Attempts at Escape
Christian Bürger’s Diary, 1st Entry
12 June 1989
“This is either my first or my last diary entry. Because tomorrow I will either be dead or will have succeeded in taking the first step towards a new life. A life where I will no longer lie awake at night in the throes of the certain knowledge that everything around me is wrong.
I will never forget that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. As if a poisoned pill had burst inside me, paralyzing my body in less than a fraction of a second. I stand in my flat, rigid with horror and clutching the document, but my gaze is fixed on the window. The letter from the authorities informs me that my application for permission to leave the country has been turned down. And I realize clearly for the first time that I will never again be at peace in the country on the other side of the window.
“This just could be my last chance to leave the country. And that is why this time it’s do or die for me. This is either the first or the last entry in my diary.“
That was in 1984. Since then, the poison had been spreading through my body for five years. But it no longer paralyzes me. It has been transformed into an indomitable rage coursing through my very veins. A form of anger they have not been able to suppress. Not that they haven’t tried. Be it with threats, torture, or imprisonment. I don’t know how often they’ve asked me why I want to leave the country. Every time I have bottled up all my anger and told them in that friendly tone I have practiced soften that I want to visit my relatives in West Germany and perhaps even those in the United States. Yet for all the interminable interrogations – or perhaps actually even because of them – my two subsequent applications for permission to leave the country were also turned down.
Video Diary Episode 1
ATTEMPTS AT ESCAPE
It was in 1986 that I first thought of making my own way over there. But one of my friends betrayed me. I don’t even blame him. My hatred tells me that all the bad things originate in the system. The system ground him down. They tried the same thing on me when I was remanded in custody. But they didn’t succeed. Every minute of sleep deprivation, every time they beat me, every word they yelled at me just fanned the flames of my hatred. Eventually, they had to let me go. In the early summer of 1987 Honecker urgently needed money and asked Franz Josef Strauss, Prime Minister of Bavaria, for a loan to the tune of one billion deutschmarks. Strauss agreed on one condition – that East Germany issue an amnesty for all political prisoners. On the one hand, of course, that was a positive development because for the first time East Germany had to own up to having political prisoners. But for me it was a disaster. It shattered all my hopes that I might be deported from East Germany.
Now, two years later, I am on my “last year of parole”. They took away my ID card. My “PM 12” simply confirms my identity but is not a substitute ID but a stigma, pointing out to all and sundry that I am a traitor. In spring I said goodbye to a friend who was leaving for the West. She had been granted permission to leave the country, something that will never happen to me. But word has it that refugees have gathered in Prague, in the West German Embassy in Prague. Apparently negotiations are underway to let them emigrate. This just could be my last chance to leave the country. And that is why this time it’s do or die for me. My name is Christian Bürger. This is either the first or the last entry in my diary.
CONTEMPORARY WITNESSES – AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM
Jens Rohde, East German Refugee
With his friends Jörg and Ronny Jens Rohde jumped onto the Liberty Train travelling to the West. They had decided to do so shortly before in a disco in Reichenbach. Jens Rohde soon realized that his chances of finding a suitable job were poor. His expectations of life in West Germany were not met. So after a short time he decided to return. Today he lives and works in Reichenbach again.
We likewise wanted to get to the embassy in Prague. But we got caught out in Plauen at the railway station. And they simply arrested us. We were separated and interrogated all night long. Luckily they couldn’t prove anything. So we were then released. However, they retained my ID card. As a result, I was issued with this temporary ID, and that meant I was not allowed to stray outside the city limits of Karl-Marx-Stadt. And I had to report to the police once a week. To prove I was still there.
Yes, in East Germany you simply always had the feeling you were locked in. And then on top of it all, I was to all intents and purposes locked in again. Tying me down even further. I was practically no longer able to leave Reichenbach in any real sense. I had to be there all the time. And if they had caught me outside the area at a checkpoint with my temporary ID, then it would have counted as trying to escape from the German Democratic Republic and I would have been thrown in jail.
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