They were West German adolescents on a school trip. He was a young man desperate to escape from East Germany. Thirty five years later, they tell their story
It’s December 1984, a few weeks before Christmas. Tina Kirschner and Barbara Kahlke, two 17 -year-olds from West Germany, are sitting on a creaking red bus headed for the progressive part of their subdivided country. They’re on a school trip, and the mood is unruly: nearly 40 teenagers singing along to Duran Duran. But formerly they cross the heavily patrolled margin, actuality affects. The world they’re registering feels alien and forbidding. All around them, slogans celebrate the glorious achievements of the German Democratic Republic( GDR ). Yet as they pass across the crumple city cores, the patronizes are empty. Here, simply a couple of hours from their little hometown of Marburg, beings ought to have queueing for basic groceries.
In a carefully staged meeting with neighbourhood students, the girls are told that their marks are wrong, that life here is good. When the East Germans insist that even their version of Coca-Cola is better than the west’s, the planned reconciliation descends into a battle over soft drinks. Tina and Barbara are unsettled by the constant propaganda, the authoritarian atmosphere. It’s almost like call an open-air prison; after all, the people around them can’t leave. Most of those who try to escape to the west are arrested and incarcerated. Some are shot, or blown up by mines in the fatality strip.
One day, the girls call the medieval municipality of Erfurt for a sight-seeing tour. As some of them mill around the bus, a towering, gangly follower in his 20 s approachings, establishing himself as Bernd Bergmann. The daughters are astonished to learn he was born in Marburg, before his mother took him to the GDR as small children. When he discerned their Marburg number plate, he wondered if they might know a friend of his.
The daughters are hesitant at first, apprehensive what the hell is stimulate of him. But they are also strange, and Tina and a couple of others arrange to meet him in a cafe later in the day. Bernd tells them he’s desperate to join his friend in Marburg. He has applied for an exit permit many times, but has always been rejected. Now he’s considered a troublemaker. He’s lost his occupation, and is being beset by the Stasi, the East German secret service. Tina is outraged: how can both governments exactly fasten its people up? The friends agree to meet Bernd again in the night, in a boisterou underground rail where they can talk more freely.
Later, the girls climb into the empty bus. Someone says, half joking: what if we take him across? For now, it’s just a recalled experiment, almost a game. They look around the bus and notice a half-broken seat in the back sequence that they are able to tipped forward. One of them crawls into the space behind it. The others walk around the bus and check that she can’t be seen through the back window.
Yes, they believe- this could work. At least, in theory.
It sounds like a cross between a John le Carre thriller and the Famous Five: the schoolchildren who tried to breach the iron curtain. I stumbled across their story by chance, because I also grew up in Marburg, a quiet university township on the banks of the river Lahn. My brother went to the same school as Tina and Barbara. Through old characters and academy reports, and Stasi records, I pieced together what happened- how their giddy duty turned into a cold-war drama, provoked a small war at their academy, and ended with their teach being put on a secret service watch list. I tracked down that educator, the schoolgirls, and the three men prepared to jeopardy all is get out.
It might seem curious, to arrange an outing to a dictatorship, but at the time of the school trip, east-west relations had been thawing a bit. It reflected the inconsistencies of that age- the wishes for a rapprochement despite the intense struggle, and the fact that many Germans had personal ties to the other side.
Barbara’s father, for example, was a refugee from the eastern German states that are now part of Poland, arrived here West Germany at the end of the war. Her mother was from East Germany, but left before the border was closed. They abhorred the split, but there was another factor that pricked Barbara’s conscience. Like all German adolescents, she’d learned about the country’s Nazi past at academy, and the importance of moral courage. Indeed, the school trip to the GDR included a visit to a former Nazi concentration camp, Buchenwald. Barbara often wondered what she would have done back then: look away, or fight?
When I am speaking to her at her residence near Hamburg, she tells me she had a clear sense that facilitate Bernd was the right thing to do.” I think we just saw this amazing opportunity ,” she says. She describes the students’ resolution:” We’re doing this, we’re going to pull this off .”
Later that evening, the girls sneaked out of their student lodging and into Bernd’s waiting Trabant. Barbara remembers being intrigued by the idea of the underground bar, and thinking that they might dance a bit. But in the car, the mood turned serious. Bernd signalled to them not to speak, in case the Trabant was bugged.
In the bar, they huddled in a corner. The daughters told him about the hiding place. The more they spoke, the more particular they were about the plan.
The next day, claiming simple interest, the girls requested their templates about border checks. They were told there were no heat sensors or puppies at the checkpoint they would be using, a urban span at Wartha-Herleshausen. Reassured, they sent Bernd a telegram from a local post office: a Christmas greeting, a prearranged signal that the proposal was on. As a precaution, they then burned their greenback with his address.
By now, their little radical had grown to almost a dozen parties; other classmates had gone jazz of the schedule. That night, there was a heated discussion about possible risks, and the girls decided to call it off. They would have to let Bernd down that morning, in person.