A trip to the DDR - "The journey of my life"

Chapter 3: New Horizons

Shimelis Haile Aga was born into Ethiopia's chaotic times of war. He was sent into a children's camp with many other kids who's families became the victims of the war. Some chosen children were allowed to join an exchange program to other socialist countries in the world. After years of waiting, he was finally chosen too, but everything went different to what he expected. by Michael Geithner (3 Oct 2017)

A Unique Chance

Our socialist education led the Ethiopian government to maintain a warm friendship and fraternity with the countries of the Eastern bloc. Since the camps in Ethiopia followed the Socialist ideology, we were seen as part of the socialist unity. That meant, some chosen children were allowed to join an exchange program. In 1987, I finally got my big chance. 

We were evaluated based upon our academic performance and other criteria. Whenever the summer season came, the children, who performed best, were sent to visit different Socialist countries by a special command of the president. Socialist countries like the Soviet Union (USSR/CCCP), Cuba, the DDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria or Hungary were the options we had.


HISTORY BOX: Socialist Fellow States

During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc countries founded the Warsaw Pact. Under the leadership of the Soviet Union, this contract secured military support for all states included in the treaty. It was supposed to secure an Organization of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. Since the Soviet Union was leading the contract, it was seen as the “Big Brother”. Every country aside from the Soviets was one of the sister states. The Soviets wanted to spread their Socialist or rather Communist ideology as much as possible. Therefore, they were eager to maintain friendships with other socialist countries outside from the Warsaw Pact. Ethiopia was one of them, since the Soviets had already supported the country during the war with Somalia.

An Unexpected Turn

In 1987 I finally became one of the candidates. Four children were sent to each country, that was part of the list, so that sixteen students were chosen. We didn’t get the chance to choose the country we like to visit, though. If I could, I would have chosen the Soviet Union. Our library shelves were crowded by Russian fictions, novels, fairy tales and children's stories. I was eager to visit the USSR. Not only me but also the rest of my friends. Everyone of us was mad about the Soviet Union. But I was chosen to visit the DDR.


When I was little, I watched dozens of movies about World War II. I had read many books about Adolf Hitler and his racist ideology, too. The stories about concentration camps like Auschwitz and some others in Poland were horrifying. What I knew about Germany and Germans was their brutality and savagery against other humans. For me, all Germans were the same: Terrific beasts, like those from our traditional fairytales. I was sure, they were against black people and extremely racist. So I was highly ambitious to be sent to Russia. I was under pressure and mental stress before we were told which country we were going to visit. Because of my gratuitous hostility I was not interested in visiting the DDR.

On the day, when we were told which country we would visit, I got the worst news: I was one of four others my age, who would visit the DDR – one of the countries I hated the most. A teacher was going to fly with us and lead our delegation. I took it as bad luck to my life.

To be continued...


Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Lisa Laubner, Elke Sieber
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner
All articles:
A trip to the DDR changed his life: This is the story of the ethiopian Shimelis Haile Aga, who visited the DDR in 1987 - the only other…
Meet Shimelis Haile Aga, 44 years old, born and raised in Ethiopia. The only other country he has ever seen, does'nt exist anymore. Today he…
Shimelis Haile Aga visited the DDR in 1987. He still remebers his journey vividly, also because his story began far less memorable. It all…
Shimelis Haile Aga was born into Ethiopia's chaotic times of war. He was sent into a children's camp with many other kids who's families…
Do you remember your first ever flight? After Shimelis' father never came back from war, he went to a special camp for children. For years…
A few weeks ago, Shimelis sent a shout-out for his old friends, and one heard the call. Constanze Prehl was still an amharic student, when…
Shimelis arrived at night in the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck". After his flight with Interflug from Ethiopia and one culture shock after…
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…
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…
"I wish I could have lived with those kind people forever." Time went by too fast for Shimelis, who visited the DDR in 1987. After some…
30 years have gone by since Shimelis visited the DDR in 1987, 30 years later the once 14-year-old boy has grown up and built a whole new…

Artifacts from the DDR Museum's collection connected to Ethiopia:

NBI Cover from 1989
NBI (Neue Berliner Illustrierte) cover from 1989: "Corn from a fresh harvest"
Marx Statue built in Addis Abeba
Newspaper article documenting the construction of the Karl-Marx-Memorial in Addis Abeba in 1984.
From a DDR school geography notebook.

More on this topic