Fall of the Berlin wall
On the Other Side of the Iron Curtain
By Marina Greig
My first experience of West Germany was a trip to a little shop called “Intershop” in the town where we lived in the DDR. It was only a tiny shop, but I couldn’t believe how many different things, cosmetics, perfumes, foods and very nice clothes were offered there. In addition to it, every small thing had a beautiful and very colourful package. It was an amazing experience for me. I had been living Russia for 26 years and just moved to the DDR recently with my husband who is a DDR citizen, and had finished working in Russia. Of course, I have never seen things, that I saw in this small shop, before in my life. It was like a little treasure chamber for me, as if I had a little taster of the life in the western capitalist world.
However, it was also pretty daunting, because we only could look at this abundance, but we couldn’t buy anything, because we didn’t have any Deutsch marks. You couldn’t pay with DDR money at this shop. It is only natural for human beings to have a desire for a better life. Living in the DDR we sometimes watched documentary programmes about the DDR citizens trying to escape into the paradise ( that’s what they called West Germany). Lots of young people were shot when they were illegally trying to cross the border. These were very sad facts that were shown on the TV.
Since November 1989 - the day of the opening of the Berlin wall - the DDR citizens have been allowed to travel to West Germany. In April 1990 we went to experience the real life in West Berlin. As we were approaching it on the motorway I was already fascinated by the big lorries with large and very colourful pictures on the sides of Coca-cola, bakery products, different foods etc. We had to wait in a queue at the check point to show our passports. Then we had to drive to a place where we received 50DM as a welcome to West Berlin for the first time.
I noticed that most of the houses in West Berlin were different colours compared to the DDR - it was sort of dark red with a bit of a brown, which I thought was much more pleasant for the eye rather then depressing grey colour like it was in the DDR.
I was watching people standing next to the fast food vans and eating burgers, big frankfurters with chips (I had never tasted potatoes cooked this way) and drinking coke, sprite or fanta. I was envying them so much, I thought - look at them, they are so lucky eating such tasty food. I wish I had the money for it. But we only had 50DM, so we couldn’t waste it on food, as my husband said. We had to eat our sandwiches that I prepared at home. Everything around me was simply astounding. I was walking there with my mouth open in amazement. The high buildings - some of them looked as if they were made completely out of glass. The shops everywhere - with amazingly decorated shop windows; the big cars driving past that I have only seen on TV before.
Beautiful women and handsome men very smartly dressed, driving big Mercedeces without a roof. I haven’t seen cars like that before in real life. The way the people were dressed, their make-up, their hair, the huge pictures of advertisement on the sides of tall buildings.
Is it a dream? Where am I? It felt like I was in a different world. We walked into a huge superstore. I couldn’t believe the choice of cosmetic, make-up, perfumes, jewellery, clothes, shoes, bags, things for home. How can this be possible?
For the first time in my life I saw so many things that I would have loved to buy if I had the money. Such an incredible abundance of everything.
Out of my experiences living in the DDR, you might see something you liked in a shop once in a couple of weeks, for example, a top or a pair of jeans or a pair of shoes. Living in Russia you wouldn’t even have that, but you had to save hard and use the “black market” sources to get something decent, and you had to be prepared to pay crazy money for it - like a month’s wage for a nice pair of boots. I just couldn’t believe how life can differ so much. People in Russia live in poverty, people over here have everything. Actually far too much. It’s really like being in paradise.
But again - it’s so not fair if I think about Russian people. I felt so sorry for them. Anyway, I was so indescribably excited and also shocked by all of it around me, I fainted - right in the middle of the superstore. When I came back to myself my husband was holding me up and few people gathered around asking my husband if I was OK. A shop assistant brought me a glass of water and in a few minutes I got up. After that my husband was worried about me and he even took me to a cafe - that he normally wouldn’t do, and bought me a big lunch. I couldn’t believe the size of the plate with chips and currywurst (German sausage with a curry ketchup) and a side salad. I was over the moon!
For the first time in my life I have tasted the chips and I loved the sausage, it was very new flavour to me and it was delicious. I was sharing with my husband. And I got to taste the sprite, too, at last! After the most tastiest lunch I was allowed to buy a facial cream and a beautiful bag. I was the happiest woman in the whole world! We also bought an after shave for him and a beautiful dress for our daughter. The money was very quickly spent, but I didn’t want to go back home to the DDR. The living in the DDR was much better than the living in Russia, but the difference between the BRD and the DDR was simply incomparable. It was like day and night. These were two completely different worlds.
This day was shocking, but most amazing experience for me I ever had. After being born and lived in Russia for 25 years, I thought I was lucky to immigrate to the DDR, because I couldn’t imagine, even in my dream, what the other world can be like; until I saw it with my own eyes in West Berlin. I knew now where I would have absolutely loved to live.
On the 3 of October 1990 the two completely different worlds finally reunited. This still seemed a bit crazy to me. Everyone in the DDR was watching the historical moment of reuniting and the falling of the Berlin wall. The big excavators were pushing the Berlin wall and crushing it. There were thousands of people at this historical moment. There was lots of happy tears, because families have got together again after 45 years of being separated. There was lots of champagne splashing over people’s heads and amazing firework displays. Many people took small parts of the Berlin wall as a souvenir and as a reminder about this great historical day.
I remember I was watching it all happening on the TV and crying. Already the day after the shops in our town had lots of goods from West Germany, which must have been delivered over night. I remember very clearly how for the first time I have tasted the kiwi fruit. It looked weird, but I liked the taste of it, it was similar to the gooseberries that we had in Russia. I saw for the first time in my life funny looking long cucumbers wrapped in cling film for some reason. I tried bananas for the first time in my life and lots more other very unusual foods. What a change in our food shop just over night; it was very impressive.
The same was happening in our clothes shops. They started to get deliveries from the West Germany and began to transform completely. Everyone in our town was very excited about such a dramatic change. All the people just loved it. So since the 3 of October 1990 the DDR, after 45 years of being a socialist country, ceased to exist and became the part of the capitalist world. Now there was only one Germany, and am proud to say that I was in the country at that time and I witnessed the process of reuniting and all the dramatic changes that were happening to the ex DDR.
This story is out of Marina Greig's book "Peeping through the iron curtain", which will be self-published soon.
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