A Trip to the DDR - "The Journey of my Life"

Chapter 6: Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck"

Shimelis arrived at night in the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck". After his flight with Interflug from Ethiopia and one culture shock after the other he finally arrived in the DDR. Slowly, he started to make friends and felt comfortable in the new world he was thrown into. by Michael Geithner (24 Oct 2017)

Another Culture Shock

Me and my Ethiopian landsmen shared the dormitory with Hungarian boys. They were friendly and easy going. The only problem was the language barrier. Neither of them was able to speak English. Therefore, we communicated by using sign and body language. My Ethiopian friend was very stern and aggressive against all whites. He was suspicious whenever the boys talked Hungarian and laughed during their conversation. The bathrooms in the camp were not private, as I was used to at home. In Ethiopia such things are very intimate and no one ever dares to see someone else barenaked outside of the family. We were ashamed of taking a shower in a group with white boys. Surprisingly, most white boys were not circumcised.

View into the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck", Altenhof, Werbellinsee. Photo by Constanze Prehl.

Becoming popular

In the next morning, Susanne woke me up. She was in a blue t-shirt and a ribbon that the socialist youth wore. She woke my ethiopian friend up, too, but he kept being passive. She stayed smiley and humble whatever our response was. The trumpets blew early in the morning. Classical music sounded through speakers fixed on each corner of the corridors. After completing the morning routines, our leader told us to wear the Ethiopian traditional costume, which was white from top to toe. Then, we were taken to a large dining hall. Everybody was gazing at us with great surprise. Some people asked to make pictures with us. I felt like a celebrity. No one cared about me, while I was in Ethiopia. But in the DDR, I became a very important figure and the focus of attention.

Shimelis in a traditional ethiopian dress.

HISTORY BOX: The Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck"

The Pioneer Republic “Wilhelm Pieck” was the showcase summer camp in the DDR. It was named after the first and only DDR president Wilhelm Pieck and followed the structure of another Soviet camp, which was the basic example of a Socialist holiday camp. The Pioneer Republic opened in 1952 in Altenhof, close to Berlin. The camp could inhabit about 1.000 children.

Most international children were invited in July and August. Among them were also western children, who were supposed to enjoy and get introduced to the Socialist life in the DDR. The only condition for the kids were excellent grades.

Usually, the daily routine in the camp was strictly structured: lessons with the Republic’s best specialist subject teachers in the morning, then lunch and collective homework. In the afternoon, the kids rehearsed international songs of the Working Class and discussed the political conditions. In the evening they watched the daily news show “Aktuelle Kamera”. Additionally, the Pioneers were supposed to write their experiences down in a journal.

Wilhelm Pieck mit Jungpionieren

in der Objektdatenbank

The Feel of Comfort

The hall was full of large tables, that could accommodate about 12 people. There were names of each country on every table. I sat on our table with Susanne, Coni, our leader and four ethiopian girls and boys. It felt like a family meal table. The chairs were comfortable and everything was tidy. All delegations from different corners of the world were on their dining tables. When the food was served, there were many items, I have never seen before. The variety was confusing. I have never seen such an amount of food in my life. I tried to figure out if there were at least one or two kinds of food items I knew. But everything was confusing and I quickly lost track. Even the type of beverages was different from what I was familiar with. Again, I felt like a stranger, but Coni was always there to understand my emotions. She gave me a brief elaboration on some of the items. She helped me in choosing some of them for my breakfast.

To be continued...


Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Lisa Laubner, Elke Sieber
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner
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