Christian Bürger’s Diary, 6th Entry
20 September 1989
“I don’t know whether I was ever as worked up as I am now. It won’t be easy to put my feelings to paper, but I’ll try to be as honest as possible. I’d never have thought I could feel something like homesickness. But absurdly that’s exactly what I am now feeling. I’m homesick for a country that I wish to flee from. In all the chaos here, the unreality of life behind the embassy walls, today we had an astonishingly idyllic evening. We sat around the stove in a tent, gobbled up stew, and reminisced about our childhood and youth. About all the great things we are somehow also leaving behind by turning our backs on East Germany.
I grew up to obey the system, my parents firmly believed that they lived in the right part of Germany. I was a member of the Free German Youth movement and took part in all those school organisations. I did sports, had many friends, a lot of fun, and felt at home in the system. This evening we swapped stories about our days in the youth movement and all the adventures we had with the Young Pioneers. Idyllic, happy times that are sadly now gone, never to return, and in part have shaped our identities. Will we be abandoning our identities when we arrive in West Germany? Will we ever be as happy there as we were back in our youth? Is that even possible for adults?
“I’d never have thought I could feel something like homesickness. But absurdly that’s exactly what I am now feeling. I’m homesick for a country that I wish to flee from.”
I associate growing up with growing unhappy. I was about 15 years old when I had my first doubts. While on holiday in Hungary I met people from Austria and Hungary. I hung out with them in the evening and I noticed that they somehow weren’t the evil capitalists we were constantly told they were at school. They were quite normal people with quite normal concerns and worries. That’s when I realised that back home they’d told me a load of crap. Since then I’ve not been able to regard the system positively and have noticed one contradiction after the next. But this evening I noticed once again how great it was when I was able to view the system, which had after all been my home, through rose-tinted glasses. Perhaps “homesick” is the wrong term. I’m not homesick. I’m simply sad that those days are gone forever. At the age of 17 I was an orphan and had to manage entirely on my own. Suddenly there was no one at my side to make certain that I did not doubt the system. I grew up, and everything around me seemed wrong and made me feel unhappy. How could I not have applied to be allowed to leave the country?
Video Diary Episode 6
Put differently, for all the nostalgia that bubbled up today, my resolve is firm. I want out of the system, and it never made me happy even if once upon a time I was happy in it. Others seem to have less resolve, although not that many of them. Today Professor Vogel, an attorney from East Germany, visited the embassy, along with his assistant Gregor Gysi. They persuaded 24 people to return to their home country. One of them apologised to us. Vogel had given him a bad conscience, as his mother was infirm, in need of care, and all alone. Who knows whether that is really the case.
That evening we all wondered why on earth we would return to East Germany. And all that anyone in the tent could remember were those glory days when we were kids. It was an age of uncertainty. Now we all knew too much. And someone asked what we would do if we ever had to leave the embassy. We could then close ranks and create a convoy and head for the Austro-Czech border. 6,000 people in one long line. A crazy idea. But when it was voiced no one in the tent said that if the embassy had to be cleared he would be heading back homewards. No, we’ve all already paid far too high a price to back down now.”
CONTEMPORARY WITNESSES – AND WHAT BECAME OF THEM
Jens Hase, East German Refugee
Jens Hase comes from Eisenach. He fled from East Germany at the age of 19. He left family and friends behind and made his way to the embassy in Prague. Once he had managed to get to the West he had to forge a new life for himself with nothing more than a rucksack and 200 marks in his pocket. A qualified metal worker, he re-trained as an electronic engineer for IT systems. Today he lives with his wife and daughter in Günzburg, Bavaria.
A really strange moment, because you somehow had the feeling, well, you were handing your destiny over, well… I was no longer proud of having an East German ID, no way, but it was still my ID, my identity, that’s me, and now I have to hand it over. And then I’m going to be a nothing, can’t prove anything, who I am, where I come from, nothing, and that’s a no-go.