Empty Platforms

23. September 2014

Christian Bürger’s Diary, 11th Entry

24 July 1990

“When I left the embassy Herr Weber asked me whether I would be on one of the first trains. I laughed and answered ‘the captain is the last to leave the sinking ship.’ And that’s actually what happened, as I was on the last train out.

Compared to the cramped space to which we had been accustomed in the embassy the confines of the train seemed truly cosy. Of course there wasn’t space for everyone to sit. Many had to stand, some ended up sitting on a toilet seat or in the corridor. Not that that troubled anyone. I couldn’t even say whether the train was warm or cold, dark or bright. That all seemed so unimportant and I simply didn’t take any notice of the profane things, and I therefore can no longer remember them. Everyone simply waited with bated breath for the train to at long last start rolling. The worry was that something might happen after all and we would all have to get back off again.

When the train actually started to move the cheering started again. But the cheering was short-lived if I remember correctly. As the route took us back into East Germany. And in that country none of us felt like cheering. I still remember well the oppressive discomfort I felt when we crossed the border at what was then Karl Marx Stadt. Suddenly the fear was back, the fear I’d permanently felt in East Germany. It seemed to lurk everywhere here. In Karl Marx Stadt the train stopped at the station, in the very middle on the middle track. We were surrounded by a spooky scenario. I noticed that everyone around me felt the same sense of oppression as did I. We were filled with terror, as there was not a soul to be seen anywhere in the station or on the station forecourt. Not one. My brain went into overdrive: Would we be pulled off the train? Why are we stopping here?

“The route took us back into East Germany. Suddenly the fear was back, the fear I’d permanently felt in East Germany.”

Now an empty railway station is pretty spooky on its own. But if you’re fleeing a regime and scared that something untoward may happen at any moment, then it not only seems spooky, but truly threatening. Added to which, we had in the months up until that moment been surrounded day and night by countless other people. Now, looking out of the window and simply seeing NOBODY seemed even more uncanny and surreal than it already was.

Video Diary Episode 11
EMPTY PLATFORMS

And then there was the raised office where the men sat who coordinated train movements. I looked up and suddenly saw two sets of eyes over the frosted glass. Not a person to be seen. Only the two sets of eyes behind the frosted glass, firmly focused on us. They seemed to be the eyes of the entire system. They could not have been more spine-chilling.

This horror scenario was repeated at each and every railway station we passed through. Some might think that in the course of the trip we got used to it, but we didn’t. At each station things grew more oppressive. As we were all starting to wonder: “What do they intend to do? What’s going to happen at the next stop?”

I later heard that the other trains were often welcomed by people bearing banners or waving passers-by. But we were the last of four trains, and the system by then was well prepared to get to us. They wanted our train ride to be as unpleasant as possible.”


CONTEMPORARY WITNESSES – AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM

Michael Fleischman, East German refugee

Michael Fleischman’s flight to the embassy became an iconic image. He clung onto the embassy fence while police officers tried to tear him away from it. He fled in order to be with his daughter, who was already living with her mother in the West.

e11-fleischmann

TRANSCRIPT:
Well I know I was standing and yes, actually, some of those on the inside cheered. But I didn’t really feel like cheering, because I hadn’t yet got to where I wanted to be, well it’s… Yes, it’s … I don’t know how to explain it, that feeling, well you can’t really explain it, it’s the uncertainty, there’s still that fear about what’s happening. I had still not yet made West Germany or West Berlin.

German Embassy in Prague
Christian Bürger floh im Juni 1989 in die Bundesdeutsche Botschaft in Prag. Er half der Botschaftsleitung bei der Organisation und Erfassung der Flüchtlinge. Er verbrachte nach der Ankunft in Hof ein paar Jahre in Dingolfing und arbeitete in der Gastronomie. Heute lebt er wieder in Chemnitz.