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

Chapter 8: Visiting Schwedt and Berlin

14-year-old ethiopian Shimelis visited the DDR in 1987 - the only other country he has ever seen. For a few months he enjoyed the massive cultural clash in the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck", where he spent most of his days. But after some time Shimelis and the other delegations got the opportunity to visit Schwedt and East Berlin. by Michael Geithner (7 Nov 2017)

Travelling with Deutsche Reichsbahn

After some time in the camp, we were told that we would visit Schwedt, a city in Brandenburg, and live there with host families for 10 days. We were taken from Berlin to Schwedt by train. It was my first ever travel by train. We shared the train with many external people. But since a lot of my camp friends were with me, I didn’t feel lost. We were a mixed group of Germans, Koreans, Frenchmen and Cubans. Even my countrymen behaved more calm and smoother than before. Luckily, I got a seat right next to a window. I spent most of the train ride by observing the landscapes outside. They reminded me of what I have seen in movies. It was peaceful. We crossed wide areas with fields, cows and some other cattle. Even though, I was a foreigner in this country, I felt safe and at home. 

HO Modellbahnwagen "Personenwagen"

in der Objektdatenbank

A white family

My host family was called Schnabel: There was the father Albert, the mother Renate and their son Tom. My German family was unquestionably innocent and very kind. I shared the bedroom with my white brother. None of them spoke English, so we communicated by the help of an English-German dictionary. In all our daily activities, my German parents gave priority to me rather than their biological son.

My host Mom took me everywhere including her relatives’ homes. She told them, she had got a black son. She was proud of me. She wanted me to wear my country’s traditional costumes whenever we went out to visit the city together. She told me to be proud of my culture. My host Dad took me to different parks and hotels. Tom and I spent a lot of time together as well. All of them were eager to satisfy my needs. In the evening of my departure, the four of us were very sad. They bought clothes, a radio, camera, and some other things for me.

Renate Schnabel and her son Tom

Exploring Schwedt and Berlin

In Schwedt we had a meeting with the people around. We presented traditional songs and dances of our countries. After coming back to Ethiopia, my German friends sent a clipped out newspaper, which reported my artistic performance with a photo. I visited the city in and out.

HISTORY BOX: East Berlin - The DDR Capital

Berlin or rather East Berlin was the capital of the DDR. It was known as the center of power, the limelight of the cultural life and the showcase of Socialism. According to the “supply hierarchy”, East Berlin was in first place. This became apparent in terms of the situation of the housing market or technical features, such as telephones, in the appartements, but first and foremost, the supply with consumer good was much better than in other DDR cities. Because of the good supply conditions, it was common for citizens from Saxony or Thuringia to get in the car or train every saturday and travel to East Berlin for grocery shopping. Additionally, those who lived in East Berlin were recently instructed to provide the family with certain products, such as honey or paper diapers.

In Berlin we visited the DDR national museum. It was related to the Second World War. We also saw the TV-Tower and some parks. The view from the Tower was fantastic. I saw electrified city busses, street musicians and parks, lifts that helped to climb up sky rocketing buildings, carnivals and many other things. At one point, we discovered a street musician, who was playing music on a guitar. I never heard this music before but it was nice. There was a small crowd listening. After he finished the song, he said something none of us understood. But some people threw money in a hat, that lay on the ground. He smiled at everyone and started a new song. I have never seen a scenery like this but I enjoyed it. Additionally, we visited a nursing home. I spent some time with an old lady in a wheelchair. She was very nice and we had a good time there.

I remember, we were taken as far as the locality of the Wall. It was very disappointing to see people of the same nation bisected because of political ideologies. We saw the strict military security there. We visited some ancient buildings and a smaller city called Altenhof.

Berliner Bär Figur.

in der Objektdatenbank

To be continued...


Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Dr. Stefan Wolle
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner
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Albert Schnabel, host father

Tom Schnabel at a younger age, Shimelis' host brother

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