint officers would open the doors and arrest us, Peter and I would get about 3 – 5 years of prison-time. We had heard that political prisoners were being brainwashed into conformity, but that they deported the resistant cases afterwards into the West. But Matthias as the escape facilitator could get up to ten years. Yet, our desire for freedom and our belief in our success, and in each other, was greater than fear.
Before planning our escape by car we had tried to get out of the country through marriage. Peter and I got divorced. A pen friend of mine in West Germany declared her engagement with Peter in writing and
Matthias and I also reported our engagement to the authorities. However, we then learned that there was a ten-year waiting list for people who wanted to leave the German Democratic Republic through marriage.
So we finally decided to set the date for the escape. Matthias made a test trip from West-Berlin on the transit road to Hamburg, a six hour drive. In Hamburg he purchased a map from the area around the border town of Hagenow in the GDR, where the check point was. He then drove back to West-Berlin with the goal to choose a mileage marker as the pick up point for us, about five miles from the border checkpoint. Nobody was allowed to park on this transit road or to leave the car, except at certain monitored rest stops.
The plan was that Peter and I would travel by train to the border town of Hagenow. With the secret map we would hike about twenty kilometers to the appointed mileage marker and wait there until around 11 p.m., on the set date June 7th of 1974.
The day before the escape trip Matthias came to see us by day-permit, with the map hidden inside the wall of his car door. The three of us drove to a suburban area of woodland where Peter and I rehearsed
jumping in the trunk of the car within seconds. Matthias had shared his plan with four close friends. Their job was to follow Matthias and arrive at the checkpoint behind him and to get the attention of the border patrol agents with their colorful painted French “duck” Citroen and through loud singing. They would carry a hidden letter addressed to the West German newspapers, pre-written by me, in case we would get caught. They would report our case to the newspapers so that we hopefully got in contact with Western agencies.
I took only one person in my confidence, a dear friend whom I saw as my fairy godmother. She gave us some Valium pills to calm us down on the escape day and to prevent a nervous breakdown in case they
On June 7th of 1974 Peter and I traveled per train to Hagenow, the last station before the border, where all GDR citizens had to get off the train. From there we went on a 15-mile hike through the woods, parallel to the transit road, cautious not to get any attention. We knew there were camouflaged lookout towers along the road. Just the posession of the map of the area was a crime!
We arrived at the appointed mileage marker before dusk where we had to wait until our appointed time, 11 p.m. The sky had been overcast all day. Once it was pitch-dark it began drizzling. We were laying flat on the ground, close enough to the transit road so that we could hear and see the cars coming. A car drove by about every 20 minutes. It reached 11 p.m. The drizzling was soundless, one could hear a pin drop.
Peter and I were on high alert. Half an hour passed… Then suddenly the Diane passed by, stopped, set back about 50 feet in rear gear, Matthias opened the hatch back door, we jumped in and a few seconds
later the three of us were on our way. Peter and I covered ourselves with bedding and other light stuff. We could speak with Matthias. He said Rolf and his friends had a car problem. They may be fifteen minutes behind us. As we approached the checkpoint after almost 5 miles the forces of heaven made it “raining dogs and cats”! The rain was pounding on the car roof. Only one officer came out of his checkpoint building. He hurried to check Matthias’ ID papers, ran to open the toll-gate and wished him a good trip to Hamburg. Peter and I in the trunk heard every word. We were the only car in the middle of the night and the agent immediately hurried back into his dry shelter. We stopped about half a mile behind the checkpoint, on the West side of Germany. We had made it! We waited for Rolf and his friends in the colorful hippie car. Since there was no sign of upheaval at the checkpoint, they knew that we had passed successfully.
The seven of us drove into Hamburg looking for a restaurant to stop and celebrate. Never will I forget the sight of this magnificent harbor city in its night lights in front of us. What I remember most is the incredible brightness of the traffic lights. For nine years, from age 18 until 27, I had been dreaming the successful outcome of this day into being.
Five years later Matthias and I got married and we founded a private children’s home near the North Sea coast.
Kellen: How do you think the fall of the Berlin Wall affected western society in culture and politics?
When the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, I had already been in the West of Germany for fifteen years. I was living in my apartment in Hamburg and watched the events unfolding on TV like anybody else. At age 43 I was already in preparation to start a new chapter of my life: to get to know America for one year. In February of 1990 I flew over the Atlantic Ocean to meet the Dammann Family in San Diego and to become your nanny. You, Kellen, were 2 years and 2 months old.
As the Berlin Wall fell, the winds of change began sweeping throughout Europe and further East, crashing one communist system after the other, like a domino effect. Never would I have thought the two separated German nations would become one again and that the Soviet Union would be no more! Almost two years ago Germany and eight other European countries changed their currency and created the Euro Dollar; this certainly is a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Kellen, it was a pleasure pondering these adventurous past times. (smile) I am glad you evoked from me to finally write my story down. The funny thing is that Matthias, my ex-husband in Germany, told me recently over the phone that he too was asked to give an interview about our escape event to a high school history class in Bremen.
In coming full circle, I now see the magic in all of it; now that I am a spiritual elder and you a young man asking me for an interview for your history class. (smile)
I greet you and your history teacher and your classmates!
May you all cherish the Freedom that is your birthright!
Karin Lacy, Lightworker