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

Chapter 7: The Kissing Issue

1987 in Ethiopia. Shimelis lived in a camp for children who became victims of the war. One day he was allowed to visit the DDR - a life changing experience. It was the first and only time for him to visit another country. For a couple of months he visited the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck". It was a time of many "firsts". by Michael Geithner (31 Oct 2017)

Something odd

In Ethiopia it is not tolerated to kiss another person on the lips in public. Even married couples are not allowed to kiss in public. Before I came to the DDR, I could not even imagine kissing a girl. It is something odd in my culture. I remember, when we were very little children in the orphanage, we used to watch movies together. Whenever the protagonist characters kissed each other in the middle of the story flow, all of us turned our faces away to not look at them. We all were bashful because of the societal impact. But in the DDR, the situation was different. No one cared about it. I saw Coni and Susanne kissing their boyfriends in our presence. I was ashamed of them at that time.


Katja was a 12-year old German girl with blonde hair and a perpetual smile on her lips. When I saw her for the first time, she was carrying a big teddybear. She came over to me and said something in German. Suddenly, she smiled, turned her neck and stretched up towards my lips. She kissed me on my lips, while my Ethiopian friends were observing the drama. My body trembled from the shock and I started sweating. She repeated the kiss, while I was paralyzed from confusion. My countrymen turned their faces around and turned their back towards us to pretend they hadn’t seen anything.

I had many joyful moments with Katja after that day. We played football together, went for walks and shared sweets and other things. Holding hands and kissing became normal between us, but we always went away from the others to spent time together. Even the language barrier was not a problem. We used our hands and facial expressions to communicate.

HISTORY BOX: Sexuality in the DDR

Until the beginning of the 70s, sexuality was also in the DDR a taboo subject. While the frustration of the Western youth loudly went off in 1968, the sexual revolution in the DDR proceeded more quiet but even as profound. The DEFA started embedding sex scenes into movies, Prof. Borrmann answered adolescent question in the magazine "Neues Leben" (German for "New Life"), in summer camps hands were hold and kissing in public became common.

Childhood love

At that time, many Ethiopians at my age rarely knew about the opposite sex. Actually, today the trend is a bit different and they are a bit faster. So my relation with that German girl didn’t exceed from spending time together. Most of the time, the delegations of Ethiopia and Germany were looking for us everywhere during mealtimes and other programs. They knew we were always together and went far away from our apartment. All my Ethiopian friends were laughing at me because of my unusual contact with that girl. One boy even threatened to tell the story at home. I was aware, that I would probably get in a lot of trouble, but it didn’t matter to me. I started spending more time with kids from other delegations, especially with the Germans.

My first marriage

In one week I had met many people from various countries and cultures. I experienced many premieres, such as a journey with a medium sized boat. We had campfires and disco nights in the forest in the camp’s boundary. We also had an athletics day on which hundreds of us were competing. It was exciting to be with friends in all these activities.

One day we played "marriage" in our apartment. My bride was a girl of my age from Hungary. We received a short training about the ceremony and how we should perform the role-play with our partner. We also had plastic finger rings and flowers. After the ceremony we celebrated. I remember, the opening song was "I love you more than I can say." I found my former wife, Rena’ta Christina Ludman, through Facebook after 28 years. She is married to a childhood friend and she lives happily in a Hungarian city called Nyíregyháza. We regularly exchange gifts on holidays and keep each other updated through messages. Thanks to technology, we are still brother and sister.

To be continued...


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